Many people, including myself, have been resistant to the idea of Free to Play. They call it "Pay To Win" and dismiss it as a quick money grab filled with unnecessary microtransactions. What I can safely say about Warframe is that it is NOT "Pay to Win" and, though it has microtransactions, they are not necessary to enjoy or advance in the game. Okay...with that out of the way...on to the good stuff.
Warframe is a third person cooperative game developed by Digital Extremes. (some might remember them from their 2008 release of Dark Sector) The basic "story" is that you are a member of an ancient warrior group known as the Tenno. You have been awaken by the Lotus, who is your guide, from centuries of cryosleep to find that you are at war. You are at war with the militarized human clones known as Grineer, a corporation known as the Corpus, and the victims of the Technocyte virus who are the Infested. (they used to be Corpus and Grineer). Your weapon of choice....the Warframe.
Now, did you get that? Good...because it comes at you quickly in the intro and then just pretty much fades to the background and becomes a loose basis for why you are doing what you are doing. In fact, if you really want to KNOW the story, you are gonna have to do some searching on the homepage and the WIKI.
Warframe plays pretty much like your standard third person shooter, but placed in an MMO styled environment. Up to 4 players are tasked with completing a variety of missions, given to you by the Lotus, that include things like Assassination, Capture, Rescue, Survival, Extermination, etc. There are 11 mission types that take place across the entire solar system and the various moons and dwarf planets. There are also MMO style alerts and events that are "random" and provide the opportunity to get special loot or larger amounts of credits. Upon the completion of these missions, rewards are given in the form of XP for weapons and the warframe, and the loot that was gained during that particular level. Loot ranges from mod cards and credits, to materials and blueprints. Materials can be horded for your solo purpose or applied to building a Dojo where you and your clan can begin to expand the game world through researching weapons technology and trading mods.
Whatever you choose to do, materials and credits are absolutely necessary to advance in the game.
Progression in Warframe is judged by two different but reliant scales. The first is just the individual level of items. A warframe has access to a primary weapon (assault rifle, shotgun, sniper, flame thrower, or launcher), a secondary weapon (pistols, machine pistols, laser pistols, throwing knives and stars), and a melee weapon (daggers, twin swords, large swords, axes, staffs, etc.) These can be leveled strictly by using them. There is a cap of level 30 on them. Also, the warframe levels the same way...use it..get XP...rank up. Now, the other level that applies to YOU is Mastery Level. This is Digital Extremes way of grading your progress through their world. Mastery levels are gained by leveling several weapons and warframes to and beyond level 30. At the end of each Mastery level there is a "test" to see if you have mastered enough to move on to the next. These tests range from simply shooting enough holographic enemies with only a pistol to hacking a certain amount of terminals in a set time. If you fail the test, you will be required to wait for 24 hours before you can take it again. But, the benefit of passing is that you gain access to a higher tier of weapons. Speaking of weapons....didn't I say that there was a level cap on them? Well yes...and NO!!! Weapons and frames can only reach level 30. However, you can add specific items onto weapons and frames to allow you to double the level of the weapon. Why would you need double? MODS!!!
Mods are cards that are used to improve the functionality of warframes and weapons. Each frame comes with 4 ability mod cards that range from common to rare. There are also slots enough to improve health, shields, armor, and other various aspects of the frame itself. Each card requires a certain amount of points (that relate directly to level) to use. So, don't expect to use your best power in the first hour or so. Weapons also have mod slots and must be improved in order to face the increasing difficulty that comes with advancing from planet to planet. All mods can be improved by a process known as FUSION, but at the cost of more points. Fusion is the ability to fuse mods of the same kind, Polarity (more related to function), or to use a fusion core to increase the strength of the mod. Combining FUSION with the correct mods on weapons and warframes is the KEY to realizing and unleashing the full power of each one.
So, now that you know the basics...how does this all play out?
In my opinion, pretty damn good. The most intriguing thing about Warframe is the variety that is offered, both in combat and in style. Much like an standard MMO, each frame represents a "role" to be played on the battlefield. There are frames that are used for crowd control. There are frames that are coveted for their defensive capabilities. There are frames that are based on elemental themes. There are even frames that are loosely based on characters that we are familiar with. (Nekros has to be the Grim Reaper) There is also a ton of variety weapons selection. All of this variety allows you to choose your play style. You can grab a quick and nimble frame a slide and wall run your way through various levels or you can grab a "tanky" frame and stand toe to toe with the baddest of bad-asses. It's really up to you. Pro tip---do your research on your first frame! Make sure this fits your style because it will be a little while before you get another frame...unless you want to spend some REAL MONEY!
Speaking of REAL MONEY...How much will you need??? Truthfully, as much as you are willing to spare. One of the "good" things about Warframe is that there really is no WIN. So, there is no pay to win strategy. DE has made the microtransaction structure such that, with patience, you can pretty much have access to each and every frame and weapon without the use of money. HOWEVER, you can't have them all at the same time. In order to keep more than 3 Warframes, you are required to purchase warframe slots. Each slot will set you back 20 platinum (which is the real money equivalent in Warframe). You are given plenty of weapons slots. But, should you want more, it will cost you 12 platinum for 2 extra slots. For the frugal amongst us, you DO have the option of freeing up slots by selling the items. However, some see issues with selling items that they spent precious hours leveling to 30. In my opinion, there are better weapons to be had. So, why not. As for frames, that is purely an individual choice. But, it might be worth it if you didn't listen to my first Pro-Tip about frame selection.
DE offer the option for you to speed up crafting for extra platinum, rare materials for platinum, and alternate color palettes for platinum. Most of the items that cost REAL MONEY are purely cosmetic (colors, scarfs, alternate skins, wings for your sentinel, etc.).
Is THIS a game breaker? Well, that's really for you to decide. I was of the mind set that I wasn't paying a dime for this game. However, after having all of the co-op fun with friends AND seeing how dedicated DE is to making Warframe a pretty great experience, I decided to jump in and spend some cash. So, for my $19.99, I was able to get some extra platinum to save for a rainy day.
Oh...Pro-Tip #2...PS Plus members get access to 150 platinum (there is a beginner's pack in the store) and a credit and XP boost (think it's 3 days). This is enough to get a decent starter frame. I would save the rest for the slots and the reactors and catalysts (have to be crafted and blueprints are alert bonuses, but they instantly increase your abilities).
The last thing to touch on is crafting. In Warframe, you can purchase or earn blueprints for weapons and frames. THIS is that quest for loot. This is also that point where, for those that don't like grinding and repetition, you will totally tune out.
Blueprints have a list of materials and a cost of in game credits (not the REAL MONEY) that are needed for the crafting of the item. These materials and credits are the rewards for completing the tasks in various levels. However, as with all MMO's, there are materials that are more rare. Thus, you have to grind for them. Once you have your materials, your patience will be tested because crafting can take anywhere from 12 hours to 3 days. Simple items, like weapons, take 12 hours to craft. A warframe takes 3 days to crafts, BUT that is after crafting the 3 individual blueprints (helmet, systems, chassis) that take 12 hours a piece. Also, rooms and items in the clan Dojo can take up to 3 days. This can be hard for some so, once again, you can pay REAL MONEY to expedite the crafting process...but it is not entirely necessary nor is it recommended by most of the Warframe gaming community. I'm sure the developers wouldn't mind!!!
So, there it is! Warframe is ultimately a fun romp through an intergalactic battle using a FRICKIN' SPACE NINJA!!! There is as much style and flair in the combat as YOU provide. You could wall run across a room, drop stun with your melee weapon, and shoot them in the face with your shotgun. Or, you could just unleash all hell with 36 javelins from Excaliber's frame and pin the enemies to the wall. It's all up to you. The free to play structure, in my opinion, is fair if you have patients. The amount of things to do is pretty large. Once you complete the levels on normal, there are the Nightmare versions (where they gimp you against higher level enemies) and then there are the alternate dimensions known as the Orikin Void and Derelicts. After playing this game for about a month, I can safely say that I have had a blast with it. I am currently sitting with 3 level 30+ frames and one frame being built. I have or have owned several weapons that are level 30 and beyond. Yet, I still face challenges when going into Nightmare and Orikin Void scenarios and even many of the outer planets on normal. Overall, I am having a ton of fun playing with my friends and Clan members and I CHOSE to spend $20!!! (It could have been...FOR FREEEEEEE...sorry Bedtime Story flashback!)