The frozen wasteland of Orb Vallis is a dramatic improvement over Warframe’s last open-world area. Not only is it bigger, but it's packed with far more interesting things to do, too. If I get bored of randomized missions, I can whittle away the hours catching robotic fish or exploring ancient cave systems looking for rare minerals. Better yet, I can grab my trusty tranq rifle and head out into the wilds to track the local (and adorable) wildlife that roam around this terraformed slice of Venus. Or I can just hop on my cool new hoverboard and practice grinding rails while avoiding local patrols of Corpus troops. There's a lot of great stuff in the Fortuna update, and I want nothing more than to just binge on it.
But Warframe doesn't want me to do that, and that's supremely frustrating.
Fortuna, which launched just yesterday, is structurally similar to Warframe's previous open-world expansion, The Plains of Eidolon. Intrepid players can venture to Venus and, after a lengthy introductory quest, are then set loose with nearly half a dozen activities they can invest time and resources into. The problem is that most of these activities tie into Warframe's Syndicate system, which doesn't function all that differently from the reputation grind you'd find in games like World of Warcraft or Destiny 2, except for one major restriction: You can only earn a certain amount of reputation points in a day. In World of Warcraft, that's not a big deal, but the way reputation works in Warframe ends up limiting what I can do each day in a very annoying way.
Come back tomorrow, Tenno
Just about everything in Fortuna is centered around the Solaris United Syndicate. As I help various people around town, I earn 'standing' with this band of half-human rebels. Earn enough and I can rank up to unlock more valuable items from shops. But Solaris United standing isn't just points that fill up a meter to unlock new stuff. It's the currency that I spend to buy that stuff, too. It'd be like if, in a normal RPG, I could spend my experience points on a new set of armor. In Fortuna, though, just about every meaningful activity is locked behind Solaris United standing. Fishing, mining, animal conservation, gun crafting—all of these things require me to spend some amount of Solaris United standing to access them.
What's so frustrating, though, is that I can only earn so much standing per day, and it's really not that much. Though Warframe doesn't have typical levels like a normal RPG, it does have a system called Mastery Rank that's a kind of rough approximation of your power as a player. Leveling up your Mastery Rank unlocks more powerful weapons and cooler quests, but it also has secondary effects like increasing how much standing you can earn with a given Syndicate each day. After a hundred hours or so, I'm only Mastery Rank 9. That means I can earn 10,000 standing with Solaris United each day. That might sound like a decent chunk, but I quickly blew through that in an hour or so buying a few items and upgrading my rank.
Because I'm a newer Warframe player, I'm arbitrarily restricted from enjoying more of Fortuna on a daily basis. I haven't even had a chance to craft my own gun or build my own robot dog companion because I spent all my standing elsewhere. Meanwhile, veteran players who have a much higher cap on standing can, effectively, enjoy Fortuna for much longer each day than I'm allowed to. It makes sense that more serious players would have an advantage, but something is wrong when that advantage is just being able to continue having fun.
What's just as annoying is that part of the appeal of these side activities is that they, in turn, reward standing with Solaris United. So even if I go out and hunt animals or fish just for the sake of it—the features that I already paid Solaris United standing to unlock—I won't get any Solaris United standing because I've already maxed out for the day. There are other rewards to doing these activities, but it doesn't feel good knowing that I won't benefit fully. The message is clear: Come back tomorrow.
I understand the necessary evils of time gating in certain circumstances. As big as Fortuna is, if Digital Extremes let players gorge themselves on it they'd be complaining in a week that there was nothing left to do. It makes sense to place soft barriers that slowly diminish the returns of playing for more than a few hours each day. World of Warcraft does this by only offering so many daily quests, so players who binge eventually have to find something else to do in-game. But those daily quests are also just a small part of an expansion like Battle for Azeroth and they don't actively prevent me from experiencing more of it.
Warframe needs a system that's more generous, because the current limit on how much standing I can earn feels too strict and too stingy. Being a newer player already means I don't have access to as many cool toys and activities as veterans, but why limit my ability to benefit from the ones I do have? It's a shame because, for a free-to-play game, Warframe places very few restrictions on players. The few that it does, like this one, are frustrating. While I have no shortage of things I can do in other parts of Warframe, what I want to do is experience all the cool new features in this massive, exciting update. Why won't Warframe let me do that?