”Just play Warframe. It’s better in every way.”
-Commenters under every article or video about Destiny 2
I never played the first Destiny. Before it came out back in 2014, Bungie talked some massive hype about how this was going to be a World of Warcraft-style experience, somehow acting like an MMO but playing like Halo with a new skin slapped on top for copyright reasons. The art style looked great. The world seemed ambitious and mysterious. When the beta came out, memes were made about the poor voice acting and weak dialogue, so much so that it was replaced when a later expansion came out. After Destiny was released, the brutal grind for better gear led players to resort to exploitative, repetitive, and unfun tactics to farm one particular cave with eternally spawning mobs. The loot cave sounds like a kind of hell I’m glad I never participated in. Beyond these initial woes it started with underwhelming DLC that steadily got better with each new episode of content. I decided not to play, as it was an awkward transition period between console generations, so I stuck with PC gaming.
When Destiny 2 was announced, it was a big surprise. Bungie made claims that it had learned from the past and would make bold, innovative changes. This was a chance for redemption. It was coming out for PC on the Blizzard App (formerly Battle.net), a platform that I figured meant the same kind of flawless online functionality as the Blizzard games sitting right above it. By November 2017, I’d already played a full season with the new Diablo III Necromancer and WoW hit the mid-point slump that every expansion pack eventually reaches. I was excited at a game where you could loot and shoot and do that signature Halo jump-float in three dimensions. Bungie kicked up the hype machine, as they always do. Destiny 2 was going to be the biggest game ever, sucking hundreds of hours out of my life.
I played it 38 hours.
This did not meet the hype.
I had a perfectly good time playing Destiny 2. I did not feel especially offended by it since I lacked the emotional investment other players had put into this franchise. Once the campaign ended (which was pretty darn awesome) things quickly fell apart. I was salvaging equipment to upgrade my gear, but there was some kind of artificial weekly cap that kept the loot drops from improving too quickly. I’d have to check in each week and complete special objectives to get Powerful Engrams. To not complete these weekly objectives was to commit to activities that were wildly inefficient and disappointingly repetitive. Each map had a few different spots where two or three game types would drop in as public events, a clever way of congregating players together.
All around these maps were “Adventures” I hadn’t done but I had no interest in doing. These scripted quests were far more varied and interesting than the public events but the loot was absolutely terrible. Destiny 2’s story is not especially strong, its voice acting much stronger with an emphasis on adventurous banter. It works well enough, but it isn’t enough to make me want to explore more of their world without the promise of treasure.
I played long enough to get some very nice pieces of Epic and Exotic gear. Once I had that gear it became all about salvaging junk gear to level what I was using. These upgrades didn’t feel like much of a difference. Power, the game’s measurement for item levels, didn’t seem to do much to the damage I dealt or my survivability.
Quickly the treasure hunt was completely gone; this was purely a grind for nearly invisible number bumps. In Diablo 3 you could have nothing but legendary gear covering your character, even extra gear beyond that used like equippable perks within a transmutation box. World of Warcraft has over a dozen gears slots so there is a LOT of gear to collect. Destiny 2 made it to where you could only use one Exotic armor and one Exotic Weapon amongst the few slots of gear you have to fill. Once you found two exotics that worked well, you were done. Bungie fundamentally killed the treasure hunt by implementing this limitation of Exotic gear.
WARFRAME v. DESTINY
About six weeks after the release of Destiny 2 my buddy Tim messaged me about Warframe. “Give it a try,” he said. “It makes Destiny 2 look like clown shoes.” I was skeptical at this bold statement. Before the implementation of gambling for loot boxes (oh how times have changed), free-to-play games were the biggest blight on the world of gaming monetization. I wanted to stay the hell away from that.
I wasn’t even sure what Warframe was as a game. The footage I saw of it made it seem like too much was happening, with characters flying and twisting through the air, bullets and energy coming from every direction, and a minimalist yet somehow clunky UI.
I decided to read up a little more on Warframe before stumbling on some stats…
*About 200 people work on the game
*30 million registered players
*60k concurrent users on Steam, more than Grand Theft Auto V
How was this possible, and why was no one talking about it?
Out of all the articles I’d read every week about one new screw up or disappointment or miscommunication after another from Bungie / Destiny 2, I’d barely seen any coverage for Warframe. I didn’t understand why.
Apparently Warframe has had an incredibly tumultuous development and rapid iteration over the past 5 years, with the past couple of years having exploded in popularity and content. Digital Extremes is sort of an indie studio, relying on developer transparency with its players as opposed to intense advertising. They live streamed final bug fixes just hours before rolling out expansion level updates, a move I’ve never seen from a game developer. They invite people to create skins for their game and make money off it, laying out exactly how to design for them. This couldn’t be farther from the way Bungie does things, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Why compare it to Destiny?
Warframe’s loadscreen, where you get to see your ship and make it move around while you wait.
Destiny 2’s loadscreen, where your ship soars uncontrollable as you wait…and wait…the load times are long.
Both games: Science-fantasy setting within our solar system. The main campaign starts off with you being crippled by the bad guy, then working your way to restore this former glory that was stolen from you. You play a Space-Knight-Wizard (or Space-Knight-Wizard-Ninja in Warframe’s case) traveling from planet to planet in your ship, collecting treasure with your plucky AI companion. You shoot guns and use magic-like abilities to take on hordes of foes. There’s maybe one boss per planet, rare but significant battles that implement unique mechanics. Raids are twice the size of normal parties. The primary goal: Quest and battle for more loot, forever-and-ever.
Warframe’s Ordis and Destiny’s Ghost are voiced with an eerie similarity. Ordis is far less genuinely funny, mostly because of chiming in on your ship with the same silly nonsense (thankfully you can mute him specifically in the sound options) but where Destiny 2 chooses to focus on fun banter, Warframe works on mythic world building. Warframe doesn’t just use names like “The Traveler” or “The Speaker” or “The Enclave” but weird titles like “Tenno” and “Grineer” and “Smeeta Kavat.” There’s a language being used that fits the kind of mythology you find in something like Star Wars. Not giving names to things reeks of indecision.
The Speaker was mysterious figure from Destiny 1 that shows up to un-ceremoniously die in a cutscene you probably skipped in Destiny 2. Was The Speaker’s backstory ever revealed? Nope. Do you care? Maybe – but I sure didn’t. If these objects of plot used in Destiny are so easily dismissed, why should I be invested or even pay attention? Warframe is distinctly weird and unpredictable, making me, at the very least, very curious.
Destiny plays in open spaces far more often than Warfame does, but Warframe opens up HUGE for one beautiful, disjointed location called the Plains of Eidolon. At the moment the Plains feels like a beautiful playground more than a primary gameplay option, but pushes the boundaries of this game in incredibly unexpected and super ambitious ways.
My brother and I had epic problems with connectivity when first playing Destiny 2. The game gets confused if you are on the same local network to play, making it very hard to work together.
Hilariously, while Warframe was very easy for me and my brother to play together, the first couple of days of playing he would get stuck at the mission victory screen and have to reboot the game. He always got the loot from the mission, so the victory registered each time at least.
Both issues cleared up with time. Even at that, Warframe’s matchmaking is 1000 years ahead of what Destiny 2 has to offer, swiftly putting together teams of four players while Destiny 2 shamefully struggles to let you team up with a one or two friends.
A Precursor to Destiny
Going through the wiki for Warfame makes it sound a lot like Destiny with more features. There are sections where you hop into an Archwing for aerial combat, which feels like playing a Mobile Suit Gundam. The Archwing is what brought me to this game. 3D mobile space missions looked cool, but flying around at 1000 KPH over the newly released Plains of Eidolon looked like soooo much fun. This seemed far more wild than anything Destiny would try to implement.
Upon all this reading of the wiki and before playing the game proper, I thought “Man, this game is quite the Destiny clone” but turns out it was released a year before Destiny.
Granted, the first couple of years for Warframe were incredibly rough from the sounds of it. Warframe is notoriously bad at explaining its mechanics (Destiny isn’t exactly great at this, either) to prioritize you playing as quickly as possible. It is a fine balance between depth and convolution, coming off at times as impenetrable. This knowledge is presented like pure Arcana, rewarding you greatly with all the ways the game can be approached, bent and broken. This kind of esotericism may be influenced by its free-to-play design that takes advantage of impatient players but not the knowledgeable ones.
The obscured nature of Warframe’s gameplay can scare away a lot of players. It not only doesn’t hold your hand, but slaps it away and throws you into The Void. Destiny 2 is easier to get into and easier to finish, but overall acts as an entirely different experience all together. It felt really good to bounce from planet to planet in D2 but once that’s done there’s not much left to experience. Raids can be fun in D2, but the weak matchmaking tools make it an excessive hassle for just for an exotic missile launcher, especially when a powerful alternative drops from any activity.
Raiders of the Lost Void Relics
Warframe can scratch that itch for Raids anyway, which rewards unique enchantments for your gear so it is always worth doing. I’d argue the 40+ Warframes each individually have more tactical depth than any of Destiny 2’s three classes. Warframe has 200+ unique weapons, with lots of melee options that Destiny 2 limits greatly. Every weapon carries unique traits that are relatively balanced around tactile feel and responsiveness. Don’t get me wrong, there is a meta and some weapons are better than others. There are about twenty types of missions in Warframe as opposed to Destiny 2’s five patrol types. The procedurally generated maps reduce the grind rather than repeating the same locations over and over. There are pets and companions similar to Destiny’s Ghost but function within combat. I personally fight alongside my space-kitty named Carbonkle.
Warframe also has Clan Dojos essentially player housing with loads of customization. You can even make your own obstacle course there.
Running around in Warframe feels like if you could play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as a wizard with machine guns. Warframe’s sense of discovery is immensely rewarding and extremely intimidating. It fuels wiki-addicts. The game needs to explain itself better to bring in more players and keep the game growing. It’s insanely ambitious. When you start counting the amount of content and features Warframe has over Destiny 2, it starts to feel embarrassing.
Warframe is the new Diablo, the new Destiny. It breaks so many conventions I didn’t think were possible for a game. You have nothing to lose because the dang game is free. So go ahead. Try it. Lose yourself to The Void.