I Am A Space Ninja: Movement in Warframe

So recently I’ve been getting into this game called Warframe. I’ve heard it described as ‘Destiny, but good and free-to-play’. Interestingly, this isn’t my first attempt at playing Warframe. When I owned a PS4 at launch there wasn’t much to play so I attempted Warframe. Something about the game left me confused at the time and the whole thing just didn’t click for me. Returning to Warframe, however, has been a blast and the game turns for me in a way that it didn’t before. So, with all that noted, I wanted to look at one of the things that makes Warframe work for me. The movement system.

Playing Warframe on a controller is interesting. When it comes to games on my PC, an Xbox One controller is my weapon of choice. On this controller, pressing ‘left bumper’ allows two things. If you hold left bumper, you enter sneak mode. If you tap left bumper, you slide. This is by far the most exciting way to get around in Warframe. Now there are a few variations that you can perform on this slide technique.

You can slide into an enemy and attack with your melee weapon (which was initially a katana-esque sword for me). You can slide and then follow it up with a double jump to traverse more ground. Even further, if you aim while airborne after this manoeuvre you can move even further. The reason for this is that when you are airborne and aim in Warframe, time slows. Early on, I personally used a bow to dispatch my enemies. You can also slide and shoot at the same time, pulling off some Matrix-esque moves.

My class in the game at the moment is Volt. A Volt uses lightning powers as their special ability. As you collect more energy you can unleash more devastating attacks. The fourth level of Volt’s power is an area-of-effect electric blast. A mighty sphere of lightning. I rather enjoy sliding into a group of enemies and unleashing my power. So, why am I focusing so much on the combination of movement and combat in this piece?

Depending on the genre of game, we don’t often think about movement in games. For platformers? Sure. For games like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia? Sure. However, it’s worth highlighting movement in genres that typically employ a very straightforward A to B system of getting anywhere. The reason Assassin’s Creed isn’t just another open-world series is because of the unique way of traversing that world. Running across roofs and finding the fastest route to the next location are hugely satisfying in the well-realised entries in that series.

One reason I can’t stand Assassin’s Creed III is because the colonial architecture of the late 1700s doesn’t gel with the movement system. The game emphasises wilderness exploration and running through trees as an innovation. However, those trees don’t help with those massive streets. The winding cities of Renaissance Italy fit much better with the traversal system of Assassin’s Creed.

That’s the beauty of imaginative movement in games. It’s such a basic component of games that if it feels unique and exciting to engage in, then the whole game’s enjoyment factor is elevated.

Another example of movement working wonders for a series is Saints Row IV. Saints Row IV introduced superpowers to the game. With these powers, you could jump and glide through the air. Thus, you soon learned how to jump from building to building and finding advantageous ways to jump and glide across the map. Getting from point A to point B without touching the ground felt satisfying as hell.

The list of interesting movement options in games could continue for a while. I’ll quickly finish my thoughts with just two extra examples. Part of Overwatch’s charm is the unique way in which many of the characters can traverse the map. Genji’s double jump and wall climb. Tracer’s fast-paced movement and short teleportation. Pharah’s flight abilities. Widowmaker’s grappling hook. Each of these presents unique movement that infers how to play that character. Genji is all about getting in and out. Disengage, then re-engage. Tracer is similar but via ground. Pharah is about forcing player’s out of place through aerial strikes. Widowmaker is all about positioning yourself to find your target, then shifting once discovered.

Perhaps this love of movement for me can be traced back to the second game I ever played: Jet Set Radio Future. In much the same way that the Tony Hawk series operates, JSRF was all about tricks and navigating arenas. Continuous speed was important for keeping those tricks going. Speed was often important for catching up to fleeing opponents or beating them in a race. Often, achieving completion in this series relied on a complicated sequence of tricks or routes that had a unique rhythm to their movement.

The reason I mention all these games is that without their unique movement, they wouldn’t be half as memorable. Someone on the design team took the time to think about environments are traversed. In the early days of 3D game worlds, the perspective and thus the movement in the world is what separated Crash Bandicoot from his earlier 2D predecessors. So, if you’re working on a video game, maybe consider how you can make movement unique. If you’re playing games, ask for more interesting ways to engage with the world you inhabit.


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