It’s time for some learning.
In the same way that other genres like the battle royale, the looter shooter, the ARPG, the hero shooter, the MOBA, the MMO, the racing sim, etc, have had their day in the sun, so to does the light seem to be shining on extraction games. Extraction games are, dare I say, the cat’s pajamas. The bees knees. All that and a bag of chips.
But what are they? One sentiment I’ve seen all over the internet whenever I read up on the genre getting big is people asking the simple question “bruh, what is an extraction game anyway?” Maybe it’s because the articles talking about them assume the reader already intimately understands the topic. Or the author doesn’t quite understand it themselves. Perhaps it’s laziness. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
So let’s talk about what an extraction game is, for everyone who found this article Googling what the hell an extraction game is.
Extraction Games Are About Extracting
I suppose we can start by looking at the overall focus of an extraction game. An extraction game is all about extraction. Go figure. But you probably aren’t looking up this article because you fully understand what that means, so let’s dive in.
Well the idea of extraction games is that you the player load into a map and that map is full of loot and other players . The goal is threefold; you want to explore the map and find loot, preferably better loot than you currently have on your person. Second, you want to defeat the PvE enemies that are on the map, as not only will they try to kill you but they tend to carry and protect the best loot. And third, you want to avoid or defeat the other players on the map who are also looking for loot, because extraction games have open PvP.
They also have open looting, meaning when you die everything you’ve collected up to that point is lost to other players to steal as you are immediately booted out of the session and can’t return. It’s a hyper-competitive “winner takes all” game mode that if you’re looking for a casual game to play on a Sunday afternoon, you need to go somewhere else. You can bet that any tactic you might find scummy and underhanded is very much fair game in this high risk, high reward genre.
Some games have insurance systems so you don’t lose everything, and others may send you back to base with your equipped goods but your inventory dropped. Some titles are far more tactical and others offer more survivability. Either way, a big part of extraction games is the severe punishment of death. They also tend to incorporate RPG elements allowing you to level up and offering small advantages the more you play. More on that in a moment.
Battle Royale With More Avenues Of Winning
In that sense extraction games are similar to battle royale with the difference being persistence and how winning is defined. A number of players drop into the map, and everyone’s goal is to survive.
The goal isn’t specifically to be the last surviving player, but merely to get your loot at then get out. There could be a dozen people still in the game but if you manage to extract with that piece of gear you’ve been eyeing or an upgrade or some cashola then you can chalk it up as a win. In fact even the scenario where things go south and you simply manage to get out alive to keep your loot another day may be a win.
And extracting is its own mechanic in the game as you don’t just hit the exit button and extract. Extraction games have very specific points where players can actually extract, a process that is often time-consuming and leaves you vulnerable to opportunistic looters, players camping those spots, and a last second cheap death.
Most extraction games have extra layers of things to do. Missions to complete, experience to gain, levels to level, and upgrades to your character as well as methods of potentially preserving your gear. The cycle involves getting better gear to boost your odds of surviving as you go in to gather better gear. It’s a Sisyphus tale in video game form.
These Aren’t PvE Games
I suppose at this point it’s worth reinforcing that extraction titles are not PvE (Player vs. Environment) games. Sure there are nonplayer characters in the games and they may even pose a challenge to defeat. But the meat and potatoes of the game is your fight against other players. Either taking their stuff or trying to stop them from taking your stuff.
For that reason extraction games don’t really offer modes that exclude PvP combat because the game core revolves around those interactions. While you could argue that Dark and Darker or Tarkov would still be a compelling game with the option of pure PvE, it really wouldn’t fit with the deliberately punishing nature of the genre. Players can figure out tricks to defeat NPCs, but players are generally less predictable.
You need the constant risk that somewhere out there there’s bound to be people better than you at the game. Better equipped, more knowledgeable on the map, and potentially waiting behind any closed door or in a dark corner of the room.
So Why Do People Play This Genre?
If you’re not already inclined to play these games, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to put themselves through this torture. The truth is that some gamers are just masochists. I’m kidding, almost. The allure of extraction games is, as I have said, the high-risk high-reward nature inherent to the genre.
Extraction games appeal to players who are deeply ingrained in the strategy of planning their trips, the fun of playing with friends as these games pretty much necessitate having groups, the unpredictability as your main opponents are other players, the rush of betting it all and the tension of combat as each battle could send you packing with nothing. The true progression is about getting better at the game, mastering the mechanics, and using that knowledge to blow someone’s head off and take their stuff. There’s a simple intensity that you don’t really get in other genres.
And that my friends is the extraction genre. Any questions?