Digital Extreme’s Warframe has now been out in open beta for over a year and about that time is the last time GameOgre visited the game in order to look at what it’s like in the solar system long after the Old Orokin War.
A year ago, I played and noticed how the game is aesthetically pleasing and a solid, action packed shooter. I disliked that the narrative and background story felt like it was hard to access and found that it began to grind down after a while. Digital Extremes has done a good job of addressing a lot of these earlier issues, added a lot of content, customization, equipment, and continues to make the game better.
How does Warframe stand up a year later?
As a TPS-styled game, Warframe features the standards expected from a the shooter genre from guns to target rich environments. As a shooter, Warframe shines in providing a broad number of guns, a lot of opportunities to shoot them, and even adds in parkour and melee elements.
Testing out a new gun–and there’s a lot of them to craft–can be a wonderful experience when running up against an invasion of the Infested, fighting alongside the Corpus, or trying to snipe a heavily armored Greneer from across the map. The game even includes odd weapons that fit the styles of the enemies and the Tenno themselves; this means that there’s a lot of potential customization that can be added just through choosing gun types.
Add in that all warframes can carry one main weapon, a sidearm, and a melee weapon and that customization becomes even larger. Melee weapons run a giant gamut of Nipponese-styled weaponry mixed with some mediaeval types. Swords in the form of sakana and cronus (and others) hammers, axes, bo staff–some melee weapons such as the glaive can be thrown like a boomerang.
Like many modern games Warframe also uses an “elemental” style of damage including fire, cold, electrical, and poison–as well as three physical damage types including piercing, shredding, and impact. The elemental-types can be mixed together into interesting synergistic elemental types and certain types (physical and elemental) work better or worse against particular enemies. This sort of rock-paper-scissors approach to damage and defense means players must think tactically about approach missions.
Alerts and invasions also keep things interesting in a game based primarily around grinding up from the bottom to get better equipment and access to tougher missions. Alerts happen throughout the day, opening up special missions on planets that deliver money or rare items. Invasions are planet-wide attacks by particular factions that give players a reason to go back to places they’ve already been in order to repel (or assist).
Over the past year, Digital Extremes has been extremely busy in keeping the content fresh and expanding the loadout of equipment, weapons, warframes, and missions. The result is a game that maintains the form that I once played a year ago, but it’s different enough now that it’s a whole new experience. Warframe does a fair job of reinventing content without upsetting what made the game fun to play.
As a free-to-play game, Warframe feels more-or-less like a game of grinding through very similar content from top to bottom. It does do a fairly good job of hiding this behind the ever-increasing treadmill of gear and by offering actually interesting and new weapons and equipment, but the grind is still there, and is gated a bit for casual players by the need to find other people to join missions to open up new planets and missions.
After a year, Warframe has stuck to the three factions model–this means there are only three different enemy groups to fight against. While this is a good thing when it comes to the rock-paper-scissors presentation of picking weapons and damage types, it’s also severely limiting in the type of variety that is seen by players. The result makes the game feel like it’s more-of-the-same as higher leveled content and planets are unlocked or old ones revisited. Digital Extremes does a fair job of mitigating this by adding new content constantly.
As a player unlocks her way through the solar system it makes the game’s universe feel artificially larger than it really is. In fact, once breaking into Uranus and Neptune, the game tends to throw more invasions in the near-Sol planets than the outer ones (as it’s slow to open up the outer worlds.) The difficulty in breaking into those planets also means that as a casual player I’m looking at grinding towards the outer planets, but interest flags except for specific goals.
It’s possible to trade with other players in the game, and this is a good way to get new warframes and equipment; but Digital Extremes has made it extremely difficult. Borrowing a little bit from other free-to-play games, Warframe makes it possible to trade the premium currency (Platinum) and equipment. However, also borrowing from games like Diablo and Diablo 2–instead of highly functional MMO games like World of Warcraft, Star Trek Online, etc.–players must find one another using the in-game chat to trade, and then have access to a guild Dojo.
This is an interesting social mechanic decision on DE’s part potentially designed to slow down the trade of items through the game to control the economy; but in the end it feels more like a hit to user experience when functional auction houses exist in a lot of similar games.
As a game, Warframe is still in open beta. Although this is essentially a soft launch for most other properties, a year of open beta plus taking money from users for in game content feels a little bit like teasing out the game without saying it’s actually launched.
Fitting with the still-in-beta expectations, Warframe still feels a bit unpolished. Over a two week period of levelling new warframes and crafting new ones, I’ve been struck by geometry bugs in maps five times–falling out of the very map and into space, often unable to resurrect and return to the fight. Network problems are common, with lag being the most common manifestation, staggering enemies, shots not connecting, a slideshow of mobs flickering from place to place or instant death.
For the most part, sessions go without incident–but when something happens it can be catastrophic.
From the perspective of a gamer, I’ve played a great deal of shooters that have similar problems. Most of the time if the game underneath is fun it’s easy to dismiss the glitches–and as the game progresses out of open beta, it becomes more likely that Digital Extremes will be able to get these issues ironed out.
Digital Extremes has a solidly interesting shooter styled with MMO elements and a free-to-play model. As a shooter, it’s fun and satisfying to fly down dimly lit corridors wielding weapons of vorpal grace and using the powers of a warframe. It’s not quite the standard shooter, of course, which makes Warframe such a stand-out game and worth at least a try. It’s available on both PC and PlayStation (this review covers only the PC experience.)
With enough reason to go back, the game is compelling and that may be enough for a multitude of players. Even with the beta ongoing and the product still unpolished, Warframe is a game worth keeping track of.
“We’re done here, 天皇 (Tenno). Get to extraction.“