Ninjas are just badass by default. From katanas to stealth, shurikens to perpetually stoic faces, there’s so much to love about being one. Even being clad in a skin tight yet free flowing suit oozes alpha male (or female). Add outer space, futuristic enemies and sprinkle in some cybertech to increase badassery by an exponential amount. That’s what Digital Extremes has accomplished with their recently released title Warframe.
In the much distant future, most of humanity has been wiped out or displaced due to multiple wars. The Tenno, warriors of both the blade and gun host Warframe armor and fought in the old wars, but ended up drifting in stasis after. This armor grants access to highly acrobatic and parkour-esque movements along with very powerful abilities. Similar to the Matrix the player is awakened by the Lotus, the “Operator” who aids the Tenno, from a cryostatis chamber to join the war efforts against the Grineer, Infected, and Corpus.
The story only serves as a reference point for players because where this game shines is in its execution, not so much its lore. Hopefully future story elements will complement gameplay aspects. For a beta, it’s not that big of an issue. It’s also important to mention that Warframe is free to play, becoming a risk free option for skeptical gamers everywhere.
As mentioned before, the Tenno utilize Warframe armors to carry out missions and tasks, 3 of which the player has access to when starting the game for the first time. After selecting Mag, Excalibur, or Loki the player finds themselves in a mildly useful, but practical tutorial. The locations of the missions within Warframe reside in our Solar System. Starting off with Mercury, players can progress all the way to Pluto, experiencing missions on various moons, derelict ships, and satellite base stations of each planet. Players can opt to quickly unlock access to many planets or focus on completing them as they all contain a final boss on a singular node.
Boss nodes confer additional chances for module drops and this ratio is increased with a larger party. Mission types vary from each location, but there is a general set for each planet. Sabotage, rescue, and exterminate are some of the many different scenarios Tenno will find themselves in. The rewards for completing missions varies since most if not all contain a credit reward, but also the spoils rely on player exploration to some degree. There are many chest scattered through each zone so taking time to explore has its rewards. Enemies sometimes drop modules or artifacts, both of which are valuable. The former for the purposes of improving the defensive or offensive capabilities of Warframes and weapons with the latter being minor boosts for the duration of the mission such as seeing enemies on radar, health regeneration etc.
In terms of visuals and gameplay Warframe excels. Visually the game is on par with the likes of Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto, and other big name titles in the 3rd person action genre. This should be expected, but considering that Warframe is free to play, it’s quite impressive the amount of detail that is present in each map. Also the artistic design complements these visuals, especially concerning the diversity of each Warframe armor. Players will find it easy to differentiate between Loki, Mag, and Excalibur as well as the other 9 Warframes available.
How players interact with the world of Warframe is through a galaxy map akin to Mass Effect or Star Wars: The Old Republic. From this galaxy map players can choose each planet they’ve unlocked so far. Periodically there are alerts which offer bonus missions available for a fixed amount of time. Often they yield more credits than normal missions and sometimes they will offer special parts or blueprints for certain Warframe armors rarely available. Environments range from derelict space ships to tundra areas with a few scattered bases. The maps do get repetitive after many hours of play, but randomly generated layouts of each area alleviates this problem to a small degree. As mentioned before, Warframe is still in beta so I can only imagine that more maps are incoming.
Playing Warframe is no passive feat. Players will have to be on their guard and aware at all times unless the enjoy staring at the “Revive/Abort” screen. The different types of enemies both host varying strengths and weaknesses that players have to take note of. Infected do well in swarming players, Corpus lay down heavy suppressive fire, and Grineer are much more tactical and thrive on guerrilla tactics. Fortunately the abilities of the 12 Warframes help to even the odds and in many cases turn the tide. Each Warframe comes with 4 special active abilities which is dependent on the type of Warframe and its capabilities. Ember for example, thrives on using fire based skills which are heavily damaging to organic enemies such as the Infected and to some extent the Grineer. Trinity on the other hand focuses on supporting her team with healing and damage mitigation abilities such as Well of Life, Energy Vampire, and Blessing.
Other Warframes such as Loki, Ash, and Banshee rely on stealth and cunning to take down enemies with abilities such as Invisibility, Smoke Screen, and Silence. Lastly, there are Warframes that do well in the heat and frenzy of battle such as Rhino, Saryn, and Frost. These types of Warframes can take a lot of punishment and dish it out all the same. Coupled with excellent AoE abilities, these Warframes can often take the attention from hordes of enemies to allow their allies to retreat if need be. Tenno also rely on the use of guns and melee weapons, both of which are plenty and varied in Warframe. From shotguns to crossbows and dual axes to giant glaives, players will be hard pressed not to find a suitable combination for their playstyle.
The most notable and integral part of the gameplay comes not from combat, but from the crafting and modification system within the game. As mentioned earlier, enemies will drop modules, for either Warframes or weapons, that can be used to give players an edge over enemies such as increased shield capacity for survival or increased fire rate on a slow firing weapon. There are hundreds of modules to be collected and the neat thing about the modules is the fusion system. Fusion cores and duplicates of the same modules can be combined to power up existing modules for more potent effects. So taking a Shield Capacity mod and fusing it with another will grant it double the capacity. Also the price for improving mods increases for each mod fused with it. I found myself spending more credits on improving my mods than improving my hardware.
Currently Warframe only supports 4 player co-op with no announced plans for any type of PVP in the near future. It’s been stated on the forums by the developers that they have considered it, but are ultimately against PVP for the time being. In support of this idea, the story of Warframe doesn’t support PVP in the way that other games may. Potentially the full release will allow players to join factions and compete against each other, but that remains to be seen.
As for the multiplayer, the system is drop in and drop out. My favorite aspect of the multiplayer is the ability for people on your friends to join your game no matter the progression or stage of the mission. This cuts down on a lot of unnecessary waiting and gets everyone right into the action. The option of having a public party, private party, and being offline to solo is very conducive to many types of players as well.
Sometimes people want to test their mettle against the Infected alone or maybe just run a duo without two other players raising the difficulty. Digital Extremes has done a superb job in accommodating the players in Warframe, ensuring that many different experiences and playstyles are properly taken into account.
With all the praise I’m giving Warframe there are some issues and gripes that I ran into with the game. The biggest issue I’ve had with this game is the lack of preparation for dealing with how mods work and the whole inventory system. How to equip mods, how to upgrade them, and how to equip different weapons should have been instituted in the tutorial. It doesn’t take much to figure out, but having this knowledge sooner would help players make better decisions in terms of their playstyle instead of “Oh look a module, let’s equip it.” Arming players with knowledge of what modules do and how they affect their Warframe and weaponry would be a great benefit to newer players.
This isn’t necessarily a deleterious thing for me, but for much more casual players, the amount of grinding required to attain good gear and mods seems a bit high. I believe Digital Extremes has taken this into account and a counter to this argument is that there are options to bypass spending time by spending money on Platinum, the micro transaction currency within Warframe. So on that front, it’s really up to the player to decide if spending money on a free to play game is worth it. Even with spending money, a lot of higher tier weaponry and items are XP locked, requiring players to still put in the time to achieve new ranks of power. This type of check and balance keeps Warframe from spiraling into a “pay to win” model that some free to play games inadvertently fall into.
Another issue I had with the game is the repetitiveness of the earlier environments. The early planets, Mercury, Venus and Saturn offer little in terms of differing landscape outside of the ship interior with the occasional outside snow areas. As I’ve already mentioned, this is a beta and I’m sure Digital Extremes has differing locales in mind for the full release; it just gets a little stale after a few hours of play. On the later planets the diversity of environments is increased which is refreshing, but it shouldn’t take 10 hours of play to experience this.
On the whole, Warframe is a pleasant, refreshing, and entertaining take on ninjas and sci-fi along with 3rd person action. The diversity of the armors, the weapons, and the mods really help to give the game some longevity. Also the sheer amount of difficulty in regards to obtaining high level or powerful gear is something that’s to the chagrin of the trend of video games currently, which I endorse. Players will appreciate and also remain loyal to a game they’ve invested a lot of time and themselves into. With the beta being this stellar, I have even higher expectations for the full release of Warframe.