By Jason Harper (Hhean), OnRPG Journalist
Warframe, the game that could just as easily be called “NINJAS… IN…. SPAAAAAACE!” is a Third person shooter that focuses on co-op play. The moment to moment play is very similar to Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, with a greater emphasis on mobility rather than cover, while the random maps, levelling and looting are more akin to Diablo. Its coop title isn’t simply ‘single player that can be played with others’ as it really is only worth playing online. Bring friends.
You take on the role of a Tenno, a group of space ninjas who wear technologically advanced super suits that give them wizard powers. Each suit gives the user three mundane abilities and a fourth super ability that will, more often than not, kill everything around them. While most of your time is spent blasting everything in sight with a small arsenal of sci-fi boomsticks, these space ninjas make liberal use of a variety of close combat weapons to smash, cut and punch their victims. The combat is at its best when all three of these systems are being juggled in a single combat, shooting bullets into electrified foes before quickly dispatching a charging enemy as it hurls itself around a corner.
The game’s enemies play on the normal tropes found in other shooters. The game currently has three major enemy factions: The Grineer (Space marines), Corpus (Guns with legs) and Infested (Zombies). The most interesting of these are the Grineer, an army of cloned soldiers who bear more than a passing resemblance to Starcraft’s Terran marines. Having a chance to stab and shoot the marines rather than playing as the usual space grunt is an interesting change of pace. They’re also the most fun to fight due to their diverse set of units and weapons in the later levels. The other two are good fun for a change of pace, but the Infested’s AI is dumb as bricks, allowing you to kill them through methods that feel like cheating. One common trick, for example, is to simply stand on some crates while you gun them down, as they have no way to climb objects. The Corpus aren’t difficult or very interesting, and mostly get by on a load of cheap gimmicks like AoE knockdowns and traps.
While fighting these various foes, you can show off your sweet, sweet acrobatic moves. In keeping with your character being a flippin’ space ninja wizard, they can run along walls, do backflips, slide along the floor while shooting or slicing or do a Bruce Lee impression while they slam into enemies with a flying kick. While a number of the newer maps encourage the use of these tricks, they’re too impractical to use in a normal gunfight. It’s a real shame too, because it’s this sort of air-fu silliness that would kick the game into high gear. It needs to be injected with some Vanquish style jet-powered floor slides for maximum badassery.
This is a real problem with the game overall. While the game’s concept is completely insane, it isn’t pushed hard enough. The bosses are a good example of this. When you think of the sort of bosses that need to be tough enough to take on four space ninja wizards by themselves, what doesn’t come to mind is a normal guy with a shotgun with a recolour. The game needs more ludicrous death tanks packed with lasers, grotesque cthulhu abominations and stompy mechas with chainsaw lightsabers. The only notable boss is called The Jackal, a giant four legged robot that slams the ground while flying robots try to bomb you into submission. It’s a good start, but a single standout performance in a pack of otherwise unremarkable encounters.
The game has an unusual levelling system where the player’s account, their individual warframes and each piece of equipment can be levelled up. While an account’s level only allows a player to make use of a few additional pieces of equipment, levelling up weapons and frames allows them to be upgraded through the use of mods. These drop from the game’s enemies in the same way as a new bit of armour would in more traditional RPGs. This system means that rather than trying to find that exact Two Handed Sword of Murder +2, you simply go make or buy yourself a Two Handed Sword and then try to find a Mod of Murdering. So while you might not get a bit of gear tweaked exactly the way you want it right out the game, you at least get to make use of the weapons rather than having to constantly be on the lookout for that one bit of loot you need.
The game’s crafting system follows through with this same ideology, allowing you to make what you want through crafting components that are always found in particular levels. The problem is that often getting these items can be a bit of a grind, as you slowly accrue the various parts needed to assemble your own personal arsenal of death. I considered the grind to be less awful than in many similar titles since I at least knew that there was a clear goal in mind, and I would get exactly what I wanted rather than investing a good chunk of time to receive something that could be potentially useless.
The game is, by its very nature, quite repetitive though, so if you don’t find its gameplay inherently rewarding, or can’t stand the length of its grind (which can be exceptionally long when trying to get certain Warframes) then it can be hard to maintain interest. The warframe grind can be especially painful, forcing you to repeatedly fight the exact same boss (which is likely an uninteresting palette swap of a normal enemy) over and over again to get the pieces that in turn must be crafted in order to fill out the requirements to get the frame built.
Something that reinforces both the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s repetitive nature is that each mission’s maps are randomly generated. This means you can replay the same thing over and over while still being presented with new challenges to overcome. It also means that when not playing the exact same level over and over you might sometimes feel like you are, even when you aren’t. This isn’t helped by the lack of tileset diversity in the game at the moment. There are only three, and one of which is used more than the other two put together. It is also the weakest of the tilesets, offering the least variety in its set pieces. The best of these levels, a snow themed tileset, shows real promise for the game’s future though, as it creates a number of difficult situations for the player, with a good mix of tight corridors and open clearings while also providing some differences in verticality.
The number of different mission types pump variety into a format that could become stale quickly without them. When you drop into a mission you could, for example, find yourself collecting a certain number of macguffins, blowing up a ship’s engine or holding a point against waves of enemies. The tasks you perform at a given location are always the same, but how you go about it can change dramatically based on your equipment, allies and the random map layout. You can even try to stealth your way through a level rather than head into an open gunfight, but it’s currently too flawed to bother with. Outside of the standard levels, there’s the Alert Missions, which are special tasks that last for limited periods of time that give special rewards. Special weekend events also add to the mix rewarding you with unique equipment exclusive to that event. The alerts and special events are a great way of adding some spice to the game’s progression, and also encourage you to keep logging in to check what’s available at a given time.
The game is visually impressive, especially considering how little stress it puts on even low to mid-range rigs. It’s also tiny for what it is, a fraction of what similar games in the genre require. Unfortunately, the graphical fidelity is rarely leveraged to good effect, as few environments provide visually impressive set pieces.
Audio is good, but not great. The noises the game’s various weapons make are satisfying, but its soundtrack leaves much to be desired. The game only has one voice, a woman who delivers various bits of exposition or gameplay tips. While her delivery is passable, you will be stuck hearing some lines repeatedly over the course of a single mission, which can turn even the best performance into an irritation.
The free to play model is one of the weaker parts of the game. Everything is very expensive, with new warframes costing somewhere in the region of $15. However, since everything in the game can be unlocked for free, and that unlocking all the equipment in the game is its only long term goal currently, paying for things with real money almost feels like undermining yourself. The only reason I can see for paying is if your friends all have varying amounts of time to spend on a video game, so those with less time could spend money to keep pace with those who have all the phat lootz.
Unless you’re paying for power, that is. Orokin Catalysts (referred to by the community as ‘potatoes’), are an item you slot into your armour or weapons that doubles the worth of each level that item gains. If the game ever added in some form of pvp, this would be a nightmare, but it isn’t terrible as it stands purely due to the cooperative nature of the game. While these can be earned in alert missions, they’re incredibly rare compared to their low monetary cost. A free user won’t feel like they’re lacking in power until the late game, where they will often feel under equipped against some of the game’s tougher foes if they haven’t scrounged up a few catalysts. If you do take a moral stance against any form of buying power, this could be a deal breaker.
The greatest strength of the game though is that it’s being constantly being updated. There’s a reason I have had to constantly use the word ‘currently’ throughout this article. While the weekly updates are rarely significant, adding a couple of new weapons or aesthetic options, the major updates (also known as the numbered updates) always bring dramatic change. These have been so significant that our previous coverage of the game is now almost entirely incorrect due to its ever shifting nature. I fully expect this article to be completely wrong about everything in the game the moment Update 8 deploys, bringing with it new maps and clan functionality.
If you played Warframe in the past and were put off by anything except its grindy nature, then it’s certainly worth giving a new look. If you’ve never picked the game up, it’s a great way to spend some time with friends, especially considering there aren’t many co-op focused games that are free to play.
It’s also a game where you get to play as a ninja space wizard. If that idea alone doesn’t set your mind alight, then you may need to see a doctor. You may be at risk of not having a soul.
Graphics 4/5: It’s a fantastic looking game, especially for a free to play title
Controls 4/5: Gunplay is impactful, melee weapons feel meaty. Acrobatics are fun but too situational.
Features 2/5: Has some out of game functions to keep players aware of in game alerts
Customization 3/5: Aesthetic customization is nearly nonexistent, but overall the game has great build variety.
Community 4/5: Built from the ground up as a co-op experience, with upcoming extras for clans.