Warframe: a primer for beginners

Hopefully you’ve read my initial impressions of Warframe, so you’ll know I’ve fallen for it. Perhaps as a result of that, you’ve decided to give Warframe a shot – at the very least, the price is right (you can’t beat free). Maybe you’ve played for an hour or so and learned how to manoeuvre your character around the environment only to find – BAM – suddenly you’re on board your ship, the Liset, and left to your own devices. How do you wade through all of this, and what are all these currencies and resources and … how the hell do you even level up??? Well, this is possibly the introduction you’re after. Here, I’ll be outlining/explaining what I learned in my first 25 hours of the game – a beginners overview of Warframe, BY a beginner. Note this is not a guide, just an explanation of how everything works, which I could have used about 20 hours of playtime prior to now…

Before I start, note this is written under the assumption that you are NOT paying real-world money for Platinum, and that you do not use your starting Platinum, at least initially (I’ll cover what I mean here towards the end of this article).

Story

You play as a Tenno, a race of awesome warrior beings recently awoken from cryosleep, to find a system at war (which is a gross oversimplification, but still). Enemies are numerous – there’s the Corpus, an advanced corporation represented by both human and robot combatants; the Grineer, a militarised race of cloned humans; the Infested, disfigured and diseased humans; and the Sentients, a powerful race of synthetic beings, who have returned after centuries of absence.  From my perspective, the story is still somewhat unclear, and while I have learned bits and pieces over my time through the campaign, I still have a long way to grasp more than what I’ve outlined above. There’s a lot of lore, but it takes time to wade through it all.

As a Tenno, you control a kind of avatar known as a Warframe – essentially a biomechanical suit of varying designs and capabilities. There are more than 30 of these at present, each with their own unique abilities: 4 active powers and 1 passive ability. On top of this, each Warframe can wield a variety of weapons, and has unique parkour abilities, enabling them to ninja about the player environment with ease. Think of your Warframe as a character class – some of them are tanky, others are focused on DPS, others are heavily geared towards Crowd Control or healing, and others are a combination. You will start with a single Warframe and acquire more over the course of the game (more on that later) – they are equipped from your inventory, much like any other item.

Combat

In addition to your Warframe, you will have access to three weapons and a companion (which you will unlock later in the game). In your primary weapon slot, you will find what can be essentially referred to as high-DPS weapons. These include auto rifles, snipers, bows, and shotguns (among other weapon types), and will be the weapons you will likely find yourself using the most – at least initially. The secondary slot is reserved for back-up weapons, many of which can still deal a solid amount of damage. This can include pistols (ranged, automatic, and more are available), throwing knives, mini shotguns, and so on. The third weapon slot is for melee weapons – you are a warrior ninja after all. Here, you’ll find a bunch of swords, axes, poles, warhammers and so on, and given the amount of movement ability in the game, you will find yourself using melee weapons far more than you do in other games with weapons of this type.

I also mentioned companions earlier. While they aren’t necessarily something you will have a lot of access to in the early game, I’ll cover them quickly. Companions come in the form of pets (which can be incubated on your ship, but this is unlocked later towards the mid-game) or robot drones. You will get access to a basic drone fairly early in – these can be attack drones or support drones, so they can essentially help you by attacking your enemies, or by collecting items from the environment, healing you, charging your shield, or a combination of these. Companions are useful, but they do take time to come by.

Lastly, there is also the Archwing. This is a device that is unlocked 2 or 3 Quests into the game (more on Quests in a second), and essentially provides your character with the ability to fly in certain locations (in space or underwater). It has its own weapons (a ranged and melee attack), and is only used in specific missions, noted on the map as “Archwing”. Basically, Archwing is your “Gundam” mode, providing 360-degree mech-like warfare. It’s fun, for the most part, but it has its annoyances. Like it or not, you will need to complete Archwing missions in order to progress through the core game.

Further, the Plains of Eidolon update has brought an “open map” to Warframe. Situated on Earth, the Plains are a large open area in which players can do a number of different activities, choosing when and where to extract as opposed to a smaller enclosed area with a singular objective, per the rest of the missions in the game. While this is a huge new addition to the game (which is yet to be released on console at the time of writing), it’s probably something newer players should avoid, at least until they can handle enemies of around level 20 and above.

Your ship – the Liset

You start with the Liset, a basic orbiter that will take you from mission to mission and acts as your home base. When playing with friends, you will see their ships out the front window – give them a wave. In the centre front console, you’ll find Navigation , which will take you to your Sta/r Chart and allow you to choose missions. To the left, you’ll find access to the Syndicates (slightly more advanced – I will forgo describing Syndicates for this article), and to the right, the news console and the Conclave, which provides access to PvP. People don’t really play Warframe for PvP. Feel free to ignore (this is a little sad, because it’s not really that bad to play, it’s just impossible to find a match).

A little further back in the ship, you’ll find the Codex to one side, where you can access to a list of Quests, and learn some lore, as well as find access to training. I primarily use the Codex for Quest information, but I can see the lore info becoming more important to me as I get deeper into the game. On the other side of the ship, you’ll find the Market. Don’t make the same mistake I did and think that the market is just for microtransactions. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – most of what you use the Market for will be for in-game transactions using in-game currency. I’ll detail what’s in the Market a little further on in this article.

Just behind these consoles is the Scanner. I’ve turned it off – it’s annoying and does nothing of any importance, as far as I can tell (unless you are really keen on lore, but even then, I’d suggest you switch it off until you have more of a grasp on the lore).

Deeper into the ship, there are a bunch of other consoles. Several of these won’t be unlocked until later in the game, but the most important for now is the Arsenal console towards the back. This is where you can choose your Warframe, weapons, companions, and so on, as well as customise virtually everything. You’ll find yourself here quite often. The other main consoles – Mods and Foundry – we will look at in further detail in later sections of this article.

Missions

Progression through the campaign itself is somewhat daunting at first. In fact, it still a little overwhelming 25 hours into the game, but the fog is starting to clear. You will at first have two primary ways to proceed – Quests, and Missions. Quests are essentially story missions – there is a story thread, and it can take you across multiple missions in varying places, but there is an overall goal and something is awarded or unlocked at the end. For example, the first Quest, Vor’s Prize, plays out over a number of missions (all on Earth), and teaches the player a few core gameplay concepts. The core storyline in this quest is that you’ve been awoken from cryosleep to find yourself at the mercy of Vor, a Grineer Admiral (soon to be demoted to Captain). He has attached a device to you that will allow him to take control of your Warframe unless you manage to remove the device within a certain timeframe. At the end of the Quest, you are of course successful, and are awarded with a bunch of credits (in-game currency) and allowed free reign of the Star Chart.

On looking at the Star Chart, you’ll notice that each planet is covered with a bunch of nodes – some of which are glowing blue. The blue nodes are active missions, and completing them will unlock the next one along the path. Completing all missions won’t have any immediate effect, but will allow you to place an extractor on the planet at a later stage (which effectively allows players to mine the planet for resources). There are also Planet Junctions – these are slightly larger nodes of a different shape, with a line going offscreen (and connecting to another planet). Completing specific requirements unlocks a Junction mission, wherein players battle another Warframe. Defeating this enemy unlocks the next planet. In this way, the game is ensuring players have completed certain tasks before progressing, basically making certain that they are equipped with the knowledge they need in order to progress effectively.

It’s important to note, though, that quests are separate to missions, and you’ll only see your active quest on the Star Chart. Changing Quests is as simple as going to the Quest console, or by accessing the quest list in the top right of the Star Chart. Missions are your path to unlocking planets, Quests are your path through the story campaign (and are required in order to complete certain Junctions).

There are quite a few different activity types – so many, in fact, that I won’t go through them here (the good news is that the mission types are all detailed via the Codex); however, I’ll introduce a couple to demonstrate the kinds of tasks you will be undertaking. In Spy missions, you will be fighting your way to a set of data points. Here, you will need to utilise stealth to access the data without being seen (setting off alarms will start a timer – at the end of the timer, the data will be deleted). In Defence missions, you will be tasked with defending a point from a series of enemy waves. Survive 5 waves to complete the mission, but note that continuing will result in better rewards (and increasing difficulty) – awards are offered every 5 waves. There are several of these “Endless” mission types in the game, and it’s up to the player as to when they decide they want to pull out. These different mission objectives apply not just to Missions, but also to Quests, and so form the basis of most of what you will tackle in the game.

Of course, there’s more to the Star Chart than just Quests and Missions. In the top right of the Star Chart, there are some icons. I referred previously to the Quest list, but there are a couple of others there as well… Alerts are mission nodes that are offering additional rewards for slightly increased difficulty (sometimes the rewards are very worthwhile). Invasions are missions whereby players assist one faction (Grineer or Corpus, for example) in a specific mission type. Rewards are awarded on completion of the same mission three separate times (which admittedly is a pain in the butt). Once the Invasion is over (it is time gated), players will be sent their rewards via the in-game mail system. Void Fissures is the last icon (at least in the early game) – I’ll go into these a little later, but essentially you take in a Void Relic and defeat enemies until they drop Reactant, which is used to unlock the Relic. Once unlocked, players receive a reward. The beauty here is that the potential contents of a specific Relic are known, so players can actively choose the range of rewards that may be awarded on completion.

Lastly, all missions, regardless of type, will generally include a single enemy type, and these enemies will be of a certain level. When choosing a mission, you’ll be presented with a basic tooltip – this will tell you the Mission Type (Spy, Assassination, Defence, etc.), the Faction (Grineer, Corpus, etc.), the Enemy Level (generally a range, such as 1-3, or 11-15), and any Open Squads that may be available. We’ll touch on Enemy Level a bit more later on.

Before I continue, I should also mention Matchmaking, as this is pretty important for new players, and never explicitly explained. At the top left of the screen in the Star Chart, you’ll find your matchmaking preferences. This can be set to Public (recommended for Missions you are slightly under-levelled for, or that are best approached with a group), Friends only, or Solo. Any mission can be played Solo, but be careful – if you find yourself struggling, try giving Public a go, and see if some random helpers can get you through (there aren’t always people doing the same mission as you, but it will happen from time to time). I would recommend doing Alerts in Public, and Void Relics ALWAYS in Public, as there can be additional rewards. Note that your Microphone will be active if you choose Public (and you’re wearing a headset), so keep that in mind. Note also that if you are matchmade with other people, you will need to choose to manually leave the Squad once the mission is over. That said, the community is pretty great, so playing with others is an enjoyable (and generally non-committal) thing.

Progression

OK, you’ll need to bear with me, because from here on out, things start to get COMPLICATED. Everything that you can equip in game (from Warframe, to weapon, to companion, to Archwing and its individual components) can be levelled, up to a maximum of 30 levels. As you progress through the game, you will be awarded Affinity, which is essentially XP. This is shared across your devices, depending on how the Affinity is won (for example, a Melee kill will split the Affinity between the Warframe and the Melee weapon, while a companion kill will all be applied to the companion only). Each progressive level requires more and more Affinity, but levelling your equipment does not increase stats. This seems counter-intuitive (as compared to other RPGs), but levelling does have other effects – namely, it increases your mod capacity (more on that later) and it directly influences your Mastery Rank (… more on that later too). The bottom line is that if you want to progress in the game, you NEED to level your equipment, but levelling your equipment does not itself increase your effectiveness.

So what does? Progression in Warframe is fairly simple, but it does take time to understand – at least without a little help (so hopefully this article will clear it up for you). All of your equipment has base stats, and these don’t change as you increase its level (there is some slight change as you level a Warframe – unlocking abilities, for example, but no major increase in power). The stats also don’t change as you increase your Mastery Level. The ONLY way to increase your stats is to apply mods. Every piece of equipment has a number of mod slots, and a certain capacity for mods. As you progress through the game, you will find mods (which drop from enemies, bosses, and so on) – and there are hundreds of them, each of which affects your stats in some specific way (for example, the Vitality mod will increase the base health of your Warframe by 20%). Realistically, this means that mods are the primary method of progression…

In this way, Warframe is in no way “Pay-to-win”. Yes, you can buy Platinum, and yes, you can buy weapons and Warframes using Platinum. However, you buy them at base stats, which are (for the most part) the same as the base stat for other weapons and Warframes in the game. Of course, there are advanced weapons, but while these can be purchased, they are locked behind Mastery Rank, so you still need to progress through the game in order to unlock them. Further, mods themselves are gated. Initially, you will find the same crappy mods. As you progress, you’ll find better mods. Applying these will make you more effective.

In essence, progression in Warframe requires three things – levelling your gear (to increase Mastery), increasing your Mastery level (to get access to better weapons and mods), and applying mods with increasing power. This will then allow you to take on missions with higher and higher Enemy Level. To some degree, this is oversimplifying, but to a new player, this will definitely help. To put this in perspective, after 25 hours in the game, I’m now MR4, and I am comfortable against enemies up to around level 20. Considering end game content can include Enemy Level 80-100, I still have a way to go!

Mastery

I’ve referred to Mastery Rank several times now, but I still haven’t explained what it is. Mastery Rank is essentially your Account Level, and pretty much just reflects how much of the game you’ve played. You rank up by gaining XP from levelling your weapons (all Affinity applied to weapons is transferred as XP to MR), and when you hit a certain amount, you are invited to take a Mastery test. So far, I’ve done four of these, and they’ve all been EASY, but I expect they’ll get harder eventually. Increasing in MR rewards players with a few things – many of which will mean nothing to you at the start of the game. Most importantly, though, increasing MR will increase the initial mod capacity of your items, and unlock equipment of increasing power. On top of this, increasing MR will increase the amount of Void Traces you can collect, Syndicate reputation you can earn, the number of extractors you can deploy, additional loadout slots, and access to trading.

All of this does a few things – primarily, it provides some gating, so players can’t buy their way to power, as previously mentioned. It also gates access to various later-game benefits. Some of the benefits I’ve mentioned above will mean nothing to you as a beginner, but as you progress, you’ll begin to understand their importance – considering players can choose NOT to switch weapons once they’ve maxed their level, there needs to be some impetus to increasing MR… Lastly – and this is actually my favourite part – once you’ve maxed out a weapon, for example, you can apply a resource that will reset its level and double the mod capacity. This means that you can continue to improve your favourite weapons, and turn them into a powerhouse. However, once maxed, you can no longer gain XP from them. This system ENCOURAGES players to try different weapons and different Warframes, and means that you have a damned good reason to try out all the toys.

Mods

Mods are pretty complex – even given my limited experience, I could probably write a whole separate article just as long as this one – possibly longer! However, I will try to summarise the key points.

Mods come in different degrees of rarity – common (bronze), uncommon (silver), and rare (gold). This rarity defines the likelihood of them dropping (yes, Warframe utilises RNG), and some are more rare than others. As mentioned earlier, you will encounter better and better mods as you progress, and certain mods can only be obtained from certain places (in fact, there is a very specific loot table, so if there’s a mod you are chasing, you might want to refer to the Wiki). On top of these three degrees of rarity, there are other types of mods – rare multi-stat and Corrupted mods, platinum “primed” mods, and purple “Riven” mods – but these are end game mods, and this guide won’t go into them any further.

I’ve explained what mods are and to some degree, what they do, but I haven’t explained what else you can do with them and why there is a Mod console on the Liset. Over the course of the game, you will acquire a hell of a lot of mods – there is no cap to how many you can hold. Every mod has its base stats, but on top of that, every mod can be improved through the process of fusion. By using credits (in-game currency) and endo (some kind of energy that mods need), you can increase a mod’s level by varying amounts. Each rank will increase the base stat by the amount of the base stat – for example, the Vitality mod mentioned previously will increase your base health by 20%. Increasing it by one rank will increase base health by 40%, then 60%, and so on. Considering Vitality can be ranked up 10 times, you can see the benefits there are to increasing it to max power.

However, increasing a mod’s power comes with a risk. On the one hand, every rank will take more and more credits/endo. Achieving the highest rank will cost a considerable amount. Further, increasing in rank will increase its drain on capacity… I’ve mentioned mod capacity before, but never really explained what it meant. Every piece of equipment has a number of mod slots, and also a total capacity. So while a weapon might have 8 slots, it may only have an initial mod capacity of 5, so if you have a mod with a cost of 4, and all your other mods come at a cost of 2, then you need to choose between two mods with “2” cost, or one mod with “4” cost. Of course, this is the benefit in levelling your equipment – you actively increase the mod capacity. As you increase in level, you can use more/better mods. To confuse things further, mods also have a polarity. There are four polarities, recognised by a symbol in the top right-hand corner of the mod. If this matches the polarity of the mod slot you intend to use it in, it effectively halves the mod cost. If it does not match, it will increase the cost – so best to keep an eye on polarity, This system is incredibly deep and complex, and given I’m still only a beginner myself, I’ve only just scratched the surface.

In addition to fusion, you can use your Mod console in further ways. You can transmute them (essentially take four mods you don’t want, and spend a bunch of credits in an effort to create an alternate random mod, which consumes the four mods. I wouldn’t recommend this, as the likelihood of getting a good mod is low, and the credit cost is generally high). You can also sell mods (but you don’t really earn many credits for common mods) or dissolve them into Endo. In my opinion, Dissolve is the best option, as Endo is not easily come by initially, whereas credits can easily be earned by playing through a few missions.

Crafting

OK, so I’ve mentioned that you can acquire other weapons and Warframes, but I haven’t really gone into HOW. These items don’t just drop from enemies like they do in Destiny. In fact, there are several steps to acquiring additional equipment… Let’s start with weapons. For ordinary weapons, you will need the blueprint. While these can drop at the end of missions, it’s unlikely – your best bet is to utilise the Market console. Load it up, and choose to browse, then select weapons. This will bring up all of the weapons in the game. You can buy them outright for Platinum, but don’t do that – look for the “Build” button/tab, and select that. This will list the blueprint price. Once you have enough credits, you can then buy the blueprint. Then take the blueprint to your Foundry console, and – as long as you have the required resources – select to start building the weapon. There is a waiting time (usually hours to days, depending on the item), but once that’s over, you will have your new toy. Happy days!

This method also works for Warframes and other items as well, but Warframes are a little more involved, as they consist of multiple parts, for which you need multiple blueprints. The Warframe blueprint itself can be purchased from the Market, but this will require a chassis, system, and neuroptics component (per Warframe), and THESE blueprints can only be obtained as drops from specific bosses in specific missions (for the most part – some are quest rewards). Basically, when you know what Warframe you want, you simply farm the boss until you get the three components, buy the Warframe blueprint, and hunt for the resources you need.

The resources are the most difficult part, to be honest, as every planet has different resources. You might grab a blueprint from the Market early on, only to discover that the resource you need is only available on a planet you haven’t unlocked (yes, I’ve done that, and I STILL haven’t built that item). Further, you will start to receive Warframe blueprints fairly early on – Rhino parts drop from a boss on Venus, for example. However, in order to build Rhino, you need a specific resource only available on Phobos, which I only just unlocked after 25 hours. To be honest, this isn’t such a bad thing – by the time you get to Phobos, you should be very close to hitting max level on your initial Warframe, and very motivated to hunt down those resources so you can build your first (well, second) Warframe.

All of this provides a great level of flexibility and incentive – it’s flexible in terms of access to alternate equipment (you’ll be building your first weapons only a couple of hours into the game), but there’s great incentive to progress across the Star Chart – if only to unlock access to more Warframe parts and resources. That said, certain Warframes are tied to specific storyline arcs (the Inaros blueprint is a reward from “The Sands of Inaros”, for example). If you haven’t noticed yet – every system is inextricably tied to another system, and as a result, everything seems to work together perfectly.

Void Fissures and Primes

For the most part, I’ve explained virtually everything you need to know when starting the game – at least in terms of the processes and what things mean. But there’s one other thing that’s pretty important – Void Fissures. I’m not exactly sure what the Void is just yet (I’ve not played enough of the game), so I’m hesitant to try to explain, but you will be expected to try Void Fissure missions after about 15 or so hours (it’s a requirement to unlock access to Phobos). Over your play time, you will collect Void Relics. These look like bronzed cabbages (and are apparently referred to as such by the community), and contain rare blueprints. These are rare items that can generally only be found in this way, and are referred to as “Primes”. In terms of the lore, they are the original version of the Warframe or weapon from the Orokin era, and have a slightly different aesthetic and improved base stats. Each Void Relic contains a chance at a number of different items, each with different chances of dropping. You can increase these chances by “improving” a Relic using Void Traces (which are a product of opening a Void Relic), but opening the Relic requires players to enter a specific Void Fissure mission. In this mission, players will encounter corrupted enemies – these are harder to kill and more aggressive enemies, and some of them will drop Reactant. Collecting 10 Reactant and completing a mission will unlock the Relic and award the player with their Prime blueprint part. Again, this is the only way to obtain Prime parts, which are among the most sought after items in the game – not only because they are improved versions of the item in question, but also because they can be traded between players…

Platinum and Trading

This brings us to Platinum, which is Warframe’s premium currency, and can be used to buy virtually anything in the game (Warframes, weapons, helmets, colour palettes, cosmetics, mod packs, and so on). However, creating an account only awards players with 50 Platinum, and there are only two other ways of getting more – microtransactions, and trading. On the one hand, I see myself playing a hell of a lot of Warframe, so I’d be more than happy to throw some money in the direction of Digital Extremes. However, I’m finding that without using my Platinum, I’m really enjoying grinding towards unlocking more items. In reality, I think I’ll spend money on acquiring myself a nice Prime Warframe (perhaps on release of the next major expansion later this year), but for now, I’m going to work on grinding my way through the campaign and unlocking all the planets.

So what should new players be aware of? For one, you can’t trade your “free” Platinum, so spend it in the market, but spend it wisely. You could easily waste it all on a cheap Warframe or weapon, but given you have limited slots for additional gear, you might want to spend it on that (I bought an additional Warframe slot, and two additional weapon slots). The rest I’ll hold on to until later.

When it comes to trading? I’m not sure yet, but I would suggest that you use a tool like Warframe.Market to research pricing before trying to sell components. Actually scratch that – find out what you CAN and CAN’T trade. For example, you can trade Prime weapon parts and blueprints, but you CAN’T trade them once you’ve built them in the Foundry. You also can’t trade standard weapons and parts. What that means is – you’ll need to work your way through the initial content, and then smash out a few Void Relic missions. If you’re not happy with what you get, you can try trading it. For me? I’m just going to work my way through the content and try to get stuff I want. I’m not ready to trade and I don’t feel I need any Platinum, not yet at least. We’ll see how long that lasts…

And finally, there is another trader that you may come across. I’ve not mentioned the relays yet, and I guess I should have, but to be honest, I have trouble understanding what to do there myself. They are essentially a player hub or social space, and every two weeks you’ll be able to find a character called Baro Ki’Teer, the Void Trader, who will bring along a bunch of special items that can only be purchased from him during this time. However, he only trades in Ducats. And the only way to acquire Ducats is to trade bits and pieces that you find during your time. So I guess my plan is to sell my unwanted components there, and use Ducats on special Baro Ki’Teer items (some of what he sells can only be obtained from him – such as Primed mods and specific weapon variants).

Warframe is an insanely complex video game. I’m not certain that what I’ve written above will even make sense, but I hope it helps make some sense of the vastness that is Warframe. The simple fact is that it’s the very complexity of Warframe that makes it what it is. It’s this complexity – and the fact the every system is so inter-related – that makes the world feel almost tangible. While it may not makes sense in the context of real-life, it makes sense in the context of the world that Digital Extremes has created in Warframe. And for that reason, I am entirely hooked.

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