When it comes to online shooters, the number of cooperative-based games as opposed to competitive-based is relatively small. However, Digital Extremes’ upcoming third-person online free-to-play cooperative shooter Warframe is hoping to reinvigorate the genre through slick, team-based, cybernetic ninja action. Sound too good to be true? Well read on to see what I thought of my time spent in Warframe’s closed beta.  

The premise behind Warframe is as simple as it is unique: following a mysterious event known as “the old war”, an evil faction of militarized humans calling themselves the Grineer are on a warpath to conquer all of our solar system’s planets and resources. Players step into the cybernetic boots of the only thing that’s standing in the Grineer’s way: the Tenno; an ancient race of galactic guardians who have been held in stasis for centuries. Under the guidance of a mysterious female being known only as “Lotus”, players must utilize the Tenno’s mastery of mobility, melee weapons, and firearms to defeat the Grineer and any other threats they encounter.

The Tenno can don a variety of different “Warframes”, exoskeletons that give them special abilities and serve as the game’s class system. Upon first entering the game, players are given a choice between three different “starter Warframes” and can unlock new frames as they progress. During my time in the beta, I went with the newbie-friendly “Excalibur” Warframe; a balanced character who is equally adept with either guns or his trusty “Skana” sword.

After picking their Warframe, customizing it, and completing Lotus’s introductory tutorial, players are sent out to take the fight to the Grineer. Warframe uses a cool interface that displays all of the available planets to which players can travel and take on missions. Initially, only Mercury is available but after completing a certain number of missions, players can unlock and travel to other planets such as Mars, Venus, Saturn, and other even more alien worlds.

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Missions can be attempted either solo or with a group of friends/strangers. The mission interface has a handy mechanic in which a player can decide if they want to attempt a mission privately (solo or with friends without random players being able to join) or publicly (can either wait for other players to join or start the mission solo and have other players join in mid-mission). Once a mission is underway, the number and difficulty of enemies will dynamically scale to the number of players present, making Warframe equally friendly to solo and group-oriented players.

Each mission has an objective attached to it and the number of different objectives is actually pretty broad. One mission might have a simple eradication objective where the goal is to eliminate all enemies in sight. Another might task players with hunting down and slaying a specific boss enemy while yet another might have them fighting their way through a Grineer prison to free other Tenno who have been taken captive. No matter the objective, every mission has players working their way through various rooms and hallways, meaning you’ll never have to just sit and wait around for enemies to come to you.

Once in a mission, players witness the action from a behind-the-shoulder third person perspective of their Tenno. Warframe does an excellent job of making both melee and ranged combat equally appealing; players can either pick their enemies off from afar with assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, and other firearms, rush in and pummel/slash/stab them to bits with an assortment of different melee weapons, or any combination of the two. Both the shooting and melee controls feel responsive and fluid which is important considering the third major element of combat in Warframe: mobility.

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When I used the term “cybernetic ninja” earlier, I was referring to more than just the Tenno’s sleek appearance. Running along walls, vaulting across platforms, front-flipping clear over enemies, riddling foes with bullets while sliding across the ground, these and other amazing-to-watch actions are all within every Tenno’s moveset.

Mastering the exact timing and execution of these acrobatic moves takes a little patience and effort but once mastered, they can allow players to execute beautiful ballets of death across a given battlefield. Trust me when I say there’s nothing quite like sprinting towards a group of foes, firing off a few shots as you go into a power-slide, gracefully flipping over the first enemy’s head, and then coming down into a powerful downward melee smash to finish off the enemies behind him.

Defeating enemies and completing missions earns “affinity” (experience points) that goes towards both leveling up a player’s Warframe as well as their individual weapons. As weapons and Warframes level up, players can unlock various upgrades such as faster reload times, more health, and even entirely new special attacks (each Tenno starts out with one and can unlock three others). Various “mods” that are found while playing can also be attached to a Warframe and their weapons, making them even more potent.

Now, despite all this awesome stuff, Warframe isn’t without its flaws. While the different mission objectives are plentiful enough that they never feel repetitive or stale, the map layouts are a different story. Currently there are two different “themes” for a given mission map; no matter what mission you undertake, you’ll be working your way through either a “cave” map or a “space station” map.

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Fortunatly both maps are large enough that they allow for multiple paths of completion, meaning that even if two different missions are both set in the same map, you won’t be taking the same route through on the second mission as you did the first. Missions aren’t “locked in” to a specific map either. If you decide to repeat a previously beaten mission that took place in the cave map, your second attempt could very well be set in the space station map.

Also, like many F2P games, Warframe relies heavily on an in-game cash shop. Using either credits earned from missions or real cash, players can purchase various items such as credit/affinity boosters (increasing the amount of credits/affinity gained while playing for a set amount of time), new guns and melee weapons, and even entirely new Warframes. Some of the more powerful weapons and Warframes require a player reaching a certain experience level, meaning that even players with deep pockets won’t be able to use the most powerful equipment without first putting in the effort to earn them.

The cash shop seems like a major caveat at first, but after playing for a while you can see that it’s actually pretty fair. While, at a glance, the credit-prices for some items make purchasing them with real money more enticing, accruing large numbers of credits actually isn’t that hard once you work your way into the later missions thanks to the mission-completion payouts and the extra credits you can make from selling spare mods and unused weapons. However, players should be forewarned that, at the time of this writing, a few of the more powerful Warframes can only be purchased with real cash.

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Despite these wrinkles, Warframe is shaping up to be an exciting and fresh entry in the world of cooperative online shooters. The controls are fluid, the graphics are gorgeous, the story, while bare-bones, is actually pretty compelling for a F2P game, and the combat had me hooked after my first twenty minutes of playing. Players who want to give Warframe a shot can try hunting around for a closed beta key or just wait for another open beta weekend (which should become more frequent as the game pushes closer to its open beta debut). Or, if you’re really impatient, you could always plunk down twenty bucks to become a Warframe founder which, among other perks, includes instant closed-beta access.

As a huge fan of co-op multiplayer games, I am eagerly looking forward to Warframe’s official release. I’d highly recommend it to any like-minded co-op fans out there whose idea of a good time includes battling against a horde of galactic bad guys as a super-mobile space ninja.