Or, How I stopped worrying and learned to love the ROBOT SPACE NINJAS
Warframe is a weird game. Not just because it’s a free-to-play loot driven third-person cooperative action shooter. Or because it’s the ultimate realization of a huge slew of concepts that were first introduced by Digital Extremes as Dark Sector back in 2004. Not even because this is a developer-published game betting it all on the make or break gold rush that this digital age has finally made possible. It’s weird, mainly, because there is something slightly off about its whole presentation that is difficult to pinpoint. It feels like the result of some small Korean MMO developer having a collaborative fever dream after binging on high-concept science fiction and Japanese anime, that later was taken at face value and made into a game. They seem to have crammed every awesome thing that kids raised in the late 80s – early 90s would’ve already creamed their pants over, and then chosen to play it completely straight. Right up until the point where they’re not anymore, and a boss you’re fighting starts taunting you with awful hammer related puns.
While the setting is supposed to be our very own solar system in the far flung future, they’ve managed to create a world that feels completely alien. The story, or should I say premise, (as there’s very little actual story taking place) seems intrinsically complicated, yet intentionally obfuscated, which lends an air of mystery to the atmosphere.
You play as the Tenno, an old warrior faction of humanity that has recently been awoken from centuries of cryostasis by a mysterious organization called The Lotus. They man the Warframe exo-suits to stop the advances of the Grineer and the Corpus who are warring over old Orokin technology, as well as control over the solar system. There’s also a fourth faction that are known as The Infested, who are Grineer and Corpus soldiers that have been infected by the Technocyte plague, a synthetic nano virus and a relic of wars past. The actual motivations of either faction are only hinted at, and apparently the Tenno themselves are conveniently suffering from memory loss due to the cryostasis technology, which only feeds into the aforementioned mystery and general weirdness that is Warframe.
Missions are divided amongst planets and moons within our system, and each planet have their missions named after various themes related to it, such as Mercury having missions named after craters on its surface, and Pluto with missions named after people and places from Greek mythology. You are continuously collecting materials, such as “rubedo”, “nano spores” and “neurodes” which you can later use to craft new weapons and Warframe suits in the Foundry. While many of the names for weapons, places and materials are based on highly relevant references to real things, the sheer amount of disparate influences makes it feel somewhat nonsensical and wholly otherworldly despite being firmly based on current science and mythology.
And despite how it may seem, I consider all of this weirdness to be good things. Above all else, Warframe is unique. The exceptionally cool insectile look of the Warframes, the ominously brooding and tribally influenced soundtrack, the clever mechanics of the tech-savvy Corpus, the interesting modification system that customizes your gear, and the unintelligible grunts, screams and shrieks from the various Grineer soldiers all paint an unmistakable picture of a clear, singular vision slowly being fully realized, one update at a time.
The possibility for Digital Extremes to develop Warframe on their own terms, with continuous feedback from- and communication with their passionate community of players, seems like the only way something like this could be pulled off. In this age of triple A multi-million dollar 5 year development cycles and an industry so bloated with feature checklists that you can only hope to get backed for something derivative, finding a niche audience with crowd-funding and direct to consumer development might be the only way to set yourself apart.
As of E3 2013, Warframe has also been announced for the Playstation 4, (by way of this ridiculously cool trailer) continuing the ongoing narrative of Sony’s emphasis on making their platform freely available to developers of all creeds. This, together with the multitude of innovative online features currently being worked into almost every future title, could possibly mark a first step toward an active and relevant MMO presence on consoles.
Even though it’s impossible to predict what all of this will ultimately mean for the future of gaming, it’s certainly a development I’ll follow closely. How we consume and support our media is going through some massive changes, and this is but one example of how the industry is moving away from the traditional developer-publisher model. While this game is still officially in beta (but really, what does that word even mean anymore?) I’ve currently logged about 80 hours of game-time in Warframe so far, and will pen a more in-depth article about what actually makes it worth your while. Until then, check it out for yourself at Steam or Warframe.com.