Gaming: Introducing Warframe...Again

J.G. Barnes reviews the expanded Warframe experience.

"Pew! Pew! Ksh! Bang!"
Out of 64 top free-to-play games and over 160,000 unique votes, Warframe scaled a massive bracket of titles coming out on top as the most beloved F2P around these days. On March 25th, 2013, Warframe had entered open beta on PC, later launching as a day-one F2P on the Playstation 4, and finally gets a confirmed date of September 2nd, 2014 for the Xbox One. I've been dying to review this game as it has become my favorite title of the last year, and one of my favorite action games ever made. 

With its impending release on yet another massive platform and thousands of newcomers having no idea what it is, I feel this was the very best time to educate on the joy to be had. Now, I wouldn't consider myself a pro or anything, but I've put enough time into this game that I think I can give it its due justice. Much of what I'm going to go over will be a truncated version of what to expect. I mostly hope to help inspire the Xbox One players to give this amazing title a fair shot and give Warframe the review it deserves.

Warframe's launch on PS4 got less than stellar critic reviews, however, that were hugely misinformed or outright lazy in their approach of reviewing a game of this scale. I don't have a problem with a game like this not being everyone's cup of tea. What I took issue with was that many reviewers covered a barely surface-level scraping of available facets of the game, either ignoring or most likely having no idea of what else lies beneath. Given that Warframe was and still is explicitly in beta form, this shocked me that not only would it be treated as a complete release, but then not review it completely. It would be like the equivalent of never passing the first level of Halo, omitting any mention of Forge, and forgetting there was ever a competitive multiplayer. Stuff like creating your own dojo and Void missions being some of the biggest portions of the game receiving absolutely no coverage in reviews, and the article gets through the editor with not a single mention of it still being in open beta.

"The Dish Warframe.
Loses signal when it rains."
Not to say that Warframe is not without its flaws. At the time of the PS4 launch, especially, its controls were a bit sloppy and unpredictable, even though I had gotten accustomed to managing it. There wasn't and remains an entire lack of compelling narrative, and only now have they released a streamlined introduction to its complexities in the form of a much needed tutorial disguised as a quest mode for new players.

Despite this, developer Digital Extremes seems to have landed on a beautiful pinpoint in the game design world. It's really tough for most people to get into Warframe due to its 90-degree steel wall of a learning curve, but those sucked into its cool aesthetic and staggering level of weapons and play styles, found something very special, severely rewarding, and ruthlessly addictive. Thankfully, the passionate player base over at r/Warframe on, is not only one of the top ten most positive subreddits, but the users there are exceptionally eager to give assistance to anyone regardless of experience level.

You take control of a Warframe, a cyborg space ninja armed with, let's say, some laser uzis, a fire shotgun, a toxic whip, back flips, a flying robo-pal, and your bio-mechanical techno-magic, laying waste to hundreds of alien robots, clone pirates, and virulent beasts at a time. But that's not all! There are a practically infinite number of combinations of weapons, enhancements, and abilities you can toy with in order to slay the aforementioned creatures. The customization is astoundingly deep. Most games limit you to upgrading your basic damage output, recoil, ammunition capacity, and maybe an elemental quality. Warframe doesn't stop there. There is more than one kind of damage you can tweak. You can upgrade the impact of each bullet, the puncture, the punch-through, critical damage, the frequency of crit damage, elemental damage of any or several types simultaneously, and the chance of elemental damage just to name less than a tenth of what you can do with rifles alone. For example, you could have a bow that fires off more than one arrow at a time, that goes through walls, then punches through several enemies, infecting them with poison, setting them on fire, electrocuting them, and pinning the last guy to a wall. Flinging a dude clear across a room with an arrow and hanging him from the wall like jacket never stops being hilariously cool every single time I do it.

All of this is achieved by collecting mods you find during battle, while paying absolutely zero real life
"I have no idea what any
of this means."
currency, and you can similarly tune melee weapons, secondary firearms, your flying robo-pal, the Sentinel, and your Warframe itself. The only thing requiring platinum, Warframe's name for the money from your own pocket, are cosmetic upgrades and nothing else. You can join a clan/ or design your own dojo which will allow you to trade for mods, blueprints for weapons/gear, platinum, or keys which unlock extraordinary maps with their own unique rewards. Not only does the dojo unlock a trade system for participants, but it also allows the player access to research and development of rare items, weapons, and gear. Here you can also spar with friends, set up obstacle courses, adorn your dojo with exquisite decor, recruit members, and try to take over the solar system by fighting for control of your own corner of space by enticing global players with bonus XP and resources.

Setting up your dojo takes a lot of work and in-game resources to develop before you can start creating rare gear and set up for trade. Although time consuming if done alone, this can become another addiction as it's exciting to see your very own space dojo take shape, anticipating the build of a new weapon or room as its timer counts down until your salivating maw can drink from its sweet nectar. Constructing new gear inside or out of the dojo can take a real world 12 hours to build before it's available to you. Sometimes less, sometimes the wait is much longer. Such is the case for building a totally new Warframe, which takes three whole days! You can always speed up the process by paying with platinum, but waiting makes it so much sweeter to keep revisiting your game day after day to see what prizes await you. Even just logging in each day rewards you with increasingly more rare items every new day you put into it.

"Boom!!! Pow!!!"
The majority of your time as a new player, however, will be spent mastering, crafting, and finding weapons, Sentinels, frames, and wrapping your head around the endless possibilities of mods. Personally, I didn't set up a dojo until I had a stronger understanding of the game and simply cyborg-ninjaed my way through the solar system for a while, raking in the mods, credits, and resources. Like Diablo and Borderlands, Warframe is a cooperative, loot-based dungeon crawler. You and three friends band together from planet to planet across our known solar system, traversing randomly generated levels of varying game types and maps, demolishing hordes of enemies in a fireworks display of joyous chaos. A partner playing as Rhino uses his Stomp ability to shock enemies into a floating slow motion stasis like something from The Matrix. Playing as Loki, a friend will go invisible, gaining a massive boost to melee damage, and reduce said enemies to a heap of chopped organs. I can run in as Nekros afterwards and raise them all back from the dead to fight on our side. The next wave of enemies has already entered our path, and someone playing as Mag uses Shield Polarize to remove their shields and restore ours.

Each class, or Warframe, has four totally unique powers that set them apart from each other. I described only one ability from only four of the twenty Warframes currently available. Twenty! In previous versions of Warframe, players were given the option to begin with Loki, Mag, or Excalibur. As of August 21st, for PS4 players, and September 2nd for Xbox One, they have swapped out the more technical Loki with an easier to grasp Volt. Additional Warframes can be bought outright, or their parts can be farmed through varying mission types and maps to be used in the construction of the new frame.

These games can go from careful and brisk Extermination runs in a Grineer mining ship to contained, epic, and frenzied Defense missions in the gorgeous, otherworldly Orokin Void. The variation of mission types include, but are not limited to Assassination, Capture, Deception, Defense, Escape, Hijack, Interception, Rescue, Sabotage, Spy, and Survival. Some of these are fairly quick missions which are a break from more intense rounds of Survival and Defense, which you'll find are prime for bathing in mod drops, parts, and blueprints. Leaving seas of consumables and mods in the wake of a thirty minute or longer match of destruction never gets old. If you become overzealous and fail the mission before exfiltrating at right time could cost you all of it, though. Getting carried away in the explosion of stunning particle effects and severed limbs from your dual katanas—as ceaselessly cathartic as it is—if you don't stay sharp, can cause you to lose focus on the mission. I've sweated bullets eviscerating a thousand Infested, trying to find a path to revive my downed friend while our timer dwindles to nothing and the dreaded "Mission Failed" stamps my screen. We just lost dozens of new mods, and all I can think about is firing up another go. Warframe perfectly encapsulates that "just one more" cycle. It's very tough to stop playing even after failing.

A common gripe of reviewers with Warframe's launch on PS4 was that it took too long to level up,
"Introducing the 3 Ninjas
Battle Pack!! Hiya! Fwip
frequently calling out the Mastery Rank as indication of this. This is not accurate. The Mastery Rank is not your level and is mostly an arbitrary number meaning less after you reach Rank 6 when you're able to use most of the great weapons by that point anyway. The higher Mastery also unlocks things like trade benefits as well as others, but the vast majority of your leveling comes from not only your Warframe itself, but weapons, and mods, too. Any weapon or Warframe technically maxes out at 30 on paper. With items called Formas and Orokin Catalysts/Reactors you can theoretically raise your level cap up to 60 and beyond.

With certain weapons and all Warframes you'll get what are called mod slots and on some of these slots are polarities. Each weapon and frame has slots for which to place mods like Serration which increase your rifle damage output. You can think of mods like Materia from Final Fantasy 7. With every level up, you increase the amount of points you can use for more mods. Polarities split the cost of that mod in half. So, maybe you've leveled up a Serration mod 6 times. You match Serration to a mod slot with the same polarity symbol and now it costs half that to use. So, not only can you level up weapons and frames, but you can also level up mods themselves. This process of leveling, Forma-ing, and Reactor-ing can become an obsession as you can slowly turn anything in your collection of Warframes and weapons into a God-like threat.

Several months ago I'd have more to complain about. Tile sets, or map variety, was anemic and repetitive. Controls were difficult to get the hang of and getting stuck in geometry wasn't uncommon. Overall it wasn't balanced very well, with boss battles for example ranging from pushover to unreasonably difficult with little reward. For me, though, it wasn't tough to stomach these nuisances because I was just having so much damn fun playing. Without blinking, I'd stare you straight in the face and say that Warframe ranks right up there with Devil May Cry, God of War, and Ninja Gaiden as one of the most fun third-person action titles ever made. That goes double now that it has been and will be constantly refined and added to.

After several major updates and bug fixes, Warframe is still an incomplete game, rife with smaller issues, but a vast majority of which have been addressed, fixed, or removed by one of the most vigilant and vocal developers around. Digital Extremes rarely leaves their fan base out of the loop and you can count on a minor or major update to be right around the corner at any given time. There are now over a dozen unique mission types, some are commonly found in most action titles, others are unique to Warframe. Hijack, for instance has you infiltrating an enemy station to extract a power core while being chased by Grineer troops. Pretty simple, but what makes this an engaging challenge is that after removing the core, it both depletes and requires your shield energy to power its movement across a track. Proper planning, frame choice, and tactical execution of this mission is vital to its success.

DE has stated that eventually they'd like to have each planet be host to its own tile set or map style. Currently, there are 12 tile sets, not including the dojo or your personal starship, the Liset, each of which are randomly generated each time you enter a new level. Personally, I'm a little burnt out on the Grineer ship variations only because that's what I started playing in 2013 on PC, but they've since added a lot to them in order to make them feel fresh. There are 14 planets and moons to play through, each containing anywhere between 7 and 26 missions each, totaling 239, not including Orokin Void and Derelict missions, or the newly introduced quest mode. There is a lot to do in Warframe. I've put in nearly 200 hours into the game and have been so distracted with crafting, farming, or just plain having fun destroying stuff that I have yet been able to complete the solar system.

Warframe is a thoroughly enjoyable and deep action title, no doubt, but it's also a pretty one. Running on the Evolution Engine, DE has milked it for all its worth. The particle effects are jaw-droppingly insane on PC if you can run PhysX. Although, it's no slouch on the PS4 even if it lacks the over-the-top storm of particles prevalent on the PC. A few months ago, general performance of the game was hit or miss. It can definitely still take some large gouges out of the frame rate here and there, but for the most part, it runs at a creamy smooth 1080p60, unlocked. I adore the buffed polish of 1080p, really I do, but I'd take 900p if it meant the frame rate would be locked at 60. I imagine over time it will get there or damn close, because it's inching there already. Some games that are certainly fine at 30fps, but Warframe, I contend, becomes less so. It is without a shred of a doubt, one of the most frenetic action titles out there. In fact, at the moment the only one I can think of that comes close is Itagaki's Ninja Gaiden series. With the chaos that frequently unfolds during a heated Tower Defense mission, a dip in frame rate can become detrimental to your situational awareness. Sounds unbelievable, but once you're deep in the mix of a big fight, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

"This is MY BOOM STICK!!!"
Regardless, Warframe remains one of the best looking games on new consoles thanks to DE's understanding of the Evolution Engine as well as their seriously bad ass character and weapon designs. The stuff looks legitimately alien in nature. I wouldn't doubt there was a strong Kojima influence on several of the elements. It doesn't stop there. The tile sets, though some are your classic run-down steamy dark mining factory type deals, there are others like Corpus Gas City which is a labyrinthine space station of a race of robots floating inside the violent orange clouds of Jupiter, which I particularly love. My favorite, however, is the dreamlike Orokin Void, which feels like a far-future alien hall. The Void sports high ceilings trimmed in lush gold and peppered with gorgeous space trees that are apparently made out of super magic ice... or something? I adore this tile set. Some other notable mentions are the silvery frost of Venus, and the overgrown Earth maps. Other independently developed MMOs (even though Warframe questionably falls into this category) typically can't hold a candle to it in terms of visual fidelity. Not only is the game ridiculously fun, and addictive, it's damn nice to look at as well.

It feels like highway robbery playing this game for free. Oh, yeah. It's free. Digital Extremes has, however, gotten more of my money than I care to admit here, because I am enamored with their tireless hard work on this new IP. I pray that other F2Ps start to follow suit. I can count on half of a hand the games I've put this much time into and never gotten bored with. Warframe, though, intimidating at first can lull you into an incessant need to keep leveling, keep searching, keep building, and keep playing. The only real fault I find in the game are the occasional performance slips, some bugs, and a lack of a great story mode. The lore, which you can read on the Warframe Wiki, or in the game itself, sets up for a compelling cyberpunk tale of tortured genetic experiments and greed, but it lacks the powerful open world story to really turn it into something spectacular. I like to think that DE has something planned down the road for this beyond a mere tutorial mission to help situate new players. Besides this, I can't imagine much of anything else that would make the game better. Maybe... I dunno... like robot wings that propel you through space across asteroids and battleships as you slice enemy drones in half? Maybe it would be called Archwing and would be coming in Update 15 and be like playing a wicked cyberpunk version of Starfox?

Yeah, that's actually happening.

If this will be your first time playing, you're in for a serious time sink. It's too bad it launches on Xbox One just a week before Destiny. But, hey, if you're one of those really weird people that didn't like Destiny, maybe Warframe will provide you with that investment you've been looking for. If you're still confused, which you certainly will be, take this with you. It's a beginner's guide. Don't feel ashamed. We were all there at one point. So, to all you Xbox One players, welcome, Tenno.

-J.G. Barnes