Analysis of Warframe’s Trial Missions

The Law of Retribution Trial mission was added to Warframe on March 19, 2015, as Digital Extreme’s first attempt to create a dungeon-like mission for high-level groups of players. Trial missions require players to work together by dealing with environmental and enemy threats all the while working towards completing objectives across three consecutively linked missions. However, Trial missions failed to hold the attention of the majority of players and further Trial development has been placed on an indefinite hold. This article provides an in-depth analysis of the implementation and design of the Trials to provide a better understanding of why these special missions failed to capture player interest.

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This article will assume the reader has some degree of familiarity with the various Trial missions. For more information on the Trials, refer to the TCN Basic Guides: Trials and the links provided on that page.


Trial missions were designed to challenge a group of players. Their skill, equipment, and ability to cooperate with one another were all put to the test in order to complete each hand-crafted mission. The Trial designs fall in line with what is typically referred to as “raids” in other games: A static mission environment with very limited randomization in which a group of players must cooperate to earn exclusive rewards for high-level players.

The Basics

The design of the Trials is a sharp contrast to the solo-friendly majority of Warframe mission design and even more of a contrast to the procedurally generated level design on almost all other missions. Before going into more detail as to what may have been a factor in the lack of interest for the Trials, I feel it is important to cover some basics in regards to the concepts which will be discussed in this article. First and foremost:

What is Endgame?

Endgame refers to the final stages of play within a game. The term was popularized with Chess and is used to describe the final stage of a game when only a few pieces remain on the board. However, the differences between a middle and endgame may not be inherently clear in the flow of play. The endgame is defined by the absence of relevant options and removal of distractions; it is when the players have exhausted their resources and the completion of a match is imminent, but not the final move itself.

In video games, “endgame” has an adapted meaning of referring to the content designed for players who have reached the maximum level and have obtained the best possible equipment. It is seen as a way to utilize everything which the player has earned and offer them a way to utilize their best equipment to seek out new rewards from challenging gameplay.

Many games utilize endgame content as a feedback loop for players to continue to progress after having essentially completed and moved on from the rest of the game. This is commonly accomplished by increasing player/enemy levels and adding in new items with each installation of endgame content in order to constantly create a new level of “best” equipment to strive for. Endgame often appears as a buzzword used by high-level players looking for a means to continue to progress.

What would qualify the Trials as endgame missions?

The objectives of the Trials have a degree of complexity not found in many other areas of Warframe and require a team of players to work together to complete each task. For example, let’s examine the first mission of The Law of Retribution: After entering the first locked room, your Health will periodically deplete due to environmental hazards and a high quantity of enemy units immediately engage you in combat. Your squad must work together to deal with the enemy and environmental threats while assisting one another to complete the objectives across each room and complete the mission.

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Enemies in the Trial missions are at a significantly higher level than most other missions and failure to complete objectives in a timely manner can be fatal for the squad. The reward for completing the three linked Trial missions are Arcane Enhancements as well as a lump sum of Credits (greater than 100,000 for the final stage alone). Arcane Enhancements are exclusive to the Trials and empower your warframes and weapons beyond what mods are capable of by granting special combat-oriented effects to helmets and syandanas. Though the installed Arcane Enhancements require the use of the specific cosmetic items they were installed upon, they can be safely removed by using an Arcane Distiller. It is worth noting that the process of uninstalling and reinstalling Arcane Enhancements will be adjusted in the near future (sources).

Simply put, the Trials are content in which the players are challenged in a different way than most other missions, consists of significantly higher level enemies than most missions, and deliver a unique reward which enhances your warframes.

How do Trials fit in to Warframe?

Trial missions are unique from most missions as they have a minimum requirement of 4 players and up to a maximum of 8 players in a single squad. The level design consists of static tiles which are the same for every player with minor randomized variations. Each individual mission, commonly referred to as a “stage” of the Trial, consists of a set of objectives squads must complete while dealing with environmental threats and enemy units. Standard gameplay and combat applies to the Trials, but for the most part these missions are objective-oriented with less emphasis on combat.

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The Trials also serve as a way to deliver a new chapter of Warframe‘s story for the various factions. The Law of Retribution adds the next chapter for the Grineer’s Councillor Vay Hek and follows the events of the Operation: Eyes of Blight event in which he destroyed several Relays. To a lesser extent the Trial built more on to the story of Earth and the Toxin Injectors, the Grineer Shipyards on Ceres, and Fomorian fleet. Likewise, The Jordas Verdict built upon the reworked Jordas Golem and how the Infestation managed to spread itself through the system with a handful of hints about what the player-operated warframes truly are.

Rewards offered through the Trials can be used in any gameplay mode other than PvP and utilize the standard random acquisition method (with weights assigned to rarity). Additionally, the Jordas Verdict had level designs specifically made to utilize both Archwing and the recently reworked Parkour 2.0 movement system. Trials were designed to be an outlet for high level players to utilize everything they had acquired in gameplay and earn exclusive rewards.

Developer Perspective: Scott McGregor

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I had the opportunity to ask Scott McGregor, Design Director for Warframe, a few questions in regards to the development of the Trials. His responses shed light on Digital Extremes’ approach in design and where the Trials fit into Warframe.

TennoClockNews: What inspired the creation and implementation of Trials?

Scott McGregor: We wanted to create content that required more organized high-level groups. We wanted something that would challenge high-level player groups.

Though the level designs for The Law of Retribution used existing tiles, many of the new elements have strong visual indication of how the objectives interact with one another. Which came first: the mission level design or the Trial objectives?

Trials started out as a very small team testing the waters to see what was possible. Reuse of the tiles to create the play space just made sense at the time. Objectives were designed and tiles selected and changed to support those objectives.

Were most of the Arcane Enhancements re-purposed elements of the unreleased Focus system1?

The ideas behind enhancements was one of the ideas we had for the Focus system. When searching for rewards for Trials we decided to use it.

Digital Extremes has talked about taking elements from the Trials and incorporating them into standard missions on past Devstreams2. An example of this would be the re-reworked Raptor boss fight which uses a similar explosively destroyed objective as seen in The Law of Retribution. Are there any other Trial-like adaptations on the way for standard missions?

Currently none in progress but we do have sections earmarked for use at a later date when we have free resources and time.

Would you consider Trials as endgame content for Warframe?

I consider Trials another way to play Warframe, not sure we will ever have one true endgame play style you can point to and say “That is Warframe‘s endgame” because [the] game is ever-evolving and changing. We keep moving the bar for what players are capable [of doing]. I think we strive to give players many different ways to play the game at all levels of play. We are always looking for new and fun ways of challenging the players.

In regards to the recent buzz about ROI with Trials3… What was the deciding factor in putting further Trial development on hold? What can players expect for the future of the existing Trials or for new ones?

Trials are huge investment for us, we have spoke about this at length in the past. We want to create content that the most amount of players can experience. Since the design goal for Trials was high-level and highly organized it really makes it a high barrier of entry for most players. So we spend a lot of resources creating something that only a very small percentage of the player base uses or experiences.

Another concern with Trial development being on hold is that when a bug pops up, it can last for weeks or months at a time.

We will still fix bugs in Trials as they pop up and we become aware of them. So make sure to report them on the forums.

For the small portion of the community that does run the set of Trials on a regular basis, there has not been much correspondence with DE in regards to feedback on Trial design. Now that development is on hold, is feedback still being considered for improving existing Trial designs?

Feedback is always welcome, finding the resource to act on that feedback is the tricky part. Since most of the Trials have been out for a while I highly doubt we will be doing any massive changes to the designs.

Sources:
1Devstream 50
2Devstream 75
3Devstream 79

A Disconnect In Design

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The Trials were a novel idea for Warframe. The missions themselves introduced new mechanics which relied on a group of players coordinating to complete gameplay objectives. Trials were designed specifically for high-level players to provide a new challenge complete with new rewards.

Though the mechanics of the Trial missions are relatively simplistic, they still require a nominal amount of trial and error to discover how to advance through each stage with limited guidance. The Lotus, who would usually guide a player’s hand through objectives a mission, provides little to no direction in these high-level missions. In fact, the Law of Retribution even added a thematic element to the Trial by disrupting communications with the Lotus as part of the mission.

The visual designs of the Trials are surprisingly intuitive as well. In Stage 1 of The Law of Retribution there are: color states to indicate when a pad is active, lights which indicate which paths have already been completed, color states for the hacking terminals, cables which connect the terminals to their respective Toxin Injectors, and visual cues for when the Toxin Injectors are vulnerable.

Each stage visually communicates where the key objective points are and how they can interact with the rest of the environment. Perhaps the most understated but nuanced example of this would be Stage 3 of The Law of Retribution: Each tower has a different symbol, a different set of colored cables, a different pattern on each set of cables, and a corresponding symbol on the pads required to gain access to the tower in addition to visually being able to connect a door to a pad by following the cables. A great deal of detail has been put into the visual designs to ensure players can deduce what needs to be done in the missions.

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Even The Jordas Verdict, though at first is overwhelming, has an impressive level of attention to detail in level design for Stage 3’s maze which visually guides the player to objectives and uses mechanics taught in more simplistic forms from the first two stages. The mechanics may not have been spelled out as to what has to be done in the Trials, but the visual design allowed players to infer the connections between different elements of the mission after being initially introduced to the mechanics in less intensive conditions.

In terms of mechanical design, the Trials are fairly intuitive. With a little bit of experimentation through trial and error to connect the dots, players quickly learned how to efficiently complete the Trials. Within a week or two, players had cut down on the time required to complete The Law of Retribution to be under 30 minutes (relative to the hour+ many experienced on the first day). Within a few a months, players were competing for world record times under 20 minutes. As of today, the current world record for The Law of Retribution is 10:07 whereas the average for the month of September 2016 was 28:18. Note: This data was parsed and logged from the Official Tracker. Courtesy of Pegasy.

So with all of this attention to detail in the level design, where was the disconnect? It has already been established by the developers themselves that the Trials were not attracting players on a regular basis, but how did this come to be?

Last month I opened up two different feedback topics on high-traffic community outlets for Warframe: the Official Forums – General Discussion and the /r/Warframe subreddit to gather feedback from players. My intention was to gain a better understanding as to why the Trials saw less activity relative to other mission types. Though by no means a conclusive study (and perhaps a bit misleading), hundreds of responses indicated that many players either have never completed the Trial missions or did not have any interest in completing them again. From this research I have identified a few key elements that may have influenced the lack of popularity in Trial missions:

  1. Rewards
  2. Matchmaking
  3. Coordination Requirements
  4. Barriers to Entry
  5. Lack of Information

Rewards

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When speaking of the Trials, the first reward which comes to mind would be the Arcane Enhancements and then to a lesser extent the Credits earned by completing the final mission in a Trial. It is certainly worth mentioning that each Trial completed rewards well over 100,000 Credits on the final mission alone and can be a very lucrative way to earn them quickly with a reliable group.

Arcane Enhancements are considered the main reward of the Trials is because they are unique to the Trial missions. In fact, the only other way to obtain an Arcane Enhancement would be to trade for it with another player who has completed the Trial.

Dilution

For the Trials, the weights for Arcane Enhancement rewards are assigned to a Common, Uncommon, and Rare classification. You can read more about how these weights influence the drop chances for items here: “Warframe – Rarity Constants and “Random” Number Generation“. Dilution refers to adding in rewards which are considered undesirable that have the same chance of acquisition as desirable rewards.

For The Law of Retribution (Normal), there are 20 possible rewards assigned with weighted drop chances of Common, Uncommon, and Rare. For example, you are much more likely to obtain an Arcane Trickery (Common) than you are an Arcane Grace (Rare). However, there are several Arcane Enhancements in this pool of rewards which are not considered to be desirable such as Arcane Ice (Uncommon).

Let’s say you want to complete an Arcane Avenger set. Arcane Avenger is only available from the Normal version of The Law of Retribution and is assigned an Uncommon rarity. Normalized for the Trial reward pool, this comes out to approximately a 2.45% chance to acquire Arcane Avenger once per daily reset. The average number of days a player will have to complete the Trial to earn a complete set of 10 is 408 days (or roughly 1 every 41 days).

Players cannot realistically earn the specific rewards they want for completing the Trials. There are other factors to consider such as being able to freely trade with other players who have the Arcane Enhancement you want, but ultimately the Trials are asking for a lengthy commitment in order to fully earn your own set of rewards for fully upgraded Arcane Enhancements. However, having a variety of options is not necessarily a negative form of dilution.

The negative form of dilution of Trial rewards can be attributed to the undesirable rewards such as resistance-based Arcane Enhancements from both versions of The Law of Retribution. Not only are you missing out on the opportunity to earn the Arcane Enhancement you wanted, you’re receiving something that has no perceived value to you or to others. These resistance-based Arcane Enhancements do not even offer the +1 Revive which comes standard with all of the others. With an estimated 41 days between each Arcane Avenger in the example above, it is discouraging to consecutively receive undesirable rewards.

Limited Awareness

There is very little documentation provided in Warframe in regards to the rewards available from a given mission. The only exception to this would be Alert missions which indicate the amount of Credits and whatever other guaranteed reward will be distributed for completing the mission such as Nitain. Digital Extremes has recently taken steps to improve this with Prime equipment acquisition in particular and to a lesser extent with the Arcane Enhancements.

The Silver Grove: Hotfix 3 added information to the Codex to show where to acquire Void Relics and what could be contained within each Relic. Additionally, information was added to show the effects of each Arcane Enhancement and where to acquire them. However, in order to view these Codex entries you must have acquired at least one of these items already.

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The Credit and Arcane Enhancement rewards are not documented within the game, but the problem goes a bit deeper than that. Rare and Reinforced Storage Containers spawn in the Trials with a dramatically increased frequency relative to standard missions. It is relatively common to encounter at least one of these special containers per stage and possible to find both 1 Rare and 1 Reinforced container in the same stage for a total possible of 6 within one Trial.

These containers come with a guaranteed crafted Dojo Resource relative to the faction associated with the container type such as Detonite Injectors, a Mantis Landing Craft part blueprint, 80 Endo, a 30 or 60 minute Credit or Affinity Booster, a lump sum of Credits, and a chance for a research-exclusive weapon blueprint. After completing the Trial with a group of friends, you can also utilize any Affinity Boosters you might have acquired to rank up new equipment or farm for Syndicate Standing and Focus!

To a lesser extent, now that Nightmare Missions are no longer available outside of Alerts on the Star Chart, the Nightmare version of The Law of Retribution is the only way to potentially farm for Nightmare Mods.

The documentation provided within the game to players in regards to rewards from the Trials is sparse. As is with most things in Warframe, players must rely on one another or external resources to learn more about the rewards available from the Trials. Without knowing the potential value of completing a Trial, one particularly bad experience could potentially discourage players from trying them again.

Horizontal Progression

Beyond the problems of dilution and limited awareness lies the issue of a lack of motivation to earn these rewards. What good is Arcane Fury when you’re already killing every enemy in one blow? Why would you need Arcane Barrier if you’re never running out of shields? Why would you need Arcane Warmth if Cold status effects are not impacting your combat experience? How could you make either of these more desirable without being mandatory?

Horizontal Progression is an approach to game design which continues to add new rewards for players to obtain within a game, but as options rather than replacements. The goal of this approach is to keep the game accessible to as many players as possible and improve the return on investment for every asset created through constant use. In a true version of this system, all pieces of equipment are equally relevant as ideal options.

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Arcane Enhancements are undoubtedly an upgrade as they provide new power to players in a new way. However, there is not any content in Warframe where the Arcane Enhancements would be considered a necessity as opposed to being a luxury. Warframe’s core gameplay is designed to be approachable by all players of varying levels of skill with very lax requirements for their equipment. Even the Trials can be completed with ease by skillful players intentionally handicapping their equipment by removing mods.

It is worth noting that some of these Arcane Enhancements are incredibly useful to have. Arcane Grace is amazing for warframes with a high health pool such as Inaros or a Heat-based Chroma. Arcane Energize can be incredibly useful for any frame by providing up to 100 bonus Energy on any Energy Orb pickup. Doubly so for warframes which use channeled abilities such as Ember’s World on Fire. Generally speaking, channeled abilities prohibit the user’s ability to generate Energy by any other means than by collecting Energy Orbs. Useful, but not necessary within a system designed around Horizontal Progression.

This is not to say that Horizontal Progression is a flawed design practice. Only that it can be a factor in why players do not feel the need to participate in the Trials and earn these rewards. Regardless of if Horizontal or Vertical Progression is used to design rewards, once the desired reward is obtained the motivation to repeat the content necessary to earn that reward is diminished. New content eventually grows old when there is nothing left for players to work toward.

Matchmaking

All three Trials require at least one player to provide a key to begin the mission. As with other key-based missions in Warframe, there is not an option for players to quickly form a group with other players in their region by selecting the mission on the Star Chart. As such, players must recruit allies through the in-game Recruitment chat, friends or Clan members, or from external sources outside of the game.

The keys themselves can be expensive to craft as well. Though they do not require unique items such as the Beacons once used to gain access to Councillor Vay Hek or the MavNavs required to access Mutalist Alad V, the Trial keys require a hefty investment of resources and 6 hours to craft.

The Costs of Keys

Over time, Digital Extremes has taken steps to alleviate the problems of finding a group for key-based missions by adjusting their costs or in some cases completely removing them:

Orokin Derelict keys were added in Update 10 and one day later in Hotfix 10.0.1 the resource costs and crafting times were reduced. Approximately one week later, the key crafting times were reduced further in Update 10.1. A few months later, in Hotfix 12.0.3, the key blueprints became reusable as well.

The reworked Councillor Vay Hek assassination mission was added in Update 13. Similar to how Lephantis was the gatekeeper for Nekros and required a special key component only found on Orokin Derelict missions, the Vay Hek Frequency Triangulator required 4 new unique key components (Beacons) which could only be found on Ceres and only from certain enemies with a very low spawn chance. Hotfix 13.0.2 included an increased drop rate of Beacons, Hotfix 13.0.3 allowed for multiple Prosecutor unit spawns per mission (which dropped the Beacons), Hotfix 14.0.8 included a change which guaranteed a Prosecutor spawn on Endless mission types, and Hotfix 14.2.3 improved the spawn chance of Prosecutors in general. Ultimately, in Update 15.13, the key requirement was completely removed to access the mission.

Mutalist Alad V was added to the game in Update 15.5 and required yet another key with a unique crafting component to access the mission. Originally the MavNavs could only be obtained by completing Infestation mission events, though they were later added as a possible Derelict Mission reward in Hotfix 17.2.4 and Hotfix 17.2.6.

Perhaps the most notable example of reducing key requirements were the changes to the Orokin Void missions in Update: Specters of the Rail. Void Keys were removed from the game and somewhat replaced by Void Relics as the acquisition method for Prime equipment. Missions on the Orokin Void tile set were now freely accessible and players could join Void Fissure missions for Prime equipment farming directly through the Star Chart with or without a Relic. Though there is still an incentive to recruit and coordinate a group to use the same Relics, it is now possible to hotjoin either an Orokin Void or Prime farming mission directly from the Star Chart.

The Vay Hek Frequency Triangulators were perhaps the worst offender of all of these key-based mission requirements and does not come as a surprise to see that it was removed in less than a year (302 days). Though improvements have been made for the Mutalist Alad V mission, MavNavs are still locked behind Alert RNG and uncommon acquisition rates from specific missions. Nearly 2 years have passed since Mutalist Alad V keys were added to the game and over a year since the last adjustment made to MavNav acquisition.

The Trial keys face similar problems in regards to costs. For a dedicated group of players that run all three of the Trial missions on a daily basis, the key cost for the group comes out to 273,000 Nano Spores, 10,500 Rubedo, 21 Gallium, 14,000 Plastids, and 14 Neurodes every week. Over the course of 100 runs, the total group cost comes out to 3,900,000 Nano Spores, 150,000 Rubedo, 300 Gallium, 200,000 Plastids, and 200 Neurodes.

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Using the Arcane Avenger example above of an estimate average of 408 days to earn your own complete set of 10, assuming you only used your own key 1 out of 8 times, you would have to invest 459,000 Nano Spores, 25,500 Rubedo, and 51 Gallium toward the Normal version of The Law of Retribution.

Some players can shrug off these resource costs thanks to months/years of stockpiling. Some players can easily approach them if they plan on only running the Trials occasionally when they happen to have the resources. Others will rarely craft keys themselves and rely on others to provide the keys for them. The Trials can become quite costly to run on a regular basis.

Finding a Group

Assuming you have a key, or have found someone with a key, you are still only partway through the process to actually begin the mission. Trials were designed for and require a minimum of 4 players. It is recommended that players recruit up to the maximum of 8 players in order to keep things flowing smoothly; having more players means you can cover the mandatory 4 roles for each stage and have support or backups standing by.

However, as evidenced in the two separate discussion topics listed above, many players cited that they were having difficulty finding a group due to a lack of experience or proper equipment. This is not a problem exclusive to Warframe, nor is it necessarily a problem in game design, but it does add to the difficulty of a player finding a group.

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Exclusion is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to endgame content; having content that only the most experienced players can access is rewarding by its own right. The rewards become more valuable when the supply is low and demand is high. This gives the players intending to complete high-level content have a reason to collaborate and rely on one another for a long-term and mutually beneficial arrangement. New players can look to the content that is essentially locked away from them as a goal to strive for.

However, there are equal and opposite negative effects as well. The developers end up spending a great deal of time and resources to create content that only a tiny portion of their community will experience. Exclusivity and elitism splinters the community. New players might look at the rewards generated from this locked content and decided it is not worth pursuing.

The Trials themselves are not as difficult or complex as to warrant only wanting experienced players, but there is an incentive to prioritize taking experienced players in order to have things run more efficiently. When comparing the world record speed of 10:07 to September’s average of 28:18, it becomes clear that recruiting experienced players can provide a much better experience.

Perhaps it is more of an issue of new players feeling too intimidated to form their own groups or that they had a very negative experience which discouraged them from trying again. Finding a group can take as much time as it would to complete the Trial and many players are not willing or able to make that time investment on a regular basis.

Coordination Requirements

In all of Warframe, there are only a handful of mechanics which require players to coordinate with one another in order to complete a mission: Locked doors which require two players to activate different panels to open them (commonly referred to as “Friendship Doors”), maintaining Life Support on Survival missions (i.e. not activating the Life Support Modules when Life Support >70%), feeding Power Cells to Excavation Drills, and protecting and defense-based objective in general. All of these mechanics are adaptable for solo play when you are not in a squad and aside from Friendship Doors only one player is required to accomplish these tasks even when in a full squad.

The Trials introduced mechanics which require a minimum of 4 players to work together and perform different roles within the same mission. It is a sharp contrast to the greater whole of Warframe‘s gameplay and can be off-putting for many players.

Preparing for the Trials

Coordination begins as early as the recruitment stage of the Trials. Though by no means necessary to complete the Trials, a meta has evolved which simplifies these high-level missions to run as efficiently as possible. For example: 2 Trinity warframes (1 built for Blessing, 1 built for Energy Vampire), Loki (built for Radial Disarm), and Nova (built for slow Molecular Prime) make up the core for The Law of Retribution. Having at least these 4 warframes can significantly improve your efficiency and provide a better experience.

 

Though some of these roles are more forgiving than others in regards to modding requirements, it is generally assumed that at the very least an Orokin Reactor has been installed on the warframe. It is implied that players should be bringing the best of the best equipment in order to complete the Trials, but there is not a concrete indicator of when a player is ready. In fact, the Trials do not have a Mastery Rank requirement to join (though that is not to say MR would be a useful indicator).

Another consideration is figuring out how to communicate with one another. In-game chat through voice or text are an option, though it is recommended to use a third party Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) option such as Skype, Mumble, TeamSpeak, or Discord in order to communicate outside of the confines of the lobby or mission.

Communicating via text is not ideal because it requires you to take your hands away from the controls as you input your message. Voice chat allows you to do both simultaneously. There is also the potential issue of having to sort out who will be leading the group in order to instruct others as to what objectives need to be dealt with in real time.

Another consideration is that once a player is invited to the mission lobby, they cannot be removed. Though by no means a common scenario, if a player joins the Trial lobby and is harassing other players or is otherwise an unwanted addition to the group, the only way to remove them is to completely disband the group and re-invite everyone again. Adding a feature to remove players from a group often leads to cries of elitism. However, seeing as most players are motivated by rewards in Warframe, it is my opinion that such a feature would not likely see more abuse than players intentionally grieving one another and forcing lobbies to rebuild.

Knowing A Stranger

Assuming you come from a Clan or Alliance that does not regularly run the Trials or you just do not have the time to join a group on a regular basis or at the same time each day, you are left to the whims of the recruitment chat channels in game.

The Trial lobbies provide minimal information about squad members in general. If you were to invite a player to fulfill the role of an EV Trinity, you would not be able to verify if they have the proper mods for such a build (such as negative duration and positive range). A more critical example of this is that you are unable to confirm if players do or do not have an Antiserum Injector for The Jordas Verdict or if they have it equipped.

 

The lobby UI for the Trials has other issues as well. For example, if the name of a given piece of equipment is too long, it is impossible to determine the equipment rank for that item. You are relying on strangers to bring optimal equipment to the Trials, but there is no way of knowing how prepared they actually are. There is no way to verify if they have the proper equipment, proper mods, or even if they actually have voice chat enabled or not.

The Trials are not as difficult as to require players to utilize specific equipment, but the lack of information available to those forming a group can be detrimental. After all is said and done, the Trials are intended to be a challenge for high-level players, but there is no way of knowing who meets that vaguely defined criteria. Mastery Rank implies a degree of experience with the game, but it is not a complete picture and does not say anything about a player’s current loadout. Conclave Rating was an attempt to address this in the past, but was quickly proven to be unreliable as many mods have seemingly random ratings and is no longer shown in the UI.

Completing the Mission Objectives

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There are very few examples of the mechanics introduced in the Trials found anywhere else in Warframe. Standing on buttons, short windows of opportunity to complete an action after hacking a terminal, draining Energy to charge a mission objective, or even more simplistic mechanics such as constant health drain are only found in a few areas of the game and not in a similar context.

Having to learn these new mechanics is not a flaw in design, however. As mentioned earlier in the article, the visual design of the Trials do a well enough job of showing players how the various objectives are interconnected and guide players down the necessary paths to complete the mission. It might require some trial and error and experimentation, or to look up guides posted by players who have now completed hundreds of these missions, but the mechanics themselves are not too difficult to grasp on an individual level.

The difficulty lies in coordinating the 2-4 necessary players to perform their individual roles simultaneously in order to progress through the objectives. The process is likened to the expression of “herding cats”; a futile effort to organize a group of players that cannot be controlled. This can be a very frustrating experience when players are not communicating with one another or are independently trying to complete the mission rather than cooperating.

Being able to quickly communicate and coordinate with your squad is critical to the success of the Trials; every player has a role that they can fulfill in order to complete the mission objectives. The level of cooperation necessary in the Trials is not found elsewhere in the game so it is likely that many players simply do not have the expectation to do so when playing these missions.

In addition to the earlier mentions of voice versus text communication, the “Place Marker” (commonly referred to as “waypoint”) function could stand to see some quality of life improvements with the Trials in mind (and for general gameplay as well). Numbered waypoints were an excellent start to help distinguish each player’s waypoint, but there is limited control in regards to the placement and removal.

For example: In order to place a waypoint where you currently are, you simply look down and assign the marker. However, this cannot be done in Archwing (or when in the air in general) as there is no floor to mark. Similarly, there is not a way to quickly remove your waypoints and instead you must waypoint the same location twice to clear it away.

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Beyond the convenience factor of waypointing, only a few of the terminals (for hacking) have a special indicator when a waypoint is placed. Even then, they are displayed as a “Panic Button” which may be a bit misleading as to how it interacts with the mission’s objectives. However, none of the other objectives have an interaction with the waypoint system at all. If environmental objects were properly labeled and given an interaction with the waypoints it would be a vast improvement to non-verbal communication.

Barriers to Entry

As Scott stated in the interview, the Trials were designed as high-level content and ultimately that means that all players that are not at a “high-level” won’t be able to participate in this content. However, what are the actual barriers to entry in order to host, join, and ultimately complete the Trials? What defines “high-level” in the context of the Trials?

There’s not a Mastery Rank requirement, there’s not a Rank 30 equipment requirement, and there’s not a gear or modding requirement. The only real barrier to joining a squad is to either buy the key blueprint and craft one yourself or to accept an invite. Crafting your own keys might be a bit expensive for new players with a whopping cost of 100,000 Credits for a (permanent) blueprint and the necessary resources for each key, but certainly not a difficult one to overcome for a single key. In spite of this, one of the most cited reasons as to why players are not completing the Trials were barriers to entry.

Technical Limitations

For some players the problem is a shallow one of lacking the proper hardware or supporting infrastructure necessary to host a Trial for other players. Though efforts have been made to improve the optimization of the Trials in the past, there is still a hardware and bandwidth requirement to consider as the role of a host for other players.

Players without reliable internet connections justifiably shy away from the role of hosting as they do not want to provide an unpleasant experience to their squads. Fortunately there is a workaround solution for this issue wherein a host without a key can invite someone with the key to their group in order to form the lobby. Keys can also be freely traded among players as they see fit.

Even with this in mind, there is still the possibility of disconnecting or discovering that someone capable of hosting 3 other players has issues when doubling that amount. Dedicated servers (official or volunteer-based as is planned for Conclave) could improve the situation, but are not likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

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The last consideration for this subset would be the limitation of time itself. Some players simply cannot invest the necessary time to complete one Trial, let alone all three, in the span of a single daily reset or on a regular basis at all for that matter.

A Skewed Perspective

Perhaps most players experience a perceived Barrier of Entry as opposed to an actual one standing in their way. Many players feel alienated when they see recruitment messages asking for experienced players with specific warframes and mod builds. Many players might not be willing to form their own groups to attempt the Trials.

However, it’s worth noting that there have been several groups of players which have completed the Trials with an intentionally less-than-ideal squad setups. A great example of this is the video series done by Rozalinsnow on YouTube where their group has completed The Law of Retribution using 8 of the same warframes for every warframe. Even when only using Limbo, arguably the most useless warframe due to its abilities detrimental interaction with objectives in The Law of Retribution, their group was able to complete the Trial.

Similarly, a group of Veteran members from the Warframe Raid School Bus put together a group of experienced players to complete The Law of Retribution with massive handicaps for their equipment. You can view the video here: YouTube. Operating under strict limitations in gear requirements (shown in video description), the group still managed to reach the finish line and receive their rewards.

However, just because something is possible does not mean it is practical. As explained earlier in the article, most groups prefer to recruit experienced players and meta equipment options as to cut down on the time investment required to complete the Trials and both of these gimmicky examples of showing how forgiving group composition can be also take significantly longer than the average time to complete.

The culmination of factors results in a special blend of elitism for players to struggle with. The expectation of experience can make it difficult for new players to find groups willing to take them to the Trial missions. The expectation of finishing the Trials quickly discourages experienced players from joining with the inexperienced.

Knowing When You’re Ready

There are not any resources available within Warframe for players to determine if they have the proper equipment or knowledge to be considered a “high-level” player for which the Trials were designed. The lines seem to be intentionally blurred for Horizontal Progression systems in general, but Warframe‘s case is a bit more mixed. There are very few differences between a player with a Mastery Rank of 0 and another with 22 beyond equipment locked behind MR. Mods are the source of all of your power in Warframe, but they are not restricted by Mastery Rank and can be freely traded among players.

The only indication players have to know if they’re ready is if they have one of the warframes other groups are asking for in recruitment chat or if they’ve consulted external resources to look up suggested equipment and builds. Many players have suggested adding a tutorial-like version of the Trials for players to get acquainted with the mechanics, but I suspect that would still result in the same problem of not being able to know for sure when you meet the requirements.

Without massive changes to support a better version of the Conclave Rating system, there might not be a meaningful way of determining if a player meets the requirements for the Trials. However, when a metric is introduced to determine if a player is considered “high-level” there is bound to be elitism to follow that measure.

In regards to Antiserum Injectors for The Jordas Verdict: Only one is necessary to complete the Trial, but it is recommended to take as many as you can. Three would be sufficient enough for a group of experienced players without slowing them down. It is also worth noting that Stage 1 is designed in a way which experienced players can easily bring in new ones to help them obtain Antiserum Injector Fragments in the course of a normal run.

Lack of Information

Between the rewards, matchmaking, coordination requirements, and barriers to entry lies the unifying concern of a lack of information. Through the course of a player’s gameplay experience they will never come across the Trial missions. The only way to learn of the existence of these missions is to either be browsing the Market and find the blueprints or to be informed by another player. Aside from the occasional mention in patch notes, Trials are not well represented.

Digital Extremes has been notorious for a lack of documentation in the past with various UI elements and statistical information in regards to acquisition methods or alternative weapon mechanics. For example, there is not any documentation found within Warframe which gives the weapon stats for Exalted Blade (in regards to IPS/Crit/Status/etc). There is not any documentation found within Warframe which explains the difference in stats when the Zenistar disc is deployed. Dozens of mechanics in Warframe share this level of cryptic documentation.

However, all of this information has been well documented by the community as a whole (mostly due to the efforts of Data Miners) and it could be that Digital Extremes intentionally limits the information found within the game to encourage players to engage in the community outside of the game as well. Though there are many external references available documenting the Trials, there is little to no information made available within Warframe itself. The Trials are essentially tucked away into a corner of Warframe where many players might not even be aware that they exist or what kind of gameplay/rewards they have to offer.

Mechanical Breakdowns

I enjoy running the Trials on a semi-regular basis and become well acquainted with their designs. I have even put together my own group of regular players and occasionally volunteer as a Bus Driver on the Warframe Raid School Bus when I have time. Even though I generally enjoy the Trials, I can empathize with the complaints that players have made in regards to the Trials not being “fun”.

“Fun” can be difficult to quantify and is not particularly a useful descriptor when offering feedback. How can we define what is and is not fun in the Trials? Are the Trials themselves not fun as a whole, or can it be broken down into specific parts? What is the ideal ratio of fun to challenging?

Being in a Clan or otherwise a community that actively completes the Trials can help improve the fun factor as a social aspect, but it does not erase the issues with mechanical designs in the Trials. So what is hurting the “fun” factor in Trials?

Hurry Up and Wait Mechanics

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Have you ever played a mission with a random group of 4 players with elevators? With friendship doors? When you are speeding through a mission and quickly tackling the objectives, the gameplay is satisfying. You are your own independent force of destruction that just happens to be in a squad with three other players… until you reach one of these obstacles. When you reach an elevator, you have the choice to selfishly push ahead of the rest of the group and force them to wait for the elevator to go back to where they are. When you reach a friendship door, you have no choice but to wait for them.

Both Trials implement these “Hurry Up and Wait” mechanics to varying degrees. The most notable examples would be The Law of Retribution Stage 2: Decoding and The Jordas Verdict Stage 1: Decryption. These mechanics can be extremely frustrating for generally inexperienced groups. Regardless of your personal level of experience and skill, you are forced to sit still and wait for other players to accomplish their tasks in order to proceed.

 

In the Law of Retribution, this style of mechanic is used in numerous places. Even opening doors has a variant of the friendship doors with two buttons rather than two panels, but for the most part these flow quickly with an experienced group. Similarly the Hijack portion of Stage 2 and tower doors on Stage 3 require players to wait around on pads, but for very brief periods of time (up to 30 seconds). The Stage 2 Decode, however, can take a group of players anywhere between 2 to 10 minutes to complete pending the experience of the group. Being the first one on a pad essentially locks you out of gameplay for however long it takes your squad to complete their tasks. Just like a friendship door, but for 8 people and with a few extra steps in the mix.

The Jordas Verdict is generally set at a much faster pace than The Law of Retribution and has several time-sensitive mechanics associated with objectives… except for the Decryption process in Stage 1. The minimum time required to complete this objective is 5 minutes assuming absolute peak performance. 5 minutes of repeating the same low-effort task of watching the same 3 Vaporizers in the same room. Although enemies are still constantly spawning in and other threats are active, the experience becomes quite monotonous and offers very little room for optimization or reward for quickly completing the objective tasks.

The Antiserum Injector for The Jordas Verdict exacerbated this problem for the newer Trial. 6 hours to craft a key followed by 10-20 minutes of gameplay to learn the first stage were met with an obstacle no amount of skill or teamwork could overcome: an item requirement. Though your key would be preserved, another 24 hours to craft the Antiserum Injector for at least one member of the squad was necessary to proceed within the Trial.

The core of gameplay in Warframe is mobile, fast-paced, and all over the place. Locking players in place or forcing them to wait out a timer detracts from the core design of what makes Warframe fun for many players.

My Favorite Weapon

Though the meta is not by any means required to complete the Trials, there is a difference of night and day when using optimal equipment versus using a personal favorite. Perhaps the best example of this is the Limbo warframe in regards to The Law of Retribution: Any ability which places you in the Rift prohibits you from engaging with the objectives. You cannot carry a Tritium Battery while in the Rift, nor can someone carrying it be protected by the Rift (as it causes them to drop it). You cannot activate pads while in the Rift. You cannot hack terminals while in the Rift. You can even cause failure states for the mission by entering the Rift.

Warframes with displacement abilities such as Loki’s Switch Teleport, Nova’s Wormhole, or even Atlas’ Tectonics can force players off of objective points and lead to failure states in both parts of Stage 2. It is in the best interest of players in the Trials not to sabotage the run, but they have the potential to do so.

Likewise, due to the objective-based design of The Law of Retribution not requiring combat, players are actually discouraged from killing enemies or bringing warframes which specialize in dealing damage. After all, if all enemies are disarmed and slowed by Loki and Nova, killing them results in spawning in new enemies that are still armed and fully mobile. Without an incentive to kill enemies, many warframes are rendered undesirable for this Trial in particular. However, The Jordas Verdict does a decent job of addressing this problem by adding a mission-specific resource required for the objectives which drops from enemies.

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After all is said and done, it is quite difficult to design meaningful, challenging content in Warframe due to the wide array of abilities and mechanics which each individual warframe brings to the table. Trinity’s Blessing provides a much more reliable healing mechanic than Oberon, Equinox, or Inaros offer. Trinity’s Energy Vampire can only be rivaled by Team Large Restore items as Limbo’s Rift is both too weak by comparison and the aforementioned woes of interfering with objectives. Another concern is that Digital Extremes’ approach to these balance disparities in the past has been to functionally break what works well in attempt to make the inferior options look better rather than improving the inferior options to match the standard.

This is not necessarily problematic design, but it is inhibiting for many players. To address this particular issue I would strongly recommend looking at the mechanics of the Trials which make these meta choices desirable rather than attempting to balance the warframe abilities directly. For example, if the Energy drain was dramatically reduced or removed from Tritium Batteries, an Energy Vampire Trinity might not be as necessary but still a viable option for the group. If some kind of mission-specific resource was dropped by enemies on Stage 1 of The Law of Retribution which mitigated the effects of the Toxin, damage-oriented warframes would become viable options and Blessing Trinity would be less necessary.

Getting What You Want

If the Trials were improved to be more fun, if the Trials were improved to be more engaging, if the Trials were improved to have better matchmaking… You’re still left with the issue of not having any control over the rewards you earn. It could take you a month or it could take years to earn all of the desired Arcane Enhancements you want. With heavily diluted drop tables and several undesired rewards mixed in, there is very little incentive to struggle through the Trials on a regular basis.

Even the way in which Arcane Enhancements are installed are problematic. Being tied to a cosmetic means that players are sacrificing the way they look in order to utilize these unique rewards. Originally, the Arcane Enhancements could not be removed at all and essentially Digital Extremes had incentivized players not to buy new cosmetics. This was not addressed for several months until Arcane Distillers were added to the game, and further changes are on the way in the near future. Tying Arcane Enhancements to cosmetics, even if it were to become simpler to remove and reinstall them, can still restrict vanity choices for players and act as a deterrent to future cosmetic purchases.

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Many other games have implemented supplementary token systems which allow players to work toward guaranteed rewards in addition to the randomly assigned reward at the end of the mission. Some games, such as Destiny, offer a variety of options to essentially trade in an undesirable reward for something that can be universally useful. If players could trade in 5/10 Arcane Deflections for a single Arcane Avenger, suddenly there would be value for these less desirable Arcane Enhancements and players could feasibly work towards earning a desired set.

Additionally, Trials are designed for “high-level” gameplay, but interact poorly with other “high-level” systems such as Syndicates and Focus. Considering that abandoning objectives in favor of acquiring Convergence can result in mission failure, it’s extremely rare to see all of the time and effort invested in completing the Trials reward more than 1000-2000 Focus even with optimized Focus farming equipment.

If Trials rewarded a lump sum of Syndicate Standing or Focus, or Affinity which could be converted into either, they could serve as a powerful incentive to complete the Trials on a daily basis. Either as a step-by-step reward for completing objectives or as a lump sum after completing the Trial and earning an Arcane Enhancement. Using Focus as a baseline (due to the lowest Affinity conversion rate), if it were possible to generate 15,000 from The Law of Retribution (and let’s say 20,000 from Nightmare and another 20,000 from The Jordas Verdict) there would be a new daily incentive of combining progressing in these systems and receiving a daily Arcane Enhancement. It might be enough to motivate players to consider completing the Trials on a regular basis.

As a side note: One of the most efficient solo Focus farming method at this time requires around 16 minutes to reach the daily cap of 100,000 — adding a total of 55,000 for over an hour of playing the Trials would not upset the balance relative to such an alternative.

Lastly, it can become exhausting to run the Trials every single day to maximize your potential rewards. As of right now, the Trials require a well-optimized group to invest approximately one hour to complete all three, but the average takes closer to two hours. If the Arcane Enhancements were changed to reward a greater quantity but only twice a week, players could pick and choose which Trial they would want to run on a given night. Improving this scheduling flexibility could help accommodate many players.

Players are motivated by earning rewards in Warframe, but the current distribution method for rewards in the Trial missions leaves much to be desired. Many of the rewards are disproportionate to the time and effort you are required to invest in order to earn them.

The Endgame Crisis

The Trials were not designed to render all other content irrelevant or otherwise invalidate them. Endgame, by nature, results in doing just that. You cannot create a new high-level challenge with better rewards than a low-level equivalent and expect to see equal activity in both. Players will always gravitate to what yields the best rewards for the least (or even same) investment. A simple example of this would be to look at Affinity farming: Would you rather go to Adaro, Sedna or to Pantheon, Mercury? Same mission type, same tile set, same enemy faction, similar clearing times, but a vast difference in potential Affinity gains.

Digital Extremes has built Warframe around the idea of creating content which is accessible to most, if not all, players. The only content locked behind Mastery Rank at this time are weapons, a few quests, and the Sortie missions (which also require a Rank 30 warframe equipped). There is not any content exclusively locked behind supplementary progression systems such as Syndicates and Focus. There is not any content which requires installing Orokin Reactors/Catalysts onto your equipment (or Forma and Exilus Adapters). How would one determine if a player is “high-level” or not?

As Scott shared in the interview earlier in this article, Warframe is ever-evolving. Though players may want an endgame system, it’s difficult to imagine what would work in the context of the rest of Warframe. Without making the necessary supportive changes to improve enemy AI, level scaling, and general balance of weapons/mods/warframes, what kind of content could be added to Warframe which could not subsequently be trivialized? Even the Operation: Rathuum event, which introduced new unique and powerful enemies with some handicaps forced onto the Tenno, was ultimately trivialized by the most experienced players through the use of scaling damage mechanics and utility abilities. Endgame content in the form of a direct power up is still a possibility for Warframe, but as a concept it does not align with Digital Extremes’ design philosophy as evidenced by years of updates.

Long Forgotten

Perhaps one of the greatest woes of the Trials, even for experienced players, is that the Trials have been assigned low priority seemingly from their origins. The initial release of The Jordas Verdict was riddled with bugs that were attempted to be hotfixed and left the Trial in a completely broken state for its weekend debut. Several undocumented changes have made their way into both Trials and have left players guessing as to what could be a bug versus what could be intended. The Proximity Mines in the Nightmare version of The Law of Retribution have been completely non-functional for over a year. There was a period of time where Disruptor Drones could only be damaged by weapons with physical projectiles. More recently, Disruptor Drones have had a double large visual effect but at the same time the nullification of warframe abilities and buff for allied units has been disabled for over a month.

Feedback provided for the Trials seems to disappear into an abyss due to the low priority of further development dedicated to the Trials. Suggestions and bug reports alike only see traction if they relate to the rest of Warframe as well such as issues with disconnecting/reconnecting or unintended uses of game mechanics. Unfortunately, this is likely to remain the status quo for Trials until the development team can once again afford more time towards improving these experiences.

Closing Thoughts

This article serves to provide a better understanding on a conceptual level of why the Trials are not a thriving part of Warframe. Ultimately the Trial content was designed with some degree of exclusivity in mind which will alienate some players. To reiterate what Scott said in the interview:

“Since the design goal for Trials was high-level and highly organized it really makes it a high barrier of entry for most players. So we spend a lot of resources creating something that only a very small percentage of the player base uses or experiences.”

 

Unlike the vast majority of Warframe, the Trials were not intended for everyone. However, that’s not to say Trials were meant to be exclusive or only for a small subset of players and that is clear through the lack of requirements in place to actually join and complete a Trial. There are several steps Digital Extremes could take to improve upon the desirability and accessibility of the existing Trials, but is best to temper expectations for the future against the reality of the past. Trial changes are not likely to come, regardless of the scope, within a foreseeable future.

I still enjoy the Trials on a regular basis and through all of the flaws and laments I saw echoed in the feedback discussions, I still see that players are passionate one way or another in regards to the Trials. Admittedly I am surprised at how many players openly admitted to never having completed the Trials and yet insisted on how much they disliked the design of these high-level missions. There are many things I like and appreciate about the Trials, but there is an almost equal amount of aspects which I see a need for improving. An interesting concept, but perhaps lacking in the support to grow into a popular feature.

Digital Extremes has taken the design approach to constantly evolve Warframe and build upon what has already been done. In an earlier TCN editorial which provided an analysis of the Focus System, it was revealed that there were years worth of concepts and designs that were originally intended for Focus but grew into branches of completely standalone systems. The Trials provided the developers with an outlet to experiment with new mission mechanics, new level designs, and new ways to balance gameplay. Like with Focus, we can already see aspects similar to the Trials in Sorties, new quests, new events, and new bosses.

Written By TGDM

Overly sarcastic video game enthusiast.

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