Snap Judgment – Warframe

I’m not entirely sure how to categorize a post about Warframe. It’s usually covered by the MMORPG press but after only a few minutes with it I can say it’s obviously not an MMORPG. Perhaps I finally need to add that “MMO” category to my blog, for discussing what are effectively little more than regular old multiplayer games.

I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t like Warframe. In fact I’ve heard a lot of “positive buzz” about Warframe.

I’m here to change all that. :)

The Good

But first, let’s try to think of some good things to say about this game.

  • It’s free.
  • It installed successfully.
  • It did not crash.

Careful observers will note that those are pretty much the same items from the Kritika Online list. Those last two are the absolute lowest hurdle that any game must get over for me to try it out, so they did well there.

Truth be told, I’ve actually tried to try out this game at least twice before. Both times I downloaded it through Steam (still free) and got to the point of launching the game, and then stopped when it told me that I needed to create a Warframe account. Since it didn’t want to use my Steam credentials, which, in my mind, is the entire point of getting it on Steam, I uninstalled it without playing.

This last time, I bypassed Steam and went directly to the Warframe site to create an account and download the client, like I would for any MMORPG. It was more of a hassle, but again, I’ve heard a lot of good things about this game.

The New Player Experience

I was actually looking forward to playing it. I’ve seen a lot of people say a lot of good things about this game. I was in sort of a grumpy mood so I thought it would cheer me up to play a fun new game.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

The new player experience is awful, so I’ve gone ahead and uninstalled it before I punch a fist through my monitor in frustration. Perhaps in 2018, or 2019, or whenever they ever get around to ending the golden goose of “open beta,” they will care what new players think, but until then, I’m out.

Allow me to elaborate in exhaustive length.

I don’t mean the new player experience was “awful” in the sense that the story didn’t make sense (which it didn’t), or that I didn’t know what to do (which I didn’t). I can deal with those things. In fact, the game seemed perfectly serviceable, if not particularly noteworthy, in terms of killing enemies with guns and slashy weapons.

No, I mean it was “awful” in the sense that the UI is incomplete and riddled with bugs and doesn’t meet the needs of its users (namely me).

There’s probably going to be a backlash against this post, because I’m nitpicking about little things in great detail. But I’m a software developer, and it’s basically my job to nitpick about little things in great detail, so it boggles my mind to see games out in the wild from other software developers who completely ignore these little details. Not only does it make it painful to play the game, but it makes me wonder about the future of the software industry.

That Tiny Desktop Window

When I launched the game for the first time, it started in a window on my desktop that covered maybe 1/4 of the center of the screen. It started on a screen that asked you to enter your account credentials, so I thought it was a launcher, like the kind I’ve seen for a thousand other games. I typed in my name and password and waited for the full screen game to start.

Except it didn’t.

It started into the introductory story cut scene right there in that little tiny desktop window.

I had OBS setup and ready to record my first impressions of this game, like I usually do with most new games now, except I couldn’t record it because it was running in a window on my desktop, instead of a full screen game window like it was supposed to. Eventually the cut scene ended and the game asked me to choose a warframe. “Ah,” I thought, “now I will simply hit Escape to bring up the display options, change to full screen resolution, and restart the game.”

Except there were no display options. There were no menus at all. I could do nothing but select one of the three warframes there in that tiny little desktop window. I had a brainstorm, though: I would press ALT-ENTER! That usually switches games from windowed mode to full-screen mode in Windows, a time-honored tradition since the 1990s.

Except it didn’t work. It took my keyboard input as confirmation that I had selected one of those three warframes (the first one, as it turned out), and launched merrily into the next cut scene, still in that tiny little desktop window.

I threw up my hands. I went to Twitter and vented my frustrations.

By the time I got back, the cut scene had ended and people were shooting at me. Only then could I hit ESCAPE and find an Options menu, where I could change the display to full screen.

“Well,” I thought, “that was irritating, but at least now I’ll be able to start over and record my impressions from the beginning.” That’s what I thought at least. Until I started looking closer into the ESCAPE menu. Where was that Quit button? Or the Log Out button? It was nowhere, that’s where. There was no way to stop the game.

So I used the key combination that trolls have been trying to get new players to use in global chat since the beginning of time: ALT-F4. It was the only way to get out of the game and start over. Honestly I was a little surprised it worked. By then I expected I would have to bring up the Task Manager and use End Task, or reboot entirely.

Press 1 On Your Controller

That was the first ten or fifteen minutes of my experience with this game. That’s not a very good first impression. There are way, way too many great games out there, some of which are already installed on my PC in fact, for any new game to come out of the gate with such a terrible first impression.

But wait, there’s more!

Again, I had heard a lot of positive buzz about this game, so I pressed onward despite already wanting to uninstall it. I started out using my controller, because it just seemed like a controller kind of game. My very first instructions in the game told me to “Press 1 to use Slash Dash.”

I looked very closely at my Xbox 360 controller, searched it high and low, turned it over and around, and did not find a “1” button to press. “Lotus” in the corner proceeded to yell at me to hurry up, because I wasn’t using my Slash Dash ability fast enough for her.

The game thought I was using a mouse and keyboard, when I was clearly using a controller. I had used the controller to navigate the menus to select my warframe just a few moments ago. But it still wanted me to press 1 on my keyboard.

Eventually I figured out that pressing the right controller button performed the “Slash Dash” ability and Lotus stopped yelling at me.

Pet peeve: I really hate it when games tell me to hurry up. Especially when there is no associated fail state for going slow.

Keybinding Disaster

Rather than deal with the hassle of trying to translate the screen instructions for keyboard into controller buttons, I switched to mouse and keyboard. This required the obligatory keybind-remapping phase where I have to stop and change everything.

I went through the keybinds and changed the obvious ones: ESDF for movement, A for dodging, C for crouch, Q to interact, etc. You know, the normal ones everyone uses.

But there were some keybinds in the list that I couldn’t puzzle out what they meant. What is the difference between “Quick Melee” and “Melee Attack,” for example? What about “Change Weapon” and “Change Gun?” I’ve never seen this game before. I’ve never read about it. I’ve never seen it on Twitch. I’ve never seen a YouTube video of it. I looked high and low for some tool tips or explanations, but there were none. I just shrugged and thought, “Well I hope those aren’t important.”

At first I set “Quick Melee” to T and left “Melee Attack” blank. Because it seemed like melee should be quick instead of not-quick, I guess. But the game yelled at me that I needed to bind something to Melee Attack. It did not explain why, but I took its word for it. So I set “Melee Attack” to T. I expected it to remove T from Quick Melee, but it didn’t. So I figured I’d better erase it. I’ve played plenty of other games that blindly let you bind the same key to multiple actions and the results are never pretty. But guess what? There is no way to erase keybinds. At least, nothing intuitive. No delete, backspace, or right-click, like other games have done in the past. No “clear” button next to the key setting. Nothing. Eventually I just set it to backslash and hoped I never hit it accidentally.

Update: I left out the funniest part! Later, after resetting to defaults, I learned that those two keybinds were supposed to use the same key!

Moving Is Kind Of Important

I’m pretty annoyed at this point, but now that I’ve gotten my keys setup, I’ll finally be able to start playing this game in earnest and see why everyone likes it.

Right?

Wrong.

After changing my keybinds, forward and backward movement didn’t work. Pressing E and D didn’t do anything. I could strafe side-to-side with S and F, but I couldn’t go forward or back. Even the up and down arrow keys didn’t work.

I grumbled a lot and decided to reset my keybinds back to the WASD defaults. Clearly the developers just didn’t test ESDF. Since, you know, 2013. Four whole years now and nobody has tried changing their keys from WASD to ESDF, and nobody has added “test changing keybinds” to the regression testing scripts for every release. But okay. It happens, I guess.

I hated moving my fingers, but at least I’d be able to play the game.

Right?

Wrong.

Even after resetting the keybinds back to WASD, I still couldn’t move forward or back with the keyboard. I threw up my hands.

Button Guessing Game

So I just went back to the controller. It worked. I could move in any direction, a challenging game programming hurdle apparently! But every single onscreen prompt that appeared continued to tell me how to play with the mouse and keyboard, even though I was using the controller.

The keyboard-to-controller universal translator was not working.
Spoiler alert: I fell.

By then I was very annoyed with this game. Warframe, I think, has been out in the world for quite some time now (the “open beta” launched in 2013, according to Wikipedia). People have spent a lot of money on this “open beta” game through the cash shop. I even remember hearing about an “expansion” for this game.

I played my way through the rest of the tutorial, stumbling my way around trying to work out the right controller buttons on my own, trying to ignore that lady yelling at me to hurry up the whole time. It wasn’t very fun. I stoically soldiered onward just to say that I did it, but I can assure you that my heart wasn’t in it. I was already thinking about this blog post.

One other thing I noticed during the time I could actually run around and shoot things: There was virtually no visual distinction between the enemy mobs and the background. In fact, my player model, the enemy models, and the textures of the environment all were composed of the same basic shades of green and brown. Is that how they teach it in game developer school these days? “Make sure everything looks the same.” I thought surely by now there would be some backlash against all the military shooters where you can’t visually distinguish between the enemies and the background?

“And make sure the marker over the enemy’s head is muted and small.”

After finishing the tutorial, I uninstalled Warframe. If they ever decide to polish the new player experience, maybe I’ll try it again. But don’t hold your breath. I don’t particularly want to monetarily support a game company with no quality control, especially one that has a long history and should know better. I don’t appreciate being treated like garbage, even when the game is free.

* I lol’ed at the guy in that link saying he thought he was the first to think of ESDF in 2015. Update: Oops I left the footnote but deleted the text that referred to it.