Almost a decade ago (6 years), with the pockets of your average college student, I rummaged through the Steam store looking for some shooting action. My only requisite: It had to be free.
I was broke, and playing video games was the only way I knew to channel my frustration at being turned down for such glorious jobs as cashier for McDonalds and “Sandwich Artist” at Subway.
Then I found Warframe. Warframe is a third-person action shooter that’s like Dead Space meets Ninja Gaiden. I watched the trailer, and I got the wiggly gigglies in my tummy. It looked incredible. Space ninjas hopping around and flinging bullets and blades at baddies? Hell yeah. “For free?” I scoffed as I mashed the install button.
Then as I lumbered through the first few missions like a half-dead table tennis champion, ping up the wazoo, my euphoria transformed into dismay. “Is Warframe pay-to-win?” I thought, and in my heart, it was so. Warframe had to be pay-to-win. I was playing beginner missions, and I seemed to be the only beginner. Everyone had more frames than me, better weapons than me, yet all of them were presumably at the same level as me.
Then I learned. You can buy just about everything in Warframe with real money. Before I knew it, I was mashing uninstall as quickly as I’d mashed install. It really colored my perception of free-to-play games. Microtransactions, in my mind, were ruining video games, and what a shame too. Warframe had a lot of potential.
Fast-forward to now. I’m sort of in the same place I was in college. I left a decent paying job to reset with some friends. The money well ran dry quickly. Freelance work isn’t always reliable, if you want disposable income to spend on games. Once again, I found myself rummaging through Steam looking for free games I would enjoy, and I had an itch for a shooter. I found myself taking another look at Warframe, and the fact that it had been around for more than 6 years said a lot. People like the game, and there are plenty of reviews to support that argument.
“Muck it,” I said, in, uh, so many words. I played it again, and my experience was totally different this time. For one, I have a decent computer now, so I wasn’t teleporting around like a deranged Nightcrawler. More importantly, it seemed as if Digital Extremes put a little more effort into welcoming new players.
When I first played Warframe, all I remember is being thrown into a mission and being carried through it by impossibly strong randos before I even had a minute understanding of the game.
Now, rather than being flung head first into missions with virtually zero explanation and, I might add, the squishiest frame (Loki), I went through a tutorial. Digital Extremes, the development team behind Warframe, still isn’t getting any rewards for their tutorials or anything, but it was good enough for me to get my bearings and give the game a second chance.
Here’s what I learned the second go around:
– Warframe lets players earn every non-cosmetic weapon and frame in the game. – Warframe can be played solo or cooperatively. – Digital Extremes interacts with its players frequently and pushes updates to the game almost every week. – The community is one of the least toxic I’ve encountered in a long time. – There’s potentially hundreds of hours of content available to Warframe players, and always more on the horizon. – The in-game currency can be bought from other players with ridiculously easy-to-get items. – You can actually make money designing content for Warframe.
The fact is, yes, you can “pay-to-win” when it comes to Warframe. You could throw hundreds of dollars at content, so you don’t have to actually play the game. The question is: Why in the world would you? It’s paying not to play. It’s senselessly backasswards.
What’s nice about Warframe is that you get to set the pace and pay what you want for it. I’ve personally spent only about $25 on it between me and some friends, and I’ve played such an embarrassing number of hours that, after seeing the actual number, I will not disclose it here. Don’t want to spend 2 afternoons grinding Cetus bounties to get the Gara Warframe? Don’t sweat it. You can buy it. But if you relish the grind, then Warframe is the game for you. It’s only as pay-to-win as you make it.
Although Warframe is one of the top played games on Steam, it is still fighting the perception that it hides all of its good content behind payment gates. While my second experience with the game engaged me enough to refresh my perspective, it might not do the same for others. That’s because the game is wildly confusing at the start. It’s not clear that you make weapons at the foundry or that you can actually buy blueprints instead of buying frames and weapons outright with platinum. Warframe just needs a little help in making things clearer for new players who aren’t willing to do the research themselves. If you’ve read this, however, now you have no excuses. Join us.
Note: an earlier version of this article referred to Digital Extremes as Dead End by mistake.