Warframe review – the excellent *free* alternative to Destiny on Xbox One

A few weeks back, Bungie finally released its first post-Halo game under the Activision label: Destiny. Destiny revolves much more around completing missions and hunting for loot cooperatively with friends than Halo, with far less narrative driving players forward.

Everyone knows about Destiny, but did you know the Xbox One has another cooperative action game with just as much content and even more features at a fraction of the price? Warframe is a free to play third-person action-shooter, similar to Destiny and multiplayer classics like Phantasy Star Online. With tons of missions and playable characters, full clan support, and a very fair free to play model, Warframe has become one of the Xbox One games I just can't put down.

Enter the Tenno

Warframe launched on PC and Playstation 4 last year, eventually arriving on Xbox One just this September. Developer Digital Extremes updates the game once or twice a month, which has given them plenty of time to fine-tune and add new content. The Xbox One version has already received one major patch so far.

The game takes place within the same universe as cult classic Xbox 360 actioner Dark Sector, only thousands of years in the future. The story begins with the player waking from cryosleep as a member of the Tenno, an ancient race of warriors (space ninjas). The Tenno are at war with three evil factions, including the Grineer (ghastly cybernetic clones), the Corpus (a militarized mega-corporation), and the Infested, monstrous victims of a virus originating in Dark Sector.

As a newly awakened Tenno, you'll choose from three Warframes. These are advanced suits of armor that grant the wearer unique abilities. Your choice in Warframe determines your initial playing style, as each one has different stats (health, shield, armor, and stamina) and special abilities that differentiate it from others.

Next you'll fend off the Grineer who seek to capture or kill you before you can join the surviving members of the Tenno. Transmissions from the Lotus (this game's equivalent to Cortana or The Ghost) will teach you the basics of gameplay and deliver mission objectives throughout the game. The Lotus doesn't show much personality, other than boldly speaking with a Canadian accent. That's cool, eh?

The first three or so missions are restricted to single-player, so you'll want to knock them out quickly. After that, you can join multiplayer games. You'll get a little more story throughout the rest of the game, but Warframe is about as light on story as Destiny. We never even get to meet the Lotus in person, nor discover the answers to burning questions like her true identity or the identity of her favorite hockey team. The developers seem to have more story content planned for the future, at least.

Slash and shoot

Although Warframe and Destiny share many similarities such as their sci-fi settings and structures built around hunting for loot, they play quite differently. Warframe is a faster-paced game with less focus on shooting. Your Tenno wields three types of weapons: primary, secondary, and melee. Primary weapons include assault rifles, bows, and shotguns. Secondary weapons include pistols, throwing blades, and more. You fire either type with the Right Trigger, switching between them with Y button.

Guns are cool, but melee weapons quickly emerge as the combat's real standout feature. You have a large variety to choose from, including swords, staves, polearms, tonfas, and more. Right bumper attacks with your melee weapon at any time, so you can alternate between shooting and melee attacks without the need to hit a face button.

Melee can also be equipped as your main weapon by holding the weapon swap button for longer. Doing so lets you block with the trigger, but I prefer to keep my ranged weapons equipped instead. It feels great jumping between both forms of attack at will.

Tenno are quite mobile compared to your average FPS character. They can dash until stamina runs out (dashing speed should be faster though) or slide beneath obstacles. Running along walls is as simple as tapping or holding the jump button as you jump against a wall. This can lead to secret or alternate paths throughout the procedurally generated environments.

World of Warframes

Although you choose from three Warframes to start with, the game actually offers more than twenty to collect throughout your playtime. These act as unique characters or classes. Besides varying stats and appearances, each 'frame gains a total of four distinct special abilities after leveling up sufficiently and equipping the proper mods.

Tapping left or right on the d-pad switches abilities, and a click of the Right Stick activates them. They offer benefits like shields, healing, and attacks. Using an ability consumes energy that can be replenished by collecting blue orbs dropped by enemies or found within the environment.

The variety of special abilities is appreciated, but I wish we could select one as the default ability. I mainly use a specific ability with my current Warframe, and it's annoying having to switch to it every time I start a mission.

A solar system's worth of missions

After completing your first mission, your Tenno gains a ship that serves as the hub of the game. From there you can change equipment, craft items, and choose missions.

Warframe's missions span a total of 14 planets and moons from our solar system, as well as two additional zones (Derelict and Void). Each location offers multiple missions to choose from, with new missions unlocking after completing the preceding mission. The planets don't all start out unlocked. You have to defeat a planet's boss to gain access to the next planet.

There are a whopping 14 basic mission types to complete. All of these can be attempted solo, but are much easier with a party of 2-4 players. Inviting friends is slightly cumbersome thanks to the unintuitive UI, but the matchmaking itself is great. Whenever you select a mission, you can opt to either start it immediately or wait for matchmaking to find one or more partners. The effortlessness of building a party really helps the game's cooperative focus.

Join the Windows Central clan!

Partnering with random players is good, but joining a clan of likeminded players is even better. Clans are Warframe's big advantage over Destiny – joining one allows players to work towards common goals.

Each clan gets a dojo (headquarters) which can be customized and upgraded with an assortment of rooms and structures. Building labs allows the clan to research blueprints for new Warframes and weapons. Once the clan has unlocked blueprints through research, all members gain access to those blueprints.

As is often the case these days, we have a Windows Central clan for you guys to join! One downside: all clans are invite-only. That's a hassle, but we're still happy to get you in. Check out this forum thread for details. I look forward to teaming up with you guys!

Free to play elements

Free to play games have a bad rap for many reasons. But sometimes a developer gets the payment model right, offering a game that both free and paying players can enjoy with a minimum of intrusive payment mechanics. Warframe succeeds in delivering a fun and fair game for all. The whole massive game and all of its missions can be played without buying a thing, as long as you don't mind some grinding.

New Warframes, Sentinels (helper robots akin to Phantasy Star Online's mags), weapons, and other equipment can be created through crafting. Buy a blueprint using credits (soft currency) or find it as an enemy drop, and then craft it using the materials you gain from completing missions. Crafting takes hours of real time. You can speed it up with Platinum (premium currency), but that's not wise.

Platinum can also be spent to buy new Warframes, equipment, and certain crafting materials outright. That's how you'll want to spend the premium currency if you buy any. Warframe slots are limited, but Platinum-bought 'frames come with a slot and double the mod capacity.

Die during a mission and you'll have to choose between reviving or failing the mission. Everyone gets four free revives per day. After that, you have to buy more with Platinum. Luckily, co-op partners have a few seconds to revive a downed player. Most are happy to do so, if they're close enough. (By the way, the ability to crawl while downed is erratic and poorly implemented.)

Finally, dedicated players can opt to permanently unlock Prime Access for $80. This gets you some unique Warframes and items, and a ton of Platinum. Hopefully we'll get to look more closely at Prime Access in a future story.


Warframe's 39 Achievements largely involve reaching maximum proficiency with the game's expansive arsenal of weapons and Sentinels. That will take forever, but at least the game has tons of different missions through which to level everything up.

A couple of fun Achievements involve completing 10 missions with only a melee weapon equipped and blocking 1,000 projectiles with the melee weapon. Melee is one of the game's strengths, after all.

Overall Impression

Warframe takes a few hours to get good. Initially, I was confused by the space ninja jargon, the awkward menus, and some of the mission objectives. Partying up, sending messages, and a few other tasks are more difficult than they should be.

Stick with the game though, and things will start to click. The combat is more dynamic than you'd find in most shooters, with visceral melee attacks and plenty of unique weapon types keeping things fresh. The hunt for loot (and ever more distinctive Warframes) and road to leveling up weapons and 'frames proves extremely addictive as well. A game like this thrives on multiplayer, and the intuitive matchmaking ensures you'll seldom have to go it alone... Especially not if you join our humble clan. Plus: keyboard support for text chat!

In short, Warframe gives players a lot of content to love, for the low price of free. With Xbox Live Gold serving as the only barrier for entry, this is the perfect game for teaming up with your friends. Try it and unleash your inner space ninja. It is your destiny.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!