Warframe is a free-to-play, online multiplayer, third-person shooter that is currently in open beta. Wearing your… uniquely designed combat suit, called a warframe (as I mentioned in the email) you team up with as many as three other players and go on various missions against different types of computer AI enemies. PvE, in other words. Each warframe has unique abilities it can bring to the battlefield, and though there are dozens to choose from, you have a choice of three when you first start out (those mirroring the basic fighter, rogue, mage archetypes). Unless you’re willing to drop the cash, you will be–and there’s no nice way of saying this–grinding missions to level up your profile to purchase blueprints (with in-game money) so you can gather the resources to build new weapons and warframes to play with. Or you can gather the resources before buying blueprints; it doesn’t matter. That naturally happens when you shoot stuff and open containers.
For reasons I am honestly still trying to work out, I’m still playing this game about three weeks later. I initially joined because a friend was playing it, and it seemed interesting enough to investigate at least, but I’ve stuck around all this time later. Why?
There’s nothing revolutionary going on here really. It possesses the core element I practically vowed never to tolerate again (grinding); a lot of what you’re doing is the same stuff over and over; it loves to make you sit while the game’s foundry takes 12+ hours–or even days–to build your toys, depending on what it is, and it promises instant gratification if you just drop the money to buy everything you want now. Oh, and speaking of time wasting: you actually have to take a combat test to level up your profile. The big deal here is that it’s your profile level that allows you to unlock new warframes and weapons. The interesting stuff doesn’t really become accessible until profile rank 2–you start at rank 0. You will also spend probably about your first 15 hours of play getting to that point. And while the tests are (so far as I’ve played) straight-forward enough, you have to wait twenty-four hours before taking the test again should you fail.
Yet for all of that, there’s something about this game I find really enjoyable, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. But it is worth noting there are several things I liked about the game, and I believe are worth liking.
- The warframes themselves–all of them–are unique in design, both aesthetically and functionally (at least in terms of abilities).
- The game does a good job of combining melee weapons with gunplay. The transition between blade, pistol, and your primary weapon is pretty seamless, and your style of play varies depending on the weapons you use. I’ve always liked the idea of mixing guns and swords (or axes, staves, or hammers, or whatever) together. Still waiting for my gunblade though.
- Player mobility. You can easily traverse an environment by means other than boring old walking in corridors. Want to run up a wall on to the top of something, or backflip on to something else, or maybe behind an enemy? Done. Want to run along a wall across a chasm? Done. Want to perform assassinations and do quasi-stealth runs by keeping mooks from sounding alarms? Done. Want to take a forward, sideways, or backwards dive while shooting at dudes? Done. Want to slide under lasers blocking doors? Done. How about a slide attack, or a jump attack, or a coup-de-grace? All done. Do you just want to roll, flip, or climb stuff? Done, done, and done. The controls for doing all of this are fairly intuitive as well.
- The levels are very atmospheric, from lighting to ambient sound. This can be more noticeable of you choose to run an area solo. The game can be difficult then, but the feeling is fantastic.
- The level layout is procedural. Certain levels will always have the same areas, but how you get there changes. Granted, you WILL see a lot of recycled rooms, but it’s a neat idea. Some objectives on missions are procedurally added or changed as well.
- The enemy designs are unique and there are a variety of enemies to fight. Three factions with different unit types, combat styles, and ways of taking them down; although it often comes down to what weapon and warframe mods you’re using against them. One of the factions is also a direct rip-off of Halo’s Flood. Seriously, you couldn’t make a bigger clone if you tried. The “Infested” bosses even have combat taunts you could give to Flood and it wouldn’t be different. I find this more amusing than anything else. I like to call them the “Not-Floods”.
- Mods. There is a plethora of of weapon and warframe modules you can equip to your character and his gear for different situations or even just as simple upgrades. I’m certainly not going to list them all, but I’ll give you an idea: my current warframe is a Rhino, which is basically a tank class. The mods I currently have installed, as of this writing, are health boost, shield boost, shield recharge rate, armor boost, and I plan to put on a mod to increase his speed. Mods unique to the Rhino (enter suit abilities) are Rhino Charge (gore everything in your way), Iron Skin (nigh invincibility), Radial Blast (smash the ground, kill everything), and Rhino Stomp (it is at it sounds, but you toss everyone into the air and freeze time around them). I also landed myself a rare reactor which allows me to double my mod capacity so I can carry additional, or more powerful versions of, my mods. Some of that may not so surprising to you, but there’s mods for elemental powers, psychic powers, sonic powers, magnetic powers, teleportation, invisibility, and the list goes on. They’re all fun to use, and it the different combinations possible lead to a whole other dynamic.
- This may or may not be more of an opinion, but I shared my thoughts on crafting and components for loot over actual gear in this post.
- The setting is obviously “sci-fi”, but it’s much more science fantasy (akin to Star Wars) than science fiction (akin to… I don’t know, pick an Isaac Asimov story–I Robot or something). Most stuff is alien in appearance, but it seems to be a futuristic setting in Earth’s solar system, with all factions apparently being (or once being) human. The world is, in my opinion, distinct enough to be set apart from most other generic futuristic settings, though the weapons themselves are honestly hit-and-miss. Some are unimaginative and boring to use, others look fun and are fun.
It could be that all of the above is what keeps me around, it could be because I have friends that play, and it could be a combination of any of that. I honestly don’t know for certain.
As an additional comment towards aesthetic, I’m a little disappointed they didn’t do more with the warframes. They all look great and play great, but considering how much the designers obviously wanted to revolve their game mechanics around these suits, it’s a shame they didn’t take more advantage of that and combine the weapons with the suits. Not only that, the Tenno culture (the people who use the warframes) seems to also revolve around being “one” with the blade, and it being a natural extension of one’s arm. I think it would’ve been interesting if a blade of hard-light were to extend from your arm as oppose to reaching for it on your back every time you want to swing. You could even do that with the ranged weapons too: have the armor around your arm take shape into a cannon or something. This is a nitpick more than anything, but I can’t help but feel there’s a missed opportunity here.
In other criticisms that could be leveled against this game, you would probably not be wrong. Yes, there is grinding; yes, there are recycled rooms; and while there are a variety of missions to do, and those are all great, you do repeat each several times in one area. So yes, you run around doing a lot of the same stuff over and over. It’s a game that centers pretty much entirely around shooting dudes when you’re not doing odd jobs. A lot of it’s same-y. And the game, at times, tends to have a bad habit of wasting your time with timers and resources that refuse to drop. But for some reason, I find this game really enjoyable to play. There are obnoxious flaws, but there is also a good concept and a good game inside this thing. I’ve actually been tempted to drop a little money on it to show support for the developers, if nothing else. At the same time though, I’ve been hesitant in doing so because I’m still waiting to see if I get bored with the game. It hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t want to be hasty in this matter.