Cody ponders the purpose of an open beta test...
Wonderful. Another ‘open beta’ for another online shooter, that’s currently being featured on the home page of Steam. I can almost hear the marketing team now: ‘Yeah, let’s spend a bunch of money promoting our BETA TEST on Steam, so that millions of people who aren’t beta testers get a chance to see an unfinished version of our game and write it off forever.”
It’s silly, really. I mean, either your game is ready for launch and you launch it, or it’s not ready, and you keep it in a closed testing environment until it is - in the case of Warframe, it isn’t, and with an open beta ‘soft launch’, developer Digital Extremes have simply let their audience play a version of their game that they shouldn’t have ever seen.
Which sucks. A lot. Because, between the closed beta and the open one, some great changes were made that drastically increased the quality of the experience. A few more months and they might have had it close to perfect (and probably will - right at the moment when everyone’s already decided they don’t want to play it anymore).
Warframe could be really enjoyable game
I want to go on record here and say that I really enjoyed my time playing Warframe. It’s a great entry into the free to play world, because it’s so very different to just about everything else around it. It’s basically a story-driven single player shooter, with a cooperative mode that allows up to 3 other players to join your game. It’s gorgeous, innovative and plenty of fun to boot.
It’s just that... well, it’s not finished. Playing it at the moment is a little like ordering a full English Breakfast, but only getting a sausage and a few clumps of chunky mash. You KNOW there’s supposed to be an egg in this plate, and a hash brown, and a good serving of beans - and you KNOW that the mash should be smooth and buttery, but it just isn't what they gave you.
So, after you’ve created a character, played through the tutorial and completed a few missions - right when you start to realise that, while epic, things are starting to get a little stale - instead of pointing out the epic combat mechanics, dynamic cooperative gameplay and innovate stealth mechanics - you’re instead left wondering why the visuals are tearing, why no matter how many times you try to stealth past a group of enemies you’re always left with the same alarm siren alerting the entire freakin’ base to your presence, and why no matter how many different players and warframes you try to combine, every match seems to turn into a frag-frenzy lacking tactics, discipline and strategy at every turn.
Progression saves the day?
Fortunately, where the gameplay mechanics and lack of variety fail to maintain attention, the progression system, which works by asking players to kill bosses to collect blueprints (or buy them with real money) and components from throughout missions, and by combining them to create new weapons and warframes keeps players hungry for more.
My guess is that it’s because of the epic visuals in Waframe; the warframes, which act something like a class, offering a set of unique abilities and enhancements, are some of the coolest looking alien-tech beings I’ve ever seen. From Ash to Ember, Excalibur to Rhino, there’s a warframe that’s sure to suit the visual and gameplay tastes of most players, and increasing their level and decking them out with new weapons is about as addictive as it’s ever been.
Big world, little variety
I think the thing that excited me most about Waframe when I first booted it up, months back in the closed beta, was the map selection screen. It’s a map of our solar system, with each planet representing a series of available missions. It offered the promise of variety; a promise that, sadly, wasn’t kept.
It soon became clear that, while different missions offered different objectives, they all looked mostly the same - dark corridor after dark corridor, each filled with tougher and tougher enemies that were either military, cyborg or alien - and by the time our team had advanced beyond Mercury, none of us really felt the urge to keep pluggin’ through.
I’ve done a little research and learned that there’s an Asteroid Base level design, and some kind of snowy tundra type, too. But, from what I could gather, that’s really about it, and it’s led me to believe that, while Warframe does indeed look and play like a retail shooter, it’s significantly less. That’s likely why it’s free. There’s enough cheap progression mechanics to keep you going if you’re into that, but the lack of variety and depth make it’s missing half of the game.
Corsual Conclusion: HardCORE
The fast-paced, frantic gameplay is definitely a staple of the hardcore gamer, and while the progression mechanics do have a scent of casual progression about them, it’s clear that as the difficulty scales players are going to need to work together in order to take down some of the tougher bosses.