I remember letting out a frustrated groan when my partner said he had a new game for us to play: Warframe. We couldn’t afford a new game at the time, and he knew what I was thinking. “It’s free,” he quickly chirped, as his eyes lit up. My head snapped around to look at him; he had my attention. However, my expectations for a free, third-person-shooter MMO were predictably low. I proceeded to download this understated game and saw that it was released in 2013. Why were we suddenly going to play a 5-year-old, free game? My expectations sank even lower. Nevertheless, I pushed onward. I have a history as an MMO junky, which, not surprisingly, started with World of Warcraft. After many years (and dollars) spent on that, I transitioned to Guild Wars 2, which ultimately didn’t have the player base to sustain me. This isn’t a problem for Warframe, though. For junkies like myself, you may just find it to be the methadone you’ve been looking for. Initially released in March 2013, it’s almost certainly the best game you’ve (probably) never played.
As it stands today, Warframe is a game which is difficult to fault. It’s spectacularly fun and addictive, and something you’re in danger of getting hooked on. Heed my warning: you will become addicted. Initially, it presents as a typical third-person shooter, mysteriously starting with a storyline which is slowly uncovered. I’m a bit of a romantic, and this game was love at first sight. After a short, high-quality cutscene, you’re thrown into the exhilarating life of a space ninja. There’s just a small tutorial to play through first, then you’re straight into the sweeping ninja movements, which are totally mesmerising. The unique controls are responsible for the fast pace of the game, which will make you start dreaming sweet space-ninjas dreams. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out why the game was called Warframe; because the cyborg suits your character wears are “war-frames.” Like a framework of war. Mmmmyep.
What distinguishes Warframe from other MMOs is the balance of gameplay; in my opinion, it’s the best thing about it. It’s so balanced that it’s almost done with malice. What usually annoys me about other games is how the player base has a unified opinion about “the best” way to play a class. There is one optimal “build,” and everyone is on the same path to get it. It’s prescribed, and it’s boring. What makes matters worse is when other players get vocal about how you’re doing everything wrong, which sucks. What’s great about Warframe is that when those same “helpful” players start telling you what you should be doing, you can be confident that they’re wrong. Because the next time you speak to them, they will have changed their minds, and you realise they can’t find a consensus on the forums and they have no idea what they’re doing either. The best Warframe or weapon is just a matter of opinion, which I think is brilliant.
I love the complexity and difficulty of the game; right from the outset you get full gameplay experience, there’s no “waiting for the endgame.” There’s a sophisticated modification system where you can alter gear with your collected modification cards, and add to this the levelling mechanic. All armour and weapons need to be levelled to unlock said modification slots and increase stats. However, there is a level cap for every item; you can level up each piece reasonably quickly and, once you’ve maxed out your armour, you stop gaining your master rank (like your player level). So, you’ve got a choice to make: You’ve just gotten used to this great armour/weapon combination but you’ve maxed them out, and you’re not progressing. Do you switch or change to your old favourites? You can change Warframes and weapons, or stop levelling. Ironically, however, the game doesn’t really require mastery rank to progress you through the extensive content.
With the sheer amount of content in Warframe, I know what you’re probably thinking right about now: “I bet it’s a grind.” Wrong. There’s actually an engaging storyline, and the best thing about it is it’s almost optional, you can play as much or as little as you like. The campaign isn’t forced, and I haven’t even finished it after 150 hours of play. No, this isn’t due to incompetence; it’s because I got lost in this game instead of smashing mercilessly through the storyline. I became obsessed with acquiring every Warframe in the game.
My experience with the multiplayer exceeded expectations, with public matchmaking, PVP, and even guild capabilities. The reason I can play for so long is the social aspect; matchmaking is on by default, and random teammates are found very quickly. There is a downside to the incessant forced teamwork, however, which are speed-runners. Speed-running has become embedded within the Warframe culture. If you’re in a popular public event, you’ll inevitably be matched with a speed-runner, meaning they run past all the mobs in a map, head straight to, and often complete the objective, then beeline straight to the extraction point. It’s stressful at best, especially if you get lost in the map, which is different every time.
Worse still is if these pushy speed-runners get lippy or abusive, which can happen. With such a large player base you’re bound to encounter some negative interactions. They’re not all bad, and for the most part, the player base is professional, almost austere. Forcing teamwork also adds a level of camaraderie to the game. I was very impressed with the clan (guild) dojo, and how its necessity gave way to natural character progression. You need to be in a clan to gain access to a suite of research labs, where you can build new resources, weapons and Warframes.
Despite a large, active player base, though, there’s still lots of people who’ve never heard of Warframe, let alone tried it. If that’s you, maybe it just slipped under your radar. But whatever the reason, it’s worth diving into now; especially since the major expansion released in late 2017, the Plains of Eidelon. This was such a significant update that it caused rumblings deep in the gaming world about it essentially being a new game. This was when I started playing, and why I think it’s so amazing. To the developers’ credit, there have been consistent content updates since the then, as well. If you were an early adopter of this game and were disappointed, I urge you to give it another chance.
Five years after its initial launch, Warframe has slowly but surely transformed into the perfect game. It’s hard to fault, especially given it’s a free-to-play title that so successfully subverts the negative stigma that comes with that model. Not only is it free with a ridiculous amount of content, it’s also uniquely balanced with fantastic multiplayer and social capabilities. Rather than building towards the agreed upon way of playing, there’s enough power distribution among items to allow for real customisation. The only drawbacks are those that are common to all other massive games, which come down to the player base. If you’ve not tried it yet, make the time. You’ve literally got nothing to lose.