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Oh No, I'm Hooked On Warframe Now

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku

Warframe has been out for over seven years. For the longest time, I looked at it like Destiny or EVE Online—games that I find conceptually compelling, but that now contain so many systems I’m intimidated by the mere idea of starting. Well, I started Warframe the other day. Within a 24-hour span, I played for 11 hours.

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For the most part, I went in blind. I read a quick primer by Polygon’s Cass Marshall that got me up to speed on the main factions, how to construct new items, and how to navigate the galaxy map, but otherwise, I elected to just go where the game took me. I thought this would be a disaster, and then I’d move on to playing Death Stranding, which is what I’d actually been meaning to do, but first I needed to psych myself up for an 80-hour helping of Hideo Kojima’s unique brand of baby-powered psychobabble. So I went into Warframe with one foot out the door. In hindsight, given the sheer number of people who’d ominously told me that once you pop, the fun don’t stop because you never leave, I probably should have expected what ended up happening next. Here is how Warframe got me.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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Just The Right Amount Of Weirdness

Warframe’s opening struck me as pretty generic. I was a remnant of an ancient warrior race who’d just been awakened, and some angry man who looked like a mound of molding salami fused with the charred remains of a freshly exploded gamer chair wanted to use my powers for his nefarious ends. But he and his cronies reminded me a bit of the Strogg from Quake, so I decided to go with it. The mission unfolded mostly as expected. I killed some dudes and also some space dogs, meaning that I was in for an experience at least as edgy as The Last Of Us Part II. I escaped. Hooray! But also, the Grineer, as they’re known, attached a piece of evil machinery to my leg. Oh no!

But then the hologram of a woman who was guiding me—who I’d taken to calling space mom, not knowing at the time that this is also what the Warframe community calls her—mentioned that the villain’s name was Vor (lmao), and I received a video in my in-game inbox from a seemingly very inebriated space woman who wanted me to join the galaxy’s largest water gun fight. “WATER FIGHT! WADDAFITE!” she bellowed. “I want a drink with a pink umbrella in it.” I was intrigued by this sudden injection of strangeness to the proceedings. It was funny! And well written! I knew then that I wanted to see more.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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Jumpin’

Before playing, I understood Warframe to be a cooperative third-person shooter where you blast NPC bad guys à la other games’ horde modes. This, it turns out, is not entirely true, if only because you do way more things than just shoot. You also jump. You jump a lot. I chose the Excalibur Warframe as my starter suit, meaning that I’m a katana-wielding space ninja, but every Frame can double jump, slide, wall run, and bullet jump.

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Bullet jumping is the best. If you crouch while sliding or standing still, you fly forward in a twirly motion kinda like Raiden from Mortal Kombat. You can do this over and over to avoid enemy fire or cover ludicrous distances in no time flat. When I first started playing, I didn’t really understand this and spent most of my time running and gunning/slashing. Now I play like the floor is lava. Pinging off walls and careening into dudes like an irate bird of prey is so, so fun. Warframe is the clunkiest name imaginable for a game with such a svelte movement system. I am shocked that every action game in existence has not copied it. It’s that good.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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Sudden Multiplayer

I solo-ed my first couple missions, but Warframe is a multiplayer game, so I couldn’t help but wonder where all the other people were. Then I started another mission, and in the cool little intro scene where my dude drops out of a vent (Note to bad guys: Just get rid of the vents! It’s that easy!), another character plopped down right next to me. This, it turned out, was a real person. We ran the mission together, blasting baddies in pursuit of a high-value target, and it was chill. I was still acclimating to the movement controls, so I flopped around like a fish out of water who was also an idiot, but my cohort didn’t seem to mind so much. Then we finished the mission and went our separate ways.

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I am the kind of person who will solo an entire MMORPG if I can. Such are the depths of my social anxiety. I appreciate, though, that Warframe occasionally pairs me with other players, because most missions—at least, so far—are low-stakes enough that I can hang out with randos without being concerned that they’ll scream at me (in text chat) if I fuck up.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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Do As You Will

Recently, Kotaku’s Ian Walker told me that he, too, tried to get into Warframe, but he bounced off it. He said it overwhelmed him—that there were so many things to do, and he never knew if he was doing the right one. What I’ve found so far, though, is that as long as you do missions indicated on the galaxy map by little blue diamond icons, you can’t really miss out. The game slowly but surely takes you on a guided tour through many of its elements, and though I’ve had to look up where to, say, find particular resources on a couple occasions, I’ve never felt like I’m being bombarded by too many mechanics. Even though I’m still new, when the game has paired me with other players, I haven’t felt out of my depth, or like I’m missing crucial tools that they likely picked up hundreds of hours ago. I’m still trying to learn a few systems (reputation, mainly), but if I’m ever feeling like I just want to say “fuck it” and go blast some stapled-together husks or evil hyperspace capitalists, I can pick a mission and be there in seconds.

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Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku

Loot Pinatas (But Tasteful)

In Warframe, for every action, there is an equal and exquisitely rewarding reaction. No matter how you shoot or skewer them, defeated enemies pop like perfectly squeezed grapes that do not get all over your hands, but instead slide cleanly out of their skin in some sort of mockery of the intrinsic chaos of nature. Loot erupts as though from miniature volcanoes à la Borderlands, but it’s mostly just ammo and things of the sort. Anything more intricate would break up the flow of combat and exploration, and Warframe very smartly avoids that.

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Instead, you get to see the real spoils of your missions when you’re back on your ship, and then you can use them to modify your weapons, construct new gear, and things of that nature. This makes both of Warframe’s main phases—missions and ship time—exciting in focused ways. You can focus on the high-flying here and now while in the heat of combat, and then, as you sprint toward your extraction point, you can salivate at the idea of opening a shiny present box full of new stuff.

This makes for a positively diabolical core loop. Missions in Warframe are short, but they’re not that short. Some have multiple phases that consist of sneaking, blasting, and hacking, as well as optional side events. And yet, somehow, they feel shorter than they are. In a few cases, I’ve gotten back from missions that I was sure had taken me 10-15 minutes, but then I glanced down at my phone, and 30-45 minutes had passed. This is dark magic.

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Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku

The Grind

This point ties into my last: Warframe is a colossal, potentially endless grind. Every individual piece of gear you equip needs to be leveled up. Resources to build gear and other items abound, and you have to play and replay missions in specific areas to collect them. Item constructions take multiple hours—sometimes days—in real time, but you can spend a purchasable currency to rush them. There are ample avenues, in fact, to spend real money in exchange for convenience. I’m not usually the kind of person who enjoys these kinds of games, and normally, I would find all of this hard to overlook.

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Warframe, though, is generous within the walls of this winding grind labyrinth. At this point in its lifespan, the game is packed with an obscene number of planets, areas, open worlds, mission types, weapons, items, gameplay mechanics, and side activities. So far, I’ve yet to come across anything important that’s gated by money, and the pacing of missions is such that I haven’t minded waiting for my new weapons to build themselves. There is even an appeal to logging on after a day or two and finding a miniature Christmas waiting for you aboard your ship. That is, I have to imagine, by design. Warframe is a game that positively bristles with pointy hooks intended to repeatedly reel you back in. Perhaps in time I will come to view this element of the game more warily (or even wearily), but for now, I’m hooked.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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Customize, Randomize

I love multiplayer games that put an emphasis on fashion. Final Fantasy XIV, for instance, regularly wows me with the clear care that players put into their outfits. I also hate personally putting that care into my own outfits, which is why my Final Fantasy XIV character looks like a muscular cat who got into a fight with a burlap sack and eventually just kind of gave up and decided to let the sack become part of him.

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Warframe is full of strikingly fancy space ninjas awash in the cyber-glow of their own holographic backlights. It is clear that this game’s community also prides itself on style, albeit perhaps in a way less akin to traditional fashion and more like what would happen if a bunch of ravers got really, really into customizing race cars. Maybe someday I, too, will try to look cool. Until then, I’m more than happy to use the game’s handy randomize function, which you can press over and over until you find something you dig. Right now, my guy looks like a mashup of the red Power Ranger and Eva Unit-01 from Evangelion, but with cool emblems and a scarf made of light. It took me less than a minute to jazz up my boring old space pajamas, and yet, hours later, I remain pleased.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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Space Ninja Noir

Warframe has an in-game pirate radio station that gives you detective missions. It is so, so dope. Nightwave missions, as they’re known, can be accessed from your ship, and Nightwave season three—which began a couple months ago—sends you to a series of environments to investigate full-on crime scenes, all connected by a mysterious murderer called “The Glassmaker.” I’ve only done a few so far, but they strike me as a really neat way to force players to slow down and spend some quality time in the sorts of locations they’d typically be careening through at a million miles per hour.

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I’ve also enjoyed the individual character stories underpinning these missions, even if all of those characters are, you know, dead. For example, one focused on a member of Warframe’s later-than-late capitalist faction, the Corpus, who’d started to have doubts about the merits of amassing wealth at others’ expense, while another centered around a Grineer who’d forsaken his faction’s pillaging ways to learn philosophy and covertly help people after he’d seemingly killed a kid. I found the kid’s stuffed animal in the Grineer’s lair—a keepsake, perhaps. Or a reminder.

Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku
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I, Gundam

Last night, I did a series of missions and collected resources to build an attachment for my suit called an Archwing. Shortly after, a mission gone awry catapulted me into the void of space, at which point the game suddenly became a space shooter with my character more or less functioning as a Gundam. Now I’ve unlocked a whole set of Archwing-specific missions, which are completely unlike anything I’ve previously experienced in the game and use an entirely different gear set. After so many years of active development, Warframe is, itself, akin to a Grineer—parts stapled to parts stapled to other parts. But it’s all remarkably coherent, and it means that the game can regularly surprise you by being like “Oh yeah, that genre is in here, too.” Speaking of...

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Illustration for article titled Oh No, Im Hooked On iWarframe/i Now
Screenshot: Digital Extremes / Kotaku

Dog

Everyone, this is my son. Say hello to my son.

You can adopt and breed dog-like pets in Warframe, because why not cram that genre into the game, too? Apparently in earlier versions of the system, Kubrows, as they’re known, could die permanently. This information sent me into a cold-sweat-soaked research panic the other night, but fortunately, I ended up learning that Kubrows can no longer bite the biggest of ones, meaning I can safely take mine into battle.

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Anyway, I named my son Laddie Boy, after notoriously terrible U.S. President Warren Harding’s dog who was, by almost every available measure, significantly more popular than Warren Harding. My son is good. Hopefully, with time, I will become better at playing Warframe than Warren Harding was at being President.

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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DISCUSSION

Ghost-who-walks
Ghost-who-walks

Speaking as someone with currently 1511 hours clocked into Warframe, here’s some words of wisdom from a veteran Tenno:

1. do whatever the hell you want. No, I’m serious. The thing most new players get overwhelmed on is the thought that there is some “right” way to play the game and if you’re not doing it, people yell at you. But one of the brilliant little details of Warframe is that 90% of its progression boils down to “go into a mission and kill stuff” and it’s just a question of what flavor of “go into a mission and kill stuff” that you want to do. Do you want to gain reputation with the factions? Equip one of their sigils and go frolic. Do you need crafting resources? Pick any mission you like on the planet that drops said resource and have at it. Want to open some Void Relics? There’s always some Fissure missions on tap. You don’t need to wait for server resets or face daily quest limits that keep you from catching up to people like me with a thousand hours under their belt, Warframe is a game you can freely take at your own pace. That also leads into...

2. if you’re getting bored, play something else, you can always come back later. I’ve been playing Warframe since 2013, but it hasn’t been a constant grind, I’ve taken breaks of months at a time and then come back when there’s a big update released. Without any subscription fees or expansions you need to buy, you can leave and come back at your leisure. Don’t subject yourself to burnout.

3. if you need some direction for your grinding, aim for the Junctions. Unlocking new planets isn’t just a matter of getting higher-level enemies with new tilesets, it also leads into Warframe number 1 greatest asset: its Quests. You might at first think Warframe is just a mindless grindfest with a paper-thin plot, but you would be wrong. Much like Dark Souls, Warframe keeps much of its story close to the chest and dishes it out in pieces and hints, drawing you towards the next discovery and letting you put the clues together yourself. The first major story quest is unlocked by opening the Junction from Mars to Phobos, and in order they are:

-Stolen Dreams

-The New Strange (Europa Junction)

-Natah (scan mysterious drones that appear in Uranus missions)

-The Second Dream (Neptune Junction)

-The War Within (Sedna Junction)

-Chains of Harrow (complete the last available mission in the Void, Mot)

-Apostatsy Prologue (install the Personal Quarters section onto your ship)

-The Sacrifice (complete Apostasy Prologue)

-The New War (ongoing)

Avoid all spoilers like the plague, they are best experienced fresh. There are also several stand-alone Quests well worth checking out for some interesting NPC character development and world-building, the best of which are:

-The Glast Gambit (talk to the leader of the Perrin Sequence after completing The War Within)

-Octavia’s Anthem (talk to Cephalon Suda after completing The Second Dream)

-Vox Solaris (talk to Eudico in Fortuna, the open-world area of Venus)

-The Deadlock Protocol (complete Vox Solaris)

4. If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around power progression, it’s best to think of Warframe this way: if it were a traditional MMO, your Mastery rank would be your character’s level, your Warframe and weapon loadout is your spec and the Mods are your gear. Mastery tracks how much of the game you have completed: how much of the map you’ve unlocked and all the characters and weapons you’ve collected. The levels on your Warframe and weapons track how much you’ve used them. But if you’re looking to see how powerful you are, it’s all about the Mods you’ve collected and upgraded.

See, if you go to the Market and browse through the weapons, you’ll notice some have Mastery rank requirements but none of them have item levels, saying specifically “this is a level 100 gun, it does more damage than a level 50 gun” and such. Sure, some guns will certainly have better stats than others, but that’s only their baseline strength; with the right Mods even the lower-tier weapons can feel absolutely badass. That means...

5. Collect and experiment with as many weapons and Warframes as you can. Keep your favorites, sell off the duds. Not really feeling the starter bow you picked up? Craft an assault rifle or shotgun. Want a spicier sidearm? Try something like the the Sonicor, which fires concussive blasts that ragdoll enemies, or the Atomos, a pocket flamethrower. Like swords but want something a little bigger and crunchier than your starting Skana? Get your hands on a Galatine and cleave away. For the vast majority of the weapons and Warframes, choosing what to equip is not a question of power, but variety, finding what speaks to you and what you enjoy and then upgrading the hell out of it. This isn’t Destiny where your favorite gun will get “evergreened” out in a year or two, you can keep upgrading it and putting better Mods on it from one content patch to another, and if you’re getting a little bored with it, you can experiment with new weapons that are different from your old favorite, not strictly better. Don’t worry about what’s optimal until you get to the super, super endgame-level content, find what’s fun for you and use that.

6. If you’re really enjoying the game, strongly consider paying for, say, $20 worth of platinum, the real-money currency. 90% of the game can be played for completely free; you can certainly put money down to speed things up, but all of those weapons and Warframes and ship add-ons and items can be crafted completely through in-game resources. Platinum is only necessary for two things: buying cosmetics and trading with other players, as platinum is both tradeable and a good universal currency for measuring the value of items. This is an instance where you should put some cash down not because you have to, but because it supports the developers, who put some insane amounts of time, care and passion into their work. Get $20 of platinum, buy yourself some cool cosmetics or weapons, everyone wins.