The name of the game is Warframe, and despite all appearances, you are not a robot.
Warframe is a free-to-play space shooter that’s been around since…2013? 2011? It’s not entirely clear, and not terribly important, because the game is constantly changing. The original game is mostly unrecognizable to the Warframe of today. Just this past week at Warframe’s convention, TennoCon, it was announced that a major patch will include a large, open-world level to add an entirely new element. This patch aims to add open-world adventure to the many selling points of Warframe. It’s a pretty exciting patch that they mostly kept under wraps until now.
I’ve played this game quite a bit. I feel experienced enough to share some of my findings with you so that you can be excited about this patch too.
When I first started Warframe, I was pretty sure I was a robot. In the first stage of the game, when you are defrosted after a long sleep or whatever, you step out looking very robotic. This Lotus character pops up to talk to you, the “Tenno.” She looks a little strange herself:
The game has you choose some starting equipment. I assumed if I was talking to some freaky, totally-not-cortana robot, and I’m shiny like a robot, I must be a robot. But apparently I’m not a robot.
Anyway, the game drops you into a tutorial mission, and you have a good time jumping around and shooting things. You choose your starting warframe, the one time these things will be free, and begin a happy rampage across space. The game guides you through the basics of combat and all of the cool mechanics they’ve put in to make you a total space ninja.
The world is very engaging; you can immediately tell it’s set in the future, but within our solar system. The worlds have life on them, but they are often hostile and strange factions of cyberhumans, or a group of steadily degrading clones, or the obligatory Zerg/Reaper/Reaver biological zombie faction. The faction you are fighting influences the loot, the computer terminals, the security measures, everything down to the aesthetics of the mission location. Everything ties together to make a very clear picture of a cyberfuturistic world.
The combat is truly what brought me to Warframe. No matter what weapon and fighting style you choose, the game lets you make it epic. A more direct line to Star Wars: Jedi Knight can be drawn than to Mass Effect, with acrobatics and ninja-like abilities helping you take down hordes of enemies.
After the tutorial, you are brought to your spaceship, where you are free to select new missions from a map of the galaxy, customize your warframe, and build and equip new weapons or enhancements. The storyline missions are informative and take you step-by-step through more advanced techniques. You can choose whatever missions you want, but the game encourages you to follow the story loosely, and if you do, then you have the knowledge and the power required to survive missions on more dangerous planets. If you skip around like I did, you might miss random details.
Like how you’re not a robot.
The spaceship is very nice, and you’ll notice you look the same inside the ship as on a mission, as if you’re a robot who can’t dress down when off duty. The mission selection is varied and engaging—there are more than a dozen types of missions ranging from spying, to space battles, to simply exterminating all the enemies in an area. The maps are randomized within constraints based on the planet. It takes a lot of playtime before you start to recognize the patterns. This is a far cry from Mass Effect’s crowded multiplayer maps. For better or for worse, you can run some missions in Warframe without ever seeing your allies.
You can bring up to three allies on a mission. The matchmaking is as flexible as the mission types—when you are playing, you can choose to leave matchmaking on public, friends only, or private. Depending on the privacy of the mission, players can join in and help you out seamlessly, and if you’ve already formed a group, it allows you to vote on which missions to choose next. There is a lot to encourage teamwork. Besides choosing weapons or abilities that complement each other, you will get bonuses simply from fighting in close proximity to another player. Of course, if you’re a new player, just staying close can be difficult in the chaos of a mission.
The difference in speed between an expert and a beginner cannot be exaggerated. This not something unfamiliar to anyone who has played an online game. However, the expansiveness of the warframe levels and the intricacy of its upgrades system compounds the issue. You can play a mission and let your friend kill everything very easily. This is fun if intentional, but not so much fun if unintentional. This takes on extra significance with news on an ultra-giant level. I hope amateurs like myself won’t simply get lost in the wilderness, missing all the exciting raids and action.
Another reason I thought I was a robot is due to the extractions. After completing a mission, you rush to an extraction point, stick yourself in a pod and go back to space. You literally stick yourself into a pod like an action figure going back into its box. You don’t put on any gear whether you’re jumping back into space or flying around asteroids in an archwing, so you can understand, I thought I was a robot for a very long time.
After a mission, you get rewards in an array of currencies and elements. These are funneled into constructing new equipment and modifications to your equipment. The modifications are fairly complicated. Let’s run down the list: you can choose a warframe, which influences your toughness and what four special abilities you have. You choose a main weapon, like a rifle or a shotgun or a bow because we’re space ninjas. You choose a sidearm, like dual submachine guns or a pistol. You choose a melee weapon, like a sword or a whip or anything you can think of. And you can even choose a companion, like a robot that flies around and picks up loot so you don’t have to, or a space cyber dog that helps you fight.
All of these things can be modded. All of these things can be upgraded to increase their mod capacity. All of these things cost in-game currency, that can be supplemented with real-world currency. The combinations are fairly overwhelming, and the ways to acquire these weapons and upgrades are also complicated and often changing, as things become unavailable, on sale, or attached to missions in a constant rotation of patches and updates.
You start out with a warframe, right? Well, to construct a second warframe with different abilities, you need the component parts. Each of those parts has a blueprint. Each of those blueprints must be either found in a mission or bought in the marketplace. Mostly. Sometimes it could be found from research with your clan. Or you could trade for the actual part and skip the blueprint. That’s up to you.
Each of those parts takes time and money. When you start constructing something, it can take hours or days of real-world time, and then you come back and the thing is waiting for you at your cyberninja work table. There are typically three parts; for a warframe it’s the neuroptics, systems, and chassis. Each of those requires a certain amount of resources, time and money. Then you must purchase the blueprints for the warframe itself, and then you can construct the warframe., which also takes time.
As a “freemium” game, Warframe is happy to let you go either way: spend days making something, or spend the real world currency to hurry it up. And at each stage of construction, you will probably need to double-check what you need next in the construction sequence.
Compared to the crafting, the social aspect of Warframe is very easy to navigate. You are able to form clans and build a clan hall called a dojo (space ninjas, remember?) There are public trading spaces and junctions that the community can interact in, and galactic events for teams to work on together. Warframe encourages teamwork as much as it can, and the newest patch will allow even more interaction. When it works, it works great.
Other players are happy to help you decide what options are worth pursuing, and the community is very patient, because they all understand what it’s like to be a beginner. The most common recommendation is typically to check the Warframe wiki. The amount of times you have to look up how to even get an upgrade you’re looking for will definitely make you feel like a robot, jacking into the mainframe to find the hidden bit of information you need.
Warframe is constantly updating. In a game populated by space ninjas jumping off walls, they’re always working to make things even cooler. Just like the size of the maps, this is a double-edged sword, however. If you don’t log on and patch regularly, the game will leave you behind. If you have not logged on for a week, your computer will need a little time to patch and perhaps you’ll have a new set of supplemental bonus missions to try out. If you haven’t logged on for a month, you will need a lot of time to update and check on what’s new around the solar system. And if you haven’t logged on for longer than that, even the interface may be unrecognizable to you, as small changes and big changes add up very quickly, with enough time. Whoever didn’t see the latest news from Tennocon will probably be very surprised by the end of the year.
To really make progress in Warframe, you have to be online every day at least for a short time, to grab daily bonuses and start the timer on new construction projects. This above all else made me feel like I was playing a robot, rotating about a set of subroutines, blasting through the missions to increase some numbers that would make other missions easier so that I could increase other numbers faster.
Free-to-play games are always pulling on that thin curtain that divides playing a game from…. simply pulling a lever for quick fix. Warframe is not an especially egregious offender. In both positive and negative ways, it is years ahead of Mass Effect 3. The physics, the abilities, the matchmaking, and the gameplay are futuristic and everything a ninja wannabe could hope for. But the economy and the grinding are beginning to resemble what you’d expect out of a mobile game.
I hope that Warframe continues to be a very popular game, and that this latest exciting update translates into even more exciting gameplay. You may find it to have quite a bit of grinding, with no way to understanding the best playstyle outside of practice and studying the wiki. This can be very tedious, but if you’re looking for a game where you can be the ultimate space ninja, this game is for you.
Just remember, you’re not a robot.
Images courtesy of Digital Extremes.