Warframe (PC, PS4, Xbox One) (2013-Present)
Developer: Digital Extremes
Review by Faididi and Co.
"Dark Sector 2"
In the far future, mankind spreads across the solar system, evolving into new empires wrestling for control over the planets. Caught in the middle of the fighting are the Tenno, a small but powerful group of heroes who are equipped with armored suits known as Warframes, and they get to beat up everyone else in order to maintain peace or something.
The writing contains many little details about the characters and their world, and the story-related missions start simple but grow increasingly more elaborate. Too bad the main plot's hidden nature of the Tenno is leading to so many absurd inconsistencies, and the story winds up interfering with the gameplay as it keeps confusing issues concerning the heroes' vulnerabilities.
Gameplay: Above Average
Digital Extremes' Warframe is a return to the more fantastic sci-fi vision originally meant for the developer's previous offering, Dark Sector. Both games are third person shooters that combine superpowered characters with gunfighting and hand-to-hand combat, except everything here is brought into a free-to-play online cooperative format, with parties of up to 4 Players, some high-speed parkour elements, and missions that are set across randomly generated levels.
Despite claims of it being about space ninja, Warframe is probably better described as a superhero roleplaying action game. You can choose from an ever-expanding array of characters, weapons, and gadgets as you tackle the different types of missions, which range from the simple elimination of enemies to the more elaborate stealth missions that involve computer-hacking challenges. The game is flexible enough to accommodate most Players' tastes. Using the stealth missions as an example, you can sneak past the sentries with invisibility cloaks, silenced guns, and view scanners, or you can take the bloodbath route, relying on big, noisy cannons and brute-force hacking tools to outrun the alarm systems attempting to purge the data terminals.
Experimenting and discovering your own playstyles in Warframe is made all the more fun by the Tenno's nifty thematic powers. For instance, Excalibur (the default hero) specializes in swords, gaining attack bonuses with that class of weaponry and possessing a lightsaber-like blade that can unleash energy waves. By comparison, Ember is all about heat, being able to toss fireballs, spray flammable oil in enemies' faces, and generally blow up stuff. The heroes grow increasingly more colorful and quirkier as you go down the list, including badasses like Nekros, whose dark magic-inspired powers let him convert slain opponents into his own small army; Octavia, whose rhythm-and-dance powers use custom-made music loops to supercharge herself and her teammates; and Limbo, whose awesome dimension-shifting powers let him transport characters between two planes of existence. When abilities like these are mixed alongside the numerous varieties of ballistic firearms, laser blasters, explosive launchers, bows, blades, staves, hammers, whips, and anime-bullshit gun-swords, the possibilities feel endless.
Another impressive part of Warframe is its strict yet fair upgrade system. Several hundred types of upgrade items exist, affecting everything from attack strength to power efficiency to reloading speed, yet each character or weapon allows no more than a dozen upgrades to be applied at any time. (These upgrades may be freely swapped in between missions.) Furthermore, the slots where they're installed can be optimized to squeeze in more high-level upgrades of a specific category but will then lose the flexibility to accept upgrades of other categories. This guarantees that no single hero or gun can entirely dominate, and it's a remarkable way to encourage Players to weigh the different upgrades' trade-offs.
This sense of fairness and balance extends to the accessibility of the mission content as well. Unlike in a typical MMORPG, fully upgrading a set of equipment here and reaching the most advanced stages require merely a few weeks' worth of play (as opposed to months of dedicated grinding). There are no fundamental pay-to-win perks; all significant upgrades in Warframe must be acquired through manual effort, and the trading system is designed explicitly to render botting useless.
Finally, Warframe holds an amazing tolerance for poor network conditions. Sessions involving Players across multiple regions will run decently more often than not. In the event of disconnections, clients are given the option to rejoin the same party when they log back into the game, with their experience awards, items, and other progress kept intact.
With no small disappointment, then, do these qualities so sharply highlight the subpar level and enemy designs. Warframe is rare among online cooperative action games for including stealth features, complete with varying alarm levels, but the missions lean too heavily toward simplistic elimination- and endurance-type challenges. The regular bad guys are brainless, running single-file along preset paths and never displaying any squad tactics, while the bosses and minibosses are difficult only due to their inconsistent weak points or vulnerability periods. Worst of all are the special enemies and areas that restrict the usage of abilities or items on an arbitrary basis. Yet, the missions' relative brevity limits the game's difficulty by allowing Players to change equipment and to renew their extra lives too easily.
Compounding the missions' fundamental shortcomings are their overall lack of polish. Unbelievably, Warframe does not know how to spawn enemies correctly. What are already tedious extermination missions will turn into a hide-and-seek joke of locating glitched-up bad guys stuck inside deadend rooms. Not helping are the aggravatingly cluttered environments. The walkways, doorways, and walls have too many rough edges and impeding corners to allow proper parkour action. Nothing ruins the sense of being a space-faring ninja faster than attempting a short climb only to snag against railing after mere fucking railing.
Controls: Below Average
The controls need a lot more improvement. The characters can't use special abilities or deploy items if they're in the middle of movement transitions, and they're incapable of breaking out from several weapon-swinging and power-casting motions. The unwanted automatic climbing of ledges can't be disabled, and there are considerable delays in picking up objective-related key items and in waiting for successful hacking attempts to be registered. The customization options are inconsistent, allowing some overlapping button assignments but not others. The unfriendly lobbying system prevents Players from manually hosting public sessions, and the latency filter on the options menu is merely a placeholder.
The one bright spot in the controls lies in the customizable guild halls, which come with a large set of decorative options. These halls include obstacle courses that can be edited together by guildmates, which is a neat bonus.
Perhaps the first thing about Warframe that strikes most people is its unabashedly grotesque and disgusting visual style. The characters resemble deformed space aliens suffering from lumpy metallic tumors, and the cosmetic choices are moot when everything looks so goddamn butt-ugly. A much more serious problem is certain enemy attacks being invisible, leading to sudden, frustrating deaths or disablements of abilities. Warframe's graphics design otherwise excels in a technical sense, because the game runs fast whether you're playing on lower-end hardware or not.
Unlike the graphics, the audio effects are far more conventional in style, although that is in no way a complaint about their quality. The gunfire, the explosions, the humming of machinery, and the rest of the sound effects are loud and crisp, and the heroes' powers come with distinctive noises that make them easier to recognize. The inspired music and its dystopian industrial themes seem to pick up right where they've left off back in Dark Sector. While the faceless heroes are silent, the other characters are fully voiced, which is noteworthy given the high number of unique protagonists and villains (as opposed to generic NPCs).
Warframe is an action game with good ideas whose potential is never fully realized. Its stiff controls, weak mission design, needlessly cluttered levels, incorrect spawning of bad guys, invisible enemy attacks, arbitrary limitations on ability and item usage, and utterly graceless aesthetics are problems too serious to ignore.
At the same time, however, one would be hardpressed to find another cooperative online experience that encourages Players to experiment with such a large pool of varied characters, creative superpowers, and cool-looking weaponry. In addition to that, the unusually balanced upgrade system ensures that no single hero or loadout will conquer every single situation, and it allows new Players to catch up to veteran friends in a short period of time. If you can stomach enough of its flaws, Warframe may wow you with whatever things it gets done right.