These days, thanks to patches, bug fixes and updates, I’m fairly convinced that the best time to play any game is at least year after release. In the case of Warframe from Digital Extremes, perhaps it’s more like… Four years?
This team-based, third-person science-fiction title has been around since 2013. This is not a new game — I’ve known about it since the beginning. Being someone who cares a lot about art, I’ve been in love with its biomechanical style since I saw pre-release screenshots, and it was the first game I ever downloaded on my PS4. However, to be perfectly frank, it was in really rough shape when it launched and it did not hold my attention. A delete quickly followed.
I had heard that it had received some updates a while later, so I downloaded it again (yep, mostly due to the art) and gave it another shot. Nope. Deleted again.
This process of hoping it was better and finding that it wasn’t repeated itself at least one or two more times, and I always felt a bit frustrated that despite finding it so visually appealing and seeing it check off so many of my boxes, it never managed to hook me… Until now.
Essentially, it’s a third-person online action game with a large emphasis on doing missions as a team, although the game is absolutely playable solo, as well. Imagine something with the same general structure of something along the lines of Destiny or The Division, and you’re not too far off.
The warframes themselves are the suits of battle armor pictured in the screenshots, looking both mechanical and organic at the same time. Although each frame carries a primary weapon, a sidearm and a melee weapon, each one is a distinct character type with their own unique own skills and abilities.
For example, when players begin the game, they’ll have their choice of three starting frames, although there are dozens more. Excalibur, my current frame, specializes in being a swordsman with a passive that increases his attack when using his blade, and most of his special abilities are weapon-centric — his strongest channels energy directly into the steel for searing energy slices. Mag is another starting frame, one that uses gravity attacks to push, pull and crush while doing damage. The final starter, Volt, specializes in (surprise) electricity like casting chain lightning on a group of enemies, or erecting a bullet-stopping shield to give allies cover.
In addition to the distinctive visuals and a variety of characters in an array of flavors, the other thing that’s notable about Warframe is the speed and agility in how the game moves. Everything happens fast here, with combat moving at top speeds at all time. The warframes are extremely mobile, being able to leap impossible distances, glide, climb walls, flip and tumble… They’re analogous to being science-fiction ninja, and while just one on its own is effective, a full squad of four can deal death to half a planet.
Structurally, the core loop is to do missions in order to level up and earn better weapons — it’s similar to other games of this type, but the mission variety is good and the speed with which a mission can be whipped through makes it possible to knock a string of them out in very short order, so it’s a great fit for players (like me) who might have 15-30 minutes here and there when longer sessions aren’t possible. It’s easy to jump in, feel like something got done, and then log out.
Along the same ease-of-play lines, the devs make getting together to play a simple matter — effortless, really. Every time I’ve started a match on my own but wanted some teammates, I’ve found some in a matter of moments. The automatching works quite well and the servers are populated. It’s just as easy to meet up with friends as well, and includes specialized friend lists and private in-game areas for members of specific groups to hang out, trade items and more.
While the game is free-to-play, my experience has been that the only things Warframe wants real money for are minor upgrades to stats (nice to have but not necessary for play) and cosmetic items which have no effect other than looking cool as hell.
However, for players who like customization… Well, this is hog heaven and it’s incredibly tempting to drop a few bucks in. I love the designs of the different frames, and there are tons and tons of accessories like capes, different heads, different skins, armors, and of course colors of every detail can be changed. There are also several hundred weapons, companion creatures for players who want a buddy, and more… Heck, I was even able to alter which hip I sheath my sword on — an extremely small detail, but one that was able to be modded to my specifications.
If there are any major criticisms I have for Warframe‘s current iteration, they’re all centered around starting the game.
As far as I can tell it’s not possible to restart the tutorial missions, and since my first session was actually a couple of years ago, jumping back in after such a long time was difficult. Once I got back up to speed with the controls, the game does indulge in quite a bit of jargon that is not easily sussed. There is a wealth of information inside the game (and online, of course) but it doesn’t come in an easily digestible format. If not for multiple gurus in my Twitter feed tirelessly answering my questions over the course of several days, I’m not sure that I would’ve gotten over the hump to figure out what was what. However, once I filled in my many blanks and understood what was going on, I was delighted to find that the game had finally reached a state that was addicting and engaging.
After I had a handle on things I introduced the game to my wife and my son, and they took to it immediately — we’ve done several hours of group missions so far, and it’s already become a go-to during family time alongside Overwatch, and we’ll likely log many, many hours until Monster Hunter World arrives.
In the current structure, missions are composed of randomly-generated levels that players can run alone or in a group, but Eidolon will introduce a brand-new open-world section that comes complete with areas to explore, a day and night cycle, towns, NPCs, and huge, huge monsters to battle once players are up to the task. It’s the kind of an update that only a vibrant developer with a strong fan base would attempt, and now that I’m in deep, I’m stoked to see this new content. From what I’ve heard, it will be a great place for newcomers to jump in and much of the content will be accessible from the start, although, of course, some of it will be geared towards longtime players — greenhorns like me might want to stay indoors at night.
It is truly a testament to the work of Digital Extremes that Warframe has continued to grow and thrive since it’s debut when so many other free-to-play games have dried up and blown away, and although I had written it off myself (several times!) I’m grateful to the people in my Twitter feed who convinced me to give it another shot. I am now absolutely a fan, and would recommend it to anyone looking for something to play with a group, or as something to chip away at between other releases… I would also recommend it to people who like the idea of The Division or Destiny, but didn’t quite find what they were looking for. Despite having some things in common with those titles, Warframe has a flavor all its own, and being a free download, there’s really nothing to lose. Its thirty million registered users just might be on to something!
You can find Warframe on PS4, Xbox One and PC, and it is free-to-play.
Infinite thanks to everyone who coached me along the path to Tenno-hood including @CoffeeJezus and @PaddyStardust for getting me fired up to try it again, @Sentionaut_Plus and @Mai_Sinclair for their support, and @Michael_Prehn for answering every single question I had with endless patience.
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:
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