A grate clatters to the floor and my team of four drops quietly to the deck of an enemy ship. Our job is to infiltrate, sabotage equipment, and make it to the extraction point. Things start off quietly; we sneak up behind the patrolling guards and end them with quick stabs of our swords. A camera catches us, though. We ready our weapons, check energy levels, and prepare for an all-out fight. Things are about to get noisy.
Warframe invites players to step into the boots of mystical space ninjas called Tenno in a cooperative, mission-based experience. The title is free-to-play, but everything can be unlocked by spending time shooting and slicing your way through the galaxy.
Before you can take on the Grineer, Infested, and Corpus enemy groups, you need to equip yourself. The menu system appears to be straightforward, but missing usability features (like a way to easily compare weapon stats) slows things down dramatically. A help hotkey would also help players decipher the overlapping gameplay systems. You figure things out eventually, but the process could be easier and more accommodating.
Third-person combat gives players the opportunity to pick off enemies from a distance or rush in with brutal melee attacks. Stealthier players can try to stay hidden as long as possible and pick off enemies with one-hit kills. Once you’re in the crosshairs though, get ready for a fight. The controls work extremely well when you’re at a distance, but I often found myself slashing wildly when opting for my sword.
Levels are too long when playing solo, but tend to move briskly with a full team of four players. The solar system is peppered with boss fights, and despite being significantly over-leveled for the first one, I was unable to take him down alone. Teaming up with others evened the odds, though; my new friends and I took him down enough times that I was able to collect all the drops to build a new weapon.
Aesthetic options are monetized, but so are rare materials that are necessary for building new Warframes (character classes) and weapons. I spent the platinum (real money currency) equivalent of $.66 to save potentially hours of farming to get things going in the foundry and considered it well spent. However, if you want to play without shelling out any cash, it’s entirely possible to enjoy the game. Starting equipment is perfectly capable until you harvest enough materials to upgrade.
You can also buy new Warframe blueprints with in-game cash, or acquire them completely assembled with real money. The blueprints are useless without the component parts, and those are most often acquired from boss fights. That means a few times through each encounter to get the drops you need. Mercifully, loot is shared (and not split or distributed via lottery), so everyone involved gets all the spoils.
Each frame has different mod abilities. Some, like the Excalibur, are well-rounded with both direct damage and stun skills. Others, like Loki, deal in crowd control and battlefield manipulation. Those that specialize in damage output are clearly better when playing alone, but in a party, it’s a matter of picking something that fits your playstyle.
I adore Warframe’s mod system, which combines the randomness of MMO loot drops and the customization of Persona’s demon fusion mechanics. Mod cards can be strengthened by feeding others to it. If you pair up two same-named cards, the effect is enhanced. As the strength of a card increases, so does the cost. This system keeps you eager to return to earlier missions to grind experience and experiment with the possibilities.
As weapons, Warframes, and AI drones called Sentinels are upgraded, they can take on more mod points. Each piece of gear can store three different configurations, which is useful for easily filling different roles in a party or taking on the three different major enemy factions. The mods make a big difference, and I felt the impact of attaching more powerful ones to my gear.
The user interface could use some tuning for the PlayStation 4, and deeper integration with the console’s social features would streamline finding your friends online. The community is healthy, and I rarely had a problem joining up with random players.
When a mission is underway, Warframe is at its best. Getting to that point is a challenge of menu navigation, unexplained features, and a lack of crucial stat comparisons when choosing weapons. Right now, Warframe is definitely worth your time, but a UI tune-up would make it worth your money.