Bolstering the PlayStation 4's launch line-up are a number of free-to-play games, including Digital Extremes' Warframe – a third person action RPG, full of loot, levelling, and co-op chaos. It's a combination that immediately brings to mind something like Mass Effect 3, especially when you consider that the game also features a sci-fi setting with its own lore and alien races. Originally launching on PC earlier this year, the title arrives on Sony's system with every huge update already in place – although it's worth noting that it's still technically in beta. The question is: does Warframe deserve your time in its current state, or should you wait a while before suiting up?
You play as the Tenno, an ancient race of galactic warriors who are looking to put a stop to the evil alien factions that currently dominate our solar system – and that's really all there is to the game's story. There are bits of background information to be found here and there, like learning the origins of each relatively grotesque enemy race, but there's no concrete plot for you to follow. Your goal, then, is all about progression: saving up credits in order to buy better gear, killing hundreds of grunts and completing missions so that you can level up, and experimenting with equipment fusion to create more potent mods and abilities. All of these elements create a deep sense of customisation, but to get the most out of your Tenno, you're going to have to spend a colossal amount of time with the release.
And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. New hardware typically launches without a huge catalogue of software to keep you busy, and Warframe's sheer amount of expensive unlocks means that there's always going to be something to work towards. Of course, if you're willing to use real money in order to purchase gear, then you can cut down your time investment considerably, as expected of a free-to-play release.
However, the title does little to actually plead a decent case for the popular business model. Exchanging cash for platinum – an in-game currency that can only be obtained with real money – is outrageously expensive in terms of exchange ratio. For example, spending £7.69 will get you just 170 platinum, which is barely enough to even buy a couple of somewhat decent weapons. Meanwhile, you can grab 570 platinum for a whopping £22.99 – an amount that's just enough to buy two new character classes, or frames. It gets worse still when you realise that you can even cough up over £100 for a bundle of platinum and randomly assorted mods.
Fortunately, as previously alluded, you can acquire your bits and pieces without spending a penny, although even then, the release seems to try its best to make doing so as tedious and difficult as possible. To attain new frames, weapons, and mods, you have several options. Some can be bought directly from the marketplace with in-game credits gained from completing missions, but they tend to cost a small fortune, while others can only be found as random loot drops from slain enemies. But in order to get your mitts on exciting stuff like a new character class, you'll probably have to find or buy a blueprint, gather the materials needed to make it, and then wait until your shiny new toy is crafted, which takes twelve and above hours of real time.
It's a set-up that demands a staggering amount of effort if you're eager to see and do everything that the game offers, but even then, your level grinding and loot-finding skills may not be enough, as the title is rife with difficulty spikes. Missions are generally a standard affair, tasking you with eliminating every enemy or destroying a specific piece of machinery – and for the most part, you won't have much trouble against groups of lesser opponents, providing that you know what you're doing. But every now and then, you'll come across a mission that shatters that enjoyable sense of progression into tiny little pieces. Be it an incredibly beefy boss that deals out attacks which can kill you in one hit, or a level that sees you fending off waves of never-ending enemies, it's moments like these that make you wonder if it's worth spending so much time powering-up your character when it seemingly makes so little difference.
To even stand a chance in some of these tougher scenarios, you'll need to team up with other players who work well as a unit. Teamwork and knowing the ins-and-outs of your frame's abilities is the key to success, but unfortunately, most users don't seem to have a clue. Their apparent lack of knowledge perhaps isn't their own fault, though, as the release does almost nothing to explain even the basics of several important systems and mechanics. Things appear to start off well, as you're thrown into a tutorial level upon initially loading up the game, which explains the obvious controls of movement, shooting, and melee attacks. When it's done, however, you'll be left to rely on your own awkward sense of discovery.
You're told nothing about the radar that sits in the top left corner of your screen, or the icons that appear on it, making your first forays into different mission types little more than guesswork as you traverse the maze-like maps. Fusing together various mods in order to increase their effectiveness isn't explained either, as you mess around with cluttered menus and potentially use up resources that could have held more value elsewhere. Even buying new gear is a risk, as the marketplace gives you no option of comparing your current loadout to whatever it is that you're about to blow a huge sum of credits on. And this, really, is Warframe's biggest problem – it's far too complex and vague to be truly compelling.
It's a shame, too, as the title's gameplay is mostly enjoyable. Movement feels great, especially as you sprint from objective to objective like the cyber-ninja that you are, sliding on your knees while blasting mutant space marines in the face with your custom-coloured rifle. Likewise, shooting is standard, but as each successful shot lands, damage numbers pop up with satisfying frequency. Sadly, melee attacks don't fare quite so well, as controlling your weapon's swing is like trying to look in two different directions at once, due to the fact that your attacks' angle is based on where your crosshair is aimed. You can even adopt a stealthy approach, killing off enemies with deadly surprise offensives before they even have a chance to raise the alarm, although at times it's impossible not to be detected, given that some baddies will be staring right at you when you open a door.
On top of the generally solid fast-paced gameplay, arguably the best part of Warframe's combat is making use of your powers and abilities. As you may have guessed, your equipped frame determines which techniques you have at your disposal. All of your typical RPG classes are here, from the brute force build that deals out tons of physical damage to the supportive role, meaning that you're bound to find a frame that perfectly fits your playstyle – assuming that you can unlock it. To use your specialised powers, you'll first need to increase your level to the necessary threshold, and then equip them through another clumsy menu screen. The process is again more complex than it needs to be, but once you're flinging adversaries around with your mind or slicing through whole platoons at the speed of sound, you'll be glad that you made the effort.
Elsewhere, the release's aesthetics are also a bit of a mixed bag. The game's art direction is interesting, if lacking in personality, while the frame's designs are undeniably cool. Levels meanwhile have a tendency to look incredibly similar, but once you begin to progress further, you'll find much more variety as you're taken to natural environments and nicely-lit futuristic locations. On a graphical level, though, it doesn't do much to show off the PS4's prowess, with blurred textures and some annoying visual bugs, such as the camera clipping into the scenery.
When you're dashing and slashing with capable allies, Warframe is decent game – but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done before it can be considered a good one. The user interface isn't controller friendly, you're given little to no direction, and the title's free-to-play model hinders its overall design. Until these issues are rectified, we recommend waiting in the shadows for the release to finally emerge from its beta state.