Warframe presents one of those rare cases where extensive community support not only lets a free-to-play game remain afloat for extended periods of time, but also enables developers to continuously add an expansive array of features. The game has grown dramatically since its initial release in 2013, though my first experience of Warframe occurred further in 2016 when it had a fully cohesive narrative, as well as the Archwing missions among other features. Consequently, looking at the game at the end of 2018 makes Warframe almost unrecognizable, since its growth over the last 2 years added an unprecedented amount of new content and improved existing features. Playing it just two years ago, I didn’t see either of the open world zones, half the currently available gear and a share of about 10 new quests I’ve yet to experience. Warframe is the fastest growing free-to-play shooter you can currently get, and oozes triple A quality throughout its striking game and visual design, which paired with its addicting progression make it a game you could easily sink hundreds of hours into.
Recently diving back into Warframe with its gigantic Fortuna expansion, I spent some time developing a new account and extensively unlocking every potential feature and piece of content to have been added since my original playtime. The new galactic map makes some of the biggest changes to UI and navigation, arranging a spread of diverse missions into a logical progression system. This means players now have a set of requirements to complete before they move on to the next planet, with travel relays restricted via a set of necessary to-do points, and can no longer freely hop between planets. The overhauled system works much better, however, and offers a much more involving progression curve beyond the gear acquisition at the center of the game. It isn’t the best in all cases though, and the crucial relay to Mars used to unlock a myriad of main story quests is placed behind the Plains of Eilodon open world zone. Until you complete its main objective, you can’t proceed, which for new players means a lot of struggle with attempting to take on level 20-25 Grineer. There is a certain restriction that comes with this galactic map design, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless by making progression much more involved.
Further, I was able to observe changes made to some of the storyline’s set pieces, where either environmental detail or a part of the quest has been altered since my first playthrough of Warframe. The game hasn’t advanced far in the visual department, but on highest settings it can look pretty spectacular in its diverse and fleshed out environments. Warframe takes players across the entire solar system where each planet can be visited throughout the long journey, and backgrounds really shine when you’re visiting each of the distinct locations. With a diverse arsenal of missions and a staggering quantity of gear, Warframe has enough to keep one occupied for hundreds of hours, and even then it’s hard to discover every single feature as you delve into post-story grind of acquiring the best gear available.
A huge selection of diverse weapons has always been a staple of Warframe, aiding to its character-focused progression, and the most recent state of the game doesn’t disappoint. There are far more weapons than I previously remember, and the diverse selection makes trying out new builds all the more exciting once you acquire new items. Your character can possess anything from giant battle axes to nimble throwing knives and a myriad of projectile weapons to dispose of enemies as efficiently as possible. The game’s central loop is still based on the familiar execution of instance-based missions, and won’t offer anything radically new, but it is the vast layers of content on top of it that are truly important. Warframe wouldn’t be here if its gameplay didn’t deliver the incredible satisfaction of fluid mobility combined with an arsenal of unique weapons to eliminate everything in your character’s path, and it is the notable improvements that have kept the game going all these years.
The Fortuna update brings with it a vast open-world zone titled Orb Vallis, located in the snowy mountain ranges of Venus, as well as a hub city of Fortuna where players will take on story quests to remove a local regime withholding power through debt. It has a familiar feel if you’ve experienced Plains of Eilodon prior to this expansion’s release, but for new players brings along an awe of seeing Warframe’s gameplay transition to an open-world design. The game works really well here, and doesn’t lose its identity in granting players freedom to engage in different tasks at will, although lacks a clear explanation of when exactly it’s best to access either of its vast expansions. Fortuna can be started around Warframe level 16, although some areas can prove to be extremely difficult during the early stages of the game. New players have to only unlock the Venus relay and complete two further missions to gain access to Orb Vallis, but I’d generally recommend starting Fortuna once you’re familiar with all of the game’s major systems. There’s plenty of those, and Warframe still lacks the clear means of explaining how some of its progression and upgrade systems work, which can be extremely confusing for new players as they try to learn layers of background systems around the simple action game loop.
Warframe will undoubtedly grow in scope even further, introducing more gameplay modes as well as further content. In two recent years, it has dramatically changed for me, introducing two vast open-world zones with further story content, more diverse gear and adjustments to its existing features. Fortuna is already expected to expand according to the developer, and take players further on a mission to liberate the city from vast quantities of debt, and will have players battle enormous robots. The success enjoyed by Warframe allows its creators to produce content at a faster pace, and deliver meaningful updates that dramatically change how its gameplay works while still retaining the central loop of acquiring diverse selections of weapons and gear. Plains of Eilodon and consequently, Fortuna, showcase the capabilities of Warframe to move beyond its linear instance-based PvE gameplay and into vast hub areas filled with diverse content to continuously keep players engaged in the game’s life. It’s progressed quite far in recent years, dramatically changing since the first time I experienced it in 2016, and represents one of the most striking examples in free-to-play gaming of a title that continues to grow consistently over the 5 years into its life cycle.