Warframe: 8 months of good and bad
Digital Extremes has crafted one of the most fair and fun Free 2 Play games in the era, but not without its faults.
Long gone are the days were Warframe was an attempt of a free game with looting mechanics and RNG. Plains of Eidolon brought a lot of attention to Warframe, pushed Digital Extremes (from now on, DE) into the light thanks to how they managed consumer-friendly microtransactions, and the death of Destiny 2 surely brought more players.
I picked up Warframe actively in late November 2017. Since then, I have played almost every day, trying to grasp the game mechanics. The time invested has been surely paid off, enough to say that this is one of the best free games out there for its niche.
Why would you play Warframe?
If you know what Warframe is, you can skip this section.
Basically, Warframe success is also its curse. The game is a third-person shooter where you play as a space ninja for loot, from which you can build new suits, called Warframes, and weapons. The path to make your Warframe powerful means grinding, and after some missions, you will have to choose between getting into Warframe, or pursue something else.
The fun never gets old: dispatching a lot of enemies with your guns or melee weapons, whatever faction the may be. But to progress on the Origin System, you will need to power up your arsenal. Getting more Warframes and weapons means repeating some missions a lot for the parts or resources. And crafting them takes ages unless you pay Platinum to rush them, Warframe’s currency.
There is a market where you can pay Platinum for Warframes and weapons instead of grinding them, but everyone agree on one thing: it’s better to spend on slot for the Warframes and weapons, and grind while you grind.
First problem: Grind or Go home
Eventually players will get bored of repeating the same procedural-generated mission over and over. Seeing the same enemies, and taking a lot of time in the first weeks to pass Jupiter or Saturn, with the The Limbo Theorem quest shining in their Navigation UI.
That part is where the game forcibly pushes you into a wall of blind grinding for better weapons, modding and getting resources from other planets. There is no escaping, it’s the only way to progress unless you want to get stomped by more difficult enemies.
Quests like Natah and The Second Dream are just behind this wall. These bring some answers to the so many questions the player may have until that point, makes the game more interesting from the narrative standpoint, and serve like a pause for blind grinding to unlock all the Origin System.
Second problem: Confusing story
Until that part, which I consider pivotal, you still haven’t grasped the basics of the story in the game. You barely know what is a Warframe and how you can have more than one, and a nonexistent proper build up to these matters makes the player to not care.
Adding insult to injury, you can go to the Plains of Eidolon and be confused a lot more. Warframe is not ashamed on hitting you with a bat of gameplay mechanics without warning you about how undeveloped you are. And don’t expect Earth to show some answers to the many questions you may have.
Story in Warframe is very obfuscated between no clear progression nor build up. Characters come and go, except for The Lotus and Ordis, which are a mystery until later quests.
Third problem: A Wiki of All things.
There is no denial that Warframe is also a complex game. What grind my gears is that some mechanics are just pushed into the player expecting him to know what they must do to succeed.
For example, I took a trip to Namaah, Europe. There you are tasked to kill robots which have a high amount of shields. Your weapons won’t do shit unless you get ones with good status chance, and mod them to have high Magnetic damage.
But of course, you won’t know that until you get to the Wiki thanks to the unfriendly information box that appears in your arsenal only when you are upgrading it.
There are a lot of these examples where you are task with one work, but in order to succeed (or know why you’re failing) you need to understand a particular mechanic. Let’s put another one here: Ayatan treasure course without dominating bullet jump.
I hope someday DE will make proper tutorials or small quests for these kind of mechanics, which are very basic. I get the impression that the user won’t know until they invest more time outside the game (Youtube, Wiki, you name it) rather than inside.
Four problem: Obnoxious market
Some items pricing on the market are literally a robbery. Platinum may come cheap if you are willing to spend money when you get a 50% or 75% discount in your account thanks to the Daily Tribute, but prepare to burn your virtual wallet if you’re not careful:
- Weapons can be “grinded” on the foundry using resources you find in the system, but they are sold for 100 platinum or more. Most of them are “Mastery Fodders”, which means the only use for them is to get XP; the damage output or utility is mediocre, at best, compared to other good weapons, or they are accessible too late in the game.
- Colors are limited to very basic palette. You will have to buy them by packs, not by particular color.
- Warframes are also purchasable, but can be grinded too like weapons. They boast high prices just for the convenience of time, while the Prime versions (slightly better) are almost a price-match on the community Warframe Market.
As you can see, the official Market looks like a booby trap for rookie players with a wallet ready to go. Regret is the only thing that a player will have after spending there without knowing that you could have it for free by just waiting.
No experimented players will fall for this, because they won’t buy useless shit or high prices, but they will on cosmetics. Fashionframe is the end game.
Fifth problem: Pets are useless
Pet’s are introduced very early in the game, but probably too early — surely soon enough to make a rookie player pay Platinum to enable them. There is costs to maintaining the pet also, because they don’t live forever.
Companions are useful, but Pets not. Probably only experienced players will make full potential of Pets thanks to the modding and proper breeding, but until then a companion is the best option.
I expect someday DE reworks the Pets problem to something more friendly and less useless. Even rework Howl of the Kubrow.
Sixth problem: Plains of What-to-do-alone
Special mention to Plains of Eidolon. A Master Rank 1 player, basically someone who has introduced to the game, can gain entrance here very early in the game. Saya’s Vigil quest introduces the plains as the second available quest barely hits the mark, and even PCGamer called it out.
Not knowing what to do it’s fine as long you can gain experience, and learn what is what you should do. Having the Plains of Eidolon available so soon without proper warnings about how you should doing something else is infuriating. Specially when you face enemies way above your arsenal power.
Seventh problem: Archwing
I wrote a rant some months ago in Reddit about how the Arching is not only underdeveloped in the game, and badly implemented in the Plains of Eidolon.
Basically, Archwing is a flying mode. It has important problem regarding gameplay mechanics and momentum that degrades any mission it touches. I fully expect they won’t fix it when the new Railjack update goes live and introduces space battles. But these are just my hopes.
Problems can be fixed, but will they?
8 months or so are not short considering most Free 2 Play games are abandoned in less time. Considering Warframe has gained a lot of players, at least that’s how DE has told the media, I would call the game a successful takeoff. But in the business of games with recurrent spending mechanics, retention is key.
Having me and many other players still playing the game means DE is doing something right, and for me is content. There is always something you can do in Warframe, and having a squad of friends to do it surely adds more fun.
The problem in games that require player retention to keep it alive is, well, ensuring the gamer doesn’t abandon the game before its able to spend money, and keep them interested in spending money. And the first problem that I listed is probably one of the most important.
I personally think DE should push its efforts in reworking the first two~three weeks experience for the newcomer, having enough content to guide the player into important mechanics and have a proper story build up so he doesn’t feel lost or uninstered in this span of time.
That would make the player hard to lose interest in the game — it’s more easy to abandon a game a the first problem or roadblock than when you have invested a lot of resources on it.
So yes, Warframe it’s not for everybody, but it shouldn’t be more painful than it is in the beginning.