So, what to do when, after quitting WoW, one realises that most single-player games are bug-ridden piles of dreck? Why, start playing a new MMO, of course!
Weeelll… MMO might actually be stretching it a bit at this point. Face-to-face player interaction is pretty much limited to missions and clan halls.
The game is, at its core, a competent and rather pretty third-person shooter. It adds a few gimmicks like wallrunning and there’s a melee combat system that the devs promise will be getting some polish Any Day Now™. The main divergence is in the classes.
By now it’s pretty much no secret that I’m a raging altoholic. That means when I want to play a game, I want something where I can fire up a different character and have it play like nothing else in the game does. Warframe mixes up the shooter base with unique abilities based on the player’s titular Warframe – that being some sort of bizarre and usually slightly creepy bio-tech combat suit.
Each ‘frame has its own advantages and disadvantages. The starters are Excalibur, a sort of swordsman-type frame with a powerful AoE blind; Mag, a caster-type with magnetic abilities; and Loki, who really has little business being offered to new players, as he’s an advanced tactical stealth frame who really comes into his own once the player has acquired a few mods and knows their way around the game.
Mods? Mods. Mods are basically cards that slot into your frame and various weapons to give bonuses or abilities. All equipment levels up, from frame to melee weapon, but only the frame gains stats as it levels, and ten only at an incremental rate. The real strength unlocked by levelling is that it allows a larger budget for mods on an item. Mods also gain levels from fusing with other mods, and higher levels cost more points. This means that, while levelling, one can either equip a few levelled-up mods, or can diversify and equip several different bonuses.
There’s a polarity-matching system et cetera that’s a bit tedious to explain, but the net effect is that one has a surprising amount of leeway in build.
When starting out, one picks a starter from the three frames above. Other frames with different abilities can be crafted after gathering their parts from the relevant bosses and building them based on a blueprint from the Market. The player doesn’t have different characters for each class; instead everything is shared, and the player merely equips a different frame for the alt experience.
All of this is great. I’m glossing over a lot of depth here for the sake of an overview, but trust me, it’s there. But the frame collection system leads to the inevitable monkey under the rug: this game is free to play. Dun dun dunnn!
As with most F2P games, you can if you like buy most of the weapons and frames available, along with a host of cosmetic contrivances. The difference is that most F2P games don’t make absolutely everything that impacts gameplay available ingame. All platinum buys you is time… with one stark exception. Inventory space reserved for frames and weapons is severely limited, and extra slots can only be bought with plat.
One does get a starting allowance sufficient to buy a few slots, and the slots certainly aren’t expensive, and moreover there’s a thriving ingame economy based around trading Void mission keys and mods for plat, so a player determined not to spend a cent can quite conceivably attain everything in the game. My personal philosophy is that if I’m enjoying the fruits of the developers’ labour, and – importantly – it doesn’t feel mandatory, it’s fair and right to pay for the privilege.
That point about mandatory spending is crucial. I understand that developers produce these products as a business venture, and that at the end of the day it must make money. Too many games thrust this crass commercialism into one’s face, though, with gating of content and grinding for anything worthwhile. What makes Warframe for me is that I don’t feel any of that pressure to ‘donate’, and perhaps perversely, that ensures that I have already made a small purchase and will doubtless make more in the future.
Well, that might be a bit strong. What really makes Warframe for me is the setting. It’s popularly described as being about ‘space ninjas’, which conjures up nineties-era cartoon images. Personally I feel the experience is more like playing a highly agile space commando slash superhero. Reawakening thousands of years after a war which the Warframes – or rather the Tenno – supposedly won, but which left the solar system largely uninhabitable, the player winds their way through the planets and moons now occupied by distinctly posthuman factions. Not a lot is known about the war or those who fought it, since the Tenno apparently can’t remember and those who created them are all dead.
There’s a fair bit of very suggestive backstory, but not a lot of definitive lore. Players can explore the infested derelict ships left behind by those who made the Tenno, and can travel to the Void using special keys to take on the better-preserved structures left behind. What exactly the Tenno are is still a mystery, except that they were cast into the selfsame void as a drastic measure and came back afflicted yet powerful, and were bound to the Warframes as living weapons.
Perhaps this sounds a bit cheesy, but to me it echoes the maxim “Endure. In enduring grow strong.” That’s a pretty good trope to use as a hook, and I’m very interested to see where the story team takes this game.
As far as gameplay goes, some of the early-game is a bit rough – Earth in particular is a massive jump in difficulty compared to the two preceding planets – but it’s being ironed out with some feedback from the community. Despite being a release title for the PS4, officially the game appears to still be in extended Beta, and changes come thick and fast. Some mechanics are a bit rough around the edges, and there are balance issues between frames and weapons, but overall that doesn’t prevent the game from being fast-paced, frenetic fun in nice manageable segments of 5-20 minutes.
Expect to hear more about it here in coming weeks.