I recently started playing Warframe... again. For about the 10th time maybe? For whatever reason, it’s been one of those games I really want to enjoy - I love the very idea of it - but it’s never stuck with me. That’s finally changed, and I’m not entirely sure why. But what I do know is that I’m finally understanding why 24 million-plus people have found themselves enjoying Digital Extremes MMO-like Action RPG-shooter hybrid.
Warframe, for the lack of a better word, is just weird. It’s unlike just about anything else on the market. What started as a never-launched MMO concept called Dark Sector has now become an MMO-hybrid experience unlike anything out there. Digital Extremes was on its last legs when Warframe first launched. They’d been pitching around the idea of Dark Sector for years, but no one bit (it was originally launched as a well-received by underperforming 3rd person action game). They worked on contract for loads of games to keep the lights on, but the idea of their own persistent universe never was far from their minds.
With 9 months left worth of funds to keep the studio alive, they build the initial launch version of Warframe. It was a collection of ideas from many games, but really - it was a lot like the original vision for Dark Sector - an online sci-fi shooter. A great recap of Digital Extremes’ rise, near death, and second rise with Warframe can be watched in NoClip’s excellent documentary on the studio.
For me, I’d watched friends and colleagues like TotalBiscuit and Mike B fall in love with Warframe, but it could never quite click with me. It wasn’t until Scarybooster started fawning over the game that I realized I might be missing something (Scary’s a longtime pal o’ mine here and from my old blogging days). So a few weeks ago, I dug deep, went in with a fresh account, and tried once more to make Warframe stick with me.
My Valkyr is now level 18 or so, and while I totally dig her skills, I’m already tempted to get the Limbo frame, and get lost in the endless journey of collecting more. Warframe, in a way, reminds me of Marvel Heroes - you collect and play and level up a bevy of frames, and that’s sort of the whole game. There’s a metric butt-ton (scientific term) of content, replayable and story-based, PVP modes, the massive open world of Eidolon, and a literal arsenal of weapons and gear to collect, level up, customize with mods, and so forth. There’s no real “end-game” in Warframe - there’s just the game. You can go solo almost entirely, or group up with randoms or friends and clan members.
If there’s one drawback to Warframe, it’s that like many F2P games you’re going to want to spend money unless you don’t mind grinding to get the things you want. Warframe has not felt pay to win during my time with it, but I’ve bought some Platinum and used it to speed things up at the Forge (crafting things takes loads of time sometimes), and to get new Frames. Think of Frames like different characters in Marvel Heroes - you can craft them, but the straight-up easiest way to get them is just buying them. Warframe really is “Pay to Progress” or “Pay to Look Good”, and I’m totally OK with that.
None of this progression and leveling of items and frames would be worth a damn if the core gameplay loop wasn’t so solid. The sort of hyper parkour, flipping, flailing, constantly running and gunning action is unmatched. The story is crazy Dune-like sci-fi. It’s a dystopian future of a galaxy, falling apart at the seams, but it’s also strangely beautiful in its own way. The Grineer are distorted and gross, but the Corpus are pristine and beautiful. Even the Tamagotchi-like Kavats (cats) and Kubrows (dogs) are alien but familiar. And also super-helpful I might add.
I love that Warframe continues to grow and evolve into something ever greater than it was with its humble beginning. Eidolon brought the game one step closer to the MMO-vision known as Dark Sector, and I hope we go even closer to that in the years ahead. The quick and breathless levels are fantastic, but Digital Extremes has crafted an excellent universe to explore on a grander scale. Something tells me they’re just getting started.