Warframe is well known for being an extremely, extremely successful free to play game available through either Steam, or the developer’s Warframe website. Often nicknamed as the “Ninjas in Space” game, Warframe acts as an online, fast-paced and full of action third person shooter, where you can play alone or co-operatively with other players in squads of four.
● Co-operative Third-Person Shooter
● Released 25 / 03 / 2013
● Developed by Digital Extremes
● Published by Digital Extremes
● Platform: Xbox One / PS4 / PC / Nintendo Switch
[played on PC]
The game has also developed some renown for the continuous attempt by Digital Extremes to remain connected with their community; they host live streams on a regular basis called “Prime Time” and feature a variety of content that tends to encapsulate a good amount of fan works within it, and offer prizes of “platinum” – the in-game currency – for any simply logged into Twitch watching the stream. They also do developer diaries on a more irregular basis, where they preview a selection of unreleased content soon to be added into the game, answer community questions posed in chat, give out more prizes (sometimes including in-game items like Prime Warframes, more powerful versions of the regular Warframes that you play) and generally keep the community up to date on the development overall.
But, then, what about their game? We didn’t come here to talk about the developers, after all, and although developers keeping in some form of contact with their community seems to be praised these days because it doesn’t happen enough, I’m not sure that should be praised as highly as it is when the reality is that should be an industry standard. A rant for another time.
Visually, Warframe looks extremely pretty. It runs on the Evolution engine, Digital Extreme’s very own in-house engine, and has been featured previously in such games as Dark Sector and The Darkness II. In Warframe however, the engine frankly seems to look the best: the game feels fast when you play it thanks to fluid camera movements, the subtle visual effects and the (generally) precise controls and movement. While most conventional shooters make themselves fairly static and immobile due to the need to stop, aim a weapon, take cover and dispatch enemies, Warframe prizes itself on the constant mobility that you practically need to do anything successfully in the game. Standing in one spot, in this game, is a good way to get your ass blasted into the next galaxy. The game’s engine also does a generally good job of creating a feeling of momentum through physics, although it should be noted that ragdolls can absolutely glitch out or suffer from an overdose of momentum a la Skyrim and fly off to different dimensions or get shunted too hard into a piece of terrain where they will then promptly party hard until disappearing. Sadly, while I personally adore the visuals of the game, there are things to find fault with and I would be remiss to not mention them. Firstly, the game is actually a little too good at promoting the feeling of constant movement, because motion sickness is definitely something players risk when they take on this game. I don’t suffer with motion sickness at all, so for me it isn’t a problem, but it is most definitely a problem for others who find things like motion blur, camera shake or rapid movement induce motion sickness – because this game will be borderline unplayable even with settings turned down. Similarly, the game has a rather dull colour palette, which is a disappointment considering how gosh darn pretty you can make Warframes look when you customise their appearance. There’s a lot of murky green, muddy browns, various reds and foggy greys to be seen anywhere you go and that never really changes. You could call it an aesthetic choice, and sometimes it works and looks really good, but other times we can just call it what it is: boring, and uninspired.
So, while visually extremely pretty if not always appealing, how does the actual gameplay hold up? Well… well…
See, I wish I could tell you that the game is wonderful, because I really do love Warframe. I love how fast-paced the game is, how mobile you are, and generally the developers aren’t wrong to call it Ninjas in Space because, definitely, that’s precisely what this game is. If you ever wanted or needed a game where you can feel like a badass one man army in a magical space suit, engaging in the hardcore parkour everywhere you go while blasting enemies literally into pieces with a disgustingly strong shotgun? This game is right up your alley. But the problem is that, sometimes, the game is a little too good at making you an absolute badass. In fact, the game really struggles because of this.
To better explain the mechanics behind gameplay, we need to look at what a Warframe is, and what variety of weapons you have. “Warframes” are, in effect, magical suits that possess four abilities each that can do anything from directly damage enemies to enhance the mobility of the frame. Loki, for example, is a Warframe that can turn invisible, create a decoy, and disarm all enemies in the immediate area and force them to use only melee for a period of time. Ember is a Warframe that deals Heat damage to her enemies through fiery abilities directly injure things in front of or around her. Trinity is a Warframe that can heal her teammates and refresh their energy, as well as give herself a shield, while Frost can create a snowglobe that absorbs projectiles and can deal Cold damage to enemies through throwing snowballs at them or, the far cooler skill, freezing them solid temporarily. As of review date, there are 33 different Warframes with one more in the development and on the way. This also doesn’t include the “Prime” versions of these Warframes, which are basically slightly more powerful versions of those Warframes with a different physical appearance. And as for weapons…? Well, hundreds. Between shotguns, rifles, hammers, pistols, assault rifles, javelins, spears, hand cannons, actual literal cannons, grenade launchers, throwing stars, bows, maces, claymores, staves, throwing knives, and whatever the hell exists that I couldn’t think off from the top of my head.
Basically, there’s a lot of shit in this game. To make this more confusing, all of these things – Warframes and weapons and companions – can be outfitted with things called “mods”. Mods are the building blocks of anything you do in Warframe, as they basically make you more powerful. In total, you can have eight mods on any given thing, along with Warframes getting an additional one slot called an “Exilus” slot that needs to be unlocked with a special item, and melee weapons getting an extra mod slot for their “stance” which changes how their combos perform. And if you aren’t confused yet, it still gets worse, so buckle up kids. See, everything in this game can be gotten for completely free, with nary a dime needed to be spent to achieve it. The problem is, however… that Warframe demands you gather resources and materials for these things… and it isn’t very good at giving you these resources or materials, either.
Warframe’s biggest pair of complaints is that the game is convoluted – which it is – and that the grinding you need to achieve everything is just too great for an average player – which it is. Farming for weapon or Warframe parts is exhausting, especially because a good number of these parts tend to be based on randomly generated drops for certain missions based on how long you stay in them – and you can’t increase your odds of getting these parts, either. You just have to do a mission for half an hour and pray and, if you’re unlucky – which you’re likely to be – you’ll have to do that same mission again. I’m sure, already, that you can see the immediate problem with this sort of gameplay. Combine this frustrating reliance on RNG for everything in the game you need to progress with a laughably small number of Warframe and Weapon slots for free accounts (forcing you to pick and choose what Warframes and weapons you want to keep and what you want to throw,) the awfully programmed enemy scaling that turns every longer mission into a war of attrition where – eventually – you’ll just be blown up in one hit by anything that so much as sniffs at you, and the fact that every weapon, Warframe and companion has a “rank” based on how much you’ve used them and how much experience you’ve gotten with them to a maximum rank of 30 (and that you need to level everything you get to rank 30 in order to increase the rank of your actual account) and you just have this… messy, well-polished turd. And it hurts to call Warframe that, because the game can be so much actual fun to play.
I have almost every Prime Warframe released so far, with the exception of the latest two. I have almost every Warframe with the exception of I think three, if I’m counting right. I’m nowhere near close to having used all the weapons, but I do have some of the most powerful ones in the game if you mod them properly. And I won’t lie about it – I’m proud to have these things. I enjoy Warframe and I love to play it… when the mood is right. But that mood is also quickly stamped on and snuffed out by Warframe itself, because I very quickly grow tired of unfair enemy scaling and bullshit drop rates that are so low I might as well go buy fucking lottery tickets. It’s sad that a game so visually appealing and so fun to actually play – a game that when it gets it right it gets it really, really right – is so brought down by unnecessary amounts of RNG and by such extreme limitations in how reliably you can obtain things you need to progress. It’s no secret that games can make you play longer if they make you feel powerful as you get better at them, and Warframe definitely achieves this by giving you an arsenal of superhuman suits with magical powers that can literally rip enemies into pieces, but it also does a very bad job of making levelling these things rewarding. The shotgun called Tigris – which now has the regular version, the New Loka group version and the Prime version – is just always strong. It never feels like it gets stronger because at rank 0, it blows apart level 1-10 enemies. And at rank 10, it’s blowing apart level 10-40 enemies. And at rank 30, it’s blowing apart enemies up to a maximum of 60 or so. Above that, however, and suddenly the gun gets to be increasing levels of useless because the enemy scaling takes an unexpected and huge shit all over you. There’s never a feeling of reward for levelling up your weapons or your Warframes – Warframes feel only slightly better than weapons because you unlock your abilities as you level up and they get more powerful in increments.
Even then, the game is just hilariously unrewarding after a while. It becomes boring and repetitive, it becomes the same old song and dance far too quickly, and it turns into a fun-sucking vampire that leeches the joy you feel playing it out of you with every mission you do, until you find yourself asking why you’re still playing the game when you’re never really going to be done and there isn’t really an end of the game for you at all. You’ll just need to go get a new weapon, and level it up in the same five missions, and then do it again. Maybe do the same one mission fifty times and hope that very specific Warframe part drops. It’s just… bad.
To make this worse, while there is a story (which I won’t lie, I’m engaged with whenever it gets bloody updated) the updates are infrequent and the story segments are, at best, maybe only 10 missions long. Voice acting for the cutscenes can be hit and miss to some, borderline irritating to others and just sort of average for the rest of us, and in total each part of the story takes perhaps a few hours at best to finish (complete with bugs for the unlucky that demand you restart missions over.) It’s a good and interesting story, but it updates so infrequently and it is so short that you can, reasonably, call it forgettable and it clearly isn’t the main focus of the game. No, the main focus is the Warframes and weapons, which leads us back to the grinding and the frustration. On a complete side-note to this, though somewhat related to the story, Warframe does boast a rather beautiful soundtrack – at this part I’d probably be willing to call it one of the best parts of the game, the audio – and does manage to nail the sound design. The composer of the soundtrack has done a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere of the universe that Warframe takes place in, and the sound design team has done a good job of making things sound as flashy and gritty and explosive as they look. Kudos to them.
I would never say to anybody that they shouldn’t try the game – unless I know they have epilepsy or get badly motion sick, and then I might tell them that this isn’t their game. Warframe is fun, it’s incredibly fun when it wants to be, and there are times that I pick it up and play it and wonder why I ever stopped playing it. But for every time that happens, it also inevitably happens that I get reminded why I stopped playing it when I come face to face with the frustrating randomised grind, the disgusting new Riven mod system that might as well be called “Mod Gambling: The Game” for all the good it does an average casual player with only a couple of hours to spare here and there, the awful way the developers decided to tackle the problem of their own making when they made players so grotesquely powerful which, it so happens, was to just make enemies scale up and up and up in long missions until they could literally blast through your shield and your health in a singular shot because they did just that much damage to you. This game is fun, but it could be so much better if it tackled the rampant problem of grind and the lack of rewarding feeling for getting good mods or levelling your Warframe and weapons to maximum rank. So try the game, definitely try it – and then put it down after you’ve had your fill, and don’t let the game convince you that the grind is worth it.
Because it just isn’t.