Is Warframe better than Destiny 2?

Bungie needs to take note.

by on January 19, 2018
 

Mick thinks that Destiny 2 is a great game, but he thinks that Warframe might actually be better. Check out his thoughts in video form below. You can get videos like this a week early if you support our Patreon for $1 a month.

The Destiny 2 launch was unquestionably a successful one, with Bungie’s hugely anticipated sequel crushing the sales chart to become the biggest-selling game of 2017 at the time of release. Since that initial rush, however, Destiny 2 has been anything but a critical success in the eyes of both professionals and consumers.

Amidst reports of a rapidly declining player base (down a troubling 78% in the three months between the September 8 launch and the release of the first DLC on December 5), there was controversy elsewhere, stirred up by, among other things, loot boxes. In Destiny 2 they are called “Bright Engrams” and contain cosmetic items like ships, armour shaders, weapon skins, and, marginally more controversially, gear mods, which would be more of an issue if they had any actual discernible affect on gameplay. You can buy Bright Engrams with Silver (bought with real world money) or earn them by gaining XP levels after hitting the soft cap – but Bungie were essentially caught red-handed manipulating the speed at which XP was gained, which many speculated was a ploy to sell more Silver.

Add to this the age-old Destiny issue that there just wasn’t an awful lot to do in the end-game. As an example, vanilla Destiny closed out with 20 repeatable Strike missions, while Destiny 2 launched with a measley 5, leaving many to wonder why, with such a similar framework, Bungie couldn’t just have added Destiny 2’s content into Destiny 1 in a manner similar to an MMO. All in all, sales figures aside, it has been something of a disaster.

During all of this, on YouTube videos, on Reddit threads, on Twitter and Facebook, anywhere in fact that allows public feedback, I’ve seen one statement repeated over and over again:

“Forget Destiny 2. Go play Warframe instead. It’s bigger, better – and free.”

But I remembered Warframe. It was the first digital game I downloaded for my PS4 almost four years ago. I remember it being janky, laggy, sparse, weird-looking, and confusing as all Hell. I had played it for an hour and been utterly bewildered, before I uninstalled it and never looked back.

Why was anyone championing this over Destiny 2 which, even with its flaws, is still a fantastic shooter, with gorgeous visuals, sublime action and a rich universe? Seeking an understanding, I watched a few YouTube videos detailing the newest free update, The Plains of Eidolon, and was still none the wiser. It just looked like a colourful, chaotic mess. So, taking the plunge, I decided to download the game and investigate. What I found was actually pretty shocking, but in all the right ways. In fact, I’m so astounded with Warframe that I can’t understand why everyone isn’t playing it. While it has its shortcomings, there are certain areas where Bungie should really be taking notes. I’ve compared the five most important aspects of each game, in my opinion, to demonstrate just how much Bungie can learn from Digital Extremes.

1. The Universe

I’m not talking about lore here. To be honest, the actual stories of Warframe and Destiny aren’t all that different. Both are set in the distant future and feature specially-created warriors defending the galaxy from an ancient evil, both have their versions of space magic, both have a mysterious vendor who appears sporadically to sell rare goods. You get the gist.

I’m talking about the game world itself. While Destiny 2 currently has 5 semi-open worlds to explore, Warframe has 15. Yes these have been added over time, but even with Destiny 1 factored in, Bungie’s universe would still only contain 10 main locations. The semi-open world nature makes up for it somewhat, but Warframe’s bite-sized mission structure means fewer areas that look pretty but which are actually pretty barren. Also, that recent Plains of Eidolon expansion added Warframe’s first open area, allowing exploration and bounty-hunting from a central hub. It looks beautiful, too.

All of this is free in Warframe. You can’t pay to unlock worlds or fast track your progress. You have to play mission nodes which unlock paths to “Junctions”, the conduits between worlds. The campaign does a good job of carrying you down the primary path, but there are multiple repeatable missions on each world.

2. The action

At brass tack level, you can’t fault Destiny 2’s gameplay. The feedback from weapons is immensely satisfying, the loop of kills and loot and XP is perfect when in the moment. Movement is slick, combat is weighty and rewarding. If there’s any complaint here it’s that for all its open-ness, Destiny us actually quite a linear affair.

Strikes have one path to victory, maps loop a certain way, and the Raids are structured, pre-planned events that often have to be learned and studued, and allow little deviation.

By contrast Warframe has a pile of mission types that play out in procedurally generated maps. The combat is frenetic and, often, wild, but when you find the rhythm the instant switch from melee to ranged feels incredibly empowering, not to mention the movement.

Few action games are as fast as Warframe, and experienced players traverse entire maps in seconds. Crouching while sprinting will slide, jumping during a slide launches an acrobatic bullet-jump, which can be doubled. Then holding aim in mid-air allows you to glide. Chaining these moves together, along with wall-runs, forward rolls and diving kicks, takes a few hours’ practice, but nothing compares to the sense of speed.

Empowerment is at the heart of Warframe, and while the difficulty balance can sway as a result, it’s still addictive as hell.

3. Loot

This is a tricky one, because both games rely heavily on loot to trigger our happy factories, but they do it in very different ways.

Almost all loot in Destiny is based on a gamble. You never know what’s going to drop from an Engram, though you can almost always guarantee that the Random Number Generator is going to stiff you more often than not. Loot falls as either colour-coded Engrams or, at end-game, blue vendor-trash that might as well be glimmer (money). At first it’s fun, until you’ve played for a few weeks and you’ve decrypted everything three times. For a loot-based game, Destiny 2 is severely limited in terms of how much there is to actually collect. The super rare stuff, the Exotics, are based on the same RNG mechanic, and ironically are far too easy to come across.

In Warframe, the only loot that drops in the environment are crafting materials and gear mods. The latter can be applied to your equipment to add various modifiers, while the former must be harvested and then combined in your ship’s Foundry to create gear. Yes, you can opt to buy most items with the premium currency, Platinum, but everything besides pure cosmetics can be unlocked and acquired in-game.

As a result, you’ve always got something to chase in Warframe. Interestingly, the Foundry takes anything from 12 hours in real time to build weapons and equipment to 72 hours to construct a new Warframe (that is, the titular battle armour units that stand in for character classes). Grinding out the materials can take a long time, but the sense of reward and accomplishment is powerful. Aside Relics you crack open in special Fissure missions, very little is left to RNG, and so you always know what you’re chasing.

4. Transactions

How both games deal with real world money is interesting, too. Destiny has Silver, and Warframe has Platinum. The biggest difference is in how each developer respects your hard-earned cash. For one, you can earn everything in Destiny 2 by levelling up to earn Bright Engrams, which actually means Destiny are charging you purely for athe higher chance to earn that item. You’re not even guaranteed to get what you want to pay for. It is a literal gamble with real money. Think about that: Bungie charge you for something you fan absolutely earn in the game, with absolutely no higher chance of getting what you want from it. Does that seem fair?

Conversely, Warframe’s Platinum can be used for loads of things. You can speed up Foundry projects, buy crafting materials straight off the Market, or unlock cosmetic augmentations. As an 80% cooperative game, it’s not pay-to-win, but you can’t unlock things like cloaks (called Syandana) or armour shaders without Platinum. Sounds like you’ve got no choice but to pay then, right?

Wrong, because Digital Extremes have rather magnanimously allowed a trade system to grow that lets players farm materials and build items to sell for Platinum. Put in the hours and you can, theoretically, buy everything in the game without spending a penny. It may take a long time, but no one plays Warframe for the short haul.

5. End-game, social & multiplayer

In Destiny, the game doesn’t really begin until the credits roll on the campaign. After that, the end-game is where you’ll earn the best gear and experience the best content. Six-player Raids and 3-player Strikes become the order of the day, as does the Crucible, where teams of four battle for PvP supremacy. The problem is that Destiny 2 stripped away modes and maps from the Crucible, took away cooperative events like the Prison of Elders arena, and locks Raids behind a mandatory player count. Bungie still won’t allow matchmaking for Raids, or the Trials of the Nine PvP event. And frankly, it’s sparse. Again, starting from square one for Destiny 2 was a mind-bogglingly daft decision.

Clan integration is better now, with incentives to buddy-up, and the social spaces have time wasting group activities like playing with big balls and a game of The Floor is Lava, but the Tower is still just a place to go and dance because the gear system is too shallow, and there’s no crafting or trading to make a social space necessary.

In Warframe the end-game opens up new, challenging activities, but it locks new areas behind natural progression. Almost every activity allows for drop-in, drop-out matchmaking, with squads of up to 4. Team play is encouraged but rarely essential.

Clan incentives include exclusive gear blueprints and items, as well as easier group recruitment and trading, using text-chat or a mic. The ship you travel the galaxy in is a self-contained hub in itself, allowing character and loadout customisation, ship customisation and decoration, access to the Foundry, inventory, marketplace, Mod collection and an incubator to raise and mature your own pets.

Where Destiny 2 excels is in the core gameplay, the visuals, the B-list voice cast, but in almost every other area that matters, Warframe has the edge.

It’s a free to play game from an indie studio that utterly understands what players want from a persistent online universe and a sci-fi RPG. Digital Extremes’ management of in-game currency, loot, progression and social systems is peerless, where the public impression of Bungie is of a company who just want to find more ways to charge us.

Warframe is not without its issues, but if you come to me and ask me to recommend a sci-fi action game with loot, exploration, and a constantly evolving, expanding universe, there’s currently a very clear choice. Bungie should take a long, hard look at what Digital Extremes have achieved, at their growing player base and, most importantly, their business model, and they need to act fast, before more players get wind of just how green the grass really is on the other side of this fence.

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