Some games are born successful. These few begin on a high following months of hype, have a couple of years of popularity and sequels, and eventually fade into obscurity, with many realising that they just weren’t actually all that in the first place. Others appear out of nowhere, gain some form of intense popularity from word of mouth and a cult following and become one-off legends. Many never reach either of these heights.
However, rarely, a game begin in the darkness of obscurity and slowly becomes something better than anyone ever expected it to be.
Even more rarely, these games are free-to-play and ported to Switch.
I first encountered Warframe, our topic of discussion, when a lesser-known youtuber known as Totalbiscuit (may god rest his soul) put out a video on it in early 2013. I played it on its initial release for a little bit, until some of the early game’s niggles got too difficult to handle. I then came back to it in 2015, as a friend of mine had asked me to join him, and was amazed (and confused) by how much it had progressed. This time I was much more compelled and put over 200 hours in over a couple of months, until, as always, life got in the way.
Seriously, how could I resist the chance to go back? Before I begin I just need to mention two things; I entered the current, Switch game on a migrated account which had a decent amount of work already put into it; I began at Mastery Rank 6. Secondly, for the purposes of this review, the developer kindly offered me a big chunk of platinum and credits. Despite the fact I’ve found these offerings incredibly useful since completing my impressions for this review, I chose to explore the game initially without them, and with a few hundred hours under my belt already I don’t believe these have affected my thoughts on Warframe as a whole.
So what IS Warframe exactly? Well, it’s a free-to-play (not just free-to-start) sci-fi action experience set in a post-post-apocalyptic Sol galaxy. It runs in a mostly third-person perspective, and contains both shooter and melee combat. You are a Tenno, and control a Warframe; an ancient mech battle-suit with fantastical powers; though I prefer to call them space robot ninjas. You begin as one of three Warframes and emerge into a world full of genetically engineered humanoid warriors, tech-obsessed spacemen and mutated creatures are known as infested. Instructed by a mysterious force known as the Lotus and helped in your spaceship by the AI Ordis, you then travel through the solar system levelling your frames, weapons, and companions and collecting new things to use in further missions. Eventually, quests open up which open up the lore of the universe and give you insights into what you actually are, but whilst these are cool the main draw of the game is collecting, powering up and modifying your gear.
The gameplay itself is where the fun is. Games take the form of a plethora of different missions and mission types. I don’t intend to go into full detail about every single mission type, but common ones include defence, survival, spy and extermination missions against the three main factions; Grineer, Corpus and Infected. Each begins in a landing area and tasks you to explore a procedurally generated tile-based environment and accomplish your goals, before escaping alive. Sometimes you will need to capture and defend an objective. Sometimes you will need to distract enemies and collect oxygen cylinders to keep your team alive. Sometimes you’ll need to stealthily hack datapoints before the data is destroyed, and sometimes you’ll need to just kill bad guys. Whatever the objective, you have the ability to run around across walls and through the sky to help you accomplish it.
Moving around is a JOY in Warframe. The first time I discovered I could run into a slide, into a bullet jump, into a double jump and then glide across the world like Batman I squealed with happiness. The fluid nature of the movement is fantastically realised and whilst full movement requires skill you can’t help but feel awesome once you get it. The melee combat and gunplay is variable dependant on your choice of weapon, but most of the time it’s responsive and fun, with your attacks having meaningful effects on enemies. A couple of my favourite weapons are the Tonfa; twin slicing blades which you spin around with and literally chop your enemies in half; and Boltor Prime; a souped-up nailgun which turns enemies into wall decorations. The gameplay loop of entering a mission, achieving a goal and leaving in about 20 minutes is incredible fun and always feels rewarding. As you travel the solar system you’ll find new types of enemy and mission which I won’t spoil here, but which also add to that satisfying loop.
Customisation is everything in fashion-frame. Warframes and weapons are powered up by Mods; collectable cards which add extra power and effects to your gear. They themselves can be levelled up alongside your gear and customised to a degree. Whilst your gear can only take a certain number of points worth, there are a variety of systems in place to help you create your ideal setup and create an experience that’s right for you. Going against the infected? Suit up with fire mods. Going into a shield-free mission? Buff your health. The key goal of Warframe is improving and upgrading your setup and there is a hell of a lot of that to do.
The primary way to unlock new Warframes and Weapons is by collecting resources and building them on your ship. Whilst it can take a whilst, this eventually becomes your drive, as you begin to set yourself goals to achieve. Personally, I’m currently on the hunt for Chroma Prime; the souped-up prime variant of the Chroma Warframe (Read; premium version which can be earnt, but takes time) but I know that after I’ll be after Hydroid, and then Limbo…et cetera.
There is so so much to gather, farm and experience in Warframe that I’d be stupid to try and cover it all here. Besides the basic loop you will come across a plethora of bosses, missions set in outer space, the Orokin void, void relics, the stalker, second dream, an open-world area complete with fishing and weapon-crafting, companion robots, pet dogs and cats and many other things in a multiplayer world.
This is where my only, and biggest criticism of Warframe lies. Since it began, Warframe has grown into a behemoth of a game but unfortunately, it remains pretty inaccessible. Even after hundreds of hours, I still don’t fully understand the many systems and interconnected sections and worry that new players may be put off by the inaccessible nature of its early game. Digital Extremes has made a phenomenal galaxy to explore but really need to either step up their tutorial game or provide a step-by-step FAQ to progressing in Warframe for new, and returning players who may have missed many updates.
Of course, being free to play Warframe is monetised, but whilst I have problems with many free-to-play monetisation systems I don’t mind them as much in Warframe, since EVERYTHING can be earned in game. The marketplace sells weapons and Warframes for the premium currency; platinum; and whilst the prices are ridiculous for the most part most of these can be unlocked for free by exploring the world and making them in-game. The notable exceptions to this rule are gear slots and customisation options; cosmetic additions to your armour and colour palettes, but there are always players willing to exchange platinum for collectable blueprints, so regardless there is still a way to earn them for yourself in a satisfying way. You do not have to pay for anything in Warframe if you have patience, though many, including myself, have put money in to either access items more quickly or to reward the developers for their excellent work. Warframe doesn’t make you feel like you have to pay, it makes you want to in order to support the developers…and for FASHION-FRAME, the true endgame.
Warframe’s sci-fi stylings aren’t typical to the genre, with an almost bio-tech feel to the frames and a gritty darkness to the enemies, but regardless of aesthetic it can’t be denied it’s a beautiful game on any platform, with Switch being no exception. Whilst as a PC player I was initially disappointed by 30fps and noticeable lag at a higher FOV, I soon grew used to the console’s quirks. Performance is also adjustable, with a PC-like options menu which allows you to modify graphics settings. It may not play like the PC version, but I’m more than happy with how it’s been ported and it can’t be denied that it’s one of the best looking games on the platform. It also sounds great, which excellent background effects and music which create a fabulous atmosphere.
Multiplayer is a key element in Warframe, but despite Nintendo’s oft-awful online service it ran really well when connected to a full team of 4. Warframe doesn’t require a subscription and also has built-in voice-chat, which is a HUGE bonus, especially considering the cooperative nature of the experience.
All in all then, Warframe is still an excellent game with a ton of polish, and I’m incredibly impressed by the way in which it’s been ported. Yes, it’s difficult to get into as a newbie, but hopefully soon DE will catch onto this and until then there are a plethora of people online who are willing to help. Regardless, it’s back as one of my favourites due to the fact I can now more easily jump in and out.
I can honestly say that if you even have a passing interest you need to give it a shot; you won’t be disappointed.