It was way back in the year 2000 that Digital Extremes announced a new game entitled Dark Sector was in the works. This game was initially envisioned as a space-faring third person shooter where players would don a mechanical suit providing them with powers beyond that of the average soldier. As the development cycle of Dark Sector progressed, its plot, setting and story underwent a multitude of changes resulting in a game very different in almost every area of play from what had originally been planned. This game scored modestly well, yet became a “bargain bin” deal within a year of release. Many thought this was the end of the road for the franchise and to a degree they were correct, but only to a degree! When asked in 2008 about a Dark Sector sequel, Steve Sinclair, the original mind behind the concepts said the company had “nothing in the works at this time." Fast forward to 2012, and Digital Extremes announces a new title in development, Warframe, and a spiritual sequel is born.
Warframe is a free-to-play, co-operative third person action game revolving around many of the company's initial intentions for Dark Sector and released first for the PC, then PS4, and now finally, the Xbox One. You take the role of a Tenno (the protagonist in Dark Sector was named Edward Tenno, was he the original? Oh, spiritual sequels!) which are a group of - you guessed it - space-faring warriors savvy in the use of Warframes, which are mechanical full body armor that grant great powers specific to each suit. The Tenno were preserved in cryo-sleep and self-exiled into space after humanity lost the last great war. Awaking from that sleep, you start the game by choosing one of three initially available "Frames" for your Tenno.
Upon exiting cryo-systems within your personal derelict spacecraft you'll be greeted by “The Lotus”, a benevolent leader who has deemed this to be the time for Tenno to return. The Lotus will guide players along the game's storylines, the first of which will be finding parts to bring your craft back to full functionality. A charming ship AI named Odis, who has been victim to ages of system decay, will make humorous remarks and…not help in the overall missions whatsoever, yet he provides a great deal of comic relief in between. Once the ship is fully functional, a "Foundry" will be available for the creation of new weapons, frame blueprints and much more, given the player has collected all of that items required parts. The Armory is where players can upgrade and change most combat-based aspects of the game. A mission hub, codex and marketplace with weekly specials are also made available within this first foray into the galaxy.
Combat and the overall mechanics of this game are awe-inspiring in terms of their scale and execution. The graphical design takes inspiration from Dark Sector, the developers have expressed, as do the maps, and it seems the original vision of co-operative space exploration has now been realized. Players are given a limited number of revives per day, making it very important to stick with your squad of up to three other Tenno, should anyone get downed. When this happens, you'll enter "bleed out" mode, a timer will start, and your fellow squad mates will be made aware of their dying companion’s location. This mechanic works very well and the daily limit on revives helps enforce teamwork. Most combat is an equal mix of gunplay and melee attacks using your particular frame’s Ninja-inspired weapon. The gunplay is tight and requires serious strategy in higher-ranked missions. Tenno have a shield and health, and shields replenish while health does not. Both can be upgraded by level up as well as “rank up”, a feature available only once every 24 hours where Tenno take a test within a virtual dojo, tasked with defeating enemies using a particular weapon. Passing these tests is a joy while failing causes one to slump in shame, and wait another full day.
Enemies in Warframe come in the form of three rival Factions, each taking hold of their own chunk of our solar system. All planets eventually become available, as well as some moons and “dwarf” planets with 14 missions on each. In total, the game boasts an impressive 16 game types, making for a huge amount of variation. The Grineer Empire, a cloned cyborg race who attempt to overwhelm in vast numbers, are the galaxy's main threat. Lead by vile leader Vor (who bears a close vocal resemblance to Star Wars' General Grievous) they have taken control of the earth. A second faction, The Corpus, are in control of galactic trade routes. They have much more sophisticated firepower and exhibit more tact in their combat approach, assisted by robotic scouts. Lastly, The Infected are Grineer and Corpus who have been fundamentally altered due to the hive-mind Technocyte virus, harkening back to a similar plague from Dark Sector. Infected have great brute strength yet are lacking in their overall firepower . They also include “Ancients”, warriors in the final stages of metamorphosis that are much more of a challenge than their freshly-infected counterparts. Bosses require teamwork but more an understanding of strengths and weaknesses than anything. Most enemies have a challenging, yet not overly high amount of health depending on their faction and missions progress very smoothly and tend to have a standard rhythmic flow of progression across most game types. This is a fast and fluid combat experience, with maps sprawling over multiple floors and through entire complexes. Side rooms adorn every map and provide you with lockers to be opened as well as computer consoles which can be "hacked" through a time-limited puzzle system, resetting enemy awareness when successful. Radar sensors and alarms will raise this awareness level if triggered and significantly increase the amount of enemy resistance.
Warframe has two distinct types of currency. Credits are earned through normal play, while platinum must be purchased and provides quick access to features one would otherwise have to forge using acquired blueprints and materials. There are also many items that are exclusive to platinum purchase, so you will have to spend real money to get them. At any given time, Tenno have three weapons which all level up as the warriors themselves do, bringing us to one of Warframe’s most novel features - mod cards. These cards are dropped in battle by fallen enemies, and are specific to either your Tenno warrior, one of the three weapons carried, or to companions. Companions in Warframe are AI robots and domesticated wildlife such as the “Kubrow”, a Pig/Dog like creature that will act as a loyal bodyguard, and have various traits given it’s breed and mods. As a Tenno levels up in each of these areas, the number of cards one may equip will increase. Mods can affect nearly every aspect of combat and similar mods can be combined to make more powerful cards. Tenno can be completely colour customized as well, providing each member of a squad with a unique look. Squad matchmaking is nearly seamless and never frustrating, teams of equal level and who are on the same area of mission progress will automatically be found and filled in very little time - and at that point you can then decide to continue with your current squad, or find entirely new players.
The Warframe galaxy is one of vast exploration and expansion. New limited time missions with greater rewards will appear on a regular basis and developers have laid out a system for releasing constantly evolving story content. Although comparisons can be made to other co-operative shooters, Warframe has more than enough novelties to set it apart from other games in the genre. Thus it seems Digital Extremes have at last been successful in the pursuit of a concept nearly fifteen years in the making. Our time with the game has in no way been brief, yet so much remains to be explored. Community events, an evolving storyline, clans, and the sheer number of missions and locations will keep us returning to this space opera on a regular basis for months, maybe even years to come.