It’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true – after around 20 hours with Warframe, I can safely say that I have barely scratched the surface. This indicates a couple of things: 1., that the game has an enormous amount of content, and 2., it’s likely incredibly complex. That said, I also feel I’ve played enough to provide my impressions on the game (and read into that as you will – it took me 20 hours to get comfortable enough to form a solid opinion). In brief: I’ve fallen in love with this game, but boy does it require a time investment.
Warframe is a free-to-play third-person shooter (of sorts), made by developers Digital Extremes. Originally released (as an open beta) on PC in early 2013, it later spread to PS4 as a launch title in late 2013, and to Xbox One in 2014; however, it wasn’t immediately a success. More recently, it has become one of the most played games on the PC’s Steam platform, but this came as a result of the insane amount of support that Digital Extremes have put into the game – as a platform, Warframe has developed, grown, and changed considerably over the years, and the playerbase has noticed and responded appropriately.
When it comes to describing the game, I’m at a loss for where to begin… In many ways, Warframe is an incredibly deep and complex Role-Playing Game, but it initially presents itself as a fairly straight-forward third-person action title. The “Warframes” in question are essentially avatars that players can swap between (you choose one to start with, and acquire others as your progress). Each Warframe has its own abilities (not dissimilar to abilities in the Destiny series, for example) – the difference of course being that there are 9 different subclasses in Destiny compared to more than 30 in Warframe. Once a Warframe is equipped (yes, they are equipped from your inventory, much like a weapon), players can then equip a primary, secondary, and melee weapon. Later in the game, players can equip sentinels/drones, companions, and Archwings (essentially a winged device that attaches to your Warframe and allows you to take part in flying space missions). Each of these components can be levelled individually (up to rank 30, which is max rank), while the player themselves is ranked via a “Mastery Rank”, which increases as a result of gains accessed by all other components. In order to rank up your Mastery once the required XP is reached, players must undertake a test, which is fairly easy, at least initially. Each Mastery Rank unlocks different weapons – among other things.
However, power level in the game isn’t dependant on your Mastery Rank, and this took me quite a while to understand. In fact, in many ways, I STILL don’t understand, but here goes. The rank of your individual equipment has no impact on your power level. Your Mastery Rank has no impact on your power level. The only way to increase your power level (across defence, attack, shielding, total health, and virtually any other stat you can think of) is to apply mods to, well, everything. Increasing your equipment rank allows you to equip more mods. Increasing your Mastery Rank gives you access to weapons with better base stats. As the game itself progresses, missions will advise the enemy level, ranging from 1-150 (initial mission might be Enemy Level 1-3, for example). The biggest issue I have with this system is that the only way to know how effective you are against a certain enemy level is to give it a try. If you aren’t doing much damage, then you are under levelled. It would be nice to have an understanding as to how effective you might be from your stats page, but given the sheer amount of stats and the fact that each affects different enemies in different ways, it’s potentially not possible, hence the need to “try it and see”.
Of course, there are hundreds of mods in the game – or more accurately, hundreds per item type. The sheer amount of mods is initially off-putting and overly complex, but the reality is that they are drip-fed to players as they progress, which means you only gain access to more powerful mods as you unlock more planets. On top of that, players can improve mods to increase their effect on whatever it is they are applied to – in fact, the mod system is so deep and complex it is pretty much the basis of progress for the entire game. Suffice it to say that I am nowhere near coming to grips with it just yet.
Another major complication with Warframe (but not necessarily a bad thing) is the sheer amount of resources, currencies, consumables, and so on and so forth that can be found. For example, the primary currency is credits. Increasing the power of a mod requires credits and endo (some form of energy, I assume). Purchasing certain items requires Platinum. Buying items from the weekly Void Trader requires Ducats. Improving the quality of Void Relics requires Void Traces. Not much of this will make any sense to you (and most of it only makes minimal amount of sense to me thus far), but I’m just trying to demonstrate the amount of items that need to be managed. It’s madness, but it all makes sense in its own way. On top of all this? Your ship has a foundry, at which you can manufacture (essentially 3-D print) any item for which you have a blueprint (which can drop from missions, or you can buy with credits, naturally). But each item requires very specific resources (in addition to currencies), and all of the resources come from different places. It’ll send you spinning.
Platinum is likely of most interest to those interested in Warframe – if you know anything about the game, you’ll know that this is Warframe’s premium currency, and is available to be purchased via microtransactions with real-world dollars. In fact, there are only two ways to acquire Platinum – with real-world money, or by trading items with other players. I am yet to do either, but I’m assured by others that it’s not too hard to rack up a good amount of Platinum just by playing through the game and selling off parts that you acquire over the course of the missions. Still, the in-game market is very Platinum focused – in no way does the game force microtransactions on the player, but it certainly puts a strong emphasis on Platinum in every place you look… Sadly, new players might spend their 50 free Platinum on something useless on a whim, before realising that it’s not so easily come by.
Realistically, there’s a lot more I can say about the game. For example, while I’ve played 20 hours so far, I’ve only finished three of the 20 or so available quests (each of which has multiple steps themselves). I’ve probably only played through less than 10% of the available missions. Oh – and there’s a HUGE update coming later this year, which will increase the PvE content significantly. And while there is a PvP component (called the Conclave), this is not a PvP game, and the Conclave itself is pretty terrible, to be honest. I haven’t talked about the planets themselves, or the enemies, or the story, or anything, but I don’t really want to, at this stage. As an impressions article, I wanted to give a “quick” understanding as to what makes Warframe what it is, and how it feels to play.
So how does it feel to play? Since its inception, Digital Extremes has used the tagline “Ninjas play free” to market the game, and this is absolutely perfect. On one hand, it alludes to the fact that the game is free-to-play (and for all intents and purposes, pretty much just free if you’re happy to grind). On the other hand, it suggests that players will feel like ninjas, and this is totally on the money. While weapons feel great to use, the best part about Warframe is in movement. Players can slide, jump, roll, aim while jumping (which feels very “Matrix-y”), cling to walls, and a combination of all, allowing players to move about environments quickly and with a fluidity rarely seen in similar titles. It takes time to learn, but boy is it fun when you get there.
Beyond that, all weapons, Warframes, and so on, feel very different to use, and each has its own pros and cons. Applying mods makes a very tangible change to the use of a weapon, so every change you make and every activity you do empowers you to make more changes and perform more tasks. Of course, I’ve made reference to the fact that the game is highly complex – and it is, don’t get me wrong. There is so much I don’t know about this game that it still feels overwhelming to me (and yes, it’s possible some things I’ve mentioned in this article are actually wrong – apologies in advance). However, every time I play I discover something new, and I start to understand something else that I’ve been struggling with, and this is all part of the charm. On top of this, every time I play I find myself grinning stupidly and making the same comment, without fail – “God, I love this game.” If that doesn’t say something, I’m not sure what will. As complex as Warframe is, I can not get enough of it.
(Final note: I’ll be playing through all of the game’s content prior to the release of the next free DLC, ‘Plains of Eidolon’, and will write a FULL review at that time. Expect it later in the year. There is currently no release date for ‘Plains of Eidolon’ beyond “2017”.)