Sunday, July 15, 2018

Weird Science (Fiction) : Warframe

Warframe is weird. I don't think that will come as much of a surprise, especially to anyone who read Jeromai's fishing stories earlier this week. You don't really expect to go fishing in a space shooter. Or maybe you do and I'm just being space-shooterist. It's not like I've played that many.

I haven't found an awful lot of time to play this one either but I gave it an hour or so last night. I began by fiddling around with the UI, where I spotted a series of social settings that appear to toggle the game between co-op, multiplayer and solo.

The default appears to be multi, which explains how I kept getting auto-grouped for missions. I swapped to Solo, where I could  make my own mistakes and go at my own pace and without getting summarily dragged along by someone else's much faster progress.

That seemed to work quite nicely. For a while. I finished up a mission to get the Nav segment that allowed me to locate the Alien Overlord, the one who set the Ascaris mindworm burrowing into my brain. I'd already done the missions to stop it doing that but apparently now it was going to explode. Or something.  I'm vague on the details, as usual. Anyway, nothing would serve but I go find the guy who put it in and kill him.

So I went looking for him and found him. It didn't seem like he was doing so well. My handler told me he didn't have his Elite guards any more, which was nice. Well, it was nice for me. He seemed a bit miffed about it. He mithered on a bit about the trouble I'd gotten him into and I got the impression he'd been demoted. Possibly fired. Maybe run out of space-town on a rail.

Honestly, I didn't really follow the plot all that closely. I find it hard to read, listen, roll, jump, shoot, loot, reload and generally not die all at the same time. I am becoming increasingly certain that action gaming is not the ideal medium for narrative. Odd, that.

There was a boss fight with Vor. That's the Overlord's name although since he was only the Overlord of the tutorial I am now more inclined to think of him as the Alien Janitor. Like all Tutorial bosses, if you can be defeated by a noob in starter gear, how Boss can you really be?

Not that he didn't give me a tussle. He warped about a lot, summoned plenty of guards and seemed to have the health pool of any fifty grunts in the game to date. My tactics of running at things with the trigger on my automatic rifle held down sort of worked. I died a couple of times but at this stage  Warframe appears to be one of those infinite revive games, where you just pop back up at full health next to the guy that killed you while he stays at whatever diminished state you put him in before you went down. GW2 works that way so I'm used to it.

No, let's be fair. It's not exactly the GW2 Duracell Bunny method. There's a resource of some kind associated with reviving. You spend an amount of it from a pool. I guess you could, theoretically, run out. I have no idea how I got mine (and I can't remember what it's called) but I had plenty of it. About ten times what I needed.

After the fight I wasn't clear whether Vor was dead or just defeated for now, ready to come back and haunt my psyche-space another day. I was too busy with A Moral Conundrum to think about him. Suddenly everything was all about whether I should go do something to stop the ship destroying a Colony or just get the hell out of there. My handler advised me to leg it and forget about saving the colonists.

I really hate being asked to make moral choices in games. I don't play for that kind of self-torture. I would have done the right thing and been irritated by being asked to make the decision but in the event the choice was made for me. I find the mapping in Warframe unnutterably confusing and in running around trying to find the Bridge, or wherever I was supposed to be going to stop the ship, I ran across the trigger point for Extraction, got sucked through a portal back to my ship and the Mission ended. Go serendipity!

Back on my own ship I got a short lecture from Lotus (That's the handler's name. I believe people call her Space Mom and I can see why). She told me I was a big boy now and I could choose my own missions from now on. I guess that means I'm finally out of the tutorial.

Jeromai reccommended I head for the Plains of Eidolon, which is supposedly a quasi-open world area. The location was on my world map but to get there I had to go through Cetus.

Cetus was... unexpected. Wareframe is weird.

If I was designing a space opera style, high-tech shooter with heavy emphasis on military hardware and cyborg battle suits I don't think I'd choose to put the main trading area in a desert souk. Okay, there is plenty of precedent, from Tattooine to Arrakis, but that's more of a reason to avoid the trope, rather than double down on it, I'd have thought.

Wandering around Cetus reminded me of nothing so much as being in Vanguard's Qalia. The music, the snatches of incidental dialog, the color palette, the vibe. I spent quite a while exploring, talking to vendors, checking their stock. I felt oddly at home.

And yet strangely lost. Warframe gives you a huge amount of detailed information and explains what almost none of it means. It's either invigorating or ennervating depending on your mood. Take the pet shop. I wanted to get a caged rodent to keep me company in my ship - because who wouldn't? - but I couldn't work out if the listed items (15 goopolla spleen, 11 mawfish bones) were the price the vendor was asking, the mats I needed to make it or what I was meant to feed it when I got it home.

And what kind of space shooter has a pet shop anyway? This game is weird.

Eventually I managed to tear myself away from the market stalls to look for the gateway to the Plains. I thought I'd seen that I had to talk to someone first and I was expecting to have to complete another mission to gain access but in the event I just clicked on the really big, really obvious door and there I was, outside.

Plains of Eidolon does indeed feel somewhat like the average desert zone of an MMO. Hot sun, baking rocks, looming towers, all of that. I wandered about exploring for a while without seeing any wildlife. Fragged a few rocks for mats. Wondered what to do.

Then something popped on the HUD, some kind of timed event. I headed in the direction of the marker and next thing there were dropships and bad guys and running firefights. I took a bunch out, died a couple of times, didn't seem to be making much progress.

The third time I died I stayed dead. I cancelled the mission, which gave me limited rewards but at least something, which I thought was sound design. I spent a while looking at my gear, auto-upgraded my mods and then I quit for the night.

I had fun. Warframe is good, I think. Definitely not my kind of thing but not not my kind of thing either. It would clearly require research and dedication to progress much further. Magson (aka pkude99) very kindly offered to walk me through the learning process and I may end up taking him up on it later but for now I think I'll just potter along, absorbing the strange atmosphere and letting myself be surprised by happenstance.

I might have to start reading the wiki though. I should at least find out how to buy myself a pet.


  1. You did nothing but dying and got reward and you call it a good design?!

    Dying deserves nothing but resource loss!

    1. If he died more than 4 times during normal missions, it would have failed.

      Not sure about the tutorial missions, but yeah, there are failure states, and more obvious at higher levels, which is as things should be difficulty-wise.

    2. No, I didn't do "nothing but dying". As I said in the post "I took a bunch out, died a couple of times, didn't seem to be making much progress."

      The game didn't give me the full rewards as though I had completed the entire mission. It rewarded me appropriately for the progress I had made up to that point. It gave me the equivalent of what I would get, folding on a bad hand in a card game, taking my winnings up to that point and stepping down from the table.

      Yes, I think that's good design. There are more subtle and sophisticated markers than win/lose, and should be.

  2. It's an odd one certainly. It has more in common with destiny once you dig a bit deeper. What's fun is that the various expansions/additions have added to the game rather than restarted from scratch. The zones from way back when are still relevant.

    The drawback is the grind. It's easy enough for the first half. The second half is a tough one, where mods are extremely important... and running the same zone multiple times to get a drop.

    Still it's a lot of fun.

  3. There's actually a mission to get a pet. It's called "Howl of the Kubrow." It should be unlocked for you after you complete the Venus to Mercury junction, IIRC.

    There are actually 5 different "space dog" breeds as well as 2 cats. They're moderately useful -- they actually do pretty good damage if you mod them up well, and you can revive them if they go down too. But overall the robotic sentinels still tend to be preferred, if only for the "quality of life" provided by the Vacuum mod.

  4. The thing you lose on dying is XP for your weapons and frame. So, you'll level slower. Eh.


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