Warframe: Free to Play Done Right
“Free to play,” words that usually are concerning to players and rightfully so. The overuse of heavy micro-transactions that hugely impact progression as well as the sheer cost to actually play the game despite the label, can be off-putting to most. Warframe however, is different.
First, a little background. Warframe is a highly addictive Sci-Fi third person shooter with a really heavy emphasis on movement. As a Tenno, you will control a large roster of different Warframes, as you fight Grenieer and Corpus threats around our solar system.
I’ve tried Warframe a few times before really getting into it and it’s amazing how far the game has come. Back in the original PS4 release, there were a ton of problems that threw me completely off the game. I’ve had a few run ins with the game since the Xbox One version launched, but it was October 2016 I really started to get invested. Unlike a certain other Sci-Fi shooters, the lore of Warframe is accessible in the game itself through the codex. The codex is well detailed and can be filled by scanning items and enemies around the universe. No outside website required.
Mechanically, Warframe is a simple shooter, but there’s a lot more depth than what’s on the surface. The shooting, movement, and abilities are easy to get used to early on, but it’s the modding system that gives Warframe more depth. You’ve got basic mods that upgrade your Warframe and Weapons in basic ways. But things get more interesting when you go into the status effects, weapon/frame augments, damage types, melee stances, riven mods, and much more. I’ve spent hours trying out and experimenting with different builds.
The payment model in Warframe is excellent for the most part. Every single bit of content can be enjoyed without dropping a penny into the game. The money I’ve dropped into Warframe wasn’t because it was necessary (with one exception), but because I wanted to. Platinum (the premium currency) is unique compared to other games. It can be traded with other players to encourage a lively trading channel and with adequate farming you could make enough platinum to never need to actually buy any. There’s also a chance to get discount codes on the daily log in rewards that go all the way up to 75% off.
Warframe has had a constant stream of updates that are completely accessible for free. When Warframe originally launched in 2013, there were only 8 unique frames. Today there’s thirty five unique frames plus Prime variants of some of them. Almost every Warframe looks, feels and plays completely differently (with a few exceptions), so there is something for everyone. You’ve got support frames, tanks, casters, defense, DPS, and hybrids of the bunch. My personal favourite, Octavia, is a brilliant defense frame that can buff teammates and deal insane damage.
Plains of Eidolon was released just last year and changed up Warframe in a big way by adding an “open-world” map to enjoy. It had its own problems, but it was good fun and an interesting experiment for the developers. Then there’s other features such as quests, new cinematic storylines, new gameplay mechanics, a visual overhaul of the earth map, etc.
It’s hard to talk about the cinematic quests without spoiling them, but they are very much story driven experiences. The Second Dream was the first cinematic quest to release and still holds one of the greatest plot twists of all time. As of right now, there are three cinematic quests: The Second Dream, The War Within, and The Sacrifice. The fourth one, The New War, is scheduled to come out next year.
Digital Extremes are aware of when they make mistakes and actively work to fix some of them. The biggest thing that put me off early was how the revives worked; you used to get four per day. If you wanted more then you’d have to pay platinum and now you’re looking at four per mission with no option to buy more. There was also the case of randomized colours for your pets that they removed because “it was being used too much”.
The developers go the extra mile making sure their communication with the community is second to none. Every few weeks the Digital Extremes will host developer streams. The Devstream highlights upcoming changes to the game, new gameplay mechanics, new warframes, concept art for skins, and more. The streams are entertaining and you can clearly see the passion that goes into the development. It’s this open communication with the community that puts Warframe in a unique position.
Speaking of the community, I firmly believe Warframe‘s is one of the best I’ve seen. Even starting out, I have never felt so welcomed to a game. There is a positive energy with people always willing to help newcomers out. They have helped me a few times in the earlier hurdles and I’d like to give a special shout out to the brilliant subreddit. Of course toxicity exists in Warframe (just like every other game unfortunately), but it’s rare when I met a truly toxic player.
Naturally, Warframe is far from perfect. There are issues with the in-game marketplace and occasionally frustrating game design that should be sorted out. First of all, the new player experience isn’t very friendly from a design standpoint. You are thrust into an overwhelming universe without much direction or explanation of how things work. I found myself on the subreddit and reading the Wiki quite often. It can be incredibly off-putting but stick with it, it will eventually pay off. I promise.
Slots are potentially the only paywall players will hit. When you start off you will only have two extra Warframe slots and a handful of weapon slots. There are so many weapons and frames that you will need to either buy more slots with platinum or sell items you don’t use.
Newer players might also fall into the Marketplace “traps”; items in the market that might seem enticing, but offer no actual value. Things such as resources or credits can be purchased with platinum, but are never worth it. I’d highly recommend new players use their starter platinum on Warframe/weapon slots since they will provide long term benefits.
Conclave, the game’s PvP arena, has been largely abandoned by the community and the developer. It’s a shame considering there’s some cool ideas in here like Lunaro, which is a Griffball type sport that makes use of Warframe enhanced movement. And whilst I praised Plains of Eidolon for being a ambitious update to the game, it had its own host of problems. Mainly that it’s so disjointed from the main game experience, you never need to go there at all. Few items actually require resources from the Plains.
Boss fights can be incredibly underwhelming. Most of the time they don’t provide much threat and some of them have long invulnerability phases. Whilst most villains can be interesting or entertaining, the fights are just plain weak. I’d like to see some increase in difficulty or creativity in future boss fights.
Crafting is a huge part of Warframe. Almost everything in the game needs to be crafted and it takes real time. For Warframes, you need to craft 3 different components which takes twelve hours each, then combine them to actually craft the frame, which takes another seventy two hours. Weapon crafting is much kinder, only taking up to twelve hours. You can rush these items to get them done easily, but like most market place traps, it’s never worth it.
The only bits of content that are inaccessible without paying are certain cosmetics, namely Tennogen. An excellent system that allows talented players to create skins for their favourite Warframes. The whole thing is curated by Digital Extremes the best skins are then sold on Steam.
Then there’s Prime access; these come around every three months and include a new Prime variant of a current Warframe, Platinum, and some extra goodies. The Prime Frames can be earned in game through the relic system, but the cosmetics are exclusive to Prime access. The Prime bundles can seem really pricey, especially to new players, and give the game a P2W look, but Prime Access is designed for people who want to support the game. Think of it more as a supporter’s pack.
Warframe is a grind fest. There’s tons of resources to keep track of (sometimes it seems like there’s too many) and you will be repeating some missions dozens of times in the hopes of getting that shiny new Warframe part. For Warframes like Nidus and Ivara, the grinds can get pretty ridiculous to the point of insanity. The resources themselves aren’t too bad to get hold of.
There’s tons that other free to play games (and some AAA games) could learn from Warframe, but there’s also issues in Warframe that need to be tackled. However, the future of Warframe is bright and I look forward to future installments.