It seems to me that over its lifetime, Warframe has been three distinct games. At launch, it was clearly an indie title, glitchy with subpar graphics, imprecise controls, no plot, and very little depth. I played this incarnation of Warframe, decided to pass on the game, and didn’t revisit it until a year later. However, during this time, Warframe’s developers, Digital Extreme, worked tirelessly on their game. They reworked systems that players had issue with, like stamina and mods. They improved the graphics. They added new content. Due to all this, Warframe became more popular, and all the while DE just kept on improving it. Eventually, it became a solid triple-A MMORPG. This is the Warframe that I played for four years. Now, Warframe is becoming something different again. DE just released the massive Plains of Eidolon expansion that transforms it into an open-world game.
Before I go into detail on this expansion, I should explain the base game.
Warframe is a third-person shooter, action MMORPG, and quasi-sequel to Dark Sectors, a 2008 cult hit also by DE. You play as the tenno—essentially a faction of space ninjas—in a dystopian sci-fi future, set across real and fictional locations in our solar system. Various factions, like the grineer, corpus, corrupted, and infested, vie for control of the solar system, dragging many innocents into the power struggle. You, as the tenno, are the solar system’s peace keepers. You attempt to maintain balance, occasionally working with some of these factions but more often than not bashing their skulls in. Pretty often you will just run around fighting everyone and everything for loot, and there is a lot of loot in Warframe.
The titular warframes are basically character classes and one of the more important forms of loot. Warframes are cybernetic suits or constructs that work together in a sort of symbiosis with their tenno operators, and they are themselves a part of what makes a tenno. The nature of warframes and tenno has yet to be explained entirely, but warframes have been compared to golems, an artificial yet living construct. I won't touch on tenno operators so as to avoid plot spoilers.
As you tear through the solar system, you’ll find pieces and blueprints of the game’s 50-plus warframes. You’ll collect resources to build these warframes, and then you’ll level them. Each of the warframes has unique abilities, backstories, and aesthetics. My favorite is Valkyr, a tanky melee-berserker warframe. Her backstory is that she was tortured and dissected by the corpus faction before her fellow tenno rescued her, and she still wears binds as a relic of her captivity. She is basically one-part hunter and four-parts poorly repressed rage. There are numerous other warframes, like Mesa, the gunslinger frame, Excalibur, the swordsman, or Nekros, the necromancer.
Weapons are another important form of loot in Warframe. Your typical loadout includes three weapons: a primary, secondary, and melee. With literally hundreds of weapons to choose from, you’re quite spoiled by choice. For primary weapons, there are rifles, shotguns, snipers, bows, grenade launchers, and more. These broad categories aren’t where weapon diversity ends, though. Under the rifles category, there is the latron marksman rifle, the ignis flamethrower, the opticor laser cannon, the supra laser machine-gun, the sybaris burst-fire rifle, the glaxion ice-ray, or the synapse biological beam gun. Most weapons are built through clan (guild) research, acquired via the market, or obtained from missions, although there have been a few event weapons passed out as rewards or for logins (most of these are currently obtainable via other means).
Companions are another part of most loadouts. These include sentinels (drones), kubrows (dog-like things), and kavats (cat-like things). Sentinels are researched, bought from the market, or acquired via missions in the Void. Kubrow eggs are found on Earth and hatched by players. Hatched kubrows can belong to any of five different subspecies and will have distinct cosmetics compared to other kubrows (body size, shape, colors, etc.). Kavats are similar in this regard, although there are currently only two subspecies. You can also breed kubrows and kavats to get your perfect companion and at one point, due to a glitch, could crossbreed them. This leads to some pretty crazy abominations, which are still in-game, but non-tradeable.
Forma and mods are, essentially, the secret to your power in Warframe. It’s not enough just to acquire powerful weapons, warframes, and companions, you’ll need to level them to the cap (30). Depending on your method, this can take 20 minutes to several hours. Through increasing your gear’s level and applying an orokin catalyst, you raise a gear’s mod capacity so you can use mods with the gear. Also, the first time you max a piece of gear, you gain experience toward your mastery rank, which governs the pieces of gear you can equip and quests you may accept.
Mods make gear stronger, and there are hundreds of these. I have over 500 unique mods in my collection, and there are more. They’re sort of like trading cards, you get them unranked and add a resource (endo) to them, increasing their effectiveness. With the right mods, you can increase a weapon’s damage by over a hundredfold, or make a warframe immortal at certain levels of content. Mods can add physical damage (impact, slash, and puncture) or elemental damage (fire, ice, poison, electric) to weapons. Elemental damage interacts, so if you have ice and fire damage mods, the damage becomes blast, an entirely different elemental type. There’s also utility mods: one gives you the ability to see enemies on your minimap, another lets your pet revive you. These mods add substantial depth and complexity to Warframe and allow for many combinations to strengthen gear.
Riven mods are a newer type of mod, which are specific to individual weapons and feature between two and four randomly generated stats scaled in proportion to how frequently a particular weapon is used by the community. Rivens are important for game balance, as they aren’t too strong on meta weapons and allow lesser meta weapons to compete with more powerful ones.
For example, before riven mods there was a gun I liked, the latron wraith. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly powerful, and I could only ever use it on low-level content. When rivens were added, I got a rather strong latron riven which made the gun top-tier and allowed me to use it for all sorts of content. If there’s a weapon you like but it isn’t strong, you can probably balance it with a riven and use it effectively. One of the weakest guns in the game, the furis, has become regarded as one of the most useful, in large part due to rivens. As there are infinite possible stat rolls with rivens, players always have something to pursue.
Warframe is free-to-play and is one of the easiest such titles to actually play free, as the premium currency may be traded. I’ve gotten over 100 dollars worth of premium currency (plat) many times from a single trade, and I’ve many friends who have done the same. I don’t feel like I’m giving up much, either: at one point I sold a riven for a tonkor, a gun I didn’t like, and made a fortune. Many players do this and play Warframe without ever spending a dime. Conversely, there are a lot of people who drop a good amount of money on the game and enable the rest to do otherwise.
Warframe is predominantly PvE, which has given it a very friendly community. After playing toxic competitive games like League of Legends, Warframe is very much a breath of fresh air. Rewards are shared by squad members, so there’s no fighting for loot, and even though there technically is a PvP mode, it’s optional and few people regularly play it.
Veterans often help new players, be it through providing them advice, assisting them in missions, trading them some loot, or giving them entry into a clan. DE has worked hard to eliminate avenues for toxicity, such as making it so people can’t exit a mission at the last second and leave a single player behind. It was quite rare that someone actually did this, but now no one can.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Ark: Survival Evolved, and stated that the game, while originally good, was failing due to an unethical developer. Warframe is the exact opposite. At release the game was pretty lackluster, but since then, DE has made it a major success, and their dedication is allowing the game to reach new heights.
Generally speaking, Warframe’s graphics go well beyond impressive. It’s a beautiful, highly optimized game, which can look good even on low-spec PCs. I personally play it on max graphics with a GTX 980 Ti and get consistently over 100 fps in most areas. Something to keep in mind is that every planet, moon, and zone in the solar system has a unique tileset, or aesthetic, and, sometimes, even more than one. Most of these environments look quite good, Earth in particular, as it recently got a graphical overhaul. Only a few are showing their age.
Enemy models are also well-designed and conveniently rather flimsy. If you like M-rated games with lots of blood and gore, look no further than Warframe and its dismemberment system, with which you’ll be cutting enemies in half and removing those troublesome excess limbs all day long. Conversely, if that isn’t your cup of tea, you can disable the blood and gore. DE has managed to provide their weapons with unique designs, despite having literal hundreds of them in the game. All of them can be further customized with colors, and occasionally via skins, attachments, and alternate holsters.
On the subject of sound, Warframe’s music is passable, but after a few hundred hours, you’ll probably want to mute it and play your own tunes. The voice and sound effects, on the other hand, are exceptional. Each of the hundreds of enemies and weapons have unique sounds effects. It’s not like all assault rifles use the same resources: each weapon in each category is distinct in terms of graphics and sound. Even different versions of the same weapon model, such as the latron, latron wraith, and the latron prime, all have different visuals and sounds. You should also expect competent voice acting for Warframe’s various characters across numerous story quests.
Now to the recent Warframe expansion: Plains of Eidolon. PoE is an open-world zone located on earth wherein players can travel around, on foot or by air, fighting grineer and giant monsters called eidolons. There is fishing, mining, hunting, gathering, and dynamic missions. Admittedly I’ve only had a few days to play the new expansion, but Warframe is my most played game, and PoE is a game changer. The new mechanics and amount of loot it adds to the game is staggering. You can build unique weapons by mixing and matching different parts and craft all sorts of unique cosmetics, and this is just the beginning.
DE called PoE their first open-world zone, suggesting that there will be others. Considering that it just released, it’s likely DE will be maintaining PoE, adding even more content (players haven’t even gotten their hands on all the content released yet).
The Plains of Eidolon expansion is another huge landmark for Warframe. It provides content for new players and veterans alike. I strongly recommend that those who haven’t tried the game yet give it a shot, and those who have try it again. If you’re looking to lose yourself in a beautiful, immersive, action MMORPG, then definitely consider Warframe. It gets my highest recommendation.