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A Couch Potato’s Review of Warframe

07/16/2013

A Couch Potato’s Review of Warframe

As I’ve said in the past, while I am not much of an MMO player, the games that I tend to find within the MMO/MMORPG realm are few and far between and rely on a number of elements that make for my wanting to stay with them:

  1. It’s a theme that I readily relate to as a long-time sci-fi and fantasy geek and nerd.
  2. It has replay value.
  3. It’s challenging but not punishing.
  4. End-Game while being grind-like isn’t so mind-numbingly bad or poorly executed I feel like it’s a job working on an assembly line (I remember those 20+ years ago, this is why I got an education and degree to get away from that).
  5. That I can play these games alone or with the friends I have or make in the game and I can do so on my whim and impulse and is not a requirement of the game.
  6. The community playing it is fun, mature, Can take criticism against what they don’t like and negotiate it into what they like.
  7. (and in the last couple of years), as a Free-to-Play Game it doesn’t feel as though the developers or distribution company has put on so many restrictions that to unlock the ransom demand(s) put on my character(s) to play them for the fullest extent and I have to pull the credit card out of my wallet.
  8. And finally (as well as something that’s developed in the last couple of years), the distributor(s) and/or developers will listen to the community and adjust according to the input within the community for the bugs encountered, content requested and keep to the ever fine line between placating the loudest in the herd with the vision originally deigned for the game they produced.

This shouldn’t be surprisingly why I have stayed with some games after two years and why others while still being on the gaming partition of my PC haven’t been touched in an equal amount of time. Warframe seems to be rapidly becoming one of the latter and less of the former.

At first I thought that it was a great game. It had the elements that I like in real time shooters: challenge, enemies that seemed to follow the rules, and while this game is extremely light on story-based RPGs, it had the sort of missions that could keep me entertained enough from beginning to end. But then three things began to niggle at me… The first is that the farther you get through the solar system, the more it felt as though the game is punishing and not challenging (with the usual caveats, but I’ll get to that in a minute). The second is that for an open beta, the amount of changes that had been going on since it went open was more like an alpha test instead. And the third is that I’m not too keen on the community at large.

Now, I’ve been working in the IT industry for more than 20 years (granted the majority of it has been in networking and telecomm, but there’s a healthy amount of beta & alpha testing in there as well) and when something has been marked/advertised as a beta (be it open or closed), this usually means that the majority of the program has been ironed out and that it’s on its way to being distributed for the general market. Admittedly I haven’t been too keen on the whole, “Alpha testing is the new beta” mentality of programmers, developers and most importantly software distributors in the last decade however, regardless of my personal opinion on the difference between the two: this game is clearly in alpha testing.

Too much seems to be crammed into the game update to update to update and not enough of this game seems to be nailed down for production and distribution. To make matters worse, unless it’s something that makes the game impossible to play, bug tracking and fixing is either done internally making it near impossible for we the testers to get an idea of what’s been reported, what’s been reported repeatedly (or what’s considered still an “open issue”) and what is in the queue for repair with the next distributed patch. What we — the volunteer beta testers — should be seeing is something like this. What we’re getting is a standard discussion forum layout instead which comes standard in PHP website design. This leads to the next problem…

The community at large.

The problem with this is both a lesson in the good, the bad and of course the ugly of crowd-sourcing troubleshooting and development of any program that caters to the gaming community. Criticism of the game is often met with the same sort of mindset as posting a comment on 4Chan: Some people in agreement, some in conscientious disagreement with the remainder of the conversations/discussions/comments teetering between the lowest common denominator of the trolling community through the obdurate contrarians that discourage any sort of criticism to what they themselves appreciate and finally the hoards of sycophants that sing the praises that the developers can do no wrong.

This has been creating a problem with the development of this game because it’s from a small percentage of (the loudest) players that have been with the game early on (or better are able to master the game quickly) that complain on how this game does not have much “challenge”. And instead of tiering the difficulty levels of this game — say, a beginner, a medium, a hard and perhaps even a hardcore level to this game — has been doing it as one level only.

While I have been fortunate in the few times that I have posted on the forums has been met with intelligent discourse and disagreement — I have meandered through the forums and seen the sort of discussions, trollings and outright derision toward posting that I experienced in the first years of being on Usenet. Don’t get me wrong, I have years of history at being the worst possible troll people could ever face. I did it with intelligence, a sharp wit and a sharper tongue. This is gaming though, and gaming is something I like to do casually. Something I like challenge with and coming out at the end feeling a bit better for thinking something through. It’s not the sort of thing I want to have to put on the fire-resistant skivvies on to wade through comments and negativity when I find something that should be considered enjoyable and met with the feeling as though I’m dealing with the “neck beards of 4Chan”. This is most certainly not the sort of thing I want to deal with when reporting and checking on bugs that I’m assisting in making a good game better.

Finally the game itself. When I dealt with the beginning planet (Mercury), I couldn’t sing the praises enough to friends about it. It’s a shooter, it’s challenging, it’s the sort of thing that can be played alone and in groups and seemed to follow a set of rules that I was beginning to understand. Enemies were tough, but only challenging if I tried to go head to head with. It wasn’t the sort of infuriating punishment that came from programmers that played the game for hundreds of hours at a time and artificially inflated numbers (enemies, etc) and situations to make it more challenging. The farther out I got (at the time, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Earth and Uranus), the more difficult to impossible it was to play these missions alone. Two of the bosses (Saturn and Venus) for example cannot be done alone at all. It takes a team to play it. I began having trepidations as to the direction this game was beginning to take. That was for update 7.

Update 8 introduced me to completely punishing and something that I found myself rapidly disgusted with. Levels were insanely redesigned where the problem wasn’t so much for trying to get through the tile set alive, it was trying to stay alive when being bum-rushed by insane amounts in enemy hoards that in some cases of team play — players were barely able to make it through without being practically killed. I had also noticed that enemy factions changed the rules they had been following the farther you get out from the beginning worlds… Where the factions are able to shake off elemental damages (fire and electricity) and still be able to shoot at the player with lethal and infallible accuracy. Confused enemies for special player moves? Nope, that stopped rather quickly. Further examples of punishment to me the player, came from enemy factions being able to stun lock into immobility and death. What’s called “the lazy man’s method” of making a game difficult.

Update 9 continued on the bad trend of adding nightmare levels. While I can appreciate that some players want that sort of challenge that comes from harder difficulties, I am not one of these sort of players. Seeing the nightmare levels showing up on maps and on some missions that I definitely appreciated playing solo (like Exterminate missions) and doing so in a draconian — you have no choice other than skipping the level — is not my idea of “fun”. When I want to play Elite mode in Star Trek Online for example, I do so from the options menu. It’s not something that I’m forced to do but can volunteer to do at my own discretion.

And bugs? God, there are still bugs in play from Update 7 when I first came into the game that continue to plague this game at the time of this review. Sometimes it feels as though for every bug that’s been fixed, three other bugs crop up in its place. And I really don’t like playing games that continue to maintain bugs as part of play. That’s a good part of the reason why I stopped playing Star Wars: The Old Republic too.

Believe me when I say, I’m not trying to be intentionally negative in this review of the game. I understand that the developers is a small group of people making this game for some years now. I understand that they have dreams and aspirations for making the next best MMO. I understand that they also have a big list of bugs and issues that need to be fixed (and have gone onto a couple of live-streams to reinforce this). I applaud them for their ingenuity and their dedication for making this game. And I find myself giving them an attaboy for the ingenious way they’re trying to get people to buy things for the game.

However at the same time — I think they’re being too ambitious too quickly. I don’t think they understand that they should be worried not on the content of the game, but making the game more smooth. Work out the bugs first before going hog wild with the new content. That they don’t have a clear vision that needs to cater to a wide array of players from the casual to the hardcore and rely too much on hardcore player input to solve the replay value of the game. Finally in the last two live streams from the developers I’ve watched, conveyed too much on their concern about being cheated out of money rather than making the game fun. Because let’s face it — cheating happens in all games — from MMO to single-player. We as a gaming community don’t like it when we’re being honest and despise it when we see it happening. But talking about it to their viewing public? Well, it’s admirable — but talking about it more than once or twice sends up side messages that give me the impression a clear vision of the game doesn’t seem to exist.

Bottom Line: This game while being promising, I say with reservation it is not ready for prime time. It’s in my personal (read: Armchair) opinion that their ambitions to entering the console world this Fall, 2013 is going to end somewhere between lack luster and poorly. The game is definitely not for the solo MMO player and even joining it with friends will end up finding themselves punished by poorly (and very lazily) designed situations. I might be wrong.. At least I hope so…

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