Warframe First Impressions

This week, I got the chance to play through Warframe brought to us by Digital Extremes and discovered what is, by far, a very fun and interesting MMOTPS that provides players the chance to join together with three friends (or strangers) to complete missions to advance the survival of humanity in the galaxy. The first sections of the game involve retaking the solar system (planet by planet) and doing missions ranged from assassination, extermination, reconnaissance, and so forth.

Warframe is a free-to-play MMOTPS with strong science fiction elements and a fairly nice set up and design that will probably pull in casual players interested in a nuanced PvE experience where they can still get into the PvP but it doesn’t drive the entirety of the game platform.

The game even has missions that function nicely on a semi-stealth aspect where a player can stay “hidden” as long as they like in the dark—eventually being ousted to fight their way out if they’re unlucky.

In the backstory of the game, humanity has been forced to the edges of the galaxy by an invasion by the terrible Grineer. Soldiers, warriors, rise up to use exoskeleton “warframes” to take the fight to the enemy and liberate the solar system and beyond. These soldiers are called the Tenno and they’re called up to fight using the warframe technology so that humanity may once again regain supremacy.

Players are thrust into these warframes that they get to level up, fight alongside other players in 4-man teams during missions, and wield a standard variety of FPS weapons.

Graphics and Sound: It’s a good, solid graphics engine with some very nice special effects

When first looking at Warframe it’s easy to see an excellent, brilliant game with very solid graphics. We shouldn’t expect any less when approaching a game built by Digital Extremes—who are known for Unreal and Bioshock. I was not disappointed when I jumped into the first few areas and got a look at what appears to be a nicely detailed science fiction shooter where space ships and monstrous enemies become the norm.

As expected, the environments are gorgeous and very science fiction oriented. The halls are filled with shiny objects, bulkheads, and corridors that switch between claustrophobic spaces and expand into cavernous warehouse and tiered storage areas. The levels appear to be well built, but I quickly got used to what to expect, and it was possible to use cover and engage across numerous angles.

Although at this point it became obvious that the architecture was going to look pretty much the same across all of the Mercury segment of the game. The colors are a little bit lacking in these spaces, mostly conforming in the greys, blacks, and flickering highlights of orange lighting with a lot of blue luminance—if nothing else it makes it very obvious where the enemies are (with their orange-red shots flying past) and what can be opened or looted.

During my foray, I’ve seen sparkling electrical discharges and enemies on fire and these two effects run quite nicely. They fit very nicely into the usual FPS graphics that we see in most games, giving a little bit of color—such as the flames on my sword and the flickering electricity flying about from my powers.

So far, the sounds are also fairly worthwhile. Even after playing for several hours, I barely remember the music (if there is much) and it functions to stay in the background so its not overwhelming. The fire crackles nicely in my ears as it licks along my sword and the shouts of the enemy resound as we move in on them. In some says, it reminds me of the way the game FEAR worked—with the enemy shouting tactics or hollering about their status.

The voicing is fairly good and Lotus—my Tenno handler—constantly giving me updates on the situation and how to proceed. I think that sound is definitely pinned down on this. The missions use sound, special effects, and UI effects to do an excellent job of keeping me on task when playing the missions. No doubt, this is extremely useful in keeping the four-man teams cohesive as strangers try to move through missions together.

Gameplay: Standard FPS/TPS with a slightly over-the-shoulder Mass Effect feel

At the onset, this game reminds me a great deal of the gameplay stylings of the Mass Effect series—sans the cover and squad mechanics—but it’s first and foremost a science fiction first person shooter with all the necessary elements in place to make it work. Your character has a set of abilities that function based on the type of warframe they’re running (see: class) and two guns–one heavy and one light—as well as one melee weapon.

Unlike most TPS games on the market, Warframe seems to market heavily towards PvE by providing a giant number of instanced missions that players can get into for their first levels. The game revolves around retaking the solar system from invaders and I found myself running missions based on many varied types through enemy space ships. Although they all looked virtually the game, and the enemy didn’t vary that much, I did get a sense of place.

I chose a warframe called the Volt—more or less a damage-output space wizard type with guns. But there’s numerous types that take advantage of different types of gameplay from a stealthy one, a heavy guns one, a melee warframe, and even a heavy-clomping high armor and high damage output warframe. With the Volt, I could choose from getting a power that allowed me to throw lightning to stun and kill enemies, some crowd control with a static-placed lightning shield, and extra shields for intense firefights.

There seems to be a limited number of guns and melee weapons at first glance, but there’s a “crafting” system for making more—and to make things better, it’s possible to mod them with items that add damage, clip size, fire rate, and sometimes elemental damage types such as electricity or fire. The latter seem extremely rare, but it’s really fun to have a flaming sword on your back going through these missions.

Mission instances run with a maximum of four people and the matching system seems okay—although it’s common to get put into a mission that’s about to end and see you get 1% total damage output while the others fill up the rest and that’s a little depressing.

When a person is downed it’s possible to revive them by pressing ‘X’ over their fallen body and holding it for about eight seconds (a dangerous amount of time to sit still in a firefight.) Alternatively, if there’s nobody to resurrect me, I could have popped a “revive” which costs a certain amount of platinum (the freemium currency) and stood up immediately.

More often than not, in my early levels, I found myself quickly outmatched by the enemy AI and capabilities—getting crushed underfoot when surrounded or ploughed over by shield-wielding Grineer—but in groups even as small as two we could plough through most encounters. So: unless you’re particularly badass don’t go it alone. Right now, part of this is due to some strangeness with the enemy AI (who will sometimes just stand and open up their flanks) but largely it’s also due to the high synergy between warframes and players moving through rooms with enemies.

Freemium: Solid cash shop routine per first person shooter design looking to grow

In Warframe the freemium currency is called platinum and can be used to purchase various things around the game and open up certain weapons sooner than if earned with the in-game currency—and there are some weapons can only be bought with platinum. This edges a little close to the pay-to-win problem ethic, so it’ll depend on how Digital Extremes handles this.

One excellent use for platinum is to speed up crafting. Right now, crafting takes some time, some of the most simple items may take up to 12 hours to finish crafting (after all the gathering of recipe and ingredients.) It’s also possible to purchase resurrection tokens enabling a player to rise up without help during a mission—absolutely necessary for not forfeiting.

I haven’t seen too much sign of customization, but it’s more than likely on the way for platinum. In fact, in most MMOTPS this is the perfect place to enable it.

Conclusion: We’re looking at a fairly nice science fiction MMOTPS that needs polish

Warframe is still in closed beta, although invites are a dime-a-dozen. It’s quick loading, the graphics are nice—although not very variegated right now—but it manages to fill a role in a PvE sort of TPS game that we haven’t seen much of yet. It also includes an intimate crafting system that allows players to find and build some amazing weapons and presents a style of gameplay not common in the free-to-play MMOTPS market.

It has all the elements in place to be an enjoyable game, especially including the crafting mechanic giving players an incentive to return to previously-beaten levels and farm them for materials. Adding other people in the fray only adds to the social-MMO element (even if few people speak with each other.)

I didn’t have a chance to look into the PvP experience in this game, but it’s an TPS-styled game so that should be extremely easy to generate just by throwing in the standard team deathmatch, deathmach, capture the flag, etc. Many of these elements already exist in the PvE games such as capture and kill.

As I’d say for any MMOTPS, this one has all the hallmarks of its genre and looks like there’s a solid foundation to build an excellent game. It’s in beta so the population right now is low; but as more keys get handed out it’s expanding. If you’re into FPS, this is a game to check out and see if you want in on the ground floor.

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2 Comments
  • Sacha
    January 17, 2013
    Reply #1
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    It’s a third person shooter… :/

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    • Kyt Dotson
      January 17, 2013
      Reply #2
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      Of course, that’s correct–I suppose that shooters both TPS and FPS have a tendency to narrow towards the exact same sense of perspective and thus lead to a merging of mechanics and thus make it easy to conflate the terms. Often, I cannot recall the different of feeling between third or first person shooters, especially those that do nothing to take advantage of anything that differentiates them (such as a cover mechanic, which Warframe doesn’t have.) I’ll get that fixed.

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