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Escape from Tarkov: Beginner tips from Sacriel, one of the game’s top streamers

One of Twitch’s best snipers is here to save you

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Chris “Sacriel” Ball is a different sort of Twitch streamer, lacing his exploits in Escape from Tarkov with tons of good advice. That makes him uniquely qualified to help new players get into this extremely intimidating survival game.

Ball has been on the survival multiplayer beat since before PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was even a thing. He earned his stripes hunting campers in Chernarus, pulling security in DayZ’s hotly contested coastal region before that game even made it to standalone. Late last year he was among the first high-profile pro players to move over to Tarkov full-time. His style of play includes lots of long-range action, but he’s not against getting his hands dirty in close combat. Our email interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Polygon: Tarkov’s latest update increased the scale of parties. What’s the ideal number of players to drop in with for beginners? One seems like not enough these days, and just having another pair of eyes is incredibly useful I imagine. But three feels like too many.

Chris “Sacriel” Ball: Duos is the perfect group size for Tarkov, especially as a beginner. Once you know the maps and can stalk players effectively (meaning that you have enough time to say “is that you” before having to fight) there’s room for three- or maybe four-man teams. But, early game you have enough on your plate so playing as a two man team is perfect. One thing my squad does is say “steps” if one of us thinks they hear an enemy, simply hearing the word “steps” tells all of our squad immediately stand still so we can establish if any remaining footsteps indicate an enemy player.

The vendors can be a bit intimidating. Which ones should players focus on right off the bat, and what’s the easiest way to get in their good graces?

To make good money you should sell to Therapist first. She offers the best prices but only buys none-weapon items like food, water, meds, technical items, mechanic items, and dog tags.

Sell to Skier next. He has the second-best prices, but mainly he buys specific gun parts along with armor and helmets. He will not buy whole guns however, so to make the most money you can try right-clicking a gun to disassemble it into parts. Sell the parts to Skier first. Anything he wont buy you should sell to Prapor as you need to level him up for early quests.

Each vendor can be leveled up with a combination of performing tasks for them, spending money with them to buy gear, and finally just by leveling your main character up.

What are the first two guns that a newcomer should buy from vendors? What are the next two guns they should be earning up cash for?

In my book there aren’t any magical guns that stand out for newer players to try to buy. Generally the difference between the 500 types of AK in the game is relatively minor. Early game it’s arguably better to play your Scav (which has a 20-minute cooldown) every time it is available. Try to extract with the free Scav gear you are given, and then take that Scav gear on your next PMC run. Get used to what guns work for you, then you can start to prioritise finding those types of weapons in a raid and bring them out with you in your secondary weapon slot or bag.

In that same vein, what’s the best map for beginners, and how should they exploit it?

One of the main maps which you have to perform tasks on is Customs. It’s important for newer players to learn this map, but it can be quite dangerous.

There is Scav Boss which spawns on the map at two locations — the gas station and the dorms. High-level player squads often farm this boss for cash, so as a new player you should stay clear of the gas station or dorms for the first half of the round to make sure you aren’t going to run into the super-geared squads.

Most of the quests in Customs center around the dorms area, so try to swing by dorms late in the raid to finish your quests. Sometimes you’ll show up after the squads have opened all the locked doors for you, which can make your trip even easier.

What’s one vital piece of kit that you won’t go to battle without?

Recently-added medical items called the CMS (or Surgical Kit) and the Survival Kit have become an invaluable items in the game. Previously, when a limb reached zero health it was dead for the rest of the round and you had to limp your way to the extract point. These new medical item allow you to repair those dead limbs and heal them back up, giving you another chance at having a full round. The CMS is smaller and takes less time to use, but it leaves the repaired limb at lower health than the Survival Kit, which is bigger, takes longer, cures fractures, and leave the limb at a higher maximum hitpoint total.

Let’s talk body armor. Trade offs seems significant here compared with other survival games, and even more tactical games like Arma 3. Where should priorities lie when we’re just getting started: helmets, plate carriers, or something else?

Body armor is a very complicated part of the game. There are six levels of armor, and the higher the number the better it protects against incoming damage. But it’s not as simple as that.

Escape from Tarkov has a complicated hit detection system that compares bullet penetration value and armor value, which takes a long time to fully learn. Armor classes one through three are generally very low protection. They won’t protect you from a player firing any reasonably powerful ammo. But, armor class one-to-three will keep you alive against most of the AI scav threats in the game. Armors four, five, and six are more for protection against other players, but they cost a considerable amount of money. I recommend they only be used if you have a gun you actually care about losing (meaning one that is suppressed, scoped, or otherwise upgraded).

A nice cheap helmet is the SSh-68 which you can buy from the vendor Ragman. It’s tier three, and has a high chance to cause an incoming round to ricochet. Graze wounds are a big deal in Tarkov, so that means it has a chance of saving you from those. Ragman also has a variety of other armors which you can barter for by bringing him items you find in raids.

One important thing to mention is the condition of a vest. A class six vest at 10/10 durability (normally 75/75 when fresh) will not act like a class six armor. In that condition it’s more like a class two armor. A lot of newer players will accidentally buy a “high class” armor from the flea market when it has very low durability rendering it almost useless. Don’t fall for this!

Sound is an important part of tactics in this game. There’s the sound a rifle makes, and then there’s the sound that a player makes without even firing a gun. What are best practices for managing your audio profile, and avoiding getting jumped from behind?

Understanding the sounds you hear and make is vital for staying alive in Escape from Tarkov. Even something as simple as aiming your gun at somebody will make a sound they can hear which can betray your position.

It’s really important when ambushing somebody to aim-down-sight as early as possible, so you don’t have to do it when you are within audio range. The floor you stand on also makes a different sound which travels a different distance. Walking slowly on metal is louder than walking quickly on grass, so try to be mindful of how loud your own steps are and avoid sprinting unless you really need to.

Wearing headsets — the in-game items — will greatly increase your character’s ability to hear. Some helmets, such as the Kiver or Kolpak, actually reduce the amount you can hear. Many players would rather have an unprotected head if it means they can avoid an ambush entirely.

Lots of folks have a good run, and then get ambushed near the exit. What are some tips for getting past the exit campers, and making it home alive?

It’s really depends on the map, on the Factory map there are often campers at the main extract. Players who bring the “Factory exit Key” have a variety of different extracts they can use which are much less likely to be camped. For Customs there are some extracts on the map which have question marks beside them, such as the RUAF or smugglers boat extract. These extracts are also much less likely to be camped. They often have a visual clue from a distance to indicate when they are available such as a bright floodlight for the RUAF extract or a campfire for the smugglers boat extract. Study the extracts on the map and make sure you try to swing by the optional extracts before heading to the default ones.

Is mucking about in your hideout useful in the early game? If so, where should we be putting our time and energy?

The hideout is a great new addition to the game. It can boost your out-of-raid healing and sustenance early game. Once you get your upgrades going you will benefit from quicker Scav cooldowns, the ability to craft rare items (which are often task items which greatly speed up doing tasks) and the ability to even generate Bitcoins, which is free income!

Because of the design of the hideout there isn’t really a great deal of choice in the way you build the hideout due to most upgrades requiring you to have upgraded the other stations. If you play maps like Interchange you can often find piles of wires, bulbs and all sorts of tech that allow you to quickly blast through the early tiers of hideout stations.

Sacriel manages a great community, and chats a lot with folks even during high-intensity firefights. Feel free to stop by and ping him with your questions on Twitch any time.

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