I really love MMOs. They’re some of the only games that make me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. There’s something really special about inhabiting a living, breathing world, instanced together with thousands of other players at a time. The fight against a world-ending evil feels so much more “real” when you’re working side-by-side with several dozen other heroes. That never gets old.
Do you know what I don’t love about MMOs? The painstaking process I have to go through to get engaged with a long-running game as a new player. Nothing kills my excitement for diving into an MMO I’ve just discovered more than realizing I have to play catch up on nearly a decade’s worth of content to play the latest update.
Luckily, I’ve been playing one of the most unique MMOs on and off for just about half of the game’s lifespan. When Digital Extremes made Warframe, they somehow threw robot ninjas, parkour, stealth, third-person shooting, and robust looter shooter elements into a blender and ended up with a coherent (and fun!) final product. Set all those gameplay elements to a uniquely personal and ever-evolving sci-fi story backdrop, and Warframe becomes a game that everyone should try out at least once.
Warframe is quite the long-running game, owing much to its special recipe of disparate elements that work together against all odds. In fact, just this March, the title celebrated its ninth anniversary with a fun in-game celebration. That means the game’s got a hell of a lot of content, which is great for an older player like me! I always feel like I have something I can log in and work toward. But this content backlog isn’t great for onboarding new players, especially as progression trees that are unlocked later into the game become more essential to a Warframe player’s toolkit.
Warframe’s latest update was a hefty one. With Angels of the Zariman, Digital Extremes added a new story quest, a brand new set of levels, a new Warframe, and several new weapons for veterans to start playing around with. But it also feels like the development team is recognizing and grappling with the classic MMO problem for the first time: as the endgame expands, how do new players get the chance to catch up?
Angels of the Zariman answers this question with a two-pronged attack. There’s been a complete reworking of archaic progression trees and additions of new (and easier) ways to farm endgame essentials.
The Focus skill trees are unlocked about halfway through Warframe’s main story quests, introducing a slew of new abilities for players to invest in. Since their introduction, there have always been five different “ways” (skill trees, named after ancient Tenno warrior philosophies) to explore. Still, the balancing of the Focus trees was largely… well, shot to hell.
Certain Focus ways were part of the metagame, and completing those skill trees was imperative to being successful in activities like Eidolon hunting and Steel Path missions. Like many looter shooters, Warframe players picked and chose abilities based on raw DPS, capitalizing on stacking multipliers to trivialize most content. Focus trees with nuance that didn’t just serve to pump up damage numbers fell to the wayside in the endgame.
Angels of the Zariman completely reworks this progression system, shaking up the abilities in every Focus tree. Whereas many abilities in the Focus paths served as passive buffs to the player beforehand, now they have to be activated during combat. This opens up new ways to fight enemies and forces the player to actually engage with and understand the Focus tree they’ve chosen for themselves.
The newest update also makes it much easier to get the experience needed to spec into these Focus trees. Earlier builds of the game necessitated the crafting of Focus lenses, which would be grafted to Warframes and weapons to convert some of the experience they earned into Focus tree experience. While this is still a viable way to grind out Focus points, Angels of the Zariman added new enemy types that grant you Focus experience upon killing them, regardless of the weapon or Warframe being used.
New players will also have an easier time getting their hands on some important endgame currencies now, too. Riven mods are a massive part of Warframe’s meta; modifications that can be rerolled for massive stat modifiers, in turn, make for some of the most powerful weapons in the game. Earning Riven mods and Kuva (the currency needed to reroll the stats on Riven mods) can be extremely time-consuming, however, and often serves to bar newer players from endgame content.
Angels of the Zariman tries to answer that problem by revamping the use case of an old currency: Riven Slivers. Up until this update, there was only one way to obtain Riven Slivers, and players could only spend up to 10 of them per week (the cost to buy a single Riven mod). Now, Riven Slivers sometimes drop from difficult Eximus enemies, which means players will be coming across a lot more of them.
Riven mods are so ingrained into the metagame of Warframe’s most difficult game modes that it’s only fair to give newer players more access to them. The Riven Sliver vendor also has additional goods to buy, so older players that are able to keep a stockpile of the resource can keep spending it on new goodies.
I don’t think Digital Extremes is done polishing the new player experience. Not by a long shot. While they’re hard at work right now trying to create a cross-save system that will allow players to link their Warframe accounts across every platform, I think they’ll also continue to make the game “friendlier” to everyone who wants to give it a go.
I’m glad the devs are refining the early game because I want to be able to onboard all my friends! The gameplay is fun, the story is great (with a massive twist I went through great pains not to reference in this article), and the community is supportive. It almost feels criminal that the game is free. If the beginning hours become easier and more understandable for new players, I think that Warframe will just keep reaching for the stars.
If you’re a Warframe player, what’d you think of the newest update? If you haven’t tried Warframe out, what are you waiting for? Sound off in the comments below! Let’s have a conversation about the best sci-fi parkourin’ and stealthin’ looter (third-person) shooter that gaming has to offer!