In the early stages of the console war, it is certainly Sony who is impressing with its online offering. The subscription to Playstation Plus has offered a diverse range of free games across the PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, opening a whole new world of games to gamers who might otherwise have overlooked some of these fabulous titles. Sony have also been very open in their support of indie developers and hence, the PSN store is quickly becoming a crowded and busy place. Another area Sony has delved into is the Free to Play games. The likes of Eve:Dust 514 and DC Online Universe are both ambitious and completely free. Although Free to Play has had mixed responses, largely due to the use of the controversial micro-transactions, they are certainly becoming an establish force. We take a look at the PS4’s (and PC’s) free to play game, Warframe.
Warframe is a sci-fi 3rd person shooter developed by ‘Digital Extremes‘ that focuses on its high paced cavalier action. You take on the role of a ‘Tenno‘, an ancient warrior race who are equipped with an armour known as Warframe. Although explanations aren’t always forthcoming or clear in Warframe, as an audience member you are able to decipher that the Galaxy is at war. You face a warmongering faction known as the ‘Grineer’, who are clones determined to forge their own empire throughout the galaxy. Two other factions are also staking their claim in this war. The ‘Corpus‘, who are essentially Robots made from salvaged parts, they would like nothing more than to get their hands on your shiny Warframe – and the ‘Infested‘ who are a mixture of the infected manifestation of both the ‘Corpus’ and ‘Grineer.’
Warframe’s missions are spread throughout the galaxy and you unlock each mission by successfully completing the previous mission. You start in the bases surrounding the planet Mercury and there is a plot line to follow, like a tree branch. Unlocking particular missions opens up alternative arcs to follow and each mission involves a different type of game mode. Each planetary system comes with a unique look and set of enemies. The game modes themselves include: sabotage, timed survival, boss mission and many more in which you play alongside a squad of up to four players. You can play by yourself, but it’s not really designed to work that way – besides, it ruins the fun.
Fundamentally however, these missions all revolve around shooting and looting. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that as anyone could argue the merits that all games are repetitious, but with Warframe there is no escaping the monotony. This is not to Warframe’s detriment as such, but it is easy to forget that you are playing one game mode over another. The majority of the time you are just shooting down overwhelming amount of AI bots. Should there actually be an objective they are often timed objectives. Two examples are capture the VIP and Life Support. Capturing the VIP requires you to locate and shoot down the enemy target, whilst dealing with the masses of enemies in your way. The VIP will attempt to reach an escape pod before being captured by yourself. While no timer is applied you still only have a certain amount of time in which to carry on shooting people. Life support is where you have to trawl through the level before the time runs out. Life support systems are fast running out on the spaceship/station and you have to activate randomly dropped life support capsules to add precious minutes to the clock. Hence why many missions are timed.
The biggest success of Warframe is how accessible it is. Even though there are huge parts of the game that require time and investigation (we’ll cover that in a moment), Warframe is very much a pick up and play shooter. The controls are simply and the action high paced. At first you may not understand the full ins and outs of levelling up and what it is you are actually looting from the corpses of Grineer, but shoot the bad guy is pretty universal. I spent several hours jumping from walls or sliding along my knees blowing the hell out of everything humanly possible before delving into the inventory and upgrade menus. Squad play is very much at the forefront of Warframe. Playing with someone who runs off as a lone wolf warrior will often see you standing alone facing overwhelming odds or if your lucky they might run into a brick wall and you can say “serves you right.” Playing with a team that works together definitely makes Waframe more enjoyable.
At the start of the game, players get to select the type of ‘Tenno’ they wish to be. This gives you perks and abilities unique to that character set. I opted for a stealthy approach, largely because I’m a coward and like my confrontations to be met with strategy rather than brute force – but you can select the latter if you enjoy being a powerhouse. Buy utilising the touchpad on the PS4 I could turn invisible or send out a decoy to distract my enemies, buying me valuable seconds to hide and wait for my shield to restore. What is perhaps less accessible to someone who enjoys their free to play games and expects them to be pick up and play, is the inventory and upgrade menus.
To the uninitiated, they can be quite daunting. Not only can the character be upgraded but each of their weapons – Heavy Gun, Pistol and Sword can also be upgraded. From the items you loot you’ll notice that you collect various cards. Each card has a upgrade and a value. The upgrade include stats such as 40% + Shields or 12%+ damage dealt etc. The value of the cards are shown in the top corner. So for example if you or your weapon are rank 5 and the card is rank 6 you cannot equip it until later. You can alternatively equip multiple cards so if you are once again rank 5 you can equip two cards, one to the value of 3 and the other to the value of 2 – making 5 obviously. These card can also be fused or transmuted (modded effectively) either to yourself or one of your weapons, making them more powerful. Yet there are multitudes of things to consider. Each card has a symbol and if you match those symbols on the card to one of the provided card slots the value of that card is often halved, enabling you to equip more cards. Cards also have a ranking system too and can be modded also. These upgrades, which are depicted by notches on the side of the card…….and I’m going to stop there. As aforementioned, the menus aren’t exactly accessible to the uninitiated, so I won’t keep babbling and confusing those who have no idea what I’m talking about. Let’s just say it’s a little convoluted.
However, making the game play accessible yet the upgrade system almost unfathomable, believe it or not, actually makes the game balanced. That is, it is balanced in terms of it’s audience. For those you are addicted to looting and upgrading in games (often associated with RPG’s or MMO’s) so they become god-like Warframe has a set up for you. If you just enjoy going online with your mates and mindlessly blasting enemies for a couple of hours then Warframe has a set up for you. There is even the chance that those playing casually, who encounter almost impossible missions, may be enticed to the finer, more detailed elements of the game.
However, as this game has hundreds of micro-transactions there is another level of player within this game. After all the idea is that free-to-play will only get you so far. To give you an insight here’s what your real world (not in-game currency) will get you in a game like Warframe. In the menu’s of Warframe you will spend both Credits and Platinum. Credits are acquired throughout the game easy enough and are free to obtain – Platinum however, will cost you. 1000 Platinum costs around £30.02, more ample amounts such as 170 Platinum will set you back £5.99. There is even the Warframe Inferno Pack which includes weapon blueprints, temporary boosters 4400 Platinum etc and that will serenade your back account to the tune of £109.99. I’ll let you decide whether a free to play game offset my micro-transactions is worth the money.
Warframe’s high paced action is certainly to be enjoyed – even if its sense of spectacle is slightly underwhelming but remember this isn’t some high budget Triple A game like Mass Effect – it’s free to play. The repetition and and lack of diversity may have members only playing for short periods of time and with Warframe being available on the PC for almost a year, I can’t help but feel that this game has been fully realised and that it’s potential has hit maximum capacity. Yes, there will be new game modes and updates along the way, with constant support, but Warframe will have to make some bigger changes to keep people coming back in a year’s time, especially when some of the big franchises hit the PS4 later this year.