How the hell does this work?

I keep coming back to this question as I play Warframe. Having some modest amount of experience with the older iterations of the game, I could at least skip the version where I was still trying to figure out the core loop. (And we're going to be going into that core loop) But every minute with the Switch version was a question of how they managed to make it functional, let alone actually run well.

Let's start at the beginning. Warframe is kind of one of the key examples of what a free to play game should be. A third-person action shooter, it's got one of the fairest economies around, and a good chunk of the established playerbase just buy some amount of premium stuff to support the devs.

So, what's the story? Well, you see, you're a Tenno, which is...a...space ninja. And you're tasked with fighting groups like the Grineer, who are...bad, and the Corpus, who are...capitalist bad, and even the Corrupted, who are...zombie bad.

Look I'm gonna level with you this is one of those "throw your ass in the deep end, go chew on the codex entries if you want to know what's going on" situations. And I have not had the time to spend three hours waist deep in official lore to figure out the details of how exactly the dudes I'm shooting at work, I am busy shooting at the dudes.

Who need to be shot at.

But, okay, story is a bit all over the place lore-wise. (Though at least, considering you wake up half-conscious and with dudes trying to kill and/or enslave you, you're not in one of those situations where your guy keeps saying stuff you don't know what it means.) How's the gameplay? Is that what makes Warframe sing?

Yes.

Yes it is.

The core idea is simple. It's a third-person action shooter, like I said. You've got a couple of ranged weapons and a melee one, plus your Warframe's special powers, all of which you're going to use to murder your way through the enemy with gusto.

There's one big gameplay gimmick, and it's movement. You have a ton of ways to move. Almost any smooth surface can be run up or along, or at least bounced off of, you can go right into a slide, or even propel yourself in any direction with the potent bullet jump. These systems aren't always perfectly clean, but they trade smooth polish for sheer freedom.

Okay, story's a mess, shooting is fun, what's your baseline goal and loop? Well, it goes like this. Every mission is on a planet, on a loose map that's kind of set up like a flowchart. Beat a mission, you unlock the next one down the line. Your basic goal is to do the missions to get from one end of the planet to the other, get to, and open the gateways from planet to planet.

The other thing you're gonna be doing, is getting sweet loot. Enemies drop loot, there's chests to break and get loot, every planet has different kinds of loot, and you're going to need all that loot. Because you use that loot to craft your gear. Unless you want to spend real-world money on it, every gun, every sword, every Warframe is gotten by getting the blueprint, tracking down a bunch of loot, and then crafting it your damn self.

This is also where the game's free-to-play economy system really comes in. You can skip that whole loop by just spending some real-world cash on Platinum, the premium currency, and just buy the damn gun or whatever.

But even in this, there's an interesting little widget to things. Because there are some things that you can't just buy from the game itself. Instead, if you want to turn cash into immediate results, there are a whole bunch of things you can only buy from other players. So even a total freebie player can earn up enough premium currency to get shiny toys, or non-craftable cosmetics.

And I've barely even talked about the performance! Somehow, someway, this damn game runs smooth on the Switch, with barely any signs of dynamic resolution scaling. This is another porting job from Panic Button, the same people who did DOOM's port, and I just...I mean, look, I was seeing reports that they made the PS4 and Xbox versions run better, just because their optimizations got taken up by the teams working on those versions. That's insane.

Where are the problems, then? What's the catch in this seemingly perfect magical port of the one true free-to-play PvE game? Well, particularly in the Switch version, there are a few.

One thing is that, there's a certain degree of slop in Warframe's...Everything. Movement, gunplay, melee combat, it all feels just a little loosey-goosey. It's not terrible, and you get used to it pretty quick, but it definitely doesn't have the super tight precision of some of those super polished AAA games.

And then, especially if you're in handheld mode, some of the text is small. It's bad enough on my meager 32" TV, but playing in handheld, there was some text so tiny I felt like I needed to get one of those granny magnifiers just to read any of it. The interface is just, plain and simple, not built to scale down like that.

And speaking of handheld mode, not only does the game lack an offline play function, but if you go into the home menu or put the Switch to sleep, it will completely kick you out to the title screen and force you to reload, losing any progress you'd made on a mission. Neither of these are the fault of the porting job, but I'm hopeful that they'll be considering some quality-of-life changes for this sort of thing now that the Switch version is in play.

But when you boil it down...I mean, this is not only an excellent game at its core, it's a fair and free game. Read a few guides, watch a video or two so you know a bit more about what you're doing, and jump on in already. What've you got to lose?