The story of Warframe begins with you emerging from a coma-like slumber, into an unfamiliar, hostile environment, awoken by a voice known only to you as ‘the Lotus’. She is your guide, and you are one of the last Tenno, an ancient race that has been bestowed with immensely powerful suits of armor, known as ‘Warframes’. One codex entry describes them as “Warrior-Gods cast in steel and fury” and I can think of no better description for them.
Warframe is set in the distant future but centres around our solar system. This a nice touch from DE, the Developers, as the recognisable planet names add some much-needed familiarity to a game about space ninjas, magic weapons and interplanetary travel. It’s far from the Milky Way we know today, however. It’s overrun by the armored military Grineer, the advanced robotics and heavy shields of the Corpus and diseased, feral creatures called the Infested. These serve as Warframe’s primary enemy factions, each with different strengths, weaknesses and even tactics.
The story has a deep, intricate lore, but it doesn’t force it upon you. It’s primarily told through dialogue that plays in between missions at the side of your screen while you scurry around your ship. It’s nice that it allows you to multitask, but also makes it easy to ignore. The cinematic quests that feature are particularly stunning, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. You mostly have to seek out the deeper parts yourself, such as the hundreds of Codex entries. Although I wasn’t thoroughly riveted by the story, I appreciated that the option was there to delve deeper if I wanted more.
As Warframe is a free-to-play game, I feel like it’s important to cover one thing first; Platinum. Platinum is the premium currency in Warframe that can be purchased with real money. It’s what keeps Digital Extremes afloat. Very little is locked behind a Platinum paywall, fortunately; it’s mostly just cosmetic items. However, you start with a limited number of weapon and warframe slots, and you have to spend Platinum to unlock more. Although they don’t exactly break the bank, this was my only real grievance with the currency system. Thankfully, Warframe gives you the tools to earn more than enough Platinum to cover this. If you stick with Warframe, you can easily acquire enough Platinum to decorate your frames, weapons and ship to your heart’s desire. This leads to the phrase commonly uttered among veterans; “Fashion Frame is End Game.” In fact, it’s common to find fans that only purchase Platinum as a way of showing appreciation to the devs.
This is probably the fairest premium currency I’ve ever seen before, let alone from a free-to-play game, and it’s clear to see this is no coincidence. Digital Extremes actually cares about their consumer base, and want to make their money ethically. The best example of this is DE quickly removing a gambling system because they felt guilty. Let me just make sure that sinks in. They actively detached themselves from a form of monetisation, because they saw it could be predatory. It’s a refreshing approach to free-to-play games, and one that I think deserves the high commendation it receives.
WEAPONS, WARFRAMES AND WAITING
As previously alluded to; weapons and warframes can be crafted without using the premium currency, though this isn’t always simple. Warframes, in particular, require you to grind boss encounters. Every boss drops one of three component blueprints for a specific warframe, at random, but you’ll need all 3 to build a finished frame. This can get frustrating, quickly. One warframe, Rhino, only took me 6 or 7 boss fights before I could build him, but I had to defeat Jupiter’s boss at least twenty times before I got the piece I needed! If you’re unlucky with your drops, it can take some serious grinding, but that’s what should be expected from a looter like Warframe. The major thing differentiating Warframe from the likes of Destiny, The Division or Diablo 3 however, is the need to farm resources.
Every blueprint will require credits and certain materials to build in the Foundry. Once you initiate a build, it completes in real time. Usually this is 12-24 hours, but it can go all the way up to 3 days for a finished warframe. Of course, following the typical free-to-play formula, you can use Platinum to expedite this, but skipping the wait is pretty costly. The good news is, there’s a frame for every occasion. With over 35 warframes already in the game, and Digital Extremes regularly adding more, there’s sure to be at least one that fits your preferred playstyle. Personally, I found Frost was great for Defence objectives, but Rhino was my go-to for most missions.
WHO NEEDS SLEEP?
Warframe is largely intended to be a co-op experience, as most missions – except the occasional story-related quest – can be played with up to 4 players. The content is primarily player versus environment, or PvE, but there is also a competitive PvP arena, if that’s your thing. You can also play the entire thing solo, if that’s more your speed, and I found this was often the best way to go. It’s nice having the option not to deal with the headache of matchmade allies setting off the alarms on Spy missions, or, alternatively, having pros speed through a level in seconds, leaving you feeling useless.
There’s an overwhelming number of mission types, and sources of new missions flood in regularly. It would take too long to go into detail about every kind available, but just from the space chart alone you’re shown various Events, daily and weekly Alerts, Fissures and Sorties; all of which are designed to bring you back for more, and they’re very good at doing so! At 2am you’ll tell yourself that you’re only playing one more mission, only to see a new Alert pop up afterwards. It would give you just enough Salvage to build that shiny sniper you’ve had your eye on. Then, you remember you haven’t finished today’s Sortie! So of course, you have to complete those 3 missions because you don’t want to miss out on your daily reward and… you get the picture. You can lose hours in Warframe without even realising it, thanks to the prolific, varied content.
As you finish missions, every weapon – melee or ranged – will level up from 1 to 30, as will your warframes and companions. This increases your overall Mastery Rank, which is how you unlock new gear blueprints at the market, and is the main ‘goal’ of Warframe. There’s also a rich, deep weapon upgrade system using Mods, which plays the biggest role in increasing your damage output. Mods, which are usually rewards for finishing missions, will let you reload faster, fire through enemies or deal increased critical and elemental damage. It doesn’t stop here, though. You can also attach mods to your warframe. These range from fairly typical improvements such as increased armor and health, right down to individual mods that enhance different abilities.
SPACE NINJA 101
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is movement. Movement is an absolute joy in this game. You really feel like a ninja with your slides, rolls, double jumps, wall runs and much more. The game has an incredible feeling of versatility and momentum, and it soon becomes second nature to string together a movement pattern that lets you traverse a level in seconds. Hovering to slow down your aiming mid-air lets you feel like a badass, and was another truly enjoyable aspect of the control scheme. Even if the core gameplay doesn’t sound interesting to you, I bet you’ll have a lot of fun running and jumping around the levels like a true space ninja.
The voice acting is top-notch in Warframe’s cinematic quests, and the same goes for the dialogue that’s weaved between missions. Every weapon has a unique sound to it, and the noise of bullets and projectiles striking your enemies is gloriously satisfying, particularly heavy shots hitting Grineer’s armor. Thankfully, this is preserved on Nintendo Switch and there didn’t appear to be any noticeable decrease in audio quality.
I must admit though, despite 100+ hours of gameplay with Warframe, I hadn’t really formed an opinion on it’s music. It never really struck me as anything epic, but it certainly wasn’t poor or absent. Looking back at it now, though, I recognise that there is the occasional track from the OST which is truly stellar, particularly ‘This is What You Are’. I don’t think most people are going to play Warframe for the soundtrack, however, and I certainly had no issue playing on mute when I needed to.
Visuals & Performance
For the Nintendo Switch port of Warframe, Digital Extremes enlisted the help of the excellent Panic Button. This is the team that helped bring Rocket League, Wolfenstein 2 and DOOM to the Switch, which were all great ports in their own right. In case you needed any further proof of just how incredible their work on Warframe is; their optimisations for the Switch version have improved performance for the other versions, too!
Even before the game was out, it was clear to see from the press footage that they’d done a great job. Now that it’s finally here, I’m happy to confirm that Warframe runs beautifully on Nintendo Switch, albeit it at 30fps. Fortunately, I only noticed the occasional drop in framerate, even in handheld mode.
Visually, Warframe has retained the fantastic effects, models and animations that the other console versions enjoyed. Though you shouldn’t expect the visual fidelity of a PC game on Ultra settings, it’s on par with the best looking games the Switch has to offer. Some environments can look a bit plain and washed out, but the vast array of wonderful colours you can imbue your warframes and weapons with, more than make up for this.
The value of Warframe really is incredible. This is a game that I’ve implored friends to pick up and try, because I’m just so passionate about it. I’ve spent well over a hundred hours on Warframe before the Switch release, and I’m sure to spend more now that I can take it with me on the go. If you don’t like it, then at least you haven’t wasted any money. All this from a game where you never need to spend a penny? It gets full marks for value from me.
Unfortunately, Warframe doesn’t do the best job of explaining it’s intricate systems and nuanced mechanics, which can easily overwhelm newcomers. This might stop some from persevering, but SwitchWatch has you covered. We’ve released a Beginner’s Guide to Warframe, that will help make the game easier to approach.
Fun, fluent gameplay
Difficult to grasp mechanics