If you haven’t heard of Warframe you hardly alone. The game has had little to no publicity over the last few months and everyone I talk to about it hardly even knows what it is. It’s sorely in need of some buzz so I thought I’d spend some time talking about it here. It’s a 1-4 player coop online game with some cool shooting and hack-and-slash gameplay. The premise is that you are a super awesome, badass, space ninja and you have to
slaughter everyone infiltrate various space ships belonging to some inexplicably evil space army. It reminds me a lot of Vindictus, another 1-4 player coop hack and slash game and, like vindictus, the gameplay is less based on dice roles and more on your actual performance.
The first thing everyone always notices about Warframe is it’s great visual appeal. The shaders look great and the levels are always filled with a kind of metallic glow. Objects have brilliantly glowing highlights of green, red and orange. Combat is similarly visceral with dark showers of blood offset by bright tracers and electric sword slashes. In short, the game looks great and at least for now, the visual appeal is enough to keep the game fresh.
The great visuals are backed up by punchy and satisfying combat. At first your sword slashes won’t do a whole lot of damage, making slashing at an enemy for 5 seconds a common occurrence. However with multiple Tenno running in circles through a group of enemies, hacking and slashing, not only gives you quicker take downs but also makes you feel like a badass ninja. And that’s always a plus. You can also charge up your slash for a heavy strike, which is pretty much an instant kill for everything but bosses. The fun part is timing the strike for the moment you run past an enemy neatly bisecting him while you keep up constant movement. The firearms are just as fun. Each one has a satisfying, punchy sound hat give your bullets the feeling of real impact. That’s a plus because this is a coop game and it’s going to be asking you to spend a lot of time doing battle with the AI. If the combat isn’t satisfying and deep there really isn’t a whole lot else keeping you playing.
Other online coop games like Vindictus and Alien Swarm often run into the problem of making player repeat the same levels over and over again. In Vindictus you did it for the grind and in Alien Swarm you did it because it was fun to have each of your friends relying on each other for their chosen roles. But after enough runs through, no matter how much fun, the game starts to get boring. Warframe makes an attempt to sidestep this problem by giving you a different level every playthrough. perhaps I haven’t played the game enough to ware each of the levels out but at least for now it seems like it’s adding a little lifespan to what might have been boring.
Well that’s all good stuff but there is a lot here that could use some serious work. I’m not talking about the usual closed beta bug stuff either. I’m talking about actual problems that I think need fixing if this game is going to last.
First off, (and I know this is a usual complaint from me) the story sucks. It’s as if someone looked at the Grey Fox from Metal Gear and said: “You know what would be awesome? If the Konami let you play as the Grey Fox instead of Raiden in that one mission from Metal Gear: Solid 2 that MGS fans still wont stop bitching about. Lets make our game that.” For the record you can find the full breakdown of the story here. As if that wasn’t brief enough though, I’ll give you an even briefer rundown here: There was a war once. Veterans of that war have been hanging out in cryo-sleep ever since. Now there is an evil empire called the Grineer. Why are they evil? Because they talk in grunts and look ugly, I guess. A cyborg lady known as the Lotus has woken you up and told you to fight them. Her presence has even less explanation than that of the Grineer. For all I know I could be some cyber-ninja terrorist attacking the Grineer to sew carnage and terror. The Grineer have done nothing to me except look menacing. It saddens me because there is a real spark of greatness here. There’s the makings of something really good. But it’s just that: The makings, nothing more.
The game also lacks any real team play. Something That I’m sure is going to hold them back in terms of replay-ability and community focus. Alien Swarm only ever had one full campaign but it had players replaying it over and over again because it was fun to take up roles on the team. On top of that every player wanted to try what every role was like. In Warframe you can’t really take up a team role. Each character class plays differently but there isn’t really a well-defined role for each one. They just kill in different ways. It means you aren’t having to rely on anyone for any part of the level. That’s great if you want to play alone but I really think it’s going to detract from the community.
There are a few other things I wanted to complain about but this is getting to be a little more negative than I was planning it to be. The game is pretty good and in spite of all it’s faults I’m having a blast playing it. Neatly bisecting a Grineer marine is incredibly satisfying and there’s some real meat backing up the awesome visuals. But the game is nowhere near where it needs to be if it wants to make a big splash in what is an increasingly crowded market.