In the age of paid Downloadable Content (DLC) and lootboxes attached to microtransactions, we have Warframe, the free to play game that has been going strong for almost five years now. Warframe has been constantly balancing what people consider fun, with content people could pay or play for. It has been called a grind, but it has never forced its players to pay for content. Initially, people might think Warframe is a pay to win game. All the strong Prime warframes and gear cost money if you do not want to spend countless hours grinding for each piece and the materials to build each piece, but ultimately the only thing you are winning when you pay for the Platinum currency or Prime Access is your time.
Warframe is mainly a player verse environment (PvE) game that only helps your team in a mission if someone has paid for anything with real money. Naturally, everything can be obtained through time and luck. There is one thing about Warframe that has confused me for almost five years playing the game, what level am I? That question constantly pops up when I am running a mission, selecting mods, and trying to figure out what I can and should do next in the game.
Warframe has always done a great job with its real money currency and Prime Access. It never locks items that will affect gameplay or content behind a paywall. The only things that are exclusive to real money are cosmetic items like color pallets, decorations, deluxe skins, and load screen ships. The true gameplay items are all obtained free if you have the patience. The problem with that equation is the patience. Most of the people I know that stop playing Warframe run out of patience with the random number generator (RNG). When their patience wanes the weight of the grind starts to kick in. One of the main problems for new players in Warframe is being overwhelmed by the grind because there is so much to get. You thought trying to catch all the Pokemon was hard, try catching three to five pieces of a Pokemon then making sure you have four different types of materials that could be in bundles of over a thousand. By the way, there are about 53 Warframes including all the Primes, 100’s of weapons, and materials galore all waiting for the perfect RNG roll. That can even drive the most patient gamer away without a clear progression.
Progression in Warframe is a little bit muddled and since I started playing Warframe in 2013. If you are like me and feel like a squirrel in a silo of nuts going nuts trying to find all the nuts in the right order while more nuts are being poured in, you are going to go nuts. The first thing that drives me nuts in Warframe is the level of enemies on missions. One of the first questions I get from new players are, “How do I do level 40+ missions if the level cap is 30?” Unfortunately, a player just has to guess how strong they depend on the mods they have installed, the level of the mods if they have installed items like Forma or Orokin’s (these items are used to exceed the normal 30 power cap), and what type of enemy is in the mission. As a new player, there is no way in game to figure out all these options without just knowing from trial and error. If you really want to take on enemies above level 30, you will need to start looking out of the game for guides. I like there is some freedom in how to play the game, but it frustrates me not knowing if I am going to be worthless on a mission or not. When I queue up for a Sortie mission (high-level exclusive mission set), I am not sure if my teammates are going to be carrying me through the whole mission. It is very embarrassing to go on a mission just to find out you are only doing 10 to 0 damage, while your team is doing thousands a hit. One update to the game I have been waiting for over the years is a way to know how hard the mission is going to be for me in relationship to my current loadout. To this day with over 600 hours in Warframe, I still do not attempt Sorties or missions over level 40 because I’m not sure I will be any help to my team. I do try missions higher than that from time to time to check my progress. It is a tedious way of checking my survivability and damage output for my specific loadout on those specific enemy types. Do get a broader gauge of my overall power I will need several loadouts tested solo for each enemy types in the game. That equation all changes if I switch weapons, the warframe, or mods. I just wish there was a system that helped new players understand what level range of enemies players can take on without embarrassing themselves. The system could be a generalized “gear score” that would still require the player to look at their mods, warframe, and weapons they might want to use for the mission. It is better to go into a mission against puncture type enemies with all slash based weapon; they go into a mission not understanding if you can even do one point of damage with max level weapons and warframe.
The problem with indicating what level you should and are able to do on a mission is, it makes Warframe more linear when it comes to progression. Why would you want to do a level 10 mission if your “gear score” is level 100? For me, I go into some missions knowing I am overpowered, but at the end of the mission, I might be underpowered. For example, the other day I went into a survival mission that was level 10-15 at the start. I decided to bring in a warframe and weapons I could level, but I had a strong secondary weapon just in case my group wanted to stay a few waves after the first 5 minutes that were required. My group decided to do 50 minutes in the survival mission with the enemies ending up at level 40. At that level, my warframe cold has been one-shotted if I wasn’t Harrow with the ability to over-shield myself. All my weapons were useless even my overpowered secondary weapon I was relying on to do ten damage a bullet. This is where having a definite “gear score” would not help any. It would have been nice to know at the start of the mission what the approximate level of each weapon, my warframe, and my overall loadout score was. That way any mission I go into no matter the level, I would know what weapon will survive the longest and how long I can comfortably stay in the mission before throwing up a white flag and heading to the exit.
Before Warframe had relics and all the Prime gear was locked away in the Void, having a transparent “gear score” would have hurt the game’s progression because all the end game content and best gear would’ve been clear, and nobody would’ve been doing anything else. Even though having all the Prime gear locked away in one central location in the Void was damaging enough to the end game grind, a precise leveling system would’ve made the game more linear and quicker to “beat.” Now that the Prime gear is spread all over the star map and we have Eidolon, having an approximate knowledge of what your loadout is capable of is more helpful and less of a linear treadmill most multiplayer games get caught on trying to pump out content as fast as players can consume it. I understand the fears of “gear score” in Warframe. When World of Warcraft came out with their Gearscore, I felt left out of certain activities because the player base demanded a specific Gearscore to do those elite activities. Over time the Gearscore in WoW evolved with the community into a helpful tool because the content in WoW got to the point of overwhelming. Warframe has reached that point in their amount of content.
Having a definite “gear score” in Warframe is only minutely helpful because of how missions evolve as the mission progresses. Like my example earlier, I went on a mission thinking the enemies were level 10 at the start, so an equipped a loadout for level 10-20 enemies. As the mission progressed, we were taking on level 40 enemies. At the start, a “gear score” would’ve helped, but not in the end. That is why having a base gauge like a “gear score” or “loadout score” would be helpful to new players. A new player can learn to experiment with mods, warframes, and weapons to help them learn without the embarrassment of going on a mission they feel useless. With the overwhelming amount of stuff to do, get, and grind for in Warframe, wouldn’t it help players and the game by giving players a better understanding of how each piece of their loadout plays a part in their progression?
In a single play session, I will take a high-level warframe into a low-level mission or try to challenge my skills in a high-level mission. A “gear score” would not change my play style it would just give me an understanding of how well I will do on a specific mission. Is that a bad thing knowing your chances of survival the second you load into a mission? Warframe has spent the last few years pumping out content at a break-neck speed. More and more players are starting to find out what it means to be a space ninja, but are they staying once they defeat the first few missions of the tutorial? Most of the people I know that stop playing Warframe stop after completing Vor’s Prize because they do not have a clear understanding of what they should do next and if they can do it. Sadly, they are missing out on some of the best video game story quests like The Second Dream and The War Within. Maybe the Plains of Eidolon was supposed to be that bridge to keep them interested enough to make it to the higher level quests? If it was, it didn’t work. As a casual veteran player of Warframe, I do not go into Plains of Eidolon because I have no idea if I can be of any help in a mission with it being an open environment. An approximate “gear score” or an overall “loadout score” could help keep new players engaged in the grind with an indication they are progressing when they aren’t doing quests.
What do you think, should Warframe have a system like a “gear score” or “loadout score” to help people gauge how they will do during a mission? What made you lose interest in Warframe and at what point was that? What would bring you back to the space ninja life?