Storefront artwork, featuring four of the game's various playable Warframes, including Excalibur, Ember, Loki, and Rhino respectively from left to right
|Platform(s)||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
Warframe is a free-to-play cooperative third-person shooter video game developed and published by Digital Extremes. Originally released for Microsoft Windows in March 2013, it was later ported to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. In Warframe, players control members of the Tenno, a race of ancient warriors who have awoken from centuries of cryosleep to find themselves at war in a planetary system with different factions. The Tenno use their powered Warframes along with powerful weapons and abilities to complete missions. While many of the game's missions use procedurally-generated levels, newer updates have included large open world areas similar to other massively multiplayer online games. The game includes elements of shooting and melee games, parkour, and role-playing to allow players to advance their Tenno character with improved gear.
The concepts for Warframe had been in place at Digital Extremes since 2000 under the name Dark Sector. The company reintroduced Dark Sector in 2004 in preparation for release on the upcoming seventh generation consoles but could not find a publisher due to its theme. Ultimately Digital Extremes released a game called Dark Sector in 2008, far different from their original plan. By 2012, looking at the success of free-to-play games, the developers took their earlier Dark Sector ideas and art assets, to present it as Warframe.
Initially, the growth of Warframe was slow, hindered by moderate critical reviews and low player counts. However, since its release, the game has experienced positive growth through development by Digital Extremes over the years. The game saw around 38 million players in 2018 and it is now one of Digital Extremes' most successful titles, with it receiving a large chunk of developer attention through the introduction of new game content and modes. The game is supported by microtransactions, which lets player purchase in-game items for real money that would otherwise normally be obtained through grinding.
Set in an extremely far future, players control the members of the Tenno, a race of ancient warriors who have awoken from a century long cryosleep to find themselves at war with the Grineer, a matriarchal race of militarized and deteriorated human clones built upon metal, blood, and war; the Corpus, a mega-corporation with advanced robotics and laser technology built upon profit; the Infested, disfigured victims of the Technocyte virus, a reference to Dark Sector and the Sentients, a race of self-replicating machines returning from a stellar system known as the Tau system after being driven back centuries ago in an ancient war. To fight back, the Tenno use remotely controlled bio-mechanical suits to channel their unique abilities – the eponymous Warframes.
All of the factions encountered in the game, including the Tenno, were created by or are splinter groups of the old Orokin Empire, an ancient civilization and former reigning power in the Solar system that was led by an elite caste of trans-humans known as the Orokin. Although most of them are long dead by the time of the Tenno's awakening, their lingering presence can be still be felt throughout the Solar system.
Warframe is an online action game that includes elements of shooters, RPG and stealth games. The player creates their Tenno character, which includes a basic armor unit called a "Warframe" which provides the player with special abilities, basic weapons (a melee weapon, guns, and sidearms), and a ship. Through the ship's console, they can select any of the available missions to them. A main storyline set of missions requires players to complete certain missions across planets and moons in the solar system, to be able to access relays that they can progress to other planets or locations. Other missions rotate over time as part of the game's living universe; these can include missions with special rewards and community challenges to allow all players to reap benefits if they are successfully met. Aboard the ship, the player can also manage all other functions for their Tenno, including managing their arsenal of equipment, customizing their Warframe and weapons, crafting new equipment, and access the in-game store.
Missions can be played alone or with up to four players in a player versus environment cooperative manner. Each mission is given a ranking that indicates how difficult the mission is. Missions are generally played on randomly generated maps composed of "tiles" of map sections. Missions have various objectives, such as defeating a certain number of enemies, collecting data from terminals without activating alarms, rescuing prisoners, or defending points on the map for set periods of time. Newer updates have added space-bound combat using Archwings, and a large open-field environment where numerous bounties can be completed. Players can use their weapons, special abilities, and a number of parkour style moves to navigate through and overpower forces within these missions. Downed players may choose to revive themselves up to a maximum of 6 times, or can be revived by other players an infinite amount of times. Once complete, players are rewarded with in-game items, as well as in-game currency and items picked up while exploring the map; failure to complete a mission causes these rewards to be lost. In addition to cooperative missions, the game includes player versus player (PvP) content through the multiplayer "Conclave", which also rewards the player for placing high in such matches.
Players and their equipment also gain experience and level up from successful missions; equipment with higher levels can do more damage and support more "mods", special cards that can be slotted into the equipment to change its attributes or provide passive bonuses and abilities. Mods are dropped by enemies during missions and may be part of the rewards, and are generally given out following a rarity distribution, with more powerful mods being more elusive to acquire. Alongside mods, players have other means of improving their equipment, including conditional upgrades called Arcane Enhancements and Riven Mods, weapon-exclusive mods whose weapon, buffs and stats are determined upon unlocking. Another type of reward are equipment blueprints, which can be used to construct new Warframe parts or weapons; blueprints and their resulting equipment may also be purchased directly using in-game money called Platinum. Players need to have specific quantities of construction materials (found from missions and their rewards) to build these items.
Warframe is designed to be free-to-play, and has avoided using any pay to win elements; all Warframes, weapons, and other equipment is possible to acquire in-game over time through grinding, though monetization can simplify the process. New weapons, Warframes, equipment, and blueprints to construct such equipment can be purchased in the market, using either Credits earned in-game, or Platinum, a premium currency that can be purchased via microtransaction or traded for with other players in-game. Platinum is also required to purchase additional enhancements, such as arsenal slots for Warframes and weapons, as well as items that enhance the mod capacity of gear. Though, there are some cosmetic items that can only be obtained through in-game payments.
As Dark Sector
The origins of Warframe came out of Canadian studio Digital Extremes' original vision for their first original game, Dark Sector. Prior to that point, Digital Extremes was known as a work-for-hire studio, working alongside other studios to help complete development; this included working with Epic Games for Unreal Tournament (1999) and its sequels Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament 2004. Epic had looked to bring Digital Extremes into their studio, but found there would be issues with the Canadian government that interfered with the merger, and the studios agreed to go their separate ways.
Wanting to establish themselves as a lead studio, Digital Extremes came up with the idea of Dark Sector, which they first announced in February 2000, describing the game as combining "the intense action elements of Unreal Tournament with the scope and character evolution of a persistent online universe". In early interviews, Digital Extreme said that the gameplay for Dark Sector would have had players as bounty hunters and assassins in a dark science fiction setting, with each character having a bounty on their head, making them targets for other players.
The studio used their vision of Dark Sector to try to secure a publisher, but this only led to more offers for work-for-hire. The company remained quiet on Dark Sector for about four years, re-announcing in early 2004 a revised Dark Sector, now to be a stylish, science-fiction single player experience with stealth elements inspired by the Metal Gear Solid series, and a story they considered a mix of Metal Gear Solid and The Dark Crystal set in space, within a larger setting like that of Frank Herbert's Dune universe. Much of the game's art style was informed by the French artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius. The player-character, belonging to a race called the Tenno, and enemies would wear high-tech suits that would give them unique abilities. This re-announcement included a scripted demo to show their vision of the game's gameplay and graphics. The game was announced just as both the first consoles of the seventh generation, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, had been teased, and Digital Extremes started to look for a publisher to release the games on these platforms. The game received a good deal of attention from its video, including coverage by CNN on the upcoming console generation.
Digital Extreme's creative director Steve Sinclair spent about a year on the road following the re-announcement of Dark Sector to find a publisher, but most rejected the idea; Sinclair said most publishers were not impressed with the science fiction setting, and instead encouraged them to change the setting to modern day, within World War II (which was popular at the time due to the Call of Duty series), and even the American Civil War. When Sinclair returned to the studio, they tried to rework the setting, even trying a superhero genre, without luck. Matters were complicated as they were also attempting to develop their own engine, the Evolution engine, to support the game and the new consoles, switching away from the familiar Unreal Engine. Ultimately, Digital Extremes dropped most of the science fiction elements, and moved the gameplay towards a more Resident Evil survivor-horror approach. Digital Extremes did keep one element of the original concept for the released game, that being the protagonist named "Tenno". The Dark Sector released in 2008 was far different from their original vision. Dark Sector received average reviews, and was not a major financial windfall for the studio, leading them back to doing work for hire over the next four years, including BioShock, BioShock 2, Homefront and The Darkness 2.
Around 2011, Digital Extremes were finding themselves struggling for work-for-hire contracts. While the studio had been forced to issue some layoffs, they were still at about 250 people at this time. Looking again to develop their own IP and to try to take advantage of the growth in free-to-play games, Digital Extremes looked back to the original Dark Sector concept from 2004 and looked to develop it as a free-to-play game. This decision was made in early 2012, and required the team to create a prototype within one to two months, as Sinclair and Digital Extreme's CEO James Schmalz were going to shop the game around to publishers at that year's Game Developers Conference in March 2012. They took several assets from the abandoned 2004 concept, and developed this as Warframe. At GDC, Sinclair and Schmalz found publishers still cold on the idea: Western publishers were not keen on the science fiction setting, while a large unnamed Korean publisher warned him that they would "fail" as Western developers did not know how to properly support free-to-play games with quality content. Another concern raised by these publishers was that Warframe was based on player-versus-environmental gameplay, which differed significantly with other free-to-play titles at the time that were mostly player-versus-player. Disheartened, they returned to the studio and decided that they would publish Warframe on their own. They built out a playable version of the game, at the time known as Lotus in about nine months. Alongside this, the studio developed the necessary server architecture to support the game and the microtransaction system they had envisioned for it.
Release as Warframe
Warframe was publicly announced in June 2012 with its closed beta launched in October 2012. Player feedback helped to refine the game's structure. An early change in the beta in early 2013 was their monetization scheme to avoid pay to win scenarios. For example, initially, each warframe had a skill tree that the player could unlock completely through missions and gaining experience. An extended version of the tree was available if the player augmented the warframe with an in-game item, then only purchasable through microtransactions. When players complained about this feature, they stripped the pay to win elements and adopted the mantra of keeping the game as free to play, requiring that players did not have to spend any money to get an item within the game. To support the game, they borrowed the idea of offering for sale "Founder's Packs" that would grant in-game items and currency, an idea that had been successfully used on Kickstarter projects.
Digital Extremes found it difficult to get attention from the press as around 2012-2013, free to play games were typically shunned by game journalists. Unfavorable comparisons had been made to Destiny, a highly-anticipated title due out in 2014, that also tarnished Warframe's presence. Coupled with low player counts, Digital Extremes were not sure how long they could continue supporting the game. However, Digital Extremes found they had a small but dedicated group of players that latched onto the title, buying into the game through Founder's Packs, telling their friends about the game, and interacting with the developers to provide feedback which was integrated into the game's design. Further, they discovered that when popular streamers like TotalBiscuit covered the beta, they drew more players to the game.
The open beta for Warframe launched in March 2013 for the Windows platform, with the game available from their own server systems. Warframe was released at the same time that the studio was also completing development for the April 2013 Star Trek game to tie into the release of the film Star Trek Into Darkness. The Star Trek game was critically panned, leading to financial hardships at the studio and forcing them to layoff developers. Warframe itself was not a critical hit with gaming publications, receiving average reviews; as IGN reviewed in 2013, the game was "fun, but a little bland". Digital Extremes was planning to release Warframe for the PlayStation 4 as well, but that console was not available until November 2013, so to try to get more players, they decided to offer the game on Steam, which further grew the player base. Some days after the Steam launch, Digital Extremes had been able to start drawing in enough funding to maintain the viability of the studio.
Once the game turned profitable, Digital Extremes found themselves in the position of needing to generate content for the game to maintain its audience. Because they retained their 250-person staff throughout this process, they were able to expand upon content quickly, and soon hired in another 250 developers for Warframe. Community input was critical for Digital Extremes for new content and improvements. One major change after release was an update to the game's movement system, titled "Parkour 2.0" that was released in 2015. They had found before this, players discovers ways to rapidly traverse levels by a trick known as "coptering" using specific weapons, warframes, and upgrades. Though Digital Extremes had considered these movements to be game-breaking and considered removing the abilities altogether, they realized players liked to have exotic moves like this available to them, and thus created the Parkour 2.0 system that, while reining in how extensive these moves could be, fully supported the type of ninja-like movements that players wanted. Another example was a brief additional that allowed players to spend a small amount of the premium in-game currency Platinum to get a random color that they could use for customization purposes. Players reacted very negatively to this, as some found it would take a large amount of Platinum to get the color they wanted. Digital Extremes removed this random factor and instead added means to purchase such customization options directly. The company has also avoided the use of loot boxes that other free-to-play games are often criticized for.
The studio had found it important to release new content regularly to keep a stream of income from the game. They were also faced with the problem that to understand all of Warframe's systems required some commitment by the player, and players that felt it was too much would washout after a few hours. This led to them investing more into the player community to keep them up to speed while helping players understand what the game's systems offered. This included starting a weekly developer video games "Devstream" on YouTube hosted by community manager Rebecca Ford (who also voices the in-game character Lotus), starting a fan convention called TennoCon, and working with Twitch.tv as a partner to promote certain streamers and offer Warframe rewards within the game.
In 2016, Digital Extremes was acquired by the Chinese investment company Leyou. Leyou since provides necessary funding for Digital Extremes to grow, but has little influence on the direction that the developers take Warframe.
"The Second Dream" expansion
On December 2015, Digital Extremes released Warframe's first cinematic story quest, "The Second Dream". This quest features prominent characters from the game and introduces a new faction, the dreaded Sentients. Also, and most importantly, The Second Dream serves as an "Awakening" to the Tenno's true nature, as more than a mere Warframe, more than human, "but once a child, like any other". Completion of this quest grants access to a new game mechanic named Focus and allows the player to enter the battlefield as themselves, temporarily, through Transference. During Transference, the Warframe is temporarily deactivated (Provided the player isn't using Excalibur Umbra), and a spectral form of the Tenno themselves enters the battlefield, channeling one of five Focus Abilities, depending on which of the five Focus Schools the player chose during the quest's events.
"The War Within" expansion
On November 2016, Warframe's second cinematic quest was released, titled "The War Within". This quest sends the player on the chase for Teshin, the master and overseer of the Conclave, as he is seen suspiciously gathering Kuva from the pods of the newly awakened Tenno. Tracking Teshin across the solar system leads to the discovery of the Kuva Fortress, a massive asteroid under Grineer control where the (so far only known as a legend) Twin Grineer Queens reside. The Queens are shown to have their origins as far back as the Old Empire, and Teshin is revealed to be a Dax Soldier, meaning he was under their command due to them being of Orokin origin thus gaining the ability to wield the Kuva Scepter. The Queens cause an overload on the connection between Tenno and Warframe, forcing the Tenno to seek them out themselves, slowly discovering their Void powers. On the mission's climax, the Tenno unlocks Transference (which replaces Transcendence), an ability which allows them to roam independently of their Warframe at will, weakens the Elder Grineer Queen and has the option to kill her or "Let her rot", since all Grineer bodies decay over time due to excessive cloning. This quest also introduces an Alignment system to the game, with possible options being Sun, Neutral and Moon. This alignment has so far not had any consequence in gameplay, leaving its purpose unknown.
"Plains of Eidolon" expansion
An update to the game in November 2017, titled "Plains of Eidolon", added an open-world area to the game. The Plains are a semi-open world, initially accessible through a "hub" named Cetus, a settlement on Earth where a people named the Ostrons reside, then directly through the player's ship. As the game describes them, the Ostrons are "A tight-knit band of hucksters and merchants." This expansion added Warframe's first open-world experience to the game, the ability for the player to gain reputation with the Ostrons, side-activities of fishing and mining, a Bounty system, consisting of five missions of ascending difficulty, where the player can choose to play any mission they would like regardless of whether the previous ones have been completed, a new quest named Saya's Vigil which rewarded the blueprint for the warframe Gara, more customization options for the Tenno's combat pets, Kubrows (dogs) and Kavats (cats/ocelots), and the ability for the Tenno themselves to wield their own modular weapon, called an Amplifier, or for short, Amp. And another modular blade called a "Zaw". Finally, the "Plains of Eidolon" offer a new series of boss fights to the game, the titular Eidolons. These Sentient-origin titans require extreme gear and in most cases teamwork to take down for unique rewards.
"The Sacrifice" expansion
An update to the game in June 2018, titled "The Sacrifice", added the third cinematic story to the game. Following on the events of Warframe's previous cinematic story quests, The Second Dream and The War Within, The Sacrifice sends the Tenno on a hunt across the solar system for a rogue Warframe known as Umbra. This quest provides insight on Umbra's past, the ability to gain Umbra into arsenal after the quest's climactic point, and information on the origins of the Warframes themselves, answering multiple questions, but creating even more. The Sacrifice also features the Alignment system introduced in "The War Within".
The next expansion, "Fortuna", was released on PC on November 8, 2018. The update focuses on the titular Fortuna Solaris Debt Internment Colony, which serves as a hub for the game's second open-world map, Orb Vallis. The people of Fortuna (known as the Solaris) were enslaved by a Corpus known as Nef Anyo which uses ancient Orokin devices that made gallons of coolant for the Workstation and trade center on Venus. The area expands upon concepts introduced in Plains of Eidolon, along with new activities, and the ability to obtain a hoverboard-styled vehicle known as a K-Drive. This update also adds more modular items such as a plasma pistol called a "Kitgun", and a robotic companion called a "MOA".
Digital Extremes started the Warframe closed beta for Microsoft Windows on October 24, 2012. Since then it has had several versions and hotfix releases, and open beta was launched on March 25, 2013. A PlayStation 4 version was also developed, and was released at the console's launch in November 2013, while the Xbox One version of the game launched on September 2, 2014. The PS4 version was ported to Japan on February 22, 2014, followed by the Xbox One version on September 2, 2014. A Nintendo Switch version was announced in July 2018 and was ported by Panic Button, and was released on November 20, 2018. The various versions of Warframe do not support cross-platform play, as Digital Extremes said they currently lacked the capability to keep all platforms updated simultaneously. However, with each console release, Digital Extremes provides a temporary window to allow players on Windows to copy and transfer their accounts to the console version; these become separate accounts that progress separately on Windows and on the console.
Warframe received "mixed or average reviews" on all platforms according to the review aggregation website Metacritic. GameZone's Mike Splechta said of the PlayStation 4 version, "If you already enjoy games like Monster Hunter which require you to farm for items in order to craft better ones, Warframe follows that very same formula, except with much more satisfying and faster paced combat." However, as of 2018 PC Gamer said that "Warframe's growth doesn't resemble a well-tended plant—it's more like a mutant science experiment. Game systems are haphazardly stitched onto one other in ways that are sometimes incoherent, but oddly charming all the same."
The game is among one of the most-played games available on Steam. Digital Extremes attributes the success of the title to the frequent updates they are developing for the game and the game's fanbase. Digital Extremes describes the game as a "rogue success", as the game is able to secure and sustain a large number of players without gaining significant attention from other people. More than 26 million players had played the game since launch by April 2016, and by March 2018, five years from its open beta, had reached 38 million players. In July 2016, Digital Extremes launched its first Warframe-dedicated "Tennocon" in London, Ontario, an event that drew 1000 players, where they announced news of upcoming features and updates to the game. and has since run the event annually.
The game was nominated for "Best Ongoing Game" at The Game Awards 2017, and won the People's Voice Award for "Action" at the 2018 Webby Awards. It was also nominated for the "Still Playing Award" at the 2018 Golden Joystick Awards, and for "Fan Favorite Shooter Game" and "Fan Favorite Fall Release" with Fortuna at the Gamers' Choice Awards.
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