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Digital Extremes crafted an amazing free-to-play, third-person hybrid action-shooter in Warframe. Technically the game is just a more polished up version of their 2008 outing Dark Sector, but the “polish” has turned the game into something for the ages, making it one of the most badass free-to-play games on the market right now.
The game originally launched last year to little fanfare but managed to grow a strong community based on the game's infectious lore and equally infectious gameplay. Basically, the story revolves around an ancient race of space ninjas known as the Tenno, who must serve and protect the interests of the galaxy from various overlords amassing their forces in the hostile alien races known as the Grineer and the Corpus. Simply enough, players in the role of the Tenno must don their Warframe bioskins (yes, the Warframes grow on the Tenno like skin) and sabotage, destroy, and disrupt the forces of the Corups and Grineer.
The very basic plot outline sounds like typical MMO fanfare but my goodness does it work and work well, mostly because it's set against the motif of space-Ronin without proper masters doing all that they can to save the galaxy. The game starts when the Excalibur Tenno is freed from his chamber while Grineer forces are trying to collect and breed their own Warframes from the Tenno race, and that's where players hop in and start kicking butt and taking names. The actual tutorial stage is short, sweet and simple and doesn't even begin to tackle some of the more complex elements of the game.
So how complex is the game? Well, the story is barebones, the dialogue is simple and the quests are all mostly repetitive and circulate around the same formula. What makes Warframe so complex and so badass is that the gameplay is just balls-to-the-walls awesome. You can wall-run (which isn't anything new), you can climb up anything you can reach, you can backflip off anything solid and you can shoot dodge like nobody's business.
The game also has a variety of melee weapons that offer very, very, very different styles of play. For instance, using the dual-bladed pole-ax is nothing like using a long blade, or dual daggers, or boxing the crap out of enemies with modified armored hands. Each melee weapon requires a completely different approach to the gameplay that's rarely seen in many games. The attention to detail in the combat is one of those added reasons why Digital Extreme's free-to-play shooter is so addictive and yet so versatile in its approach to a tried and true gameplay format.
But it doesn't end there... you can combine your melee combat with seamless transitions into special powers and abilities on a whim. Even more than that, you can transition from your powers and abilities (or melee combat) into shooting with your primary or secondary weapons with ease. For example, you can run across the side of a wall, jump off, split an enemy right down the middle with a sword (literally, split them down the middle Mortal Kombat-style) and then do a sideways flip and land a headshot while in mid-air, blowing the brains clean out of another enemy (and yes, you can see the brain particles fly if the graphics are turned up enough).
The above example isn't even a remote exaggeration but more like an under-representation for some of the absolutely mega-badass things you can pull off in the game. It's insane.
And did I happen to mention you can customize your weapon stats, affixes and abilities like a micromanaging RPG fanatic? Well, you can. You want to freeze enemies with every pistol shot? No prob. How about combine fire and ice together along with electrical damage so that they burn, freeze and then convulse on the ground in a single swipe from your warhammer? Sure can do. Increased critical damage for fast-as-a-fly instant kill headshots? Done and done.
While the game is as grindy as a butcher factory, the fact that the gameplay is fun more than makes up for it. Even more than this, all that fancy-schmancy Matrix-style, space-ninja stuff you can pull off isn't done to the effect of boredom. The game's difficulty scales like a crazy mofo. Instead of choosing a difficulty, the planets themselves work as the difficulty factor – the further out into the solar system you go, the harder it gets.
The best part about Warframe's difficulty is that the game isn't artificially difficult. Yeah, a lot of you know exactly what I mean. Saints Row, Call of Duty, Mercenaries, Just Cause and Uncharted are prime culprits of having difficulty that scales artificially, and by that I mean that the AI isn't smarter, it's just more of them standing around and shooting incessantly without missing. It's a cop-out on difficulty.
In Warframe the AI takes cover, calls for reinforcements, uses ship panels to lockdown areas or suppress players. It's difficulty done right and forces players to adapt cooperatively and get out of a situation using both skill and intelligence. Again, it's difficulty done right and this is just another reason why Warframe is so badass.
After fixing some of the mod cards, balancing some of the Warframes themselves and expanding the universe, the game has come a long way since launch and offers players a really unique free-to-play experience that's hard to find anywhere else. Maiet will have their work cut out for them in Gunz 2.
You can hop right into action on Warframe right now on PC, or wait for the holiday season and play the game completely free-of-charge on the PlayStation 4 as one of the prime launch titles for Sony's next-generation home console.
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