The Endless Dilemma

Endless missions in Warframe have become a hot topic in the months following the release of the Specters of the Rail update. One of the key features in the update was an attempt to reduce symptoms of “Void Fatigue” from repeating the same missions over and over in hopes of getting a specific reward. This goal was accomplished by changing the way these rewards were paid out and streamlining access to the required missions. However, the update had subsequently impacted the incentives to stay in some endless missions. This article will explore the current state of endless missions and the reasons why it become a hot topic within the community.


Endless Missions in Warframe

Endless missions can theoretically be played forever. They’re designed in such a way that the mission does not have a final objective and offers the player the choice to continue fighting or to end the mission and collect the rewards they have earned. Each endless mission features a form of enemy level scaling which spawns stronger enemies the longer you stay. Currently there are 4 options for endless mission types. In order of release: Defense, Survival, Interception, and Excavation.

Each of these missions offer different objectives and rewards to encourage players to fight on as long as they can. Defense missions place players in a single tile where they must defend the objective for a series of 5 waves at a time and offers a choice to continue fighting or to extract and collect rewards. Survival missions on the other hand have players battling an endless horde of enemies while trying to obtain enough Life Support to extend the timer and offers rewards for every 5 minutes Life Support is sustained, but players must safely reach the extraction point to end the mission. The common feature between all four mission types are the way the rewards are offered at increments:

  • Defense: Every 5 waves. ex. Wave 5, Wave 10, Wave 15, Wave 20 … Wave 5*x.
  • Survival: Every 5 minutes of sustained Life Support. ex. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes … 5*x minutes.
  • Interception: Every successful completion of a round. ex. Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 4 … Round x.
  • Excavation: Every successful completion of a Excavator. ex. Excavator 1, Excavator 2, Excavator 3, Excavator 4 … Excavator x.

Rewards from endless missions are assigned from three different pools of possible rewards: A, B, and C. Endless missions rotate the rewards offered based on the number of times you complete an objective in the pattern of AABC. For example, a Survival mission rewards an item from A at 5 minutes, A at 10 minutes, B at 15 minutes, C at 20 minutes, A at 25 minutes, A at 30 minutes, B at 35 minutes, C at 40 minutes… and so on. The exception is when these missions are set as an Alert variant which instead creates a countdown for a singular reward at the end.

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Endless missions have seen quite a few changes over the course of the years which many new players might not even be aware of. For example, Void Defense missions (when they still required Keys) and even Void Survival missions at one point did not offer cumulative rewards. You would have to extract when the reward you wanted came up otherwise forfeit it to continue on to the next rotation.

Void Tower Defense missions had once existed in a similar format to the Alert variant with a countdown of 20 Waves required to complete the mission. The eventual adoption of the AABC reward system rotation combined with cumulative rewards had created a powerful incentive for players to stay in endless missions for as long as it took to earn the reward they sought.

The Specters of the Rail update had regressed endless missions associated with Prime parts into the Alert variant versions once again. The standard endless missions across the Star Chart remained unchanged and still offer the AABC reward cycles with scaling enemy levels. Some of the standard missions had even received improvements to their reward tables shortly after the update.

 

The Endless Dilemma

The update had not actually changed endless missions on the whole, it had only directly changed the the ones associated with acquiring Prime variant equipment. If a player is inclined to challenge themselves to a 2-hour long Void survival, they can now freely do so without the cost of a Void Key in the new Void mission hub. Some of the endless missions had been swapped or changed to different mission types (such as Triton, Neptune being converted from Excavation to Rescue), but for the most part every mission hub still offers at least one of each type of endless mission. Even the Void Fissure endless missions were updated to be truly endless once again in Specters of the Rail: Hotfix 13. So why did this become such a heated topic within the community?

A Prime Example

I think that players in Warframe are very much driven by the rewards they receive from playing the game. If given the choice of two identical missions with different rewards, players will gravitate toward the mission they want the rewards from. If there are different missions with identical rewards, players will gravitate toward the most efficient mission. Regardless of if the desired reward is Affinity, Relics, or Endo, players will always seek out the most efficient options.

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If given the choice of a Capture mission or Survival mission to unlock a Neo Era Relic, which would you choose? If the reward is the same across both missions, players will likely gravitate toward the faster option. Considering a Capture mission could easily be completed within 3 minutes, it becomes a clear choice when pitted against the required 10 minutes for a Survival Void Fissure when the update first launched. Both missions require the same Relic to earn a Prime item and both have the same chance of rewarding a given Prime item for a Relic.

In the Prime acquisition system prior to Specters of the Rail, players were not often offered this choice. Many of the newer Prime items were introduced behind Rotation C on Defense and Survival missions which required a hefty time investment whereas only a few of the new items would be placed in non-endless missions or earlier rotations within endless missions.

Players were incentivized to stay longer in a single endless mission due to the requirement of a Void Key. The cumulative rewards system allowed players to reap many more rewards for a single Void Key and only one Void Key was required for the entire squad. A non-endless mission would almost always be faster, but an endless mission offered more rewards for the same entry cost. One single endless Void Key always held more potential value than one single non-endless Void Key.

Risk Versus Reward

Very few missions types in Warframe include a mission failure state beyond the scope of running out of Revives to use. Of the four endless mission types, only Defense and Interception include a failure state tied to the objectives. If you run out of Life Support in a Survival mission or if the Excavator is destroyed in Excavation, you can still make your way to extraction and claim all accrued rewards after having reached the first reward rotation. By contrast, if you fail to defend the objective in Defense or if you fail to reach 100 Capture Points before your enemies in Interception, you will lose all of your rewards gained during the mission attempt.

What the four missions share in common in regards to risk is that enemies levels will steadily increase for the duration of the mission. Eventually you will reach a point where either you can not survive their assault or kill them at the required pace — Enemies over level 200, 400, 2500… Whatever your limit is. Eventually there will be a point where a single attack from the weakest enemy can completely destroy the objective in a Defense mission. Eventually there will be a point where a single attack from even the weakest enemy can kill the player.

The combination of failure states with scaling enemy levels creates a risk versus reward dynamic for continuing on in an endless mission. You may be able to complete 20 waves of Defense with relative ease, but how confident are you for going over 60 waves? Over 100? It is not explicitly clear where that point is until you have reached the failure state. By contrast, Survival shares the same gradual scaling of reaching a point you can no longer sustain yourself but allows the players to actively decide when it is time to extract.

It is important to note that the rewards never scale up with the difficulty. The AABC rotation allowed for the placement of valuable or rare items at the end of a full rotation and gave players a reason to stay for 20 waves in Defense or 20 minutes in Survival, but what happens if the rewards were the same for each rotation? Or if the desirable rewards were placed on earlier rotations? What is the incentive to stay past 20 minutes in Survival if you could simply extract and repeat the mission?

For the AABC rotation with different reward pools, once that first Rotation C is met, there is not much of an incentive to continue on to the second set of rotations as opposed to extracting and repeating. The enemy levels would continue to scale after 20 minutes while the rewards return to Rotation A for the next cycle, so unless there is a compelling reason to stay in the mission, it would make sense to extract and repeat the mission. If the desired reward can be found on an earlier rotation (A or B), it would be more efficient for time spent if the player extracts and cuts out the excess waves in between rewards. Additionally, enemies have the same chance to drop an item regardless of their level.

The rewards are perhaps the most compelling reasons to stay or extract in most endless missions, so it follows that once the risk outweighs the reward players will choose to end the mission. Without a cost of entry to begin or repeat a mission, there is no need to drag out how long you stay. Affinity is perhaps the only scaling reward associated with endless missions due to a constant flow of enemies and increased Affinity yield relative to increased enemy levels and increased quantity of Eximus units.

Time Investment

It’s no secret that an endless mission will take longer to complete than their non-endless counterparts. Defense has a variable duration for each wave depending on how quickly you can kill enemies. Survival has a hard-coded 5 minutes between each objective interval. Each round of Interception requires a minimum of 3 minutes to complete and each objective in Excavation requires a minimum 100 seconds to complete. Twenty minutes of gameplay without the ability to pause may be manageable, but many players may be hesitant to embark on a mission for over an hour to complete.

Staying in the same mission can be a taxing experience for some players. Though Survival is perhaps the most open-ended option in regards to where you can go at any given time, it’s more or less the same gameplay for the entire duration of the mission. That aside, there are also concerns in regards to connectivity issues and what happens if you disconnect from a mission. There are still long-standing bugs in the game which cause clients who disconnected and reconnected to receive entirely different rewards than the host as well.

That aside, the time investment can be appealing for some players. Sometimes a group of players just want to team up and take on hordes of enemies for hours. For them, endless missions are the only option available to see just how far they can go against stronger and stronger enemies. From my observations, Survival seems to be the fan favorite for this type of experience thanks to the relatively low risk of mission failure.

The challenge for these groups lies in the ability to coordinate and find ways to extend the number of rotations they can survive. Sometimes it’s done by using very carefully created groups for crowd control and scaling damage solutions, sometimes it’s done by just taking whatever you feel like playing and going as far as you can. Regardless of your method, the rewards rotate along the same path.

The Specters of the Rail update introduced a new feature which had never been seen in the Prime part acquisition model: The ability to hotjoin a Public mission through the Star Chart. Prior to the update, players could only find groups searching for Prime parts by manually inviting (or being invited) to a group. Being able to join any Public group running a specific era of Void Fissure has streamlined the process of finding other players to begin a mission with. Thanks to the countdown style of the endless Void Fissure missions, players didn’t even need to worry about coordinating just how long they want to stay.

Though it would still be recommended to recruit for endless missions planning to go for an extended period of time, these Public groups can form up and try and figure out just how long they want to stay in a given run. For Interception and Defense, players can leave by choice at the end of any round. For Survival and Excavation, the group must extract together (or at least half to trigger the countdown timer). The current extraction options are not the most ideal, but hopefully most players will continue to collaborate.

The Status Quo

To cut straight to the point: The only endless missions players seem to care about in the midst of the discussion are the ones associated with Prime parts. There is still a great variety of endless missions available on the Star Chart spread out across each mission hub, but those seem to rarely surface in the discussions surrounding endless missions. Prior to the Specters of the Rail update, all it took was 1 Void Key for a group of up to 4 players to play an endless missions for as long as they desired (or could without failing).

It also meant that you could get an endless supply of rewards from a single Void Key.

The changes brought by the update now require all players in the squad to supply a Void Relic (equivalent of a Void Key) in order to obtain a Prime part. One Relic, one reward. The sense of value of being able to obtain so many rewards from a single mission had been lost in the update in favor of streamlining accessibility of these missions and allowing players to have some choice as to which mission types they would want to play in order to obtain a reward. An Axi N3 Relic has an equal chance of rewarding the Nekros Prime Blueprint in a Capture or Survival mission. An Axi G1 has an equal chance of rewarding the Galatine Prime Blueprint in a Rescue or Mobile Defense mission.

Digital Extremes has made it clear in their updates post-Specters of the Rail that the intent is to keep Prime parts locked behind singular Void Relic usage. One Relic, one reward. It’s probably safe to assume that Void Relics will never return to the 1 Void Key per group design.

 

Dev’s Advocate

What do players like about endless missions? What do players not like about endless missions? Do players enjoy the gameplay? Are the players being challenged?

This article explores the reward aspect of the endless missions, but that is not the only consideration that should be had when making balance changes. To make this point a bit more clear, let’s look at a hypothetical change to the endless Relic missions: What would happen if Relics were changed to act like the old Void Keys? One Relic = endless rewards within a single mission instance.

If such a change made it back in to the game, players would immediately have a reason to run several rotations within a single endless missions. Players would have an incentive to stay for as long as they could to stack up rewards on a single Relic… but what would happen to the other Relic missions? If you could roll a single Relic multiple times in an endless mission, why would you waste it on a Capture?

The changes brought with the reworked Star Chart made huge strides in giving players the freedom to pick from a greater variety of missions they felt like completing to earn certain rewards. Being able to use Public matchmaking to find a squad had cut down on the isolation Void Keys suffered from. Having Void Fissures spawn across the Star Chart on different missions allows players to have some degree of agency as to where to spend their time as opposed to repeating the same Void mission over and over. Instead of running a Void Tower 3 Survival to Rotation C 50 times, you could play a Rescue, Interception, Spy, or whatever other mission you wanted from the currently active Void Fissures.

The answer to this dilemma is not as simple as offering more rewards for endless missions. “Void Fatigue” was often used to describe how players would grow tired of repeating missions in the Void and the update addressed that in spectacular fashion. The developers even responded fairly quickly to issues with Void Relic scarcity relative to the previous model of Void Keys and adjusted the Ducat value of many items for trading with Baro Ki’Teer. It is likely the developers are still collecting data on player activity before making broader changes to the system.

 

Beyond Relics

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Although Void Relics have become a major talking point in the conversation about endless missions (and in this article), focusing solely upon them results in a shallow discussion. Endless missions could stand to see some adjustments, but the rewards are not the only aspect to consider. All four of the endless mission options have seen adjustments over the years to provide a better gameplay experience and all four of them still have room for improvement:

  • (Defense/Interception) Improved UI and functionality for the Extract/Battle screen. Even if the entire squad selects the same option, the countdown timer will still slowly tick away. Though that might only be slightly inconvenient in the grand scheme of things, it also allows players to change their mind at the last second.
  • (Survival/Excavation) Primarily for Public missions: Allowing players to extract when they want to. The current version cuts both ways. If an individual player wants to stay, the group can force extraction. If an individual player wants to leave, the group can prevent extraction.
  • (Excavation/Interception) Due to changes made to Excavator spawning and the shared Affinity range (specifically for Interception) in 2016, players may find themselves cut off from the rest of their squad for extended periods of time while defending objectives.
  • (Defense/Excavation) More of a balance concern and not necessarily an inherent flaw with mission design, but these two missions essentially require a Frost warframe in the squad in order to withstand the scaling damage output of enemies. The few alternatives available pale in comparison to the defensive mechanics of Snow Globe.
  • (Defense/Interception) The “GTFO moment,” as described Rebecca Ford (Warframe‘s Live Ops & Community Producer) on The Second Stream Podcast, has a very high risk associated with its discovery at the cost of all of your rewards. Particularly troublesome with Defense missions.
  • (Excavation) There appears to be a spawning-based bug or simply an unintended effect related to the reduced spawn rates for Solo missions. Power Carriers are often in short supply (sometimes more than a minute apart) by the 6-8th Excavator and generally there are more spawns near the initial spawn point of a mission than any other tile. This issue is also noticeable to some extent in Solo Survival missions due to having less enemies to kill and subsequently less Life Support drops.
  • (Excavation) Excavator drill health does not scale at all with mission or enemy level. You will have the same 500 Shields and 2500 Health regardless of the starting mission level. Mercury or Pluto, it’s all the same. Particularly annoying to deal with on Sortie mission variants.
  • (All) Disconnect/Reconnect has been a longtime struggle with all missions. Though things are better than they were three years ago, there are still issues with rewards being lost, reward tables becoming different for the reconnected party, and interaction with cooldown-based mechanics (such as Focus). The worst case scenario being that the host disconnects and the entire mission is lost or a player disconnects and does not get the option to rejoin the mission.
  • (All) Issues with host migration in general. If the host chooses to leave the mission or is otherwise disconnected, the remaining players do not have the option to pick a new host nor do they have the option to extract until the next rotation. Additionally, it is possible to load in to a mission failure state (or just dead in general) as the enemies do not pause while you are still loading in.

Scaling in general is a major factor when it comes to balancing these game modes and its no surprise that many of the woes grow from there. Other considerations include the spawning mechanics of Convergence orbs, though that subset of problems is not unique to endless missions. Likewise the way in which enemies scale and how each faction can eventually overwhelm the players has some room for optimization as well.

 

Closing Thoughts

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In short, much of the discussion revolving around endless missions seems to stem from the changes made to the old Void missions locked behind a Void Key. The perceived value of extending an endless mission with a single entry ticket had given many players an incentive to stay in the same mission longer. With the new system, endless missions are now free to join or repeat as many times as the player would like to. The cost had been shifted from entering unto the individual rewards instead. The value of staying for multiple rotations within a single endless mission has been diminished.

The AABC rotation model worked well for the old Void missions by challenging them to stay until Rotation C, but they were never particularly satisfying for most of the non-Prime related missions. After a certain point, the rewards simply did not match the risk. Receiving a Common quality mod such as Vitality at the end of Wave 70 in Defense can be disheartening for all the effort you’ve put into the mission, for example.

It could be interesting to see the standard AABC adjusted so that the further you go, the more likely you are to receive desirable rewards. Consumable rewards such as Endo or Void Relics are generally enough to warrant the extra risk with continuing on in a mission or at the very least are relevant and useful to more players. Removing the fodder items from all rotations after the first Rotation C could result in a new level of interest for the purpose of Void Relic farming in particular.

The proposed changes for endless missions in regards to Void Relics shared on Devstream 82 in conjunction with the changes already made in SotR: Hotfix 13 could help improve the current situation, though maybe not in the way most players were expecting. I doubt the changes will bring about the resurgence of 40 Waves or the equivalent for Survival, but remain optimistic that further improvements are still on the way.

Written By TGDM

Overly sarcastic video game enthusiast.

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