Free to play. Three simple words that have defined an ever-growing trend in today’s gaming landscape. From mobile games and MOBAs to full, triple-A releases, the movement has come a long away and has already crept onto next-gen platforms.
Developed by Digital Extremes – the same team behind The Darkness II – Warframe is best described is an online co-op shooter with RPG elements. Set in the distant future, players becomepart of an ancient alien race known as the Tenno. Re-awoken in the midst of a galactic war, Tenno agents from across the galaxy are banding together to undo the efforts of their tyrannical rivals, the Grineer.
It’s a great set-up and one that immediately does away with any meaningless exposition. There are no overdrawn cut-scenes here and no dramatic monologues; within five minutes of booting up Warframe you’re locked, loaded and ready to kick some alien ass.
For an online game, the lack of narrative is understandable but its complete absence leaves something of a void. Warframe’s myriad of operations are spread across a galactic map, broken into planets and their surrounding waypoints. There are no snippets of lore or information when going into these missions and no sense of context or continuity. You’re simply gunning down hordes of Grineer, Corpus and Infested, earning credits in the process.
Missions come in several forms, though each has you carrying out the same actions. You’ll go from room to room, blasting away at your enemies, until you reach a point of interest (prisoners, high-value targets, control node etc.) From here you make a beeline to the extraction zone and prep for the next mission.
It’s fun at first but a sense of repetition soons kicks in. The only missions that felt sufficiently different were survival modes, pitting four agents against wave after wave of enemies. It has a very Mass Effect 3 vibe to it. In fact, there are a number of similarities that can be drawn between Warframe and BioWare’s sci-fi sequel.
Your play-style hinges almost entirely on which Warframe you opt for. These are essentially exoskeleton suits, each with their own pros, cons and unique abilities. The Loki, for example, excels in trickery by placing decoys, whereas the Mag uses telekinetic powers. No matter which Warframe you choose, they will all have access to a primary, secondary and melee weapon, as well as an amalgam of acrobatic moves. These include wall running, sliding, and diving which all look very nice in motion but rarely add anything to the actual gameplay experience.
The shooting itself feels meaty, with both players and enemies having shield and health bars. Abilities such as the Mag’s Pull or Crush (which are mapped to the touchpad) will also require energy, a resource that can be looted from corpses or the smattering of containers strewn about each map. Pursuing its ninja-esque vibe, Warframe also features directional melee combat, allowing for light and heavy attacks. Though hard to time, they can deliver lethal amounts of damage. One of the most rewarding actions in Warframe is slicing an enemy in half with a well-placed blade stroke.
Completing objectives and racking up kills will shower players with credits and affinity. The latter is basically a stand-in for XP, though instead of being universal it filters into each piece of equipment you carry into battle. Credits, as you may have already guessed, are Warframe’s core currency. They are used to buy resources, blueprints, and other trinkets from the in-game Market.
Credits are also needed to use the Foundry. Here, players can use materials and blueprints to produce anything from weapons and Warframes to other miscellaneous items like the coveted Orokin Keys.
Warframe is a solid online experience all-round, though it’s ultimately let down by the amount of time and effort needed to progress. After a while missions start yielding poor amounts of Credits and Affinity in relation to your progress, leading to endless grinding and farming. Even the daily log-in bonuses do little to incentivise continual play.
Of course, there is a way to speed everything up, but it doesn’t come cheap. Warframe features a premium currency – Platinum – which is used to instantly unlocked those items you otherwise have to labour towards unlocking. While micro-transactions are nothing new, Warframe’s are expensive. The smallest add-on, priced at £3.85, will bag you 75 Platinum, just enough to lock some of the store’s lowest-end items.
If you’re looking for a decent online shooter to play with friends, you can do a lot worse. Warframe is a treat for the eyes and though it may lack context, it still plays incredibly well. It’s just a shame that Digital Extremes is so obviously putting the squeeze on anyone fed up with hours of credit-farming.