Warframe isn’t an easily approachable game, but it’s one that’s worth getting comfortable with.
[Editor’s Note: With Warframe’s release on Switch, we’ve taken a fresh look at the whole game in 2018. This review and score replaces both our original PC and PS4 reviews from 2013, and you can find our new Switch-specific impressions below. Read more on IGN’s re-review policy.]
There aren’t many games that make me feel as cool as Warframe does when I’m bullet-jumping through the air at breakneck speeds. While this free-to-play co-op shooter has wildly outgrown its original “space ninja” reputation since it first came out in 2013 – adding open-world areas, deep story missions, and even a hoverboard with a Tony Hawk-style scoring system – it’s the way it makes everything you do feel fast, powerful, and just plain awesome that keeps me coming back to its almost-endless well of loot.
Warframe is a dense game – a tangled ball of yarn made up of almost six years of updates, additions, system reworks, and content drops. Its different bits and pieces overlap and twist together in a way that can make it overwhelming to even think about trying to untangle it all, but it also means that there’s an almost inconceivable amount of deep and often extremely entertaining content to discover once you do.
Its fast pace and shorter mission structure can often have the same appeal as Diablo 3, rushing through procedurally pieced-together maps mowing down waves of enemies, collecting powerful items and crafting materials along the way. But varied objectives, enemies, and locations, coupled with non-stop waves of limited-time events and special missions, means there’s always some unique twist to that loop.
Warframe is a notoriously hard game for new players to get into, and it’s one you’ll absolutely need a wiki to play.
Constantly being pulled so many different ways makes Warframe a notoriously difficult game for new players to get into. Even after a few dozen hours, it can be hard to make sense of what missions you should be completing and what items you should be trying to collect. This is, for better or worse, a game that you’re going to need a wiki to play, as nearly all of the info about where exactly to find specific crafting components or blueprints isn’t directly available in-game.
Thankfully, Warframe’s player base is one of the nicest and most enthusiastic communities I’ve ever interacted with. The wikis available are insanely comprehensive and easy to use, and even just asking for answers or help in the global chat will often result in friendly players giving you a hand. Still, it can be frustrating to get an exciting new weapon blueprint only to see it requires a crafting material you didn’t even know existed and are dozens of hours away from acquiring.
Once I made it over that large hump of confusion and started setting clear goals for myself – get to the next planet, craft a certain weapon, complete a quest line – Warframe stopped looking like a tangled ball and started feeling more like a sandbox full of treasures waiting to be dug up. There are plenty of curated quests that offer set goals as well, but picking your own is vital to keeping your head above water in the ocean of stuff there is to do.
While the later-game quests have been pushing into plot and cutscene-driven stories more frequently (to great success, I might add), 99% of the time I’ve put into Warframe has been spent running through its halls looking for new stuff to gather – crafting materials, item blueprints, weapon mods, or one of its copious amounts of currencies.
Ninjas With Guns
Layer after layer of new systems has undoubtedly made Warframe harder to penetrate, but the actual run-and-gun (and slash and bash) gameplay is so dang satisfying that it’s worth digging into. The movement has been refined and rebuilt over the years into something that feels lighting fast and incredibly versatile. Meanwhile, every rifle, pistol, shotgun, bow, hammer, sword, whip, and blade fan feels distinct in how they handle, giving real variety to the weaponry you choose beyond raw stats. Pinning enemies to walls with the heavy-hitting Boltor is a very different feeling from the rapid-fire Furis pistols, just like slamming someone with the Fragor hammer is satisfying in a different way from slicing off limbs with the Heat Sword.
The battlesuits Warframe is named after let you flex your preferred playstyle as well, with each one representing a unique personality and theme. There are straightforward Warframes like Mag or Frost, which use magnetic and ice abilities, respectively, but also stranger options like Limbo, which can temporarily put enemies in another plane of existence, or Titania, which can turn into a tiny butterfly and zip around at rapid speeds.
However, I’d occasionally go whole missions without using those abilities at all, as they can sometimes seem either ineffective or like overkill depending on the situation you’re in. The healing abilities of Trinity are almost always useful, but moves like Mag’s Magnetize I pretty much only used against a very specific type of recurring boss. Choosing which Warframes to use and how to effectively harness their abilities is another thing that just can’t realistically be learned in-game.
Warframe is primarily a PvE game, so there’s a wonderful freedom in using whatever guns and abilities you find fun.
I do love that any Warframe can use any weapon combination, meaning you can mix and match what feels best to you. It also lets you go hard into one type of damage if you are facing enemies weak to it, or you can take new or under-leveled weapons along with maxed-out Warframes to quickly catch them up to your other equipment – similar to putting your weaker Pokemon at the front of the party before swapping them out.
Enemy variety is broken into distinct and interestingly designed factions, most frequently the militaristic Grineer, the tech-focused Corpus, or the ravenous Infested monsters. You kill most of them the same way – shoot or punch them a bunch – but each faction has special enemy units that can’t always be tackled so directly. Some will have bubble shields to wear down or weak points that need to be hit, and each faction has its own strengths and weaknesses to certain damage types and elemental effects. I really like that you always know what faction you’ll be fighting before a mission so you can prep accordingly.
Warframe is primarily a PvE game – there are multiple PvP modes with fan bases of their own, but they were never very interesting to me and never felt like they were essential – so there’s a wonderful freedom in using whatever guns and abilities you find fun. There are, of course, better and worse options, but you don’t really have to start worrying about min-maxing your loadout for pure power until you get into the significantly harder missions toward the outer reaches of the solar system map. That means if you see a cool Warframe that can breathe fire, you can make it your goal to learn how to get it, find its blueprint pieces, and then breathe some dang fire. It’ll probably take a long time, but picking and pursuing journeys like that is the point, and it was endlessly gratifying for me.
And if you are into min-maxing, the potential here is absurd. There’s a deep and rewarding well of number crunching for the dedicated to dive into, though again, that also makes it borderline hostile toward more casual players who want to take on the hardest fights Warframe has to offer without having to do tons of out-of-game research. Warframe’s convoluted weapon-mod system is often where people say “I don’t think I can play this” when I show it off to them, and not unreasonably so.
Every weapon type, Warframe, companion, vehicle, and more has its own set of dozens and dozens of mods to collect – usually stat boosts like increased damage, reload speed, or special elemental damage effects. Those mods can then be upgraded (using a special mod-only currency called Endo) and installed into an item’s mod slots to unlock their true power. Mods and mod slots also have matching polarities to take into account, and you’ll need a whole different (and very rare) item to change or improve those. It’s… a lot, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here.
Modding is pretty much mandatory, though, because most weapons and Warframes start extremely weak, and mods are the only way to actually make them worth using. Nearly everything you acquire starts at Mastery Rank 0, leveling up to Rank 30 as you use them and letting you install more mods. It’s not intuitively clear at the start, but having the wrong mods equipped can easily be the difference between breezing through a mission and getting annihilated outright.
Once I figured all of this out the mod system provided a wonderful depth of choice, letting me customize my playstyle around a certain damage type or weapon and allowing pretty much any item I wanted to use to be a decent choice with the right mods. Giving Soma Prime, one of my favorite guns, a mod for a percentage-based increase to its already massive magazine meant I basically never had to stop firing, and a mod for higher crit chance capitalized on that endless stream of bullets. Mods also mean that somebody who buys a super-rare weapon with real money (which, yes, you can do but really shouldn’t) usually still needs to rank it up and get the right mods before it’s any good.
Having your planned out strategy pay off is extremely rewarding, but I still wish mods were easier to deal with.
Of course, the importance and nuances of the mod system are never properly explained. Even after years of playing and plenty of time spent reading wikis, it’s a system I still don’t like fully engaging with – I often use the option to auto-select my mods, then make tweaks based on what it suggests because the mod menus are cumbersome to navigate. I’m glad the automating option exists, as otherwise it would have completely overwhelmed me early on.
Thankfully, a more actively curated modding approach is only really required when you hit the wall of a mission that’s too hard to beat. At that point, I’d dive back into the wiki and figure out what type of weapon damage my enemy was weak to, what guns and Warframes might be best against them, and what mods I needed to upgrade to buff those choices. Shining moments where a well-laid-out plan pays off are extraordinarily rewarding, and make the mess of menus, currencies, and upgrades empowering instead of intimidating – but I still wish everything involving mods was easier to deal with and learn.
Playing with friends or finding a community within Warframe can help smooth this over, but it is actually fairly easy to play solo as well if you’d rather not engage with that side of things. With the exception of high level missions, as well as one objective that has you protecting four capture points at once, it’s fairly doable. Matchmaking is there whenever you need it, and I always enjoyed queuing into random groups once I got a handle on things – except for in certain stealth objectives, which felt too much like I was putting the mission’s fate in a stranger’s hands.
Some of the more structured story quests actually require you to play on your own as well, offering more bite-sized bits of story with special missions, fights, and rewards. For example, progression to new planets is often locked behind certain quests, and a lot of them revolve around the story of a specific Warframe that you’ll then unlock access to after completion. A larger plot with your character as the central protagonist has also been slowly unfolding through main quests over the last two years or so, and it’s filled with quality cutscenes and acting that I wouldn’t have expected from Warframe’s earlier missions. They are genuinely exciting and engaging, and I rush back to play every time a new chapter is added.
The quality of the quests overall is mostly positive, however they can be a little hit and miss. A quest called The Glast Gambit was painful to get through, forcing me to replay the same uninteresting PvP game mode against AI a half dozen times. But another called Octavia’s Anthem had one of the most clever and cool final bosses I’ve seen in any game, having you battle enemies while jumping around a giant musical instrument.
Thankfully, there are enough quests and other missions to keep you going for dozens of hours before running out or even having to be bogged down by a bad one, and even then you can be confident developer Digital Extremes is working on the next one. The studio’s support of Warframe is nothing short of incredible, standing as the gold standard for live games, let alone free ones.
Free-To-Play, Not Pay-To-Win
Warframe’s free-to-play model generally doesn’t get in the way of the fun either. Apart from the majority of cosmetics, pretty much everything can be acquired through playing – though unsurprisingly some of it will take you a significant amount of time and grinding to do so. But it’s hard to be too upset by that when updates are free, new story missions are free, and pretty much anything else that would make you feel like you might be missing out if you don’t pay is free.
Warframe’s model is a shining example of free-to-play done right, and rarely gets in the way of just enjoying the game.
The only place it really hurts is inventory space, which is limited unless you use a premium currency called Platinum to expand it. Like I said, Warframe is a game about collecting, and the restrictive inventory space is antithetical to that – you can only hold two Warframes before you need to buy more Warframe slots, but there are currently 59 collectible ones. For someone who doesn’t want to pay, that stings.
The silver lining is that those inventory expansions are relatively cheap (getting two extra weapon slots costs 12 Platinum, which is roughly less than a dollar) and are literally the only part of Warframe where it felt remotely necessary to spend money. You likely won’t even start to worry about running out of space for a few dozen hours. And if you really want to avoid paying, you can also take rare items you find and sell them to other players for Platinum in a trading hub to afford more slots – a method that works, but is fairly slow.
But Warframe has provided me with so many hours of enjoyment that it has never been a hard decision for me to spend money. I don’t ever spend Platinum on items or crafting materials because that would essentially be paying to not play Warfame – even the items that take a crazy-long time to collect all the materials for are supremely rewarding to finally craft with your own hard work – but you get an insane amount of content for no money. A couple bucks to carry more guns wasn’t a hard call for me.
The cosmetic options are also surprisingly expansive. There are a fair amount of base colors to choose from (with an absurd amount of different shades and palettes to buy with Platinum) and every piece of equipment has five different color areas to modify, in addition to adjustable decals, armor attachments, and fancy new helmets. Even without spending money, you can do a lot to define a signature look for yourself in what the community affectionately calls “Fashionframe.”
Warframe just has so much to do whether you spend money or not. Even if some of its missions and modes can be hit and miss, it’s extremely easy to ignore the stuff you dislike, focus on the stuff you do, and still have a near-endless amount of game to play. The newest addition, Warframe’s second open-world area called The Orb Vallis, is practically a whole game you could get lost in for hours before remembering there are more than a dozen other planets waiting to be explored.
Warframe’s Switch port has been extremely solid. Its graphical quality has been noticeably tuned down a bit relative to the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 versions, just as with other visually lush games ported to Switch (like Doom or Wolfenstein II), but it still looks surprisingly great and runs well. The framerate is locked at 30fps docked or undocked, but it seems to have held that extremely well in my time with it, with only slight slowdowns occasionally. And because Warframe is largely a PvE game, I haven’t experienced any annoying lag while playing on Wi-Fi (unless I’m connected to someone with a massive ping).
I appreciate that you don’t need the Nintendo Switch Online membership to play, and flat-out love that it can do voice chat by plugging a headset directly into the Switch in the same way Fortnite does – any game that avoids the terrible Nintendo voice chat phone app is doing it right. Unlike Fortnite, there’s no cross-platform play and no way to use the same account across different platforms, but neither of those issues are limitations of the Switch version specifically. It is notable that if you’ve been playing on PC you’ll be able to copy your account over to the Switch, though after that you can’t sync up your progress going forward.
The lack of offline mode does mean you won’t be able to play Warframe on the go, even while playing solo – which, unfortunately, undermines the major selling point of the Switch as a whole – but it otherwise feels right at home. I’ll always prefer a mouse and keyboard to a controller for Warframe (though it does have optional Breath of the Wild-style motion aiming with the Joy Con that has proved helpful) but it’s still undoubtedly one of the best free-to-play games available on the Switch.