Heads up – this guide was written for PS4, but Warframe has JUST launched on Switch. A few things might be slightly different (like the controls) but 99% of this info still applies to the game regardless of what platform you’re on. Have no fear, jump in and have fun, Tenno!
So, you probably heard about Warframe a while ago or saw mention of it at some point, but you don’t know much about it. Honestly, you forgot it existed.
From what you recall, it’s some kind of weird free-to-play thing and you never bothered to give it a second look, but the other day one of your friends who got sick of Destiny 2 said it was great, and he’s been on it every night since. You’ve also seen it starting to pop up on Twitter out of nowhere, and a few of the game news sites you hit were saying something about a ‘big update’.
And now it’s on the Switch and people are… excited? About this old F2P game?
Since it’s free, you decide to download it and see what all the buzz is about, but once all the updates were applied and the game got underway, you had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on. This is what people are talking about?? It doesn’t even make sense!
… Does this sound like you? Has this been your experience?
If so, you’re not alone. Warframe has been around for a while, but it’s been a quiet, stealthy success. After receiving some attention when it was a PS4 launch title, it disappeared off of the game-o-sphere’s radar, but it didn’t vanish. No, it’s been building an audience over the last four years, and now it’s bigger and better than ever.
It’s also stepping back into the spotlight on Nintendo’s handheld starting right now.
Now that it’s on every system, it’s a great time to jump into Warframe, but it can be a really, really overwhelming experience for newcomers. Without a helping hand to guide them through it, they might bail long before seeing what makes it great. As a recent convert who went through this experience myself, it’s my goal for this piece to be that helping hand.
Welcome to Warframe 101. It’s not a wiki and it won’t answer every possible question, but hopefully it will help clear up the fog that chokes the opening hours of play and will help get new players off to a good start!
What is Warframe?
Warframe is a real-time third-person free-to-play online action game that can be played alone, although it strongly encourages playing with others. Most of the systems in the game support cooperation by disabling friendly fire, making it effortless to group up with others, and sharing resources between all players.
Wait, this is free-to-play AND it’s online with others? I’ve had bad experiences online, I don’t need toxicity in my life, and I don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed.
Same! But, Warframe is highly cooperative – if the team doesn’t win, nobody wins. No loot is kept if a mission fails, so it’s in everybody’s interest to support each other. Also, voice and text chat can be disabled, and it’s easy to play without direct communication. This is the only online game I’ve ever played where I kept myself open to grouping with randos and never regretted it. As for the free-to-play aspect, just ignore it. Most of what the game sells are cosmetic items that look cool but have no effect, and there’s no paywall or timer limiting play.
Okay fine, I’ll try it. I’m in the tutorial, but I don’t know anything about this game and they want me to pick a character. Which one do I pick?
The current version of Warframe will ask you to pick between three characters:
-Mag (magnetic powers, area damage)
-Volt (electrical powers, speed)
Don’t stress out too much, you really can’t go wrong. Every character in the game has a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, a melee weapon and four unique powers. Any one of the starting three can carry you through the beginning, so the only thing to consider is which one seems the coolest. Also, no matter which one you pick, you can choose a new character later on. You can unlock plenty of new characters through gameplay and you’re not locked into your starting choice forever, so pick one that looks like a winner and roll with it.
I’m on my ship and I don’t know what all this stuff is. Some of it works, some doesn’t, and one of these things takes me to the online store? What the hell?
Don’t worry about trying to figure it all out at once. Ignore the store, and the tutorial will activate parts of your ship as they become relevant. If something seems like it’s out of order, just ignore it. The most important thing in the beginning is the Navigation console at the front of the ship. Click on this and it will show you a map of the galaxy, which is where you choose the missions that you’ll be playing.
I’m looking at this map of the planets and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or how to advance the story. Wait, does this game even have a story?
It does have a story, and there are some great reveals that come later. Like, much later. It will unfold over time and it seems absent at first, but it’s there. So, putting narrative aside for now, when you’re looking at the galaxy map, hit R1 if you’re on PS4 and you’ll open a menu with a lot of stuff on it. The first tab lists the story-based missions. These will advance the campaign. Hit R1 again, and you’ll see Alert missions. These pop up and offer cash or rewards. Ignore the rest of the tabs for now. The primary goal at the beginning is to unlock planets. Follow the lines on the map, complete challenges, and keep moving forward. The story will reveal itself over time.
I’m running around and shooting stuff, but so what? What makes Warframe special?
You’ve got a lot of options, and the characters you play are sci-fi ninja badasses. We’re talking fast AF and more nimble than anything.
Push L2 to aim and R2 to shoot your main weapon.
Tap TRIANGLE to switch to your sidearm.
Tap CIRCLE to do a quick melee attack.
Hold TRIANGLE to put your guns away and use your melee weapon as your primary.
With melee as your primary, hold R2 to block bullets or deflect them back at enemies.
With melee as your primary, hold L2 to channel your energy and boost your attack power.
Tap X to jump, and tap X again to double-jump.
When running, hold L1 to slide. You can attack while sliding.
When sliding, push X to jump huge distances in any direction.
When in the air, hold L2 to glide. You can shoot while gliding.
Wallrun or wallclimb by holding X on a vertical surface.
Cling to walls by holding R2 on a vertical surface.
Yes, don’t forget that each character has their own set of four special abilities. Some are offensive, some are defensive, and some are just plain weird. These abilities define each character! To use them in battle, hold R1 and then press one of the four face buttons. You’ll only have access to one when you’re starting out, but the other three will unlock as you level up.
Wow, that’s a lot of moves. And these special moves are pretty great, but how do I refill my special ability meter once it’s empty?
Collect spiky blue orbs that are dropped by enemies.
Ok, I know how to move and attack and use my special abilities, but what’s the point of this? I don’t understand this mission or what my goal is.
Each mission type has a specific name, like Capture, Interception, Hijack, and so on. The Lotus (that cyborg lady with no eyes) will pop up and give you instructions. If your goal isn’t clear, you can usually run to the yellow ‘target’ mark on your mini-map and she’ll tell you what to do when you get there. Unfortunately, Warframe has the bad habit of giving important mission information and lore in the middle of a mission – it’s easy to miss. Do your best to catch the info but if you’re still lost, you can go to the Codex (it’s the machine to the left of Navigation on the bridge of your ship) and look up what to do in each mission type before your next attempt.
Should I group up with others immediately?
You might want to leave the game on Solo for now, and you can adjust your multiplayer preferences by hitting TRIANGLE when on your ship and choosing between the options. I suggest playing alone at first because people who know how to Warframe can finish missions in the blink of an eye, and you won’t learn much by being left in the dust and wondering what happened. Also, playing alone makes the game feel different – by being the only person moving forward, you’ll be able to focus on the instructions the Lotus is giving, you can manage how many enemies you’re taking on at a time, and you can retreat to a quiet area you’ve already cleared out when necessary. The only exception to this are the Interception missions where you need to control four points. Those are really, really hard to do alone, so put your game back on Public and get help.
Alright, I did a few missions and won! I saw some EXP meters fill up during the mission results screen, but I don’t seem stronger or tougher and I don’t know how to level up. What’s going on?
Leveling up in Warframe works a little differently than standard games. A character and all of its equipped gear (guns, melee weapons, etc.) can each be leveled up to a maximum of level 30. However, doing this doesn’t improve its stats or its power. The only thing that changes when gaining a level is that it gains more Mod capacity. Also, here’s an important fact – once an item or character hits level 30, you won’t get any more EXP from it. You should switch it out for something new and keep earning more EXP!
What is Mod capacity and why should I care?
Equipping Mods can make a gun deal more damage, hold more bullets, or gain an elemental effect, among other things. Equipping a character with Mods can grant more health, more shields, quicker recovery time, and a variety of different characteristics. So, the higher level something is, the more Mods it can have and the tougher and better it can become.
Where do you get Mods?
Enemies will occasionally drop large, glowing objects when killed. Pick one up, and you’ll see a small picture pop up on-screen that looks a bit like a card with an image and some text on it. These are Mods, and you can equip them on your character when you’re standing in the Arsenal kiosk on the bottom floor of your ship, or you can manage them directly via the Mod machine near the Arsenal kiosk.
Oh my god, I went to the Mod machine and my head exploded from information overload. I can’t handle sci-fi spreadsheets, I’m out.
Hang on! I know it seems overwhelming, but when you’re just starting out don’t worry about diving into this. It’s actually super simple once you figure it out, but in the meantime the game can auto-equip Mods for you. Go to your Arsenal kiosk and click TRIANGLE to select Upgrade on your character. Then, on the next screen, click R3 for Actions. Then, click Auto-Install and you’re set.
That worked. Seems like I’m stronger already! But if I want to tweak these Mods on my character, do you have any good suggestions? There are so many to choose from!
No problem. For players starting out with a new character, I suggest:
– Vitality (more health)
– Redirection (more shield capacity)
– Fast Deflection (your shield recharges faster)
– Steel Fiber (more armor)
– Serration (increases rifle damage)
– Point Blank (increases shotgun damage)
– Pressure Point (increases melee damage)
You might not be able to equip all of these at first, and you might not even have them until you find some in battle, but they’re all super common. Once you level up a bit you’ll be able to fit all of these on your character, and more.
If I change characters at some point, do I have to take all of the Mods off the old one and then put them on the new one? That seems like a real hassle. Too much micromanagement.
No, you don’t need to constantly re-do your Mods if you change characters. Once you have a character kitted out the way you want, the game keeps track of how they were set up, even if you swap back and forth between them. It’s a real timesaver!
How many copies of each Mod do I need? I seem to have racked up eighteen duplicates of the same one…
Some Mods are way more common than others and you’ll quickly earn a bunch of doubles. You only ever need one of each. When you’re checking out your Mods in the Mod machine, you can tab over to the Duplicates page with R1 and either sell all of your extras for cash, or you can turn them into resources you need to power up the Mods you’re keeping.
Now, about guns… None of the enemies in missions have dropped any new weapons, how do I get new gear?
You make it! Everything you’ll wear or use in Warframe can be made by you. New characters, gun, swords, and all the rest. If you go to the Arsenal kiosk, you’ll see categories for your character’s gear. If you hit X for Equip, you’ll be taken to a screen that lists weapons and assorted hardware. Don’t freak out and assume you need to pay real money! Check out each weapon, and on some there will be a cost for a Blueprint listed. Blueprints can be bought with in-game money, and used to make new gear. For folks who don’t want to work towards a new item, the game frequently offers 25%, 50% and 75% off coupons as daily rewards, so if you bide your time you can get a good item on the cheap.
So I bought a blueprint with in-game cash, but what do I do with it?
Go to the Foundry machine on the lower floor of your ship. It’s basically a 3D printer. You can tab through the various categories with R1 and L1. Find the thing you just got the Blueprint for and the machine will tell you how much it costs to make and what resources you need to craft it. Then, just keep playing until you have the requirements and start building it.
Wait a minute. I just got the 3D printer to make me a new gun and it’s saying it’ll be ready in 12 hours? What the f…
Yep, that’s correct. Making stuff takes time, so pop that sniper rifle in the oven and come back later. You can pay to rush the build, but why? Take the time to play more missions, earn more in-game cash, experiment with your character, and more. There’s really no reason at all to pay for a quick build. Just be patient!
All right, but in the meantime I still have the weapons the tutorial gave me. How do I know if they’re any good? I’m not sure what these stats mean.
Like the Mod system, Warframe goes with a fairly unconventional design since there’s no STR, DMG or PWR stat. Instead, choose any weapon and look at its values. Near the bottom you’ll see Impact, Puncture and Slash. Damage in the game is basically broken up into these categories, so the numbers listed here tell you how strong something is. A sword with 24 Slash is a lot weaker than a machete with 72 Slash, for example.
So according to the stats that I now understand, this gun is weaksauce. Can I make it stronger with Mods just like my character? And if so, any suggestions?
Yep, the Mod system works on all of a player’s stuff in Warframe. It’s tough to recommend specific Mods in this case because each weapon type has its own Mods. Some go on rifles, some go on shotguns, some go on swords, and so on. You’ll generally want to equip anything that gives your weapon more damage, a faster firing rate, or more ammo. Each Mod has a brief description of its effects, so check ‘em out and use what seems right.
So I put some Mods on, but an extra 5% damage on my gun is hardly even a help. There’s got to be more to this, right?
Right. From the Upgrade screen in the Arsenal kiosk, push SQUARE for Mods. On this screen, you will see options to tweak the Mods your character currently has equipped. For the purposes of this Warframe 101 piece I’m going to refrain from getting into the details but it’s pretty self-explanatory once you’ve got some playtime under your belt. Don’t worry about doing this when you’re getting started but just remember that this is where you can upgrade your Mods – turn that extra 5% damage into an extra 120%!
Now, I think that just about covers the basics to get you started, but here’s a little more info that you might want to know after you’ve gotten a few hours under your belt.
What’s this tab for Ayatan Treasures in the Mod machine?
You’ll sometimes come across Ayatan Statues or Stars during missions. If you find some, they will be listed here, but you can safely ignore it for now.
How do I get a new character?
Almost all of the planets on your galaxy map have a boss – look for a mission with a little ‘crown’ icon. These bosses will drop the parts you need to make a bunch of new characters. You’ll usually need three pieces to build one (Systems, Neuroptics, Chassis) and once you have those, buy the Blueprint from your Arsenal kiosk with in-game cash. Pop all the parts in your 3D printer and bake!
My new character is sweet, but I was doing a mission and I saw that someone had a combat dog! At least, it was pretty close to being a dog. Mostly. I like dogs, how do I get one?
A story mission will unlock and introduce the dogs to you, and at the end of it you’ll be set up to get your own. There are also cats, and, uh, “other” things that can fight with you.
What’s all this about Prime gear? Those characters look different, and so do the guns. And they seem… Stronger?
Don’t worry about that for now. Prime items are basically prestige items that take a few extra steps to unlock. You can absolutely ignore all of it until you’re ready to start digging deeper into the game.
One of the missions I tried to start was locked and said I needed an Archwing. What gives?
As you progress the campaign, you’ll eventually unlock a jetpack that you can use to fly through space called an Archwing. Just ignore these locked missions for now and come back when you’ve got one. Also, JETPACK!!!
Should I check out the new expansion area that I heard about? Plains of such-and-such? Would that be a good place for beginners?
Give it a pass for now. The Plains of Eidolon are on Earth, and it’s an open-world zone with lots to do. However, beginners’ time is better spent focusing on the core content first. Think of it as getting a grasp on the fundamentals by going through the missions on each planet, unlocking even more planets, and progressing the story a bit.
Maroo’s Bazaar on Mars is reallllllly weird. What’s going on there?
It’s where you can trade in Ayatan items to get resources for powering up your Mods. Also, you can go there to trade with other players to get components you need for new characters or gear. You can also buy items from players here, but they usually ask for real money. It’s a neat and fun resource, but ignore it until you know what you’re doing.
The game uses a ton of jargon. Can you explain to me what some of this gobbledygook is?
You bet. I’ll list some of the common (and confusing) terms you’re likely to run into at the beginning of the game.
Affinity – Basically, it’s EXP.
Cephalon – An AI.
Dojo – A clan you can start or join to play with others and pool resources.
Ordis – The AI that runs your ship.
Prime – A descriptor for top-class characters and gear.
Relay – A space station. You can find them orbiting various planets.
Relic – An item that contains a Prime part. Complete a special mission to unlock it.
Syndana – A decorative cape or similar object worn on a character’s back because it looks cool.
Syndicates – Factions you can join to take on extra missions and get special rewards.
Tenno – A lore-based term for Warframes.
Warframe – The supercool space ninja character you’re using.
Ok, thanks for clearing those up. Can you give me a quick rundown on the currencies?
Credits – The basic, in-game cash used to buy Blueprints and to pay for making items.
Ducats – Used to buy special time-sensitive items. Earned by selling Prime gear on a Relay.
Endo – Used to power up Mods. Earned in missions or by selling unwanted Mods.
Platinum – Can be used to buy new gear or speed up building gear. Bought with real money.
All right, I think I have a pretty good handle on the game now, thanks for the help! But now that I’ve been playing for a while there’s really only one big question left — when does the paywall come crashing down? Since Warframe is free-to-play, will I need to put in money to keep advancing?
Warframe is one of the rare games where it’s free-to-play done right. The majority of things to spend actual real-world money on are strictly cosmetic – swishy capes, decorative pieces of armor that don’t add any DEF, fancy skins or new color schemes, and all sorts of other doodads that have no effect on gameplay — they just look really cool. As far as things that do have an effect on gameplay like new characters, new weapons, and so on, all of it can be unlocked just by playing the game. Some things are rarer than others, but play long enough and you’ll get anything you need. One special thing to note? Some items are only available for free if you join an online clan called a Dojo. It doesn’t cost anything, but it needs players to work together to chip in resources earned in the game. Still free, but these high-end pieces require a little more work and some coordination to unlock. Of course, people who want to skip collecting resources or who don’t have that much time to play can pay for just about anything in Warframe – the option is there, but it’s definitely not necessary.
Any last words of wisdom?
This primer is just meant as a starting point, and most of it came from the questions I had when I started myself. I left out vast amounts of information, and you’ll likely have a ton of questions I haven’t answered here. In such case, don’t be afraid to wiki! But even better? Find a friend who’s playing and have them walk you through or lend a hand if you need help. It’s the best way to get up to speed!
Got it. Peace out, bro! Gonna go kill some evil space dudes now!
Huge props and endless devotion to my wife @GinaGallaway for being my constant partner in spacecrime and the tenno who’s always got my back.
Thanks to everyone who chipped in and helped me create this primer, including @DavidDu84153893, @Nickorilla, @InaneDetails, @FeralKnights, @WidescreenJohn, @DrewBrew82, @BroodWars64, @Threndsa, @Mithaldu and @Jooji88
And of course, extra-special thanks to @CoffeeJezus and @PaddyStardust for getting me to give the game another shot. Also, to @Michael_Prehn, @Sentionaut_Plus, and @The_Patches for helping get me over my own Warframe learning curve!
Also, special apologies to @Coffeejezus whose advice for newcomers is…
Go in knowing nothing. Discover by instinct. If you need to look something up, by all means do, but go in with a group of friends who are equally as ravenous to explore the unknown and you will have The Best Time.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
bradgallaway a t gmail dot com