Sunday, February 2, 2014

Warframe - Windows/PS4 Game

I couldn't give something 100+ hours of my time without writing about it a little. 

Warframe is a free-to-play third person shooter that takes place in the far and very dystopian future of our own solar system. One takes the role of a "tenno" operative in trying to liberate technologies caled Warframes and bring balance to solar system battling against, and sometimes for the Grineer or the Corpus factions. To mix things up, they have space bugs called The Infested just to keep things lively. 

You are guided by The Lotus, a mysterious AI (?) that rescued you from cryo-sleep and the clutches of two rival factions. She often tells you where to go, what to look out for, and how to proceed during missions. She also arranges to have you tested when you've ascended to a new plateu of understanding called "ranks". 

The game is fairly simple to play from the stand point of controls until you come to realize all you are allowed to do in the world. You can climb sheer surfaces, run and slide under obstacles, and perform other feats of extreme acrobatics to mix with gunplay, melee attacks, and the powers of the Warframes donned to run the missions. In this way, navigating the game itself can become as complex as you want to make it, or as simple. 

The science fiction terrain and environments used are expertly rendered. I'll often pause in my pursuit of a space station's power core to gaze out a port at the planets, asteroid fields, and similar. Without giving too much away, the architecture around you is often a clue of where to go and what sort of dangers one might face. 

Stealth can play a role in the game, but more people seem to ignore it in favor of just shooting their way through to the other end of a mission. The Stealth component needs work as it is fairly arcane and not very apparent to the new player who would benefit most from it's use. It's only later in the game that one will have the means to pull it off successfully, but it's worth exploring. 

When the enemy is aware of you, they'll attempt to isolate or kill you by locking down the chamber you're in. Escape requires going to a terminal and hacking the system to escape. Hacking is a mini-game where one turns wire frames around to make them intersect in different ways. Needless to say, stealth can circumvent a lot of this hassle. 

Modifying weapons, warframes, and the tiny sentinels that are often your best ally is done through the use of "mods". In the game's interface they are respresented by collectable cards that one gathers during the course of clearing a node or completing a mission. These can be combined to improve their performance through a process called "fusion" or sold for credits one uses to buy a variety of things. 

Each warframe, sentinal and weapon has an interface where you can plug in mods. To that end you have a limited number of points that can be assigned, and each mod has a score for that purpose. There are ways to manipulate the points to your advantage through upgrades and setting polarities relative to your favorite mods. Where you put the mods in the interface relative to each other is important as well. 

Part of the fun of the game is in seeing how you can program a weapon or push performance out of a warframe with mods. For instance, I've modified a flame thrower to push out radiation or explosive gas instead of just fire. To the new player, the game can feel dizzyingly complex as they try to understand the interface and the meaning behind it. 

The new player experience is much the way games used to be. I think I'd been made soft by more modern games and MMOs that hold your hand through the process of character creation and indoctrinating you to the UI. The tenno you are portraying in the game awoke having no memory, and through the first twenty hours of play, I felt what my character probably felt, a deep frustration. 

There are two kinds of currency in game, platinum and credits. Platinum is what one purchases with real world money to speed up gameplay while credits is the in game currency one spends paying for blueprints, the fusion process, and other necessities. Most of what one can buy with platinum can be earned in game for free. The best things one can buy with Platinum are reactors for weapons and warframes, boosters for credits and affinity (XP), and aesthetic enhancements. 

If you want a weapon or a warframe, it's usually a simple matter to build once you know where to go and are armed appropriately. I haven't "paid" real money for a single war frame, and have been able to eventually build the tech I wanted. This isn't to say it was easy. You could easily spend five hundred hours trying to get everything there is to have in the game, and still come up short. 

Frustrations aside, the game is very high quality and communication between developer and customer is very high. The game changes regularly and there are events that mix things up as whole swaths of the system succumb to the Infested or war between the Grineer and Corpus. Personally, I played to explore the solar system and poke around in all the moon bases, space stations, ancient derelict ships and similar to look at the digital artwork sunk into the game. 

I think what's kept me coming back and playing has been the group dynamics. There are various modes of play allowing you to hook up with three other random folks, just friends, or run solo. I keep playing WoW for the group and raid finder options that let me drop in with a random group and try out different classes and options. Warframe caters to that even more because there are no tanks, DPS, or healers. Well, there are but these things aren't evident and are determined somewhat by a person's play style. 

Each Warframe has just four abilities amidst varying other statistics such as shields, health, armor, run speed, and similar. When you drop into a random "cell" of four warframes to complete a mission, unless you assembled the group yourself, you won't know who has what. I love trying to figure out how to navigate a particular mission best with a given group and find my place within depending on what I've chosen to play. 

Predictably, there are a host of people who lack imagination and just mash buttons. What I find interesting is that the game does not reward that sort of play very well. People who camp spawns or rely entirely on firepower are often having to be revived by their comrades or see their mission stats greatly increased. I've had the best results when trying to protect or cover others, working from a single direction, and being predictable. There is no friendly fire, but you can certainly get in your teammate's way and cause them significant damage. 

That being said, I've had very little difficulty with the Warframe community. The game being new and the new player experience being a little frustration has bred a curious group of mostly polite folks. I've ran into a few people that are a blight on the gaming community but not with near the regularity one does playing an established MMO like WoW. The revive system is pretty forgiving, but I marvel at how often people will rush to aid of a fallen member of the cell and almost get themselves killed trying to rescue them. 

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