“I’m a freaking space ninja!”
This pretty much sums up the initial feeling you have when playing Warframe for the first time. Over time the feeling becomes a lot less ninja and a lot more brute force, but the setting remains incredibly cool nonetheless. Is this free to play title worth your time though? Let’s find out.
When it really comes down to it, Warframe is a third-person shooter with a couple of MMO elements attached to it. Each frame has four different abilities it can equip, which act very much like spells or skills in any MMO. You collect loot, craft weapons and kill enemies to earn experience. Levels are gained by ranking up different weapons, frames and sentinels (pets) – a process which isn’t exactly quick but also isn’t really that necessary to compete in the game.
In this, Warframe is different from most games you may be used to. Your personal level really doesn’t matter all that much. There are a few weapons which are locked until you reach a specific mastery level, but none of them are required to be competitive. After mastery rank 8, you pretty much have access to everything – and the rank becomes nothing more than a source of pride. I actually found this a very pleasant experience as you don’t feel that a lot of the content is locked to you until you reach end-game.
Free to Play
Let’s tackle this topic first. Warframe is a free to play title with premium currency (platinum) and an in-game store. Luckily, the pay to win factor is extremely minimal. Almost anything in the game can be obtained without platinum. The exception to this includes warframe slots, weapon slots, and cosmetics such as clan/alliance emblems for your warframe, colours, and pieces of cosmetic armour. Quite literally anything else can be gained by just playing the game.
Platinum itself is extremely expensive if bought at the normal rate, but patient players are frequently rewarded with platinum discounts in their daily log-in rewards. I’d strongly recommend holding off on any purchase until you hit a 50% or 75% discount. To be quite frank, I believe the prices should be slashed by at least half. After this, 50% discounts should be given for achieving specific things in-game, as this will encourage people to play more and get invested. The current model is a bit flawed in that respect.
Platinum can also be used to ‘rush’ things, meaning you don’t have to wait the usual 12 hours or 3 days for weapons or frames to finish building in your foundry. However, this is not necessary and patient players can save a lot of platinum by never rushing anything. I’ve yet to touch this feature.
Warframe is a lot of fun to play. Combat flows nicely, feels punchy, and you can pull of some really nice parkour style moves once you get used to all of it. You pretty much feel badass 90 percent of the time, all the way until a huge enemy smacks you in the face and puts your feet squarely back on the ground. There is a good variety of mission types, and constant alerts with random awards give you something to do which you didn’t plan. The map is big and there are a lot of locations to complete before even that bit is considered done. (I believe there’s 228 different locations at the current count, not including dark sectors, derelict missions, void missions or conclave).
There are moments when the game can feel like a grind, but personally I’ve never found this much of an issue. You’ll need a lot of resources to build all the frames and weapons that the game has to offer and some of those don’t have very high drop rates. However, if you know the right locations and follow a resource farming guide, you shouldn’t really have a big issue in collecting resources. The other thing people would consider a grind are some of the rare mods. Mods make an enormous difference to the performance of your frames and weapons, and some of them are considered must-haves. Again though, most of them aren’t a big problem if you know where they drop.
The game offers a decent amount of content specifically for clans, most noteworthy being the Clan Dojo. Players can construct rooms and expand their dojo with a wide array of features, including research labs which give them access to weapons and warframes only available to clans and their members. Dojos can be decorated with banners, statues, and all sorts of other eye candy and are a great place to hang out with your fellow clan members. Some of the rooms are really well designed, and exploring a dojo can be a lot of fun.
In addition to this, the only way players can trade with each other is by using the trade post inside a dojo. You can invite other players (outside your clan) to your dojo, which is a nice way to show off all your hard work. I’m personally not a massive fan of the current trade mechanics, but it works for those people willing to invest time in the trade chat channel to find buyers for their items. A lot of players use this to make platinum, rather than buying it.
Clans can also join forces by forming an alliance together. This enables small clans to compete versus much larger ones, as each alliance has exactly the same member limit. The game allows as many or as little clans together to form an alliance, as long as this member limit isn’t exceeded. Forming an alliance allows you to share an emblem (on your other shoulder, so you still see your clan emblem too) as well as a joint chat channel with all other members of the alliance.
I’ll say straight up that it’s not all smooth sailing. Whilst the game has a lot of really cool features, there are also a lot of things which are either heavily underdeveloped or completely misguided. This is a shame as this game has enormous potential to be a massive hit and some simple design decisions have done it some serious harm.
Let’s start with the UI – for the most part the interface and the way you navigate menus is terrible to the point of deducting at least a full point from this review, even though I feel it probably deserves harsher criticism. Worse, I’ve seen the game through a few evolutions of the interface and it has actually managed to degrade. The UI is heavily developed with consoles in mind and PC players suffer from this. It takes several clicks to get to anything, and the map UI is among the least intuitive of any I’ve seen in a game.
The MOD UI suffers from similar problems. The mods now display in a collapsed format, which means you don’t actually see at a glance what each of the mods do. New players will struggle with this as they’ll have to hover their mouse over each of the hundreds of mods one by one to learn about them. It’s no wonder that so many players run around with truly terrible builds and having issues with some of the harder content. The interface is much to blame here.
The chat system is equally bad – there are little to no customisation options, meaning you are stuck in some channels that you really don’t want or need to be in. On top of this, the channels you do want to follow refuse to give you a notification when people speak in them unless they are already your active channel. Since you automatically spawn in a squad channel and have that as your active tab whenever you join a group, you’ll pretty much miss all your clan chat, and people will as a result feel lonely and ignored half the time not because their clan mates aren’t around, but because others don’t see their messages in time for them to be useful.
Another issue surrounding how things are represented by the UI would be the manner in which players are forced to decorate their dojo. There’s no indication to show what scale your current item is, so ensuring that your decoration is the same size is pure trial and error. Placing things in the right location is an exercise in frustration as there is no grid and the camera angles are truly terrible for this purpose. I find decorating a clan house one of the most fun things in any MMO, but in Warframe I wanted to throw my screen out the window.
The game currently also has very big issues with PvP. ‘Normal’ PvP can only occur in two ways: Duels in your dojo, or Conclave sectors which are maximum of 2v2. Neither are exciting and they are ultimately fairly pointless. The last form of PvP comes with clan and alliance warfare. Clans and alliances can compete over control of sectors in-game, which enables them to charge tax on players who do missions there. PvP in these kind of missions is a bit more fun, but at the moment horribly unbalanced. The engine simply hasn’t been developed with PvP in mind and does a terrible job at coping with it. As a result, fights can be extremely one sided and one-shot kills are more common than not. The developers have a lot of work to do on this one to both make it so there’s more of a point to alliance PvP and also so the fights themselves more enjoyable all-round.
New Player Problems
One of the largest problems I’ve seen is the way new players are introduced to the game. A recent patch added an introductory tutorial story, but this has only been a small step in the right direction. In a lot of areas of the game information is virtually non-existent, and players are forced to alt-tab to a wiki to find out what on earth they’re supposed to do or what something means. The game seriously lacks tool-tips or intuitive UI elements to help guide new players along.
In addition to this, the game forces the player to choose a starting warframe really early on, without ever giving them a feel for each of the three options. To give a real life example, 5 of my friends started playing Warframe on my recommendation. Out of those 5, 4 of them chose the Excalibur warframe as the game pretty much recommends it for new players. One of them picked Volt. Only the last is still playing as Excalibur is a truly terrible recommendation – most people don’t find him any fun to play as he requires a very specific playstyle, and at the beginning of the game you don’t have the right weapons or mods to really pull that off without frequent deaths.
My recommendation? Let players play at least one mission with EACH of the three frames, and have them choose which one to use afterwards. Same with the starter weapons – instead of having players choose this within a mission, create a special ‘training’ mission. Let players start in a room where all weapons can be used one-by-one on practice targets. This ensures they end up with weapons and frames which they’ll enjoy – especially since you’re stuck with the starter ones for a little while, at least until you figure out how to get different ones.
On top of this, it should be made clear in the game itself how the mastery levels work. Some players sell their starting weapon long before it is fully ranked, which means they have to buy it again in the future and rank it up a second time just to get the missing ranks out of it. It’s little bits of information like this that are missing everywhere in the game and cause a lot of people to give up or be eternally bad at the game.
The Kubrow needs an entire section by itself. It was a recent addition to the game, which enables players to essentially have a dog at their side during mission. Kubrows are very powerful, but their current implementation is a total pain in the backside. First, it takes a lot of effort to breed one. This isn’t a bad thing – it makes the whole process feel rewarding and fosters attachment to the Kubrow. However, there are a few huge problems with the current system.
First, I really hate the way that the game forces you to name your Kubrow before you know exactly what it’ll look like. As a puppy, my first Kubrow was hideous. And I do mean truly hideous. He was a fat little thing, and I was already coming up with the most elaborate plan of throwing him out the airlock of my ship and possibly using him as target practice for my railguns. I gave him a fairly ridiculous name so I wouldn’t grow attached and thought no more of it. Two days later, he matured and behold: a majestic, slender, awesome looking Kubrow. Seriously, either let players name it once it’s grown up or give the ability to rename your Kubrow. Charge 20 platinum for all I care, but at least have the option.
Second, if you ever want to breed another Kubrow or even use one of your other Kubrows, you have to put your current one in stasis. Taking your Kubrow out of stasis comes with a 3 hour cool-down which effectively means that most players will only ever use one Kubrow. Given that there are four different types, this completely eliminates experimenting with different Kubrows or tailoring them to your different frames. Kubrows are quite expensive to maintain (compared to Sentinels, which cost nothing at all), so this penalty is completely unnecessary. If players want to keep two Kubrows around and incur the cost to maintain both simultaneously, they should be able to do so. You can only take one into battle so this doesn’t hurt the balance of the game in any way.
Third, the mechanics require a little work. You need to constantly pump DNA stabilizers into your Kubrow, which is not a bad mechanic, but if you forget for a period of time you lose your Kubrow permanently. There’s no need for the permanent loss. On the other hand, the loss of morale feature is quite nice – at least this forces players to care about their Kubrow and revive it when it goes down.
In general, Kubrows need a some love. The breeding mechanic needs an overhaul, and players should be able to keep using their Kubrow regardless whether or not they’re breeding another. They’re expensive enough to fully develop, and right now the game puts some completely needless limitations on the player which reduce the fun factor without providing any balance benefits.
So is it worth playing Warframe? I’d definitely recommend you give it a try at least for a couple of days. The game is a lot of fun to play, especially if you have a few friends to enjoy the experience with. I’d also recommend you join a friendly clan which is willing to answer some questions and take new players on-board, as playing with the random match-making can be frustrating at times. If you’re purely after PvP, then this game has some merit, but I’d probably hold off until this area is more fleshed out. Right now the game is most enjoyable as a cooperative PvE experience.
Warframe has a ton of potential, but it’s got quite a long way to go to be a truly great title. There are a number of unforgivable flaws in the game at the moment which really harm its long-term success. The developers support the game almost fanatically, with updates being incredibly frequent. So the chance is that within months of this review, the game will already have undergone major fundamental changes. Let’s hope the developers tackle some of the current issues before adding too much new content – especially when it comes to player retention.