Many different Tarkov players have their own personal gripes with the game in terms of progression, quests, balance, and overall mechanics. However, one thing most of those same players will agree on unanimously, is how insane the map/level design is for each stage you find yourself walking around on. Unlike modern shooters like the newer Call of Duty’s, where they have been creatively bankrupt for years in terms of their general map design, BSG has somehow done the impossible and created large-scale maps that allow for tons of creative ways to navigate them. Each different location in the game feels completely unique from one another, and there are no two maps currently in the game that have any real semblance of similarities. It still blows my mind that we have nine maps in the game, many of which have been iterated on and even expanded multiple times, that are this detailed and complex. Almost to their own detriment (we will talk about that later). But there is something so special and honestly beautiful about Tarkov’s level design that needs to be praised. And that’s exactly what we are going to do. This is pretty much just going to be me gushing about the locations across Tarkov and what makes them so special and unique compared to each other, as well as other games. We won’t be going into every single map and the specifics of them because we’d be here forever, but some high-level analysis should do the trick nicely here. So, if you are as excited about this as I am, be sure to leave your thoughts down below and subscribe for future videos.
Let’s start with how Tarkov’s maps differ from other shooters. For one, they are usually larger than your average arena shooter map. With the exception being Factory, which was conceptually made to be for close-quarters combat. It was also one of the OG release maps, alongside Customs and Woods. Some games are the exception in this case; Battlefield is usually more focused on larger scale combat, involving land, water, and air vehicles to create the sense of scale and you being involved in something that could be considered a war. Tarkov falls in between Battlefield and COD; medium to large maps with points of interest throughout to get you where you need to go. Now, some maps have more going for them than others. Customs, I would argue, has more points of interest than Woods, especially close to one another. But Woods is a larger map, with a completely different emphasis. Customs is primarily mid ranged engagements. But there are some spots and sightlines that allow for long-ranged and close-ranged combat. Woods is almost exclusively long-range fights. The design of that map is just that; a heavily wooded area with tall rocks and mountains to scale for use of precise long-ranged weapons with heavy scopes on them. It’s a sniper's paradise. And overtime, I have been able to experience that. That level of immersion; knowing that most other players on the map looking for action, have ranged weapons and are lurking in the shadows. Hanging out around areas with vantage points to spot anyone trying to relocate and get a better position. Not to mention, after Woods was expanded, we have more villages to loot, and areas with a sense of isolation because they are so far away from original parts of the map. The water helps too; it limits directions you can traverse the map as well as contextually adds a nice visual aspect to the map. Because not every map has water on them, and those that do are usually coastal maps.
Customs is my personal favorite map in the game. I would argue it’s the most “balanced” regarding being able to experience every aspect of Tarkov in a single raid that makes it so interesting. The sense of wonder and mystique of trying to find your way across the map if you are new to the game. Its layout is relatively simple; it’s a big rectangle and you need to get from one side of it to the other. The points of interest are high. Big red, old and new construction, old and new gas station, crack house, stronghold/fortress; not to mention all the other buildings on boiler side, or the storage area on big red side. It’s impressive how they were able to stuff this map with so much to do. This map started off small and generally difficult to survive on because there were so many different choke points across the map with its initial iteration. But over time, BSG has expanded Customs twice or maybe three times I can’t remember, and the pacing of the map has gotten so much better. It doesn’t feel as though crossing the large bridge over the river is immediate death, and getting around new gas is also easier as well. There’s a ton to do on the map. There will be times where all you see are PMCs and there will be raids where you never see another player. And while other maps can also have this happen, Customs to me with no other players on it feels the most peaceful because it becomes an open sandbox to just loot and kill scavs for exp. It’s wonderful; I love the map to death, and it will most likely always be my favorite.
That’s not to say the other maps in the game are bad, but they provide their own sets of challenges that some may enjoy, and others may detest. Interchange, on paper to me, is the most interesting idea for a level out of all of them. An abandoned mall with tons of shops to loot and some locked up stores with powerful gear. Again, on paper, it sounds awesome. Unfortunately, and I’ve said this in the past, it’s the execution of Interchange that is frustrating to many, myself included. The lighting has been a point of contention since the map came out, and BSG has tried for years now to fix it, and earlier this year, they improved it by removing the fog. But it’s still not enough sadly. If the lighting was better and the extracts weren’t so restrictive with how you get out, I think people would love Interchange. But right now, it’s so close, but needs a little more work to become great.
Reserve is a map that when it came out, everyone played the heck out of it. At the time of its release, it was by far BSG’s most ambitious map to date. A full military base with tons of buildings, a small underground parking section, an observatory dome for the literal perfect conditions for sniping, and a moving train that functioned as an extract. Reserve had a lot going for it. And the base itself has so much wear to it that it really does feel like this was occupied by tons of troops for a long time. Glukhar is still there obviously and has taken personal ownership over the whole thing. But I mean in the full military scheme. I can see tons of soldiers living here, going about their daily operations and the like. It’s so cool to walk around and get a gist of what it might’ve been like to live on the base. Because again, one thing that BSG excels at with their maps is the subtle storytelling they do by what is left behind. And the two maps that probably do the best job of this subtle storytelling are Streets of Tarkov, and Terragroup Labs.
Starting with Streets, the map was gigantic, even before its first expansion. Seeing the universe of Tarkov in an extremely dense and urban environment is so surreal. We had seen screenshots and tiny snippets of the map in action over the years, and for a while it felt like we were never going to see it be brought to life. But low and behold, Streets is now playable, and ignoring the blatant performance issues, and talking strictly about the design of the map, nothing in the game even comes close. The largest map without a doubt, especially considering it has already been expanded once and is going to get bigger one more time. So many different buildings, stores, hotels, apartment sections, construction; Streets literally has it all. It even goes underground in a parking garage. This feels like a living, breathing society; full of everyday people doing their thing in life. Which is a shame to see it stricken with warfare between factions. So many homes deserted, so much vandalism and damage to property. But again, this all tells a story. Many rooms that can be opened show you more details about the people that lived there. Which I think is so important to really sell the authenticity of the map not feeling fabricated. And that’s one thing that all Tarkov’s maps have going for them. A level of authenticity that is unlike many other maps in games. Items aren’t just thrown in places without them having some real-world sense to it. There is a little bit of this of course, but for the most part you don’t see things where you might not see it if the area was real. Which brings us to the final map we’ll talk about.
Labs is the only map in the game that is “scary”. I’m not referring to its difficulty, but more so the meaning behind the map’s inclusion, and the lore implications it has. We know Terragroup were doing some heinous shit down here, and many people died as collateral for the companies' sins. You can find the bodies of those who worked at the company thrown down an elevator shaft; not the best hiding of evidence, but an attempt, nonetheless. Labs is also the only map to have this insidious drone that happens every maybe 15-20 seconds. Most other maps have ambient noise like wind, or rain. But Labs is deep underground; so those elements can’t be around. It’s tense and stressful being down there. You don’t belong; you are just seeing the aftermath of the carnage that ensued. And it’s empty, but still for the most part, clean. A laboratory that makes you ask nothing but questions. And even with the Raid series, and the books, we still don’t have all the answers. Hopefully one day all the pieces are put into place, and we can figure out what really happened down there.
Tarkov’s level design is bar none. At this point, it would be very difficult for anyone else to compete with the layouts, design, interactions, mechanics, and storytelling that BSG is able to craft. I have always been impressed by what they have made. Even if there are maps, I don’t enjoy playing, that doesn't take away their significance to the game. Tarkov is better with them in the game. And hopefully, the final map, Terminal will live up to the hype, and we are finally able to Escape From Tarkov. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to watch this video. Let me know in the comments your favorite elements of Tarkov’s level design and subscribe for more videos about the genuinely awesome things in the game, that deserve praise. I hope to see you in future ones.