Space Ninjas. Do those word illicit a tingle in your special place? If so Warframe, a free to play 3rd person co-op action game from developer Digital Extremes, just might be your muse. We dove into the cooperative game to check out whether or not it’s currently worth our time. It should be noted that Warframe is in open beta, but since you can make in game purchases, that’s more or less released in our book.
In Warframe you take control of a Tenno, a warrior of the blade. You don one of 14 different Warframes, each with their own look and abilities. I chose the Excalibur, a frame designed for mobility and offense. Jason ended up purchasing a frame called Frost, which offered special abilities based on freezing enemies. The other frames can be crafted by finding raw materials, blue prints, and pieces over time, or they can be purchased outright with platinum.
Gameplay in Warframe starts with choosing a mission from a vast star map that expands our solar system. Each planet has a set of missions for you to embark on starting with Mercury. Missions have you infiltrating enemy ships in space or bases on the ground with a variety of objectives like rescuing a captured prisoner, destroying a power core, stealing data, or survive waves of enemies. While you'll follow a mostly linear path to unlock missions there are some side "quests" and you'll find yourself engaged in boss battles at specific branches yielding better drops.
The loot system in Warframe varies. There are raw materials that are used to construct swords, guns, and Warframes, and special items that are used to construct more unique weapons. There's also special power ups that can be applied in between missions to modify your weapons, armor, or sentinel. Sentinels are little floating AI companions which you can level and tweak to help you on your way.
While the game is a PC title, it does support gamepads and works well with either a keyboard and mouse or the controller. This should help with the accessibility of the space ninja simulator. Graphically things look gorgeous in the game, and though you’ll be seeing the same level multiple times (from multiple paths) - there’s a good variety to keep things interesting. If there’s a downside to the levels themselves it’s the length and the backtracking.
The core and highlight of Warframe is without a doubt the combat system. From the very first mission you'll feel like a badass space ninja as you slide, wall run, climb, flip, and of course - slice your way through every level.
Warframe is all about the combat. It is this element, more than anything else in the game, that helps to keep things feeling fresh and new whether you’re slicing your 50th bad guy, or your 50 millionth. A majority of the combat plays out as a mixture of shooting, melee attacks, and special abilities. The general flow to most encounters plays out as running behind cover, shooting a few guys from a distance, then closing the gap with the remaining foes to slice them up. Depending on just how many baddies you’re facing, you may use one of your Warframe’s special abilities to help even the odds in your favor. It can be a fairly standard formula when viewed like that, but the way it plays out is entirely different.
Imagine you’re at the top of a set of stairs looking down at two guys. You could stay at the top of those stairs, swapping gun fire back and forth until you eliminate both. Or you could slide down the stairs while shooting one, continue sliding past him, and then spin slice the other one that’s right in front of you. Maybe you prefer wall running above them, raining bullets down on top of them, before getting behind them and letting your blades do the talking. Whichever way you decide, it’s up entirely up to you. The important piece of all that is that Warframe provides you with the means to feel like you’ve got B.A.M.F. written on your wallet. This isn’t to say that things are always perfect with the combat system - some of the dodge/attack moves I had to look up to even know they existed and melee attacks don’t always connect quite like you expect - but when you are start stringing together all of the different elements (i.e., parkour like movement, shooting, and melee), then many of those imperfections fade away because “oh, man! Did you just see what I did to that guy?! There’s half of him over here and another half over there!”
As you’re mowing down foes like it’s going out of style, you’ll pick up crafting materials and mods. Once you’ve completed a level and you’re back at the mission select screen, you have the ability to start making use of these. All materials you collect can be used towards crafting new weapons, as you initially only have an automatic rifle, a pistol, and a sword. However, in order to craft these new weapons, you’ll first have to earn enough credits, which are found in lockers/chests throughout a level, to buy the blueprint. Now that you’ve got the blueprint, you’ll need to collect all the materials to actually construct the thing. Many of these materials only become accessible by the third or fourth planets, which roughly equates to around three hours of gameplay time if you’re absolutely blazing through things. Often you’ll require several hundred or a couple thousand of a certain material, so you’ll be grinding your way through the same missions over and over again to acquire these materials. Once you gathered the blueprint, all of the materials, and the credits necessary to build the thing you want, you then have to wait some amount of time (usually at least 12 hours) for the thing to be made.
“Wow, so much fun,” you’re thinking. There’s no way around it, the crafting system is absolutely Warframe’s barrier to entry. If you want use different weapons, or even a different Warframe, you’re going to have to work for it; unless you decide to pay. Platinum, the “premium currency” you have to pay for, will allow you to buy weapons and Warframes outright, but this premium is a bit high at the moment. 75 platinum, which is enough to buy a different skin for your Warframe, will set you back $5, while 570 platinum, enough to buy a new Warframe and maybe a weapon or a sentinel, is $30. Occasionally, they run deals where you can get that for less, but overall, you’re going to be paying quite a bit to unlock some of this content.
Fortunately, the crafting system is really the only piece of the game where real world money comes into play. You can succeed quite well in Warframe with your starting equipment thanks to the mod system. As I mentioned before, enemies will drop mods in addition to materials, and these mods can be applied to everything to help boost their effectiveness. Some mods will increase the amount of bullets in your gun’s magazine, while others will turn your bullets into incendiary rounds that set your foes ablaze. Yet another mod will give your Warframe more health or shields, or grant special abilities to your sentinel - a little robot friend that can help you out after you, of course, craft one for yourself. Even a Warframe’s special abilities are mods. There is a catch, though. Each mod has a number on it and an arrow going up or down. A down arrow and a number means it takes away that many mod points from your equipment, while an up arrow (which is rare) adds that many mod points. Mod points are acquired by levelling up your gear, which is done by basically using it. So while you’re grinding away for materials to craft a new weapon, you’re also earning “affinity” for the current one you’re using and increasing its mod points. It’s worth noting that if you change your Warframe, any levels you’ve gained with a weapon remain, but you will have to gain levels with your Warframe all over again. If you change weapons, then you’ll have to gain new affinity with that weapon.
The words “free-to-play” have, for me, always invoked images of a game that is perfectly playable up until a certain point, and then becomes an atrocious slog through a never ending grind of samey enemies and levels unless you’re willing to pay to put an end to it. It’s an idea that seems counter-intuitive to gaming. You pay to have fun and escape into the game. You shouldn’t have to pay to escape FROM the game itself. Warframe took me by surprise. There’s a lot of depth in its mechanics (even if they can be a tedious grind) and engaging gameplay, and the ability to feel like a badass space ninja is never a bad thing. Yes, that grinding element is reminiscent of some of the worst parts of MMORPGs, but it also encourages more of the pay to have fun behavior than paying to escape from monotony.Be sure to check out our Co-Op FAQ for Warframe right here.