One game costs 60 bucks, the other is free. One game looks like a series of gorgeous sci-fi book covers brought to life, the other looks like a fetish convention in space. The first game has a sprawling plot and characters voiced by famous actors, the other is a mess of made-up words and weird, unexplained factions. In spite of all this, Destiny 2 is dead to me, and Warframe is standing on its corpse looking cool with a samurai sword.
What happened? I loved Destiny 2 in spite of its problems, but even on the verge of a major expansion, I can’t bring myself to get excited about it the way I used to.
I don’t think it’s just fatigue. I still dip in and play Destiny 2 crucible with friends every week or so, and I’ve done some grinding towards the new armour sets. I still love the art direction and the soaring soundtrack, and the complex co-op raid dungeons. The trouble is there’s nothing to aim for that can surprise me in Destiny. A new armour set probably isn’t going to alter how I play. I unlocked all the super abilities ages ago. A new gun might capture my attention, but I know getting it will be arduous.
Warframe feels like being thrown into a wind tunnel by comparison. As I fight my way through the star chart the game showers me with objectives within objectives. There are quests, faction missions, time-limited missions with useful resource rewards, open world sections, space combat sections, and more. There are a few slow markers of overall progress, like my character’s rank, but they are supported by tiny sprints of progress—a blueprint for a new weapon, sub-components for a new warframe, faction milestones. There is always something cool within reach, and new weapons and warframes really matter.
Warframe’s vast, messy economy of currencies, resource materials and reputation ranks adds depth and complexity to a simple action game. You dive into a facility, somersault your way to your objective like a looking like a hyperactive leathery clown monster, then kill/steal what you need and somersault out.
Bang. Five minutes. Have some rewards and decide where you want to go next.
Warframe’s immediacy and the way it showers you with micro-rewards makes it seem overwhelming at first, but it quickly becomes compulsive. I walk home to my flat at lunch, make some toast, flip a few missions, level up a thing, and then head back to work. Crafting happens in real-time. Yesterday I told my spaceship to build a hammer, today I find it waiting for me as I munch my lunch—a little present from Warframe’s weird universe.
I’m comparing Warframe and Destiny specifically because this is exactly how I used to play Destiny, and both games are aiming for a roughly similar experience. They are loot-driven session games with a co-op focus (though you can play PvP in both, Destiny’s crucible is superior to anything I’ve found in Warframe so far). I admit that am in a honeymoon phase with Warframe, and inevitably the lure of something shiny and new can make the old game seem more tired than it really is. However I reckon Warframe’s reward structure, and its strange, unpredictable sense of variety, make it a more compelling long-term prospect than Bungie’s multi-squabillion dollar epic.
It comes down to the surprise factor. There’s a lot of stuff in Destiny 2, but few points of substantive difference. You can ride around on a wide variety of space bikes, but beyond the cosmetic differences and some little side-dash abilities, one is much like another. You can say the same for most of the purple weapons in a given weapon archetype. I like Origin Story and the Iron Banner auto rifles for PvP, but out in the field one auto rifle plays like all the others, really. Exotics like the Sunshot hand cannon are decent loot, but for the most part the PvE loot pool feels restrained and not worth chasing. My postmaster cache constantly fills up, and I just delete, delete, delete my way through mountains of guns just to get rid of the notification icon. Guns in a shooter should not feel so completely worthless.
By contrast Warframe’s weapons feel as though they are designed in isolation from one another, and not to round out a particular weapon class. You have a primary weapon slot, a secondary weapon, a melee option, and a companions slot (which I filled with a dog I hatched from an egg—long story). Your overall rank improves as you level up weapons, so you are encouraged to switch regularly to keep your experience pool ticking up.
I have been playing with two primary weapons that loosely fit into an assault rifle class. The first is a highly conventional rapid-fire weapon, the second one is an auto rifle that shoots glowing stakes at pretty much the same rate of fire. The stakes protrude from enemies’ faces like porcupine spines and the killing blow sends them flying backwards, pinning them to a nearby wall.
I know that my next primary weapon will feel completely different again. My first secondary weapon was a crappy pistol, but then I moved on to a pair of handcannons that felt amazing to fire, and now I’m throwing daggers. When I look at the secondary weapons list there are a bunch that, well, I don’t know what they are, or how they even shoot dudes.
The Warframes look and behave very differently as well. My old Excalibur frame was all about sword combat, my current Trinity Prime is a squishy frame with neat support abilities that let me link myself to enemies to steal energy and reflect damage.
This variety makes the next unlock matter. It makes the grind exciting, and worthwhile. I’m certainly going to play the new Destiny 2 expansion, but once I’m done with it I have a feeling I’ll drift away quickly once again, and Warframe will be there waiting for me in a weird skin-tight rubber spacesuit.