Warframe is free-to-play online action-adventure video game for various platforms. You play the role of a Tenno (essentially a space ninja/warrior) defending the world against numerous factions. Because the game is free, its revenue stream comes from players purchasing cosmetic items, weapons, and “frames” using a currency called “Platinum”. Such games rely on being engaging for new players because players who play the game are more likely to keep playing and therefore spend money; all of this is relevant from a UX perspective. I reflect some of my experiences that I had as a new player of the game. I originally posted this on the Warframe subreddit.
Hi everyone, I’m a new player and I’d like to report what it’s like as a new player to figure out how Warframe works and how it plays. I thought I’d write about this because I enjoy learning games. I’m also a user experience specialist so this kind of reflection just comes to me.
I wanted to find a new co-op PC game to play with my partner after I was done with Overwatch. We narrowed it down to Warframe (“space ninjas”) and Destiny 2. Eventually we decided on Warframe because posts online comparing the two described Warframe as having more RPG elements, which appealed more to my partner. We’ve both been playing games for a long time, but lean toward RPG and adventure games.
I’d like to highlight the following main stages and “ah-ha” moments for learning Warframe in roughly the order that we discovered them. We’ve been playing for 20 hours of missions (35 hours in the actual game) and have done about 120 missions together. We also know two friends who play and play with them as well; ironically, they actually didn’t introduce us to the game and we found out after playing for about a week and a half that they played. We’re enjoying ourselves, but I did have a few moments when I was like “I think I get what this game is doing” and wanted to stop. I’ll talk about this below.
Here are the main activities I really had to unpack.
- Basic controls
- Comprehending the game loop
- Story and the star chart
- Motivation and reward
- Getting Weapons
- Getting Warframes
- The social aspects
The game does a pretty good job with the basic controls in the introductory missions. I’m sure that this is pretty familiar to most players, so I won’t go through it too much.
There were a few things that I did not learn from the basic tutorial and had to learn them on my own, or from others:
- I learned by myself that crouch-slide and jump spamming accelerated your movement a lot. (In videos, I also see people forward jump a lot but I find it harder on my hand than slide-jumping).
- I learned from a friend (more about friends later) that bullet jumping dramatically improves the distance that you move AND you move in the direction that you face, which includes “up”.
- It’s much easier to melee than it is to shoot. Your melee does more damage, hits multiple enemies, and requires less aim. My partner realized this early and basically melees everyone. Apparently melee effectiveness goes down significantly later in the game but 20 hours in it’s still pretty effective. Unfortunately, this also made MR1’s test hard because it requires that you use your primary weapon despite the fact that the melee is probably more familiar to the player at that stage.
Comprehending the game loop
What I mean by “game loop” is the series of activities that you do in a sitting. In Warframe, it’s “go on mission”, “collect loot”, “go back to ship”, “upgrade your stuff”. There’s actually a lot to unpack here so I’ll go through it roughly in the order that I experienced it.
Story. Story is one of those things that gets you playing and keeps you motivated. You don’t know that much about the world after the first mission, but there’s enough of a narrative that makes you wonder, “What’s next?” Unfortunately, you figure out pretty quickly was that Warframe feels like it has no story. Now, I think this changes (apparently there are some really interesting story quests later in the game) but we’re 35 hours in game and there isn’t really anything to talk about, story-wise. That doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have lore – there’s plenty of that that we can see in the Leverian and Nightwave, which are nice touches.
Star Chart. For a new player, Navigation menu is extremely confusing because I literally didn’t know what anything was.
First, you don’t know what the destinations really do. I think we selected Cetus as our first destination and then realized pretty quickly that it was a town. We talked to Konzu and started the mission, but when it dumped us into single-player mode, we panicked and bailed. I think my partner got one-shot by mobs in the Plains of Eternity at night – later we reasoned it was probably Eidolon analyzers. Definitely not a great first impression. A similar thing happened with Fortuna. We went there but the single-player mission destroyed our MR0-ranked rear ends. I think we came back at MR3 to do it and it still killed me two or three times.
Second, there’s a lot of mission types and their purpose isn’t really clear. There’s the Conclave stuff (which isn’t explained), Ghoul purge, Invasions, Scarlet Spear (I still don’t know what this is), there’s some Voids (which the game eventually teaches you), there’s some bonus stuff for skins (we tried one but were too low level and died).
We did eventually figure out how to select missions on the star chart. and selected a few mission types to go on. Our first mission together was a Defense mission against the Grineer. Then we did one against the Corpus, which was actually pretty cool. At some point, we realized that there was a portal to Venus that you had to open up and that it had mission requirements. The game doesn’t tell you this. It would have been nice for the game to give you an initial goal.
Motivation and reward
As a new player, you actually don’t really know what the reward are yet. I think initially, it’s the fast-paced action. Parkour is a lot of fun and you quickly learn that you can fly around levels and kill things really quickly. However, that wears out pretty quickly as a reward in itself since most of the initial levels on Earth and Venus are pretty simple.
The next level to draw you in, then, is getting new stuff to play with. This is where the game can fall short with respect to a new player experience.
Weapons are difficult to understand. Though the game explains that there’s a Market, it doesn’t do a lot to explain what you can buy. It was through some confused exploration that we realized that you generally had to buy blueprints, craft items, and then you’d get to use the weapon. It was also through some exploration that I realized that some weapons (a very small number, actually) could be bought with credits. It does present to you the concept of Platinum early and it’s easy to figure out it that Plat is the “real money” currency.
At Mastery Rank 2, I recall looking at weapons and the only ones being available being the MK1-Strum, the Boltor, and the MK1 fist weapon. I was unfortunately misled by guides on the Internet that said that MK1 weapons were inferior, so I opted not to spend my hard-earned credits on them and instead managed to snag myself a Furis pistol. I also observed quickly that many of the weapons that you already used MK1 versions of (like the Paris and the Bo) couldn’t be crafted until much later in the game (more on this below).
It felt like a significant amount of variety of the game was being locked out. I think we had played for about 2-3 hours and I was actually telling my partner, “I think I understand this game, we can play something else” because I had been using my first Warframe, my first primary weapon, and my first melee weapon for the entire game so far. Imagine playing an FPS shooter and for the first few hours, only having access to one load out. In fact, 122 missions in, my most-used primary weapon is STILL the MK1-Paris (32.1%) and the MK1-Bo (45.6%). It would be a huge improvement in the game if it made it clear how you could acquire new weapons. It improved my interest in the game dramatically when I discovered how to buy a Furis and Braton at MR2 and then even more when I got my second rifle, the Boltor. There are only a few items that are easily craftable before you get to Phobos, which is a pretty limiting factor considering how many hours it takes before you get to that point.
Warframes are REALLY difficult to craft. Often, people say, “Don’t spend Plat on Warframes”. I actually wonder how many players who are brand new spend Plat on Warframes (or quit before reaching Venus) because the game makes it really hard to get Warframes without help.
I’m about 20 hours of missions and I still only have two warframes (Mag and Ember, which I got for free with Twitch Prime). I suspect that I would have quit the game by now if I didn’t get get Ember for free. My partner wouldn’t have been able to get a second warframe if it wasn’t for help from friends.. I think that this is a major gap in the new player experience: the fact that it’s so difficult to get your second Warframe. What about the common recommendations, though?
- Rhino. Often Rhino is considered the “first” Warframes. While you can get Rhino’s parts from Jackal, you can’t actually craft him until you reach Phobos because he requires Plastids. It took us about 10 hours to get to Phobos.
- Oberon. To craft Oberon, you require a control module and an Orokin cell. You can’t get a control module until you get to the Void, which, if I recall correctly, is just off of Ceres. That’s even farther than Phobos.
- Gara. Gara you can get from Plains of Eternity, but the higher-level bounties are challenging (level 30-40) and Gara also requires Orokin cells.
Are you really expected to use your starter Warframe for the first 10 hours of gameplay? For a while, the game was boring because the various missions weren’t really that challenging – it felt like you just either cut down mobs as quickly as possible or that you ran from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. However, getting different Warframes really changed that and it adds a lot of this “gotta collect them all” aspect in addition to the changes in the basic gameplay that’s a lot of fun.
The social aspects
As with many games of this type, the social aspects saved this. Specifically, the fact that we had friends who could help us probably singlehandedly kept us playing because they were able to provide the game variety that we were looking for by helping us farm for materials.
Our friends who played Warframe weren’t exactly low – something like MR13 and MR17. After my partner mentioned that she was bored of Volt, one of them gifted my partner Octavia, which totally renewed her interest in the game. They also helped us farm Orokin cells and Control modules (both are essential to craft Oberon, which is one of the earlier blueprints you can get), Nova, as well as nano-spores (for weapons). Suddenly, I had a new melee weapon and actual choices for primary weapons and the game opened up dramatically.
Now at this point some people reading are probably like “Duh, it’s an MMORPG, you’re supposed to make friends.” At the same time, very little about the game’s introduction introduces you to the social aspects. Since we were playing two player, we played with each other only and didn’t PUG any missions. The game doesn’t teach you how to use chat. When you get a message from other players in your Inbox, there’s no way to respond. Even if you become aware of other players and trading, it’s hard to become aware of how to ask players for help especially if it’s farming for materials (and many people don’t like asking favors of strangers anyway). Essentially, if you never go to capital cities, it’s possible to go through the entire game without seeing other players.
Warframe is a solid action game with a lot of lore and variety, but it’s buried underneath an overwhelming set of available activities that feel really monotonous unless you either figure it out yourself, or ask someone to teach you. I think that if the game did a slightly better job of making more variety available and introducing new players to the social aspects, it would really smooth out the experience for everyone. Once you get a good sense of how junctions and main story quest work, the player ends up being able to make their own goals and play the game how they want to, but it takes a fair amount of context and comprehension to get to that point. I acquired a mental model of how the game worked mostly through talking with friends and through some experimentation and talking it through with my partner.
I think we’re into it though. I just spent my first real dollars on the game and hopefully will be able to enjoy it for the foreseeable future even though there’s a long way to go to get where everyone else is doing stuff. If you enjoyed reading this and want to say hi, feel free to reach out. My name is “emeraldarcana” also in game. I’m trying to get more warframes now – tomorrow evening, I’ll have Nova and I’m super excited.