Digital Extremes has been around for long time. The Canadian developer released their first game, Solar Winds, in 1992, and they’ve been going strong ever since. As the years have gone by, the studio has become associated with high profile projects such as Bioshock 2, and Homefront, but they didn’t become truly well-known until they were charged with developing The Darkness 2. Since then, however, Digital Extremes seems to have decided that a mafia boss possessed by shadow demons just wasn’t good enough.
No, the gaming world needed something different, which brings us to Warframe, a Free to Play title that features futuristic space ninjas called Tenno. Unfortunately, last gen consoles put significant restrictions on Free to Play games, meaning that glorious space ninja action was confined to PC. But things change, as they always do, and the release of the PS4 means that, for the first time, console gamers will be able to satisfy all of their space ninjaing needs.
Fans of the PC version will feel right at home in the PS4 version of Warframe, as it’s nearly identical. After a brief tutorial sequence that sets your newly-awakened Tenno at odds with the villainous Grineer, a race of rather silly-looking, space marine-esque baddies that are invading the galaxy, you’ll find yourself at Warframe’s star map. From there, you’ll be able to select missions relative to your level, upgrade your Warframe, and customize and upgrade your weapons and abilities.
You’ll spend a lot of time here, and thankfully, everything is very well laid out. Putting your cursor over a mission will tell you the optimal level range for completing it, the mission objective, and the types of enemies you’ll be fighting. It will also show you how many other players are currently playing that mission. Of course, you’re free to invite your friends, but if you don’t, the game will find other players to join you once you decide which mission to play.
The game will try to vary it up between missions, having you save a hostage here, assassinate a key baddie there, or even blow up a reactor, but the core of Warfare comes down to one very simple idea: you’re a space ninja, and you are going to kill things. Lots of things. Thankfully, Warframe knows that killing things as a space ninja should be fun. It does take a while to get used to the way the game controls on a console and many players will find that they’ll have to fiddle with the game’s FOV and sensitivity options before everything feels right, but once you’ve gotten everything in place, Warframe feels great.
Each Warframe comes with a primary weapon, which include shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, and even crossbows, a secondary weapon, often a pistol, and a sword, and each one feels great to use. Guns are loud and responsive, but the swordplay is the real star here, and there’s nothing like using a Tenno’s superior mobility to get close to target before cutting him into tiny pieces. Tenno also have acrobatic abilities, and it’s incredibly satisfying to catch an enemy with a jumping kick, or slide between a group of enemies, Max Payne style, while firing your assault rifle.
In addition, each Warframe comes with four unique abilities, which can be activated by making simple motions on the controller’s touchpad. I favored the Excalibur, which allowed me to blind and slice through opponents, but other frames might allow you to warp gravity, or attack enemies with energy blasts, and a large part of the game’s appeal lies within unlocking more Warfarmes and experimenting with these ridiculously fun powers.
The game’s visuals are just as good as the combat. The character models are especially impressive, and animate in interesting ways. Enemies will stagger or fall after taking a hit, and even basic actions, such as climbing over railings, are performed with added flair. It’s a shame, then, that the environments themselves are fairly bland, consisting mostly of long corridors separated by large, circular (or rectangular, as the case may be) rooms, though this is alleviated by the fact that missions pull from a fairly decent variety of maps, meaning that you may not play the same map twice should you choose to repeat a certain mission. Despite the lack of visual variety in the maps, however, Warframe is a good looking game, especially for a Free to Play title, and the game’s visual and audio successes go a long way towards selling the game’s setting.
The game also runs extremely well. I only experienced a few slowdowns in my time with the title, and they never lasted long, or happened when I was in a particularly vulnerable state, which is good as the game puts a large emphasis on working with you allies, often when you’re under extreme pressure. You’ll rely on them to save you when you go down, and you’ll often need to work together to open doors and clear large waves of enemies or explore map for upgrades, credits, and other hidden goodies. Thankfully, credits are shared between players, and individual upgrades, such as weapon mods, can be picked up by everyone, so there’s never any fighting over a piece of loot.
Completing missions earns you experience, for both your weapons and your frame, and will allow you to spend your hard-earned credits in Warframe’s shop. Of course, this is a Free to Play title, so everything can also be purchased with real money via platinum, the game’s premium currency, as well. While certain items, such as pets that help you in combat, daily revives, experience boosts, and the like are only obtainable by forking over real cash, they aren’t necessary, and many of the game’s most important items, such as new weapons, weapon, Warframe, and ability mods, and Warframes themselves, can be bought using credits.
Players who do opt to use credits will have to spend time crafting many of these items, meaning that you won’t have access to them instantaneously. Still, the system feels fair, and many of the best items can only be obtained by finding them in the game world and using the crafting system, so players who opt to limit their real money purchases still have a lot to look forward to.
And ultimately, looking forward to something new is the game’s appeal: the next gun you’re going to buy, the next new frame you’ll construct, the next mod you’ll find, or even the next level you’ll gain for using a weapon. As Free to Play games go, Warframe is about as good as it gets, and I hope more developers follow Digital Extremes’ lead as more and more Free to Play games come to consoles. All in all, Warframe is an addictive, well-designed title, with some great combat, and excellent co-operative play, to boot. What more could an aspiring space ninja ask for?
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.