The Essential Switch Ports: Warframe

A complete online action game experience on-the-go

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I love this Dark Sector-inspired outfit. Screenshot captured by Alex Rowe.

In the run-up to new consoles at the end of this year, I’ll be regularly highlighting my personal favorite Nintendo Switch ports, to help show how ambition and creativity matter just as much as clock speed. Nintendo’s little machine can bring it in spite of its low-powered hardware. You can choose any of my featured games and know you’re getting the same great content you’d get on a PS4 or Xbox One.

If you just got home with your new Switch or Switch Lite, and you want to see just what it can do without spending a cent on new software, it’s time to download Warframe.

Digital Extremes’ Warframe (official site) made a big entrance on consoles at the launch of the PS4 in 2013. It’s been nothing but explosive growth and success in the years since, and the game now has an eager player base of over 50 million users.

The developers constantly add new missions, challenges, and playable frames (characters) to the game. Thanks to some help from the porting geniuses at Panic Button, you can get the whole game on your Nintendo Switch. All it takes is a free ~14 gigabyte download, and you can play the entire game alone or with up to three online friends.

Of course, being a free game, it’s filled to the brim with premium purchase options. But, in a move that’s not all that common these days, you can earn the content for free as well by putting in some grinding time. You can also play the game as long as you’d like each day, without worrying about depleting an energy bar that you’ll need to pay to refill.

The game is a fast-paced third-person action shooter. You’ll complete different types of missions across a galaxy of smaller maps, and a couple of large open worlds, gathering up loot and money as you go. You’ll customize your own spaceship. You’ll earn cards called mods that let you upgrade your weapons and armor. You’ll block bullets with a sword. You’ll hack into terminals. All while experiencing a story that mixes surrealism, science fiction, and modern pop humor into one entertaining package. And you’ll be smiling from how smooth it all is.

Content-wise, the Switch game has absolutely everything the other two consoles have. Graphically, it also comes close to its bigger brothers. The frame rate is the one major change. The game runs at 30 frames per second instead of the 60 seen on other platforms, and you’ll notice dips here and there (particularly in the largest areas), but these are minor and short-lived.

Impressively, most of the graphical effects in the game still appear on Switch. When docked, the game even retains its beautiful screen space reflections, an effect that I love, and that often gets cut out of Switch versions of games because it can be a performance drain. You’ll also see gorgeous volumetric lighting, environmental smoke and fog effects, GPU-accelerated particles, motion blur, and more.

A dynamic resolution scaling system keeps it all looking nice and running fast. The game is a better fit visually on the portable screen, but still manages to look nice enough on my 28-inch 4K monitor thanks to its bevy of effects and smooth gameplay. And it even has a graphics settings menu where you can experiment with turning effects on and off, though this only prevents the resolution from scaling down as opposed to raising the frame rate past the cap.

The key aspect of Warframe’s gameplay is its tightly-controlling combat, and the Switch manages to keep up in that department. The ergonomics of the joy con controllers aren’t ideal for all hands, and I prefer playing the game with the kickstand and a grip, or docked with a Pro controller, but in portable mode they still work okay.

Some Switch ports have greatly compressed their audio in order to fit into the handheld’s smaller memory pool, but fortunately, Warframe’s wonderful soundscapes come over intact. It’s still a great game that sounds better on headphones.

I have only one complaint about this port: its implementation of HD rumble is lacking. The Switch’s controllers have some of the most-nuanced rumble effects ever available, with full positional and intensity options open to developers. Warframe doesn’t take any real advantage of the Switch’s high tech rumble feedback, instead opting for basic constant vibrations during gunfire. It’s still better than having no effect at all, and could probably be patched in the future.

You’ll need an active wi-fi connection in order to play the game, but that’s true of every other version as well. You can’t transfer your account over to the game if you’ve already started on another version, but that’s also a handy excuse to try out a new frame you haven’t seen before.

Warframe is one of the biggest, most actively-played online games in the world. And having the whole thing on Switch, in an essentially complete package, is very cool. It loads fast and plays as well on the Switch as I could hope for, and it’s very easy to forget I’m playing it on a console using a little over 10 watts of power. That’s a small fraction of the power used by the other machines, and it’s delivering the same giant fun shooter.

My next article in this series will feature a certain other massive RPG that kept its screen space reflections even while in portable mode. It’s a tale about a horse named Roach, and his white-haired human friend who fights monsters…

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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