Box art - Escape from Tarkov

How to play Escape from Tarkov | Beginner’s Guide

If you’re a beginner to Escape from Tarkov, you’re in for a hard time. This unforgiving game doesn’t include any tutorial, and hardly anything is explained to you outside of a few vague tooltips. The lack of direction is a recipe for frustration, especially for those who plan to take on the game solo.

Fortunately, Escape from Tarkov isn’t as opaque as it would seem at first glance. It’s a very complicated game, but once you figure out the basics and learn the gameplay loop, you’ll quickly catch on to what makes the experience so engaging.

The beginner’s guide below assumes you’ve just purchased Escape from Tarkov and are getting ready to play for the first time. We’ll cover the basics like the differences between PMCs and Scavs, how to tell the difference between the AI and player characters, and which map you should start on.

What’s the difference between Scavs and PMCs in Escape from Tarkov?

When you choose the first option from the main menu “Escape from Tarkov,” you’re given a choice to play as either a Scav or a PMC. We’ll explain the difference between these two characters below.


You can think of your Scav character as a “free life.” A Scav is assigned a random assortment of equipment, and if you die as one, you don’t risk losing any of your owned gear. This is a huge boon, as you take zero risks while playing a Scav. All you have to do is make it to a level exit, and you get to keep whatever you loot during the level and the equipment the Scav starts with.

Scavs also have another huge perk. As long as you don’t injure any other Scav characters, Scav AI NPCs won’t be hostile to you. This means you can loot areas a lot easier as you only have to worry about other players.


The PMC is your main character. You can choose all their starting equipment, and as such, they’re innately stronger than Scavs. As you level up your PMC, they’ll also gain strengths and abilities that make them superior to Scav characters.

The significant disadvantage of playing as a PMC is that you’re putting any equipment you take with you on the line. You have the option to insure gear and have a chance of getting it back after a certain amount of time, but there’s always the risk it’s gone forever.

Your PMC also has health, energy, and hydration stats that carry over between raids, so if you’re downed, you’ll have to either use items to heal or wait for your injuries to heal with time.

Use Scavs whenever you can

When you’re starting out in Escape from Tarkov, you’ll want to use a Scav character as often as possible. Unfortunately, Scavs have a 20-minute cooldown between raids before you can use them again, so you will, at times, be forced to use your PMC if you want to keep raiding.

As stated above, Scavs have a lot of advantages that PMCs don’t. Getting a chance to raid locations without engaging in combat will allow you to find items you need to build out your hideout, stock equipment for your PMC, and sell for Rubles without any monetary risk.

When you play as a PMC, pack lightly

Escape from Tarkov PMC light loadout

You’ll start out with a limited amount of items in your inventory, and you need to make the most of them during the times you’re forced to play as a PMC. Instead of kitting out, you’ll want to pack very lightly. This way, you can insure the few items you’ll bring with you without breaking the bank.

You’ll want to place the following in your Alpha Case:

  • Bandage
  • Splint
  • Painkillers
  • AI-2 Medkit

Any items in your Alpha Case are entirely safe if you die, and you won’t lose them. This means you can take these valuable healing items with you without risking their loss.

Other than healing items, you should bring a pistol of your choice and one magazine. I recommend the P226R as it carries a respectable 15 rounds in its magazine.

With the pistol, you should have enough firepower to take down a Scav and grab their gear or stay alive long enough to find a primary weapon on site.

Everyone is the enemy when you’re a PMC

When you do have to play as a PMC, all bets are off when you encounter any character, player-controlled, or AI. You should consider anyone you meet to be hostile and fire on sight. Scav AI will always be unfriendly to you, and players will typically be as well.

To survive as a PMC, you have to be ruthless, especially if you’re a solo player, so don’t feel bad if you have to kill a player, even if they’re poorly armed. It’s survival of the fittest in Tarkov, after all.

Start on Shoreline

Escape from Tarkov Shoreline

There are a lot of opinions on what the best map for Escape from Tarkov beginners is. Most will recommend Customs because that’s where most of the beginning tasks (quests) are located. However, I disagree. The best map for beginners to learn the game is Shoreline.

Shoreline is one of the larger maps in Escape from Tarkov, and as such, you’ll run into player characters less often. The biggest threat in this game will always be other players, so if you can deal with them sporadically and one at a time, you’ll get a better chance to take them out and extract with your loot.

Shoreline also has many landmarks that make it very clear where you are on the map and which direction your extraction point is. The layout of Customs is a lot more confusing, and the multitude of large buildings make snipers a much more significant threat.

Don’t use the in-game maps

You have the option to buy maps for each level from the Therapist, but you shouldn’t even waste the cash. Instead, use the Escape from Tarkov wiki or subreddit to find some good player maps.

Player maps will show you the best loot spots and where each spawn point and extract is. In comparison, the in-game maps only show a vague layout of the level, which is almost useless. This game doesn’t have a compass or GPS, so finding a good map to use is essential if you want to survive.

Learn how to spot the differences between an AI and player character

Knowing which characters are AI-controlled and which are live players is essential, especially when playing as a Scav. While you’re a Scav, the Scav AI won’t attack you as long as you don’t injure any other Scavs in their aggro zone. This allows you to just stroll through most loot spots in the game unimpeded as long as no player characters are around.

However, player Scavs might not uphold the same code the AI does. That’s why you need to be able to tell what you’re up against at a distance.

You can tell you’re looking at an AI character if they do the following:

  • The AI never looks up or down.
  • They only scan horizontally.
  • They walk a set patrol path.
  • They speak when you’re near them.

Additionally, the AI will never have a weapon on their backs. If you spot a character with a gun slung on their back, it is a player character 100% of the time.

However, even when you think it’s an AI in your sights, you have to be careful. Some players will act like an AI to lull you into a false sense of security so they can attack you as you come near.

Don’t give up

You’re going to die often in Escape from Tarkov, especially as a beginner. In essence, this game is a lot like PUBG without the battle royale trappings. There’s a lot of players competing for a relatively small amount of loot, and the realistic combat system means that the slightest mistake can lead to your death.

However, few video games can give the satisfaction you’ll feel after a successful extract. Take the time to learn this game and practice, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with it. There’s nothing out there right now like Escape from Tarkov, and it scratches a primordial itch as no other title can.