Warframe Hands-On Preview
Warframe Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Digital Extremes
Pub: Digital Extremes
Release: TBA 2013
Players: 1-4
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p
The True (Free) Path
by Shelby Reiches

Credit card in hand, I’m eying the monitor, cursor hovering over one of the Founder packages. In my decades as a gamer, I’ve never yet put real money into a free-to-play game, viewing them as nigh-on throwaway experiences, playable only until the grind overpowers whatever fun I was actually having. It happened fairly early on with Hawken, which took a compelling concept and butchered it by sticking what little variety and novelty it possessed behind a blatant and ineffectual paywall.

But I’m looking at Warframe and thinking, “Damn, man. I could use some Platinum.”

There are frames I want to buy, new guns and melee weapons with which I want to experiment, alongside classics such as experience and income boosters, health packs and revival tools. I’m looking at pouring 50 dollars into a title that isn’t even out yet (still in closed beta) because I want to experience its depths.

Warframe Screenshot

But, on the surface, Warframe isn’t anything special. It’s a third-person shooter (notably: not a cover-based one) from the studio behind the eminently forgettable Dark Sector (also: The Darkness II and the upcoming Star Trek game). If that name doesn’t ring a bell, that isn’t too surprising. Dark Sector was an early Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation title that attempted to capitalize on the sudden popularity of Gears of War-style cover-based shooting mechanics. It involved a virus and Eastern Europe in ways that were never especially clear (nor particularly interesting), but its initial trailer had indicated that Dark Sector would be a sci-fi title with stealth elements. That’s where Warframe comes in.

Whereas Dark Sector was forgettable and sluggish, Warframe is slick and compelling, with fast-paced, white-knuckle combat. You’ll have to fluidly switch between ranged and melee weapons, carefully manage energy-demanding special abilities, and avail yourself of your ninja-esque movement capabilities to evade and slaughter enemy forces. The controls make this pretty intuitive, and have some neat, hidden combinations that infuse some much-appreciated finesse into the action, which would otherwise be fairly mundane.

It’s a unique tack, though. Warframe is a co-operative product, though you can play its missions solo if you so desire. The specific levels are randomized, but the overall thrust of any given mission remains constant, whether it involves defending a location or slaughtering every enemy on a ship. These missions are carried out against fairly predictable enemy A.I., but most enemy forces seem to make up for it in numbers.

Warframe Screenshot

Completing a mission rewards you (and your hypothetical partner) with experience for your weapons and frame, all of which level up independently. Frames possess a “long gun” slot and a “pistol” slot in addition to a melee weapon, though all three can be switched out between missions. Each level gained rewards you with a point to spend in the relevant weapon or frame’s skill tree. These can increase damage, health, or shields, reduce reload time, introduce or power up frame abilities, and open up mod slots, into which collected or fabricated mods can be slotted at a nominal credit cost.

Warframe Screenshot

More expensive are the additional weapons and blueprints for weapons (there’s a crafting mechanic in play as well, which normally demands a blueprint, time, credits, and materials obtained through missions), as well as blueprints for additional frames. Frames cannot be purchased outright for the standard credits, though, and must instead be bought with platinum, the game’s premium, real-money currency.

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