By Michael Sagoe (mikedot)
Back in 2012, Digital Extremes, the creators of such action titles including the original Unreal Tournament, Bioshock and The Darkness, decided to create a new kind of F2P Co-op shooter experience that takes the vast reaches of space and mixes it up with super-powered space ninjas, and they called it “Warframe”. As the spiritual successor to DE’s very own “DarkSector” title for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Warframe focuses on an ongoing conflict between various factions across the galaxy, and as for the space ninja clan known as Tenno, it’s their job to keep these factions in check.
Since its initial beta release, the game has had over 14 major content updates, with a 15th update on the horizon. With tons of weapons, missions, enemies, environments and features added over the years, does Warframe now have enough content going for it to be considered a complete co-op experience that rivals fully priced retail games?
First off, one new inclusion to the world of Warframe that has been very desperately needed for a long time is “the new player experience.” Now Warframe starts new players off on the right foot by introducing them to a quest line tutorial which will show them the ins and outs of the gameplay, as well as important features such as the foundry, mod system and more. This new player experience also includes a small story quest featuring one of the Grineer faction’s leaders: Vay Hek, as he attempts to capture new Tenno players for his nefarious purposes.
While the quest line is fairly short, it gets the job done and also gives the player a sense of purpose from the get-go, since originally, players were just thrown into the game world without much of a clue as to why they were fighting in the first place, other than little tidbits of lore available in the Codex.
Along with the new player experience, many previous features have been revamped, mostly for the better, but some a little bit for the worse. Now all players have access to a flying ship which will be every player’s base of operations, instead of just a few menu screens to look at. While players cannot personalize their ships, they still make the game world feel more alive and active than it used to. Previous features that received revamps also include the UI, the mod system and more. The new UI is a bit confusing to navigate through at first, but players should get used to it within a few hours or less. Some mods have received major buffs and nerfs across the board, although a few mods in particular are still incredibly powerful and still manage to render some mod combinations as ineffective.
Despite everything that has changed with the game, one thing that hasn’t changed for the better is the tedious grind for collecting mods and resources. When players are first starting out, the grind may not seem like much, but once players have maxed out their first warframe and a set of weapons, it will become clear how tedious things can be, since certain resources and mods drop at a dreadfully low rate. Of course, there are boosters you can buy with real money to help speed up the process, but for those that truly want to be dedicated to the game, it can get a little pricey.
Speaking of pricey: Many items in the item shop hold some hefty prices, especially cosmetics that can cost $10 to $20 for things like color pickers and armor pieces. Everything else in the game, however, can be obtained in-game through collecting resources for blueprints, or by trading items with other players for platinum (cash shop currency), so dedicated players will be able to obtain all the worthwhile items without paying a cent.
The biggest problem with Warframe is that there’s a lack of entertaining endgame goals combined with heavy repetition to keep you occupied while more content is produced. Once players have maxed out their favorite warframe or weapon, there isn’t much else to do other than maxing out other warframes and weapons to be more powerful than they really need to be. There isn’t any major quest lines or stories to participate in, other than a few occasional event quests that happen every so often. Once you feel like your warframe and weapon is powerful enough to take on any challenge, most players will feel like there’s not much else to do except start a new build to repeat the process.
Going through that process again and again starts to lose its luster, since even with the respectable amount of mission types available in the game are weighted down by predictable AI, making them routine except for the occasional assassination attempt from NPCs such as The Stalker and Zanuka. Digital Extremes HAS been getting on the right track of things by including more storyline quests such as Vay Hek’s Prize, but a lot more could be done to make the whole endgame experience seem livelier and fulfilling.
Despite these issues with endgame, Warframe is very much a game that’s easy enough to pick up and play for a few minutes or a few hours. The combat can be as fast paced or as slow paced as you want it to be, since with so many warframes and abilities, you can play it however you want: Traditional TPS, stylish hack ‘n slash, cover-based tactical shooting, stealth action and anything else that loosely fits into the ‘space ninja’ archetype. Warframe’s gameplay is practically several games in one, and there’s several mission types available to suit all those genres, including stealth/rescue missions, capture missions, attack & defend missions, etc. If you’re casual, you can simply hop on, do a few alert missions and head off, or if you’re hardcore, you can spend hours doing void missions to get the best mods and resources available.
Speaking of “stylish hack ‘n slash”: In update 13, they introduce a new melee combat system that allows players to perfect different combo attacks, parries, weapon guards and more. However, weapons do not come with combo attacks by default, but instead come in the form of mods that must be farmed from a mission, so there’s just another layer of grinding involved before you can start using your favorite weapon effectively. Plus, some of the weapon combos available lack a sense of utility.
For example: The glave weapon has combos for multi-target AOE, single target knockdowns and ranged damage, which all have useful applications for different situations, but weapons like the Nikana mostly have a bunch of mash attacks that relatively do the same thing, but with a different animation tied to them. While the new combo system is a bit flaky for some weapon types, it’s still much more versatile than the previous melee system.
Also to mention: The only other endgame activity that players can participate in would be conclave battles and solar rail conflicts, but since Warframe is a PvE focused game, conclave battles are very unpopular, not to mention how unbalanced matches can be due to how modding and stats work in Warframe. Solar Rail conflicts fair a bit better due to the mix of PvP and PvE. Solar Rail Conflicts also provide players with unique mods and bounties to collect, so players will be seen participating in these missions far more often than not.
Warframe uses a very typical TPS control scheme that works well for Keyboard and Gamepad users. Along with straight forward running and gunning, Warframe allows players to run up and along walls, slide down slopes and pull off all sorts of ninja-like moves, and pulling these moves off is as simple as holding down your spacebar or jump button. There are also active skills that can be activated using the 1-4/middle mouse button or shoulder buttons on a gamepad, and these all have either single or multiple uses, such as Valkyr’s whiplash that can either be used to pull enemies close or used to grapple onto objects.
Playing on a gamepad may give the player a slight disadvantage compared to Keyboard users, however, due to some jumping puzzles and parkour movements that will require quick and precise jumps and turns. So unless players can handle using a gamepad with high joystick sensitivity, players may find themselves challenged with overcoming some obstacles.
When it comes to customization, Warframe provides it in spades. Just about everything regarding your warframe’s appearance, stats and more can be personalized and tweaked in many different ways. For instance: The mod system lets you use customize cards that you’ve discovered from missions and enhance your warframe, weapons or pets for increased damage, increased range, utility and so much more. There’s a ton of different weapons available and each fall into categories such as rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, hand cannons, swords, katanas, hammers, etc. Just about any kind of weapon type you can think of, Warframe has it available just for you.
All of those weapons can also be tweaked with the mod system, as well as a forma key that will let you add point reduction slots so you can equip more powered mods onto your weapons. However, this creates horrendous issues with balance as some weapons are noticeably more powerful than others, so many players will end up leaning towards the same kinds of weapons for high level missions. But still, due to the forma system, it is very possible to turn every weapon in the game into something viable, so if you have a personal favorite weapon that you just can’t put down, you’ll have to put in some time and effort to make it YOUR personal killing machine. Same can be said with warframes and their abilities.
At the time of this review, many warframes have been retooled and rebalanced. While some warframes could still use a few buffs or nerfs, every warframe serves different play styles and are suited for many different missions and situations, so expect to see and use a variety of them in every mission.
Along with weapon and warframe customization, update 14 introduced a new type of battle pet called “Kubrows” which are basically alien attack dogs that can assist players in combat both offensively or defensively. These can also be customized with the same kind of mod system as warframes and weapons. The upkeep for these pets is very high and has to be taken care of just like a real pet, but their usefulness outweighs the upkeep costs for sure.
Visuals, Sound and Presentation
With an in-house engine developed by Digital Extremes, Warframe gives off some incredible visuals that are simply a joy to behold if your PC can handle it. With high quality textures, a unique sci-fi aesthetic, striking character models and DirectX11 capabilities, this is easily one of the most impressive looking F2P games on the market.
The sound quality is also as good as the visuals, as Warframe’s musical tone is set with a mix between jungle/tribal tunes and energetic electronica that strangely reminds me of Blade Runner. While these two themes give off very opposite vibes, Digital Extremes managed to make them work very well together to create a unique vibe for Warframe that stays fresh for a long time. They’ve even included “Dynamic music” during combat that changes depending on the current status of the mission, and really kicks up the pace during the middle of a battle. Faction enemies also have very striking alien voices that give them distinct personalities, which also add to the game’s already excellent audio presentation.
The overall presentation for Warframe is excellent as it provides a sense of familiarity from other Sci-fi themed games, but at the same time, the design of the characters themselves will still make Warframe feel like a game you’ve never seen before. The only real issue that players may have with the game could be the character animations for certain melee attacks, as they generally come off as abrupt and unnatural looking.
The community for Warframe is very laid-back and friendly (for the most part), as players are always ready and willing to help new players learn the ropes with very little grief or resistance. This all shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since the game is mostly focused on cooperative play, and without much of a competitive community to spark things up, just about everyone in the game is civil and respectful. There’s also a very health community of traders, guilds and alliances to help players trade their items and/or credits for platinum (cash shop currency) or help players achieve various blueprints and goals. It doesn’t take long to find what you’re looking for in Warframe’s community, so new players should be able to jump in without fear.
Despite some issues with endgame content, Warframe proves to be a feature packed game that can easily rival any fully priced retail game. The new tutorial does a decent job easing new players into the world of Warframe, and its highly entertaining combat can easily hook casual and hardcore players alike. If you’re looking for a quality F2P TPS title with Space Ninjas, then look no further.