If you’ve been active on Steam for a while, or a PS4 owner without a dust-buried console, you may have noticed a free-to-play game called Warframe. On a whim, I tried out this co-op third-person shooter. It thoroughly surprised me.
The spark was a user-submitted Steam review comparing Warframe’s gameplay to Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode, which I had immense fun with. It’s an oversimplified comparison, but a good place to start.
Warframe doesn’t have specific maps like ME3: Rather, levels are procedurally generated based on a particular environmental style. Each mission has a single objective; your four-person squad must complete it. then get to extraction to win. In general, the action is much faster paced than ME3, and while Warframe also emphasizes cover, it has no cover system for the players (but your enemies get one). While I think Warframe lacks some of the tactical elements present in ME3, it brings something else to the table in its pace and the amount of enemies it throws at you.
In addition to guns, Warframe also features a host of melee weapons. You can shoot enemies one second, then just take out your bladestaff and swing it around the next. This seamless blending of shooter and hack-and-slash is one of Warframe’s strengths, and it’s on a short list of recent third-person shooters that do this (Space Marine being another notable example). One instant, you’re playing ME3 multiplayer, the next, you’re playing Dynasty Warriors. I love it.
Another notable piece of the gameplay is the parkour elements. You’ve got slides, long jumps, and you can run up or along walls. Aside from the advanced levels, none of that is absolutely necessary outside of the long jump, but you can always find a place where running along a wall and jumping off might be faster than taking the zip line. They’re not perfect however, and I’ve found my warframe missing the intended mark or going wall-crazy because the parkour mechanics are a bit too literal and tight in how your character interacts with surfaces. It’s also annoying when I hit the button to do a full jump over a rail, but the game interprets that as a vault, and the animation for vaulting over an object is much slower than jumping and “Zoren-coptering” (hold an axe in each hand, jump, spin them around, now you’re going faster than Sanic). Ain’t nobody got time for vaulting.
Warframe is 90% PvE, with a leveled progression. You do missions across the solar system, from one planet to the next, and they get progressively harder. At some points, the path branches out — for instance, at Earth, you can head for Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn. From Uranus, you can go to Neptune or Sedna. Each completed mission unlocks any other missions connected to it. Warframe’s designers actually did a lot of research in this department, because not only do they include the dwarf planets (Pluto, Ceres, and Eris, in addition to the aforementioned Sedna), but every mission on each planet is named after a particular location or physical object on or near that planet, in accordance with the documentation of the International Astronomical Union. Now that’s showing your work.
Good News: Not Pay-To-Win
Warframe follows a free-to-play model. Almost anything in the game can be bought with real money through the game’s intermediate currency called platinum. However, the only things really worth buying with platinum are inventory slots, which are rather limited by default. There’s also the usual cosmetic stuff, which to its credit, does look cool.
While almost every piece of equipment can be bought with real money, this isn’t necessary. You can craft new weapons and warframes just by using the ingame currency (credits) and various resources dropped by mobs. However, when crafting, you’ll have to wait anywhere from 12-72 hours for the equipment to be complete, with the option to pay platinum to rush the process. To me, this feels like the most blatantly padded-out and profiteering element in an otherwise reasonable free-to-play game.
Artistic Analysis Stuff
While playing Warframe and taking notice of its creative elements, I couldn’t help but notice similarities in its overall artistic style to other major works of sci-fi. Fortunately, this is the good kind of resemblance — inspired, not ripped off. You are a Tenno, a space ninja trained in weapons, parkour, and warframes; exosuits with special powers. You will fight all over the solar system against three factions, two of which are directly descended from humans on Earth:
The Grineer, a race of genetically defective clones. That’s the only way they can reproduce, which explains a lot. Stylistically, the Grineer resemble a mash-up between Space Marines and the Krogan. Grineer levels take after Aliens and Warhammer 40,000, in the sense that their technology is advanced and effective, but still looks relatively ramshackle, and their installations lack warm colors and lighting. In gameplay, the Grineer favor a brute force approach, attacking with powerful weapons while wearing heavy armor.
The Corpus, a collective of corporations and trade charters. They wear jumpsuits and what look like welding helmets. Their levels are clean and well-lit, resembling the look of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek sans lens flares, and also implement stringent security systems. In game, the Corpus favor laser weaponry and shields, while also utilizing robotic drones to support them in battle. All in all, the Trade Federation, Ferengi, and Tau got together to form a welders’ union.
Finally, the Infected: Warped byproducts of a sentient virus (I don’t know if that makes sense). Whereas the Tyranids and Zerg resemble a scrapbook of H.R. Giger fanart and insectoids, Warframe’s Infected take on a split between diseased humanoids loping like animals, and Cthulhu. Also, rather than just wanting to eat everything, it seems the Infected want to assimilate all life into the consciousness of the virus (once again, not sure if that makes sense). This is very Borg-like. In gameplay, the Infested just zerg rush you, and melee weaponry is particularly effective against them.
Despite its fun and deep systems, Warframe is still a grindy game. Whether you’re running a boss for a drop, or running Void missions for special crafting ingredients, or running the Kappa mission to level up your equipment, you’ll find yourself grinding. “Grind” has become sort of a dirty word in gaming, and it’s a subject I plan to discuss in a future article. As for Warframe, it has grind, but due to the gameplay, I find it more tolerable than a lot of other MMOs I’ve played. I got tired of games like Age of Conan and Warhammer Online within a week, and The Secret World didn’t win me over, but I’m still playing Warframe.
Warframe is still in open beta, and there are some noticeable bugs, a few of which can lock up the game or render your current match unplayable for you. Also, the game definitely has a learning curve, and while there are very simple and quick tutorial instructions you can activate on certain subscreens, you’ll need to read up on some things in order to fully understand them (such as how the mod system works). I think my biggest pet peeve with the learning curve was that, upon seeing the map of the solar system for the first time, it took me several minutes to figure out that I was supposed to start doing missions on Mercury; I saw Mega Man mission selection where it was actually Super Mario World.
I didn’t expect to like this game as much as I do, but there it is. Aside from the bugs, Warframe is a good game with carefully designed mechanics, and I definitely recommend playing it. This is the only game where I can play a space ninja with a horned helmet that dual-wields Smith & Wesson 500s and hand axes, effectively making him a space ninja cowboy Viking. It’s fun.