UPDATE: While our review of Warframe primarily focuses on the PS4 version that served as a launch title for Sony’s console, with simple impressions of the PC version as well, Warframe has recently seen a belated release on Xbox One. As a result, we have updated our review to include an additional section before the final verdict, detailing impressions of the belated Xbox One release.
Back this past Summer, a respected game developer in my home city, Digital Extremes, extended me a gracious invitation to be invited into their office for a tour and subsequent interview with community manager and voice actress, Rebecca Ford, regarding their free-to-play opus, Warframe. It remains my largest Eggplante feature to date. The occasion was a fantastic day, and I loved being able to say hello to several of the game’s developers while enjoying a friendly, diligent office atmosphere, and of course, meeting Rebecca, who is quite an amazing person!
This is on top of having the outstanding honour of being the first (and still possibly only) journalist to actually be allowed to interview the studio on their home turf about one of the more promising free-to-play games on the market right now.
Over the course of that interview, Warframe was chatted up as having the privilege of being a PS4 launch title that Sony themselves pursued with passion, with the game being exclusive to PC in an open beta state at the time. Following my tour and interview, I kept an eye on the game’s porting and development press, and made sure to download it right away when I brought home and plugged in my new PS4.
So, if Warframe garnered such a following on PC, even in an open beta state, how did its transition to a console actually fare, particularly as a next-gen console that Digital Extremes had obviously never worked with before?
Well, against all odds, on new hardware that marks a strong PC idea’s first migration to a home console, a type of platform where freemium models are especially feared and hated, Warframe truly is a pleasant surprise! The game is remarkably well-realized on the PS4, and still stands as one of the better free-to-play games that a more serious core gamer could actually enjoy!
It’s not perfect however, particularly since some of the nagging problems of the original PC release still remain in the PS4 port. With that said, the PS4 build of Warframe is noticeably cleaner and more polished than its original PC build, on top of being surprisingly well-optimized to the console right from the get-go. It’s a more complete and worthwhile product that is at least worth a try for new PS4 owners, especially standing as what is so far the PS4’s most enjoyable online co-op experience!
On PC, Warframe looked solid, but it did have a few blemishes. The corridor-filled level design had a tendency to look repetitive and overly-similar, and the bloom lighting was pretty excessive.
Sadly, on PS4, these issues largely remain. The corridor-filled level design is still repetitive and occasionally difficult to navigate without a heavy dependence on minimap markers, and the bloom lighting is still rather obnoxious. While you could tweak a good chunk of these visual elements on PC, you’re given less options to alter the game’s visual fidelity to your liking on PS4 as well.
Beyond that however, Warframe ranges from passable to good-looking as a PS4 game, even if you will notice some occasionally dodgy effects that look like they belong on PS3, not PS4. Some of the character models, and particularly the custom player character Warframe designs look detailed and striking. Some of the environmental textures feel a bit patchy though, most noticeable during the prologue cutscene when only half of outer space seems to be rendered clearly. For the most part however, Warframe is never bad-looking on PS4, even if it can be a tad visually uneven. Despite that, some of the lengthy load times between play sessions can be a pain in the PS4 build too.
Another potential issue is that enemy varieties tend to repeat themselves as much as the level backdrops do, particularly with how often you’ll be facing the same legions of Grineer, Warframe’s most frequent alien antagonists. They look very disposable, which may be the point, but the enemy variety is wanting in terms of both gameplay and style alike. I will say however that slicing them apart in some of the melee kills is done with precise and effective detail, whether they’re cut horizontally, vertically, diagonally or wherever, making blade kills extra satisfying. Players can give their Warframe a very distinct identity and style beyond their analog stick katana acrobatics as well, given the incredible amount of customization awarded for their suits, weapons and drone sidekicks, though it’s disappointing that enemies feel a lot more lifeless and homogenized, relying mostly on heavy numbers of the same indistinct models.
More impressive is how stably the PS4 build of Warframe runs, noticeably more so than the early PC release in particular. Even with a full squad of four players shooting and hacking their way through legions of foes, the framerate never struggles, and the action feels fast and fluid at all times. In a game with such an emphasis on mobility, this is very important, and I’m glad to see that Digital Extremes was true to their word in not compromising the experience and presentation in the move to PS4.
Like the level design, Warframe’s occasional bits of music tend to follow the same percussion-heavy pattern. It works well enough, giving Warframe its own style in comparison to many other sci-fi-themed games, which tend to rely heavily on orchestra, rock synth and/or dubstep, depending on the mood. The style of Warframe’s soundtrack feels slightly reminiscent of some of the early Halo soundtracks composed by Bungie, though perhaps a bit less bombastic and noble.
The resulting sounds of environmental feedback are well-realized, as is the sound of bounding across floors and walls before cleaving a hapless target with your katana, Ninja Gaiden-style! The more stylistic your kill, the more satisfying the sound behind it! Some of the guns especially can feel like they lack weight at times on the negative side, though the melee combat sounds appropriately intense and gruesome. You could say that Warframe is built for surgical precision over powerful immersion, and that’s fair enough.
The voice acting largely consists of lots of gibberish alien speech, usually from the Grineer, who speak a Klingon-esque language that signals you to their whereabouts if you’re playing solo and trying to go for some stealth kills. The Infestation are highlights among the audio of your foes, delightfully creepy insectoid-like abominations that give the same tense vibe that the Clickers gave off in The Last of Us.
I knew that Rebecca Ford was a key voice actor for Warframe, but it’s her voice you’ll actually be hearing the most, voicing a mysterious A.I.-like entity called The Lotus that guides the Tenno, the extra-terrestrial race that inhabit the Warframes players control. It was very cool (and a bit surreal) to hear the voice of someone that I had actually met and interviewed issuing me in-game orders and signalling to me that I was about to be ambushed by squadrons of evil Grineer marines, I must say. Her voice is under an intentionally fuzzy filter that makes her sound more creepy and foreboding, and the fact that she speaks out of the mic on the PS4 controller in Warframe’s PS4 version is a really nice touch!
Predictably, you’ll get the best audio experience out of Warframe when tougher foes with better weapons create huge combat scenarios, squaring off against a full team of four players with advanced weaponry, as opposed to a lone player with basic weapons. The sound mixing will no doubt be best on PC, but on PS4, the game still manages to capture a decent sense of intensity and atmosphere after you’ve spent enough time with it to take on its more dangerous challenges.
Warframe adopting a free-to-play model is a considerable risk, particularly in the desire to port itself to PS4, but, like Killer Instinct on Xbox One, this is a free-to-play model that’s better than most, and shouldn’t deter core gamers. Yes, the game still demands a hefty time investment if you want to try to get out of dropping cash, and some of its microtransactions can run you upwards of $100 in one fell swoop if you’re impatient, granted. I won’t lie, Warframe doesn’t totally dodge the stigma of seeming like it’s trying to psychologically goad people into spending money and not just playing for free.
Even so however, Warframe will entice fans to pay willingly if they really get into the game, since it offers plenty of cool means to customize your arsenal and Warframe, whether by time or by real-world spending. Should you not fear the idea of spending extra money, you’ll mostly be using funds to buy Platinum, one of two currencies in Warframe, alongside Credits, which are more frequently earned from fallen enemies and broken storage containers.
You’ll need quite a bit of Platinum to access better weapons and gear, along with invaluable EXP boosters that make leveling up your Warframe much less of a chore, and even after hours of play, Platinum is irritatingly difficult to get your hands on in large doses without forking over real-world money to get it faster. Digital Extremes has to make their money back somehow, granted, but in all honesty, I sometimes did find its free-to-play model a little bit aggressive past the early missions.
On the bright side, you at least have a good selection of diverse tools and Warframes to choose from however, especially since PlayStation Plus members are given a Starter Pack for free. You’ll easily drop upwards of $60 for just a couple of Warframes and some weapons, but at the very least, you can gradually build a sizeable arsenal that’s suited for any situation if you’re willing to spend, which can be further altered with Mods that can be picked up from fallen enemies, bought and sold through the in-game shop, and traded with other players. It just sucks that it costs so much to get the most out of the experience though.
Now, to be fair, I certainly wouldn’t accuse Warframe of throwing up pay walls. It is entirely possible to get through at least most of the missions without spending real-world money, so long as you have a very competent and fully-loaded team of three other players to assist you, and so long as you’re only planning on being so quickly ambitious with your progress. Yes, it is possible to get through most of the game’s missions without spending money, but in the toughest missions especially, trying to play for free will undeniably cripple you, even if you have massive amounts of free time and patience.
Even when you do pay for a new weapon or Warframe as well, immediately bringing it into a tougher mission is suicide. You’ll have to go back and play earlier missions to level it up (which is independent from your overall level), before your purchase is of any use in serious play. Granted, the Warframes have very cool different specialties, with a starter-friendly Excalibur Warframe being well-balanced, a Nyx Warframe that can confuse enemies and make them attack one another, a Volt Warframe that can use cool electrical attacks, and so forth. They’re useless until you break them in though.
In the early portions of the game at least, Warframe offers a very simple and fluid satisfaction however. It could easily be summed up as just running through a randomly-generated set of corridors while shooting and hacking apart aliens by yourself or with up to three online allies. Very simple, and very satisfying, with its over-the-shoulder co-op action and sci-fi flavouring no doubt reminding many of the multiplayer component of Mass Effect 3. Better still is that the controls fit the PS4 controller like a glove, despite originally coming from a PC game that you mainly played with a mouse and keyboard. It’s as if Warframe was always meant for console control to begin with.
The parkour mechanics also give the game its own effective flavour and appeal. Once you boost a Warframe enough and get good with the controls, you can turn wall-runs, flips and bounces into all sorts of nifty, stylish ways to dispatch your enemies, and look like a total badass doing it! In motion, and manned by a team of four skilled players, Warframe is very stylish and just as appealing to watch as it is to play!
Before long however, as cool as it is that you can incorporate parkour moves and powerful bifurcating katana slashes against your alien quarries, a bit of repetition does eventually set in when you find a preferred set of tools, especially when playing solo. There is a solid effort made to vary mission designs as you move gradually outward throughout the solar system, but even then, most missions simply have you following a dot on the minimap and killing whatever gets in your way. Again, simple and satisfying, but during extended play, even in a group, Warframe can feel like a grind before long.
Somewhat softening this issue however is the obvious appeal of playing with your friends in a fluid, fast-paced co-op action game, even if you do have the option of just having random strangers join your game. Amongst the PS4 launch offerings, Warframe offers arguably the best co-op mechanics, especially when the base game can be downloaded and played for free. Better still is that, being a free-to-play game, Warframe also doesn’t require a PlayStation Plus membership to play online, unlike paid PS4 games. This should make it easy to convince any of your friends that own a PS4 to at least try the game alongside you, even if lesser players will find their seasoned allies steamrolling ahead of them due to the leveling gap.
On the negative side, the free-to-play policy on PS4 also means that Warframe has no trophies to earn, one disadvantage that the PS4 port has over the PC original, which offers Steam achievements if you download it from Steam.
Fortunately, you could argue that Warframe is about making your own fun anyway, and not about fixed challenges. Not only are the levels randomly-generated within missions, but you’ll also get a noticeably different experience within almost any given mission if you go in guns blazing with a group, or try for a more stealthy, methodical approach by yourself, helping to offset some of the simplistic, repetitive gameplay.
Stealth-based players will be preferring to play solo as well, because it’s practically impossible to be stealthy in a group, particularly since there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason involved in when and how enemies go on alert. Stealth is thrown to the wind more and more as you proceed further with your missions as well, with the game not largely accommodating stealthy players in the long-term, since Warframe becomes more and more co-op-dependent as the missions get tougher. This makes many higher-end challenges almost unfeasible to complete by yourself, even if you’re somewhat overpowered, simply due to the sheer numbers and attacking angles of so many alien foes, which don’t really re-scale themselves for less than four players.
Warframe is fun, but it’s a game that almost bullies you into having its own definition of fun at times. If you’re not afraid to pay for Platinum and gear when necessary, and if you’re not afraid to bring a full group of friends whenever possible, then you’ll enjoy it fine for the most part. If you try to go against the game’s preferred way of playing however, forcing yourself to play solo, not spend money and minimize grinding, you’re going to be in for a more uphill experience. Not a bad experience, but one that’s noticeably more repetitious and annoying, not to mention time-consuming.
This is made worse by the disappointing fact that Warframe’s otherwise impressively detailed menus are a bit of a mess and could do with being more user-friendly. When I first entered these menus, I had no idea what any of them meant or where any of the options were. I eventually figured it out, but it’s another element of the game that demands a lot of patience. Even then, I’d sometimes run into issues with placing mods and the like, with the screen just beeping angrily at me when it didn’t like something I wanted to do, yet never explaining what’s wrong.
Warframe’s free-to-play model and insistence on Mass Effect-esque RPG elements can sometimes make it over-complicated, especially considering that it’s a game founding itself on such a base desire for both fluid hack-and-slash and shoot-’em-up action in equal doses. It can be an acquired taste from a gameplay standpoint, and there are times where it will feel like a slog, a problem that exists on PS4 as much as it does on PC.
All things considered however, it’s difficult not to enjoy the fast-paced acrobatics and diverse death-dealing tools when massacring evil aliens with your friends especially, even if the game is undeniably skewed towards playing with others over playing solo, and demands more and more grinding over time for those unwilling to pay for better enhancements and Platinum more than once.
Warframe has more of a premise than an actual storyline for the most part, almost presenting itself the way an MMORPG would. It establishes a universe and a conflict, and then lets players make their own experiences within said universe and conflict. That’s fair enough, though Warframe is ultimately an age-old story about aliens fighting aliens, mainly setting itself apart with its nimble, acrobatic space ninjas.
The basis of the game goes that players control Warframes, ninja-like alien exoskeletons inhabited by a once-dormant race called the Tenno, which have been revived from cryosleep by the mysterious entity, The Lotus. The Tenno are the best means to take on the imperialistic designs of the space marine-like Grineer and cyborg-like Corpus forces, as well as the victims of some form of space pathogen called The Infestation.
That’s about it.
It gets the job done, and there are some hints of interesting lore peppered throughout certain missions and menus, as well as the obvious speculation that comes with the mysterious agenda of The Lotus.
These are all perfunctory story elements that exist in other games however, and it all simply stands as a thin excuse to have players kill lots of aliens as a space ninja. I’m not complaining, but I certainly wouldn’t advise sci-fi fans to go into Warframe expecting any kind of fulfilling narrative experience.
Warframe saw a slickly-produced and well-optimized initial console release for the PS4, but while it’s the same experience, with some welcome gameplay rebalances and updates already in place for its Xbox One build, there’s no getting around the fact that the optimization on Xbox One feels noticeably more poor.
The game’s controls feel great when played with an Xbox One controller at the very least, but you’ll need to toggle the controller sensitivity more than you would on PS4. To add insult to injury, the PS4-specific flourishes, such as the use of the touch pad and light bar, are predictably absent in the Xbox One version of the game.
If anything really drags down the appeal of the Xbox One version of Warframe however, it’s the bugs, most of which are not present on PC or PS4. Freezing bugs are more common than they should be on Microsoft’s console, sometimes forcing hard resets of your Xbox One, and occasionally, certain bugs will inhibit your access to the game at all, as if the parental controls aren’t letting you in. Compared to the PS4 version, this kind of stuff is very sloppy, and it suggests that Digital Extremes didn’t really care about realizing the game well on Xbox One.
On the bright side, you get a full achievement roster right from the start on Xbox One, and the game doesn’t require an Xbox Live Gold membership to play either, since it’s free-to-play. Beyond that though, Warframe should not be sought out on Xbox One unless you’re desperate for a new online co-op game to play with your friends on the console, and don’t have the option of playing on PS4 or PC.
Warframe has some flawed and uneven elements in the base gameplay, the free-to-play model and the presentation, and many of these flaws unfortunately linger in the PS4 port. The PS4 version may feel noticeably more complete and polished, not going through the lengthy, awkward open beta stage that the original PC release went through, but it still comes with the same aftertaste of grinding and largely being dependent on playing with other people.
On the bright side however, Warframe is a surprisingly enjoyable free-to-play game when it lets itself settle into an action-packed groove, especially since you don’t need PlayStation Plus, or even any spending up front, to get a group of your PS4-owning friends and play together. The parkour mechanics are neat, the level of customization, personalization and style allowed to players is ambitious and impressive, and the little touches like the use of the PS4 controller’s mic for Lotus messages, the light bar to indicate damage, and the touch pad for special attacks goes to show that Digital Extremes put lots of effort into effectively optimizing Warframe for the PS4.
If you’re interested and are wondering which version is better, it’s really a matter of preference, as they both play pretty similarly at this point. The PC version has been fixed up a lot since its open beta period, and some may prefer the increased fluidity of playing with a mouse, having greater means to play with the resolution, sound and other technical elements, or perhaps being given the chance to earn Steam achievements. If you prefer gaming on a console however, then rest assured that Warframe offers a polished and well-optimized PS4 port that is well worth your attention if you enjoy co-op shooters and/or fast-paced action games!
It’s still up in the air as to whether or not Warframe will come to Xbox One in the end, even as rumours persist, despite Digital Extremes denying to me directly in the Summer any plans for an Xbox One port of the game. It’s possible that circumstances will change, but not guaranteed. Still, if it is ported to Microsoft’s next-gen console in the end, the well-done PS4 port should stand as indication that a prospective Xbox One edition of Warframe would be handled well.
Regardless, Warframe is at least worth a look if you’re looking for a solid co-op experience and have the patience for it, especially since you don’t pay anything to give the game a try. It has some rough edges, and you’ll get a lot more out of the game if you bring your buddies and aren’t afraid to spend later, but ultimately, it really is difficult not to enjoy being a badass space ninja once you do get into it!
- Fun co-op action
- Impressive customization
- Well-optimized for PS4
- Repetitive grinding elements
- Unintuitive menus
- Microtransactions quickly add up