By Jon Echeverria
Usually when embarking on a college career there are certain expected norms that come with the life-style. Textbooks, lectures, deadlines, exams , an overwhelming sense of dread as those deadlines and exams draw closer…, and for many – money. Or rather, the lack there of, as certain day-to-day luxuries take a back seat to the daily needs of a student.
But fun has its place too. So, as a gamer, what do you do if you want a little virtual escapism, but that $60 for a new game could be put to better use?
In comes the free-to-play model, or F2P. Essentially, it boils down to a free sample of a larger product. You can theoretically enjoy the game without spending a cent, but certain upper echelon content might be blocked off or the time-duration spent to progress in-game might be slower than those who have invested actual money in the game. If I could take the metaphor a little further, imagine a theme park with free entry. Only certain rides are available to free attendants, whereas paid customers get full access to all the park attractions and shorter wait-time in line. So, say the teacup ride is free but it costs $10 for Splash Mountain. If the teacups are your jam, then ride them all you want with the comforting knowledge of not having spent one red cent.
Now some of the best F2P games incentivize players with already existing quality content to purchase more content rather than nickel-and-diming them to death with hucksterism of a carnival barker. And with all the recent news of predatory business practices and other abuses of this model in full-priced games, I thought I’d take it upon myself to introduce readers to a F2P game that is as good, if not better than some $60 games in stores right now.
Warframe is not a new name. Indeed you may have caught a glimpse of it on storefront or two (Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Steam, etc.). But in those five years, the developer Digital Extremes has been hard at work putting a level of polish rarely seen in games of that same genre, even among competitors from much larger companies. One rival company, Activision’s Destiny, is already on its second recently released full-priced game in its series and is already losing player engagement by comparison. Digital Extremes is reworking not just graphics, but entire foundational mechanics like combat, locomotion, and level-design, all while consistently adding new content like new playable characters, weapons, and pets.
A roundabout non-sequel to Digital Extremes’ underperforming 2008 release Dark Sector, Warframe is set thousands of years in the distant future. Genetic manipulation, faster-than-light travel, and technological progress have substantially altered the landscape of the solar system. Earth has been consumed by untamed wilderness, Mars has been terraformed, and much of the solar system has been colonized. Cloning and cybernetic augmentation have left certain factions of humanity twisted and unrecognizably alien-looking. And war rages across planets between megacorporations and fascist martial states.
The player assumes the role of a Tenno, a centuries old warrior caste from a long dead empire, awakened from cryogenic slumber equipped with the eponymous Warframe, a suit of biomechanical armor designed to augment the wearer’s speed, strength, and cognitive abilities.
Well that’s about it for story set up. There’s more to be had for sure, and while the developer has left a lot in the form of world-building, the main narrative feels more like an afterthought, all taking a backseat to the gameplay. It’s fun gameplay, but questions like who you are, where you’re from, and what you’re fighting for never get fully answered outside of some light descriptive text and an occasional cutscene or two when you play story missions.
The first thing players will notice upon entering game is the elaborate detail in the game’s visuals. Taking elements from cyberpunk, space-opera, and Eastern aesthetics like anime, martial-arts films, and tokusatsu, Warframe blends it all together into something unique yet familiar through the use of tropes and archetypes inherent to those genres.