Digital Extremes

Warframe features cyborg ninjas power-sliding into gunfire, but free-to-play pricing can be steep

Warframe features cyborg ninjas power-sliding into gunfire, but free-to-play pricing can be steep

I imagine the pitch for Digital Extremes' free-to-play co-op third-person shooter, Warframe, was a game of stacking awesome things on top of each other. Why have your main characters be cyborgs when they could be cyborg ninjas? Why have them be cyborg ninjas when they could be shotgun-wielding, power-sliding, bio-tech cyborg ninjas in space? Warframe is a little repetitive right now - it's currently in closed beta on PC - but it's engaging, built on solid controls, and is crazy fun when you get some of the combos down. It's The Guyver meets Vanquish. Some people may not know what I'm talking about. Others are getting very, very excited.

What's in a Warframe

Warframe's story is bare, like most free-to-play games, but it's also coherent and provides adequate motivation for play. You are one of the few surviving Tenno, a race of legendary warriors who are being hunted by another alien empire, the Grineer. The Tenno are particularly remarkable due to their Warframe technology. Warframes are exoskeleton combat suits which transform the wearer into a durable, agile, powerful killing machine. You move using standard W, A, S, D buttons, with Shift assigned to sprint and Ctrl assigned to crouch. Those six buttons will be your bread and butter. Sure there's guns and swords you need to learn too, but the heart of Warframe is smooth movement across the map, stringing kills from target to target. This isn't a slow, cover-based military game that moves at the pace of a march, this is assassination runs with cyborg ninjas sprinting and performing parkour-like maneuvers. Sometimes it's fun just to run around and mess with the different combinations of jumping, sprinting, and crouching. For example, my favorite move is what I've taken to calling the “Slide 'N' Slice.” My Warframe charges straight at an enemy, closes to suitable distance, then drops to a knee, power-sliding like a ninja rock star. Pressing the sword key makes the Warframe spin in a circle, blade drawn. It's enough to cleave most enemies in half with a single hit. The Slide 'N' Slice is rewarding in several ways: It has a slick animation and deals major damage, but it's also slightly tricky to pull off, so it feels good to string together proper keystrokes. Nothing is loose or feels like it isn't responding well, and most important, it feels very ninja-y. Each Warframe comes equipped with several abilities to suit particular play styles. The Excalibur frame gives you the ability to dash forward with a single, powerful slash, jump three times as high, blind enemies in a radius, or launch javelins at targets. The Trinity frame can mark foes so that when the target is attacked, players who deal it damage leech life or energy from it. She can also transfer damage from herself to nearby enemies or allies, or even fully heal and recharge shields of allies. Using these abilities costs energy, so you can't just plow your way through the missions. Each mission typically tasks you with mowing down bad guys as you retrieve an artifact or disable a generator. You're powerful, but you're also up against incredible odds, and health doesn't regenerate. On harder difficulties, you have to be as smart as you are fast. The caveat to that is that you don't have to be particularly fast or smart on lower difficulties. There are only a handful of enemy types and most missions throw them at players ad nauseum. Since the game is online, it supports – and encourages – cooperative play, and I highly suggest grabbing whoever you can. It makes the trudge less… trudgey. Your Warframe also gains levels as you fight, as do your individual weapons. The more you use a pistol, for example, the more you can upgrade it. The more you use a Warframe, the sooner you unlock that frame's particular abilities.

Free-to-play gets pricey

Warframe has to make money. There's plenty of equipment, weapons, and frames to sort through, and you can purchase items via currency either earned in-game (Credits) or bought (Platinum). The tricky part on the part of Digital Extremes is hitting the sweet spot between making players satisfied enough with core game play that you like the game, but unsatisfied enough that you want to expand or expedite your experience with purchased items. You can purchase 75 Platinum for $5, 170 Platinum for $10, 570 Platinum for $30, 1000 Platinum for $50, or 2100 Platinum for $100. For some perspective, almost half of the Warframes cost 120 Platinum while the other half cost 225 Platinum, and one costs 375. Weapons fall within the 120 - 225 cost range. Currently, Warframe is missing the sweet spot of convenience and price. I want to pay money to get more frames to play with, but I don't want to pay $10 - $25 per frame, or $10 - $15 per weapon, or $5 so I can choose black as one of my frame's custom colors. Most of these items can be earned without having to spend a single dime, only a pair of pistols and the color extension require Platinum, but at the current prices, the pay options don't hold much appeal. It will take you significant time to “earn” most items through normal play. Warframe is also using a clever crowd funding scheme called the Founders program. The game is in closed beta right now, but you can buy your way in with one of four Founder tiers. For $20, at the Disciple level, you gain access to the beta and a nifty forum badge. For $250, the Grand Master level, you get access to the beta for yourself and 15 friends, unique skins for your Excalibur Warframe and two weapons, access to vote on upcoming features, and an in-game location named after your alias. Each level also comes with differing amounts of platinum. Again: Tempting, but the higher tiers are spendy. The game is still in closed beta so these prices may shift come open beta or release, but as it stands, these are some expensive toys you're looking at buying. Warframe is a lesson in taking the good with the bad. The story and missions are intriguing, even if they are placed within somewhat bland environments. The combat is satisfying, but enemies don't force the players to adapt quite enough. The store contains plenty of interesting items, but the pricing seems a tad high. The game is currently in closed beta, so many of these issues may be fixed or tweaked before launch. For now this is a fun, if slightly flawed, experience.