The Failures of Focus

Focus was added to Warframe as part of The Second Dream quest included with Update 18.0 in December 2015. The cinematic quest has been highly praised by the Warframe community as an exciting first step toward unveiling the secrets of the Tenno — the player character faction — and breathing new life into the game by introducing new content and gameplay systems. Though by no means a complete source, the steamcharts.com page shows a gain of 11,900 players in the month of December. That’s nearly double the amount of players which were lost in the previous month of November. This update introduced Focus – a new progression system bound to your account designed as an endgame advancement system.

This article provides an analysis of the Focus system to support the claim that Focus has failed as an endgame system.

All information presented in this article relies heavily on the reader’s knowledge of Warframe. Due to the scope of this article, an introductory primer will not be provided on the subject matter for readers unfamiliar with Warframe. For information regarding these systems, consult the links provided for sourced information.

Focus

The Origins of Focus

Before going into depth about what Focus is, let’s go over what Focus was. Or at least what it was going to be. It is my assertion that Focus is a failed implementation of a yet unrealized potential; the core of the design philosophy behind the system can still be a solid foundation.

E6-DS22 Focus Publicly Revealed

It wasn’t until February 7, 2014, on Devstream 22 when the plans and goals for what would eventually become the Focus system were made public. Prior to the Devstream, the proposed concepts were privately posted in a discussion topic [DE]Steve created on the Design Council on February 3, 2014. The Design Council is an official but private sub-forum on the Official Warframe Forums which is exclusively accessible by Master and Grand Master Founders. The Focus concept was quickly leaked out to the public by excited fans.

The original intent for Focus had a simple ideal at the core: Making use of Affinity past the level caps on your equipment. The Devstream reveal included the ideas of lenses which would be acquired through gameplay and various schools for different classes for these lenses as well as the skill tree which are in the current iteration of Focus Lenses on the retail version of the game. The developers even discussed the conceptual form of a “Focus State” (which is now realized as the Operator unleashing the Focus Skill). Though some parts have changed in the release of Focus (and in the months after its release), the core of the discussion still stands. The intent for Focus was to go beyond mods and equipment, to be free of Energy restrictions, and to create a meaningful choice of when to activate this special state.

E6 Focus to IntensifyDuring Devstream 24 on March 7, 2014, the developers made a passing joke about the renaming of the “Focus” mod to “Intensify” as preparation for the release of the Focus system. However, this Devstream is mostly an abridged repeat of the information shared on Devstream 22. The important note made here is that by point they had already gone through 4 iterations of the potential Focus system.

By May 23, 2014, on Devstream 29 the developers had decided to go “back to the drawing board” on some elements of the Focus system for yet another iteration. They wanted to put a greater emphasis on the system being tied to the lore of the game and used to expand the story. For example, an exploration of the lore regarding the original Tenno clans (perhaps inspired by the Dark Sector PvP systems at the time).

E6-Syndicates

On December 12, 2014, the Devstream 43 broadcast revealed that several other development tasks had begun to compete for and adopt elements from the Focus system. Specifically, the warframe ability augments had taken some ideas from the conceptual Focus system.  The removal of ability mod cards created a new consideration for Focus entirely. Beyond that, the addition of Syndicates in Update 15 introduced a system which addressed the concerns of “unused Affinity” and pushed Focus further down on the priority list. Similarly, on April 10, 2015, the developers asserted that several additions to the game by this point had “cannibalized” parts of the Focus system during Devstream 50. Namely, the warframe ability augments introduced by Syndicates and Arcane Enhancements introduced by the Trials. From this point forward until Update 18, no further news or discussions were held in regards to Focus other than it would be paired with a cinematic quest.

Focus was intended to be an endgame system. The message was clear and consistent that Focus was meant to provide a use for excess Affinity gains and offer a new progression path with tangible benefits in gameplay. Rather than waiting to release the perfect system, the developers chose to implement fragments of the system that they liked by incorporating them into other updates. Syndicates, Augments, and Arcane Enhancements all include elements which were at one point considerations for the Focus system.

 


 

The Failures of Focus

 

E6-Focus Split

 

Somewhere between the first conceptual iteration of Focus and the realized version released in Update 18 there were either a series of compromises or otherwise loss of the core vision. The broad strokes first shared on Devstream 22 made their way into the game, yet their implementation failed to capture the essence of the ideas behind them. Even within the game, the Focus system itself is explicitly labeled as a “beta system” as a reminder that it is subject to change and improve.E6-Focus Beta To better understand the failures of the Focus system, we’ll look at a few of the main features it introduced:

 


 

Focus Lenses

 

E6-Focus Lenses

 

When Update 18.0 arrived, the patch notes did not include any concrete information in regards to Focus. The only acknowledgement of the new system was a teaser image of text in the Orokin language which roughly translates to “Embrace The Ways Of Old” (literal: eh-m-b-r-ae-s th-eh-h oo-ae-s aw-f o-l-d) followed by the instructions to complete The Second Dream quest to unlock this new mysterious system. Focus TeaserA novel concept, but perhaps insufficient when introducing new core gameplay mechanics. Players could either unlock their first Focus Lens by completing The Second Dream quest or by participating in the Sortie missions and rolling the dice once a day to potentially acquire one. Once a Focus Lens was installed, players could begin generating Focus to utilize this new system. Initially, Greater Lenses were only available as Blueprints via the Market (for 200,000 Credits) or as one of the possible random rewards from Sortie missions. The Greater Lens Blueprints require 4 standard Lenses to craft as well as a few other rare resources.

Focus Lens Acquisition Methods

E6-Focus School Emblems

The initial release of the Lenses was chaotic. The Focus Lenses are split among the five different Focus schools: Madurai, Naramon, Unairu, Vazarin, and Zenurik. Players are given the choice of which school they would like to align with after completing The Second Dream which came with a complimentary Focus Lens. Aside from that, there was an equal chance of acquiring one of these lenses from completing the Sorties as well. These Focus Lenses were scarce. Players started with one Lens of choice from the quest, but from that point on it would all be luck for acquisition. Alternatively, you could trade with other players for their Focus Lenses.

It is also important to note that the introduction of Focus in the game was as vague as the patch notes; The Second Dream ended in what can be described as a personality quiz to help the player choose which school they would like to join. There were not any external references or official documentation presentation of any kind provided to highlight the various Focus schools and Focus Skills to help player make informed decisions. Instead, many players simply chose what sounded interesting to them at the time. This type of implementation is not necessarily a bad practice for game design, but Warframe has been notorious in the past for providing very little documentation when it comes to gameplay mechanics (such as with warframe abilities).

A player trading market developed for Focus Lenses overnight. Within the first few hours of the release of the new Sortie missions and new quest, the prices for Focus Lenses ranged anywhere from 10-30 Platinum on the North American and European region trade channels as players hurried to collect more Lenses to either install on multiple equipment pieces or merge in favor of a Greater Lens. After the first day and more information had been uncovered about the various schools of Focus, prices began to weigh heavily in favor of what was perceived to be more popular. Zenurik and Madurai steadily rose to triple digits as Naramon trailed slightly behind. Unairu and Vazarin were quickly identified as less valuable schools and began to trail behind. The Lens market had grown rapidly — players were buying and reselling different lenses across different regions to turn profits or amass a reservoir of Lenses.

E6-Lenses on the Market

Nearly one week later, on December 9th when Hotfix 18.0.6 was released, Greater Focus Lenses were added to the official Platinum Market for 40 Platinum. The addition of the Greater Lenses to the Market was listed as a one of the “Fixes” in the patch notes, though some players interpreted this as Digital Extremes realizing they had missed the opportunity for a Platinum sink — a way to remove Platinum for the player market and ultimately encourage purchasing more Platinum in the future. The player trading market immediately crashed (though some players continued to buy and sell at the old prices, ignorant of the changes for several hours). It was an effective price ceiling; A Madurai Lens, which could potentially have sold for up to 200 Platinum the day prior, was now only worth around 10 Platinum. After all, one Greater Focus Lens can be crafted by using four Focus Lenses of the same school. No one could be expected to pay more for less of an effect.

It would not be until January of 2016, when Hotfix 18.4.5 brought Sortie Season 4, that the Focus Lenses could no longer be acquired once per day, but only one of each type per season. Originally Sortie seasons were intended to last 15 days (as per the Update 18.0 patch notes), but they now run upwards of 50 days per season. For example, Sortie Season 7 lasted 60 days before Season 8 began. You can now earn one of each Focus Lens every 50 days – though it is still up to chance if you get one at all.

Aside from spending Platinum, players still can not work towards earning a Focus Lens from their preferred school. This system fails to create a meaningful endgame progression for players to work towards because of the restrictions in place to acquiring the Lenses. The investment cost is steep, the acquisition methods are random, and either as daily or seasonal rewards the Focus Lenses are heavily time gated. Though most players have accepted that they can trade for the premium currency to purchase the Greater Lenses (or to trade for Lenses directly), it is shocking to see that the acquisition for these Lenses have gone from a potential 1 per day up to 1 per 15 days and now up to 1 per up to 50 days.

The Functionality of Focus Lenses

As was the original intention, Focus Lenses harvest the surplus Affinity gained by maximum rank equipment. A Focus Lens can only be installed on a warframe, weapon, archwing, or archwing weapon. The rules of Affinity generation have not changed in several years and remain the same to this day:

  • Anything killed by a warframe ability will send 100% of the Affinity gained to the warframe.
  • Anything killed by a weapon will send 50% of the Affinity to that weapon and 50% to the warframe.
  • Anything killed by a party member, regardless of which piece of their equipment struck the final blow, gives the player 25% of the Affinity to the warframe and 75% equally split across the player’s equipped weapons as long as the player is within Affinity range (50m on standard missions).

For more information on how Affinity is split in Warframe, refer to the wiki page: Affinity.

Due to these splits, the most efficient way to generate Focus was to install one Lens on your warframe and a Lens on one of your weapons and then remove the other two weapons from the equipment loadout. When Focus was first implemented, a Focus Lens would convert 5% of the surplus Affinity into Focus and a Greater Lens would convert 7%.

E6-Lens Installation

Focus can only be gained for a specific school if the respective Lens type is installed onto your equipment. Players can choose their starting school and receive a free Lens once completing The Second Dream, but to unlock any other skills the player would first have to acquire a Lens for the respective school and collect at least 50,000 Focus.

Upon the initial release of the Focus system, players could not gain Focus from kills scored by party members. In fact, it was considered a detriment to join a party if your goal was to generate Focus. Any competition for kills could result in significantly less Focus over time due to this system’s oversight of team-based gameplay.

Players quickly turned to Solo Stealth missions in order to overcome this hurdle and took to maps with high enemy spawns with a good mix of elite units for higher Affinity yields. Deception missions such as Ponaturi, Sedna became private hubs for melee stealth kills to stack up the bonus multipliers gained from Stealth system mechanics. As with the release of Syndicates in Update 15.0, Focus did not have a cap on how much when it was launched. This only lasted one day, however, and Hotfix 18.0.2 added a daily cap of 75,000 Focus.

It wasn’t until the changes to Focus (dubbed v1.1) introduced in Hotfix 18.4.10 (February 11, 2016) that players would be able to benefit from the Affinity generated by squad kills. With the addition of the Convergence mechanic and raising of the daily Focus Cap to 100,000, Digital Extremes took a step backwards with the Focus Lenses and reduced their values: 1.25% for a Focus Lens and 1.75% with a Greater Focus Lens.

The Convergence effect multiplies all Focus gained by 600% and is active for 45 seconds once acquired. It is activated by moving your warframe to make physical contact with the randomly placed Convergence orb once it appears. The intention behind these balance changes were to presumably to account for squad kills assisting your Focus gains.

However, without changes to the enemy spawning system to support the addition of Convergence, the adjustments made to the Focus Lens conversion rates averaged out to have a much lower potential relative to the 1.0 version of Focus in Solo play. Due to other changes to Stealth gameplay, Solo Stealth gameplay is no longer an efficient Focus farming method in the current state of Warframe (for clarification: “farming” refers to repeated behavior intended to work towards earning a reward). Players once again returned to Draco, Ceres for efficient Area of Effect (AoE) killing sessions.

The Investment Cost of Focus Lenses

E6-Greater Dollar Lens

Before talking in terms of dollars, we must establish a baseline. In the TennoClockNews editorial topic “Analysis of Warframe Market Prices” we established a baseline derived from the Tier 2 Platinum pack of $19.99 for 370 Platinum. This approximates to 18.5 Platinum per Dollar spent. By that metric, 40 Platinum (the cost of a Greater Focus Lens) comes out to roughly $2.17. Every Greater Focus Lens you install on your equipment is an investment which you cannot remove, only replace. Any Focus Lens which is replaced is also destroyed in the process.

An optimal Focus farming set would consist of 2x Greater Lenses per school; 1x installed on your warframe and 1x installed on your weapon. An investment of approximately $21.63 would be made to create an optimal 5 sets for the 5 schools. This does not include the cost of the equipment and inventory slots necessary for those items and assumes you do not replace the Lenses previously installed. Installing a Greater Focus Lens on each of the currently available 29 (non-prime) warframes would cost roughly $62.71.

In its current state, Focus Lens acquisition is limited by chance and access to the Focus Lens items have seen significant restrictions in regards to earning them through gameplay. Though the addition of the Greater Focus Lens to the Market significantly reduced the Platinum investment necessary compared to the player trading market, and though it is understandable that a Free-To-Play game has to create enticing uses for their premium currencies, the current state of Focus Lens acquisition is deplorable.

The use of a random acquisition model limited by a time gating mechanic is not necessarily new in Warframe, however. Trial missions, introduced in Update 16.0 (March 2015), used a similar mechanism to reward one out of twenty possible Arcane Enhancement items (of which less of half are considered desirable) and limited their installation on specific pieces of equipment (Syandanas and Helmets). However, Digital Extremes eventually came to realize that the installation method for the Arcane Enhancements could result in players no longer wanting to buy new cosmetic items due to the hefty time investment compounded by random luck. In July 2016, Update 17.0 introduced Arcane Distillers which can be used to remove the Arcane Enhancements from equipment to be freely installed on something different.

After 9 months, Focus Lenses still cannot be removed or reinstalled, only replaced by other Lenses. Your investment is a permanent one into a specific piece of equipment and the only change you can make is to replace it with a new one. To better understand the significance of this flaw, let’s take a look at the typical cost of similar investments into a new warframe:

  • Orokin Reactor installation :: 20 Platinum (~$1.09)
  • Forma installation(s) :: Can be earned through gameplay (limit 1 per day) or bought for 20 Platinum (~$1.09) for 1 or 35 Platinum (~1.90) for 3. Also requires a time investment to re-level equipment.
  • Exilus Adapter installation :: Can be earned through gameplay (limit 1 per day +/- Simaris Syndicate standing limits) or bought for 20 Platinum (~$1.09) for one.

With the addition of Greater Focus Lenses, players may expect to make the equivalent of a $6.25 investment on every warframe they choose to install a Focus Lens upon. These investments may give some players pause when considering acquiring new warframes similarly to how the Arcane Enhancements once gave players pause when considering buying new cosmetic items.

There is also a significant investment of time to be considered with the Focus school. Progression which cannot be bought, only earned, but with limits set to how much you can earn. With a daily Focus cap of 100,000, each Focus school takes over 100 days to completely maximize between the required Way capacity and their respective perks (with the exception of Unairu).

Focus Required To Max Each School
School Focus for Skills Focus for Way Total Days Required to Max
Naramon 6,222,500 4,040,503 10,263,003 103
Madurai 8,077,500 5,438,833 13,516,333 136
Unairu 5,537,500 2,864,362 8,401,862 85
Vazarin 7,385,000 5,438,833 12,823,833 129
Zenurik 6,947,500 4,947,647 11,895,147 119
Total 34,170,000 22,730,178 56,900,178 570

Credit to /u/lkocon13 on the /r/Warframe subreddit for this post which served as a starting point for estimating Focus costs. This post was updated on November 16, 2016 to fix some of the incorrect values from the original document. I’ve put together my own reference which can be viewed here: Google Spreadsheet.

For early adopters of the system who have completely maxed out one of the schools, the daily Focus cap becomes a punishment. For example, if you completed your Naramon school tree, every bit of Naramon Focus you now gain has no value and takes away from the potential daily cap of Focus gains from another school which is not yet complete. At this time Digital Extremes has not acknowledged or addressed this concern. In general, any updates and adjustments to the Focus system in regards to adding new perks on the skill tree have not yet been publicly discussed or announced.

 


 

Convergence

 

E6-Convergence

 

As mentioned above, Convergence was introduced in Hotfix 18.4.10 as a solution to several problems. The developers acknowledged the community’s concerns with the new Focus system in December and shared that the system would see improvements — primarily to how squad-based Affinity was shared — in “early 2016” according to this Official Forum Post by [DE]Rebecca. February was perhaps later than most players expected for this issue to be resolved, but it became clear that Digital Extremes wanted to address other concerns before going forward with changes to the Focus system.

A variety of adjustments were made to enemy spawn mechanics as well as changes to enemy alert states prior to the arrival of Convergence. Convergence is a type of buff that spawns in a random part of the map which players must make physical contact with to activate. The Convergence orb only appears if the player has a Focus Lens installed on their active equipment. Convergence spawns at the same time for all players within a mission, but each player must individually activate it to benefit from the 6x boost to Focus gains. The buff lasts for 45 seconds and takes roughly 50-70 seconds for the next Convergence to spawn after the buff has ended.

How Convergence Disrupted the Focus Meta

In gaming, the term “meta” refers to what has been established as the popular choices within the game. For example, the warframe Frost is considered a meta choice for defensive mission objectives such as Defense, Mobile Defense, and Excavation missions. Frost is popular for those mission types because his abilities are perhaps the most useful for those objectives. Convergence addressed two major fronts: To prevent AFK farming and and to provide squad-based Focus.

AFK farming refers to a method of farming which is hyper efficient and requires little to no input from the player. Typically, these kinds of farming methods employ the use of macros which loop a set of inputs without user interaction. These methods ares not used by the majority of players, but there is a very active minority of the player base that can be considered power users for these techniques.

E6-Simulor Carrier Farming

A very popular iteration of this method among that active minority was to use the Simulor modded for silence and to find a location where enemies would respawn very quickly after being killed. By using the Carrier companion for its Vacuum precept and the Simulor’s Vortex mechanic, players could fire one shot every few seconds to sustain the Vortex which would conveniently pull ammo in range of the Carrier to then fire the Simulor some more. The stealth multiplier would stack on all of the enemy kills and the player could expect to reach their daily Focus cap of (at the time) 75,000 within 20 minutes without the use of boosters. However, with the addition of Convergence and the steep reduction of the base Focus gains (as well as the adjustments made to spawning and alert states), AFK farms would now take hours to complete attempting to use this or similar methods.

Note: The above example no longer works as advertised due to changes to enemy spawning, Simulor hit detection for damage calculations, and Carrier changes in the past few months.

Beyond those considerations, the addition of Convergence caused “camping” groups to have to move out of their bubbles in order to continue farming for Focus. A camping farm typically uses an endless mission variant which provides a constant stream of enemies and funnels them into narrow areas of the map protected by walls, doors, or the use of warframe abilities. Though perhaps a bit tedious, Convergence gave players an excuse to collect some loot in the midst of their stationary yet hyper efficient farming. In either case, it was an understandable change made to the game which was meant to promote more active gameplay. With Focus now being available from squad kills and the changes made to Stealth gameplay, it was now time to go back to these camping style groups for efficient Focus farming.

For months prior to Update 18, Draco had only continued to gain infamy after its debut in the face of changes made around Syndicates and the gameplay which emerged around them. Draco was once an Interception mission on the Grineer Ship Yard tileset which had convenient spawning hubs that made it possible to annihilate enemies almost immediately after spawning. Draco had been the most popular spot to efficiently farm for Affinity in order to rank up weapons, grind through Forma installations, and generate Syndicate Standing for several months prior to the release of the Focus system.

Similar to the release of Focus, when Syndicates were initially released Digital Extremes had made a series of balance adjustments in the game in order to curb realized gameplay they did not agree with. Among those changes included the addition of Nullifier Crewmen, the first wave of aggressive Line of Sight restrictions, and a series of missteps now referred to as “Vivergate” by both Digital Extremes and the Warframe community at large.

Digital Extremes had made it clear they did not like these Draco-style farming groups and had made many steps towards reducing the effectiveness of those methods of efficient farming. The gravity of these changes sometimes went as far as to handicap a warframe’s abilities because it was used in the Interception farming meta. Players who were active through this time might recall a series of changes continuously rolled out against Mag in particular and some of the unfortunate bugs that came as a result. For example, the initial changes to Line of Sight had the unintended effect of causing Mag’s Shield Polarize ability (from before the rework) to be unable to target the player casting the ability and thus unable to restore shields.

In regards to the adjustments to Solo gameplay and overall change for the introduction of Convergence, the sum of the changes to Focus up until this point felt almost as if Digital Extremes was now endorsing Draco. Though it was a positive change from both a player and developer standpoint to encourage more active gameplay, Digital Extremes had removed most of the efficient Solo methods while simultaneously creating a greater demand for high Affinity gains by reducing the base gains per Lens and increasing the daily cap. By handicapping the effectiveness of the Solo method, they consequently elevated Draco farming once again. Furthermore, they failed to identify the problems associated with Affinity which led to either method becoming popular in the first place.

What Convergence Failed to Change

Convergence did not change much in regards to the core of Focus; it simply added another step in its acquisition. The Convergence buff seemed to be designed around the idea of rewarding players for actively playing the game, but its implementation was problematic to say the least. Convergence orbs would sometimes spawn several tiles away due to the way they were scripted in; if there happened to be an overlapping tile or another tile that happens to be inaccessible to your current tile but just happens to be close by, a Convergence orb could spawn far away from your current location.

E6-Initial Convergence Spawning Mechanics

Sometimes the Convergence orbs would spawn in locations that required a great deal of backtracking. Even worse, sometimes they pulled players away from gameplay objectives. For example, Convergence can spawn in The Law of Retribution — a Trial mission in which players are required to stay in a confined space in order to complete objectives for periods of time. If you were to leave that space prematurely, it could result in mission failure. A more common example would be a mission type such as Excavation; if players leave the drills alone to go pick up their Convergence orbs, they might not have a drill to return to.

Unfortunately, Convergence had a significant downside to it as well. When these orbs spawn, all players have to individually activate them to gain the bonus to Focus gain. However, either as an oversight or as a bug which has not been addressed in 7 months, if one member of your squad decides to skip the buff or is otherwise AFK the next Convergence orb spawn will be significantly delayed (up to 5 minutes). An inactive (or spiteful) player can now hold the fate of your ability to farm Focus efficiently (or really at all) in a variety of situations.

With the lack of a way to remove such a player from squads — even in the navigation lobby — Digital Extremes has created a potential outlet for players to cause grief for one another. Fortunately, this does not seem to be a widespread issue at this time. Typically the Convergence will spawn normally after this first incident (for the very first spawn), but will experience greater delays for any pickups skipped after the second spawn.

Ultimately Convergence did not do much to change the overall meta in Warframe. In fact, it helped the meta return to Draco in many ways. Convergence spawns did not respond to the flow of combat, they did not create opportunities for high Affinity gains, they did not really do anything other than just kind of appear. Convergence was intended to reward players when they activated it, but the reality is that Focus farming without it was penalized instead.

The conversion rates of Affinity to Focus had been reduced, the ability to generate Affinity in Solo missions had been significantly diminished in the course of several changes to Stealth gameplay, and players now have to chase a non-combat objective in order to benefit from combat. The design is not very intuitive and very little documentation is presented in regards to Focus in general; many players might not even understand what the Convergence orbs are or why they are appearing after having installed their first Focus Lens. Or why they don’t appear.

 


 

Operators

When Steve Sinclair, Warframe’s Creative Director, first shared his thoughts on the Focus system on Devstream 22, he used terms like “Beast Mode“, “Avatar State“, and “Super Saiyan” to describe what it would be like to unleash your Focus powers. A powerful source capable of great destruction meant to be used only when absolutely necessary. Instead, we have this:

E6-Focus Activation

A smaller, childlike form using what can only be assumed to be Void Energy to teleport in to the fray invulnerable to damage, floating and pulsating with energy. While the Operator is summoned, the warframe goes limp and rests as a lifeless doll until the Focus Skill ends. The controls are limited to simple WASD and camera movement, otherwise there are no actions to take. You do not click to pulsate the power, you do not have a direct interaction with enemies, you just float around a bit until it completes or you deactivate the skill.

E6-Operator Customization

The presentation of the Operator does not make me feel more powerful — it makes me feel limited. The skills and passive effects gained from the Focus tree are another matter, but the Operator itself feels poorly presented and somewhat neglected as a gameplay element. After 9 months, there is still no fix for the problematic mismatched color schemes appearing for Client connections in a mission. Only the Host’s colors will load correctly; Client connections to the host will use their warframe color selections instead. And yet we have already seen the addition of more paid cosmetics and even more on the way (Devstream 77). There is also a bug which resets the values on the “Secondary Face” sliders for customization upon returning to your ship.

In addition to this, the introduction of the Operators includes some interactivity with them during missions on a cosmetic level. After completing The Second Dream, the Operator will appear in a talking portrait where other NPCs broadcast messages and comment on parts of the mission. For example, loading into a Corpus mission you might hear the Operator say “These Corpus remind me of the Orokin, selfish, greedy.” or “Okay, ready to blast these machines into spare parts?” or just a more general “Let’s go!” or “Oh… this looks fun.

The implementation is a bit off-putting at times; sometimes when starting a standard mission type (such as a Void mission), the Operator would chime in with a hearty “Archwing deployed!” after players have loaded in despite being on a mission which does not use archwings. Other times, after launching a massive explosive attack against a group of enemies, the Operator will comment on the encounter with a resolved “We fought with honor.” Many of the quotes even seem hypocritical or otherwise highlight a complete lack of self-awareness (such as the above two examples for the start of a Corpus mission). Granted, some of these mishaps are simply bugs which can or have been sorted out.

It is quite a difficult task to implement a variety of contextual based soundbites for immersive purposes and ultimately there would be some repetition which could not be avoided. However, it is worth noting that Digital Extremes had the foresight to add a toggle to disable this completely in the Options menu for players that might not want this type of immersion.

 


 

Focus Skills

Upon completing The Second Dream, you are given something along the lines of a personality quiz from the Lotus herself. At the end of the quiz, the player is given a choice of one of the five schools. E6-Focus Schools DescriptionsThe selection screen features a short description of each school in an attempt to give each one a unique identity. Your answers during the quiz would affect the order in which the schools are listed from left to right with the leftmost school being the one that matches your personality.

Naramon is described as tactical with the silhouette of a tree. Zenurik is described as a dominating with the silhouette of a crystalline geode. Unairu is described as enduring with the silhouette of a mountain. Vazarin is described as reactive with the silhouette of a cresting wave. Madurai is described as destructive with the silhouette of a cloud. Each of these schools sound as if they have direct and powerful realizations within the flow of combat. At this point of introduction, the player has no information as to what the active skill of any given school is nor do they have any preview of what the skill tree looks like; they are only presented with these poetic descriptions.

The names of these five schools may sound familiar to players. Each of the schools are also a type of equipment Polarity used for modding capacity.

Polarity Symbol Name Shorthand Name Associated Stats Focus Symbol
Polarity-Madurai Madurai V Damage Focus-Madurai
Polarity-Naramon Naramon Bar (—) or Dash (–) Utility Focus-Naramon
Polarity-Unairu Unairu R Melee Focus-Unairu
PolarityVazarin Vazarin D Defensive Focus-Vazarin
Polarity-Zenurik Zenurik Scratch (=) Abilities Focus-Zenurik

The five schools of Focus are (presumably) named after the “Five Phases” of Wu Xing: Wood (木 ), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water (水 shuǐ). Though the symbols may not depict the thematic elements as clearly, the silhouettes featured in each school’s background display a more direct connection.

You can only learn more about the various Focus schools after you make your selection. A blind commitment advertised in vague yet poetic descriptions to entice players into picking what they find ideal. It came as quite a surprise to discover that Naramon is a narrow beam which applies a Confuse effect to enemies or that Madurai fires a laser beam which does less damage and in less range than most endgame modded weapons. More surprisingly, these skills do not scale with your equipment or with the mission they are used in. At this time, there are resources available on external sources such as the Wiki which detail each tree to help players make their choice of an initial school. The early adopters had nothing available to them by official channels and had to rely on the limited information shared on social media platforms such as forums or new and incomplete Wiki pages.

Underwhelming Rewards for Costly Investments

E6-Focus Menu

The original vision of making meaningful choices to activate these skills was completely lost in the retail version of the game as well. Perhaps the most significant loss from Steve’s enthusiastic overview in Devstream 22 was that Boss type enemy units are not affected by Focus skills or that the skills are otherwise impractical to use against Bosses. In fact, Focus skills are impractical to use in the fast-paced combat featured in Warframe on the whole. Each Focus school’s active skill has a flat 180 second cooldown before activation which increases by 45 seconds to every activated perk on the skill tree (with one exception which reduces the cooldown by up to 60 seconds). Activating every node on the school skill tree can increase the cooldown to almost nine minutes, for example.

E6-Naramon Completed

The Focus school trees are split into two types of perks: Active and Passive. Active perks will enhance the pulsating power when the Focus Skill is activated and Passive skills will add a mission-permanent bonus to the player. Active skills only affect the Focus Skill and serve more as augmentations rather than being their own skills which you can use. Due to the fact they are tied directly to the Focus Skill, their cooldowns are far too long to make use of in regular gameplay even though some of them provide interesting benefits.

For example, Naramon’s Tactical Spike grants allies within the pulse blast up to 25% increased Critical Chance with melee weapons for 20 seconds but would require a minimum of 165 seconds to activate the skill, not to mention the difficulty in coordinating a random group of players to converge and receive the buff and then find enemies to use it on. Adding on the effect to grant allies invisibility for up to 10 seconds with the Cloaking Aura Active skill would require a minimum of 210 seconds to activate and face similar problems with applying the buff.

E6-Traumatic Redirection

Alternatively there are Active skills with negative effects as well. Naramon’s Traumatic Redirection skill causes the player to take constant health damage per second until expending the 3 Trauma charges (which guarantee critical hit on melee attack). This skill was initially bugged and stayed that way for several months, causing the health drain to permanently remain until the player either died or the mission ended. Some players found use for this by combining the effect against a Vitality mod mixed with the Arcane Grace Enhancement to provide permanent healing on a Fire-based Chroma while simultaneously benefiting from the health damage with the Vex Armor ability. Similarly the Zenurik skills Time Stream and Temporal Storm Active skills offer minor player and group buffs, but at the cost of a defensive stat (Shields).

None of the Active skills are worth using in combat. Your movement is too restricted and the skills themselves provide little benefit relative to using your warframe abilities and equipped weapons. If Focus Skills cannot compete with your standard abilities or weapons, why use them at all?

On the other hand, the Passive skills which remain active for the entirety of the mission can be extremely valuable because they do not restrict you in any way, only enhance you. Madurai increases your IPS damage by a significant amount, Naramon can provide nearly permanent invisibility with the use of Maiming Strike (or other Critical Chance mods) on your melee weapon of choice, and Zenurik grants a significant Energy generation boost. The most useful part about each Focus school are the Passive skills gained from activating the Focus Skill once in a mission. Only about 1/4th of each Focus tree is worthwhile for combat; the rest are even considered a detriment due to increasing the cooldown time to benefit from those Passive skills. I cannot make any claims as to how popular any given Focus skill per perk is because I lack the data to support such a claim, but I would strongly recommend Digital Extremes take a look at how many of these perks are being activated or used.

The Disconnect Between Gameplay and Focus Skills

As previously addressed, Focus Skills do not fit into the flow of combat within Warframe. You become slower, weaker, and though you are invulnerable while the Focus Skill is activated, you become very vulnerable as the animation to regain control of your warframe plays out. None of these skills affect bosses in meaningful ways, none of these skills are useful in an emergency or otherwise niche situation, and each of the skill trees host a significant portion of unreliable Active skills. Why activate your Focus Skill at all, aside from gaining the Passive skill bonuses, when your standard form is so much stronger?

There is also a missed opportunity to add some interaction between Convergence and Focus Skills. Convergence could add a way to charge a meter and reduce the cooldown of Focus or otherwise grant some kind of Focus Skill-related benefit to use while the Convergence buff is active. Though that is getting more into the territory of suggestions rather than critiquing the existing systems in place.

E6-Systemic Override

With a time investment of at least 100 days to complete any given school and several days (sometimes weeks) to fully rank an individual perk, how was Digital Extremes expecting to accumulate feedback on this “beta” system? It took months for Digital Extremes to become aware of the Naramon school’s Traumatic Redirection bug and subsequent exploit, for example. In fact, there are several other exploitative uses of various Focus Skills still available in the current retail version of the game. Digital Extremes cannot hope to expect meaningful or a significant quantity of feedback on many of these skills because the average player does not have the means or interest to invest in them.

 


 

Negative Impacts to Other Gameplay Systems

The greatest fault of the Focus system is how much it has negatively impacted other gameplay systems. Similarly to the introduction of the Syndicate systems, players immediately took to Focus and sought after the most efficient way to earn the rewards given in the update. The developers monitored this activity and sought to strike a better balance between the realized gameplay and what they had envisioned for the new Focus system. As is often the case, Digital Extremes opted to treat the undesirable symptoms rather than addressing the heart of the matter: Affinity.

Stealth Gameplay Changes

E6-Stealth Gameplay

Stealth gameplay was only useful for gameplay rewards when it came to generating Affinity. For several years after Warframe’s release, Stealth gameplay was one of the most lackluster elements and robbed the game of one of the core components of being a “ninja” as advertised in the trailers. It wasn’t until Update 15.13 which introduced the first round of Spy 2.0 that the Stealth system received a massive overhaul. Stealth finisher damage was increased by up to 8x for a max rank Melee weapon, the UI was updated to show if enemies were alert or not, and a new Affinity multiplier was awarded for consecutive successful stealth kills which granted up to 500% extra Affinity on melee kill or up to 200% extra Affinity on ranged weapon kill. Though this was not enough to dethrone the ever-popular Draco at the time, it did provide a meaningful alternative for players to earn Affinity. Stealth gameplay was still not a reliable way to level up new weapons or re-rank Forma’d weapons, but it was a reliable way to work towards your daily Syndicate Standing caps.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Solo Stealth gameplay became a powerful meta for Focus farming. Focus could only be generated by max ranked equipment, so the concerns of using it to rank up items were not an issue. At their peak, Solo Stealth Focus farming could reach the cap of 100,000 Focus in roughly 10-14 minutes of gameplay without the use of an Affinity Booster (though it did rely on the Naramon Passive skill Strategic Execution). However, several changes were made along the way to handicap Stealth Affinity farming in general in the updates following the release of Focus.

Enemies now spawn in an alert state for 5 seconds, regardless of how they are spawned. Typically this would not be an issue as enemy spawns were also adjusted to prioritize spawning further away. However, for units which summon other enemies to assist them such as Drahk Masters calling in Drahks, players can easily lose their stealth multipliers by accidentally cleaving the group as the enemies are summoned in to the fray.

Enemies now become alert when they witness or hear a death within a small range. Though this is a positive change in regards to game immersion, it is also impractical for gameplay. There are issues with collision detection around corners, hitbox displacements which can ever-so-slightly impact the alert radius for line of sight, and Stealth Finishers are risky to use if your goal is to maintain the Affinity multiplier gained on consecutive Stealth kills due to how they re-position enemies for the attack animation. Instead of cleaving through a group, it’s better to use a silenced explosive weapon to maintain the Stealth multiplier — to kill all enemies at once without giving them the chance to alert others mid-swing or mid-attack.

Enemies no longer spawn on the same tile after clearing out enemies with consecutive Stealth kills. This change can also be interpreted as a positive change for immersion; the more enemies you dispatch stealthily, the less enemies you will have to encounter toward your objective. It was introduced in an attempt to curb gameplay which had players running around on the same tile (typically on a Deception mission) to spawn enemies and stack up the Stealth multiplier. This was the final nail in the coffin for Solo Stealth farming as a competitor to Draco for efficient Focus farming; there simply were not enough enemies to keep even a 500% multiplier on Affinity competitive to the sheer quantity of enemies and Eximus units encountered on an Interception mission.

Spawning Algorithm Adjustments

E6-Archwing Exterminate

Initially, enemy spawning changes were made in Update 18.1: “Reduced the number of large group spawns occurring in Exterminate Missions.” These changes were made to address a long-standing bug/feature which would despawn and subsequently respawn enemies through the course of a mission such as Exterminate. Experienced players could effectively sprint through an entire mission to reach the Extraction tile and then simultaneously use AoE attacks to clear out massive swarms of enemies at once. It became a crucial component to speed running Exterminate missions and was perhaps one of the most lucrative ways to farm Focus via Exterminate missions at the time. However, these changes had unforeseen (and evidently untested) consequences.

Certain missions became impossible to complete. Not inconvenient, not difficult, but completely impossible. If an enemy were to spawn in beneath the terrain or blocked behind a wall, you could no longer rely on the de/respawn to re-position them. If you were playing on a mission which features a point of no return such as an Invasion or Infestation event on a Grineer or Corpus ship, any enemies you happened to have missed or happened to spawn as you made the transition would never be accessible. This issue was only officially acknowledged nearly a month later as a side note in the Hotfix 18.2.2 Patch Notes and remained an issue until January 22 when Update 18.4 addressed the problem directly.

Archwing Exterminate missions on the Grineer Asteroid tile set have been forever maimed. When the first round of changes came for all Exterminate mission types, there was the consequence of enemies not spawning as quickly. A simple Exterminate on a low level planet such as Earth could take upwards of 15 minutes to complete because enemies simply would not spawn for long periods of time. Over 8 months later, the ramifications of these spawning changes are still being felt on Archwing Exterminate missions. Archwing Exterminate is a small subsection of all gameplay, but the spawning algorithm changes are noticeable and create an unpleasant experience. The new spawning algorithm, introduced in Update 18.1, prioritizes enemy spawns to take place out of line of sight above all else. On this particular tileset, one of the main features of the environment is that you have very few obstructions to your vision and even those only really serve as obstacles to movement. The same spawning logic has been found as a problem in other missions to this day, but more of a mild inconvenience as most tiles include doorways which block line of sight and create spawn rooms for enemies to populate.

Backtracking is now abundant on missions with Exterminate objectives. Though improvements have been made as of Update 18.4 to the spawning algorithm to place enemies along the path to extraction, some missions are not seeing much of an improvement. A Spy or Sabotage mission which changes into an Exterminate mission, or a random chance objective change on other missions in general, force the players to go back through the mission and pick off any enemies they may have skipped on their way to the objective points. Missions with several floors or vertical levels compound the problem with misleading waypoints.

Changes to the Sortie Reward Pools

Sorties were released simultaneously with Focus in Update 18.0. They were intended to be an endgame set of missions for well-equipped players to challenge themselves and earn extraordinary rewards. Though Focus may not have had direct impacts on changes made to the Sortie rewards, there were many changes which overlapped between the two systems. Greater Lens Blueprints originally bloated the Sortie reward pools, Focus Lenses themselves became an unwanted reward once the Greater Lenses were added to the market and other more valuable rewards were added to the reward pool, and Focus Lens acquisition has become scarce in the prolonged state of Sortie Season length. Though not necessarily a direct problem, once the value of Focus Lenses was given an effective price ceiling, players would prefer to acquire other rewards which could be traded for a higher Platinum value and then purchase Greater Lenses directly from the Market. In a way, this value dilemma calls to question why the basic versions of Focus Lenses exist at all.

The Culmination of These Changes

Ultimately none of these changes affected the Focus system directly; the adjustments only affected the Affinity factor used to generate Focus. Rather than addressing the fact that players were seeking out hyper-efficient farming methods to generate Focus, Digital Extremes systematically removed gameplay elements which allowed for those methods. The changes themselves seemingly have good intentions behind them to improve the flow of combat and to create a more immersive experience. However, not enough change was made to support what was envisioned. Many of the changes were made as knee-jerk reactions and left parts of the game in a broken state for several weeks and in some cases several months.

At the heart of all of Focus farming is the desire to reach the daily Focus cap; to progress as much as possible within the limitations of your time available to play each day. Every day you miss out on your cap is another day you have to add to the minimum 103 days required to completely master the Naramon school. It is painfully apparent after even an hour of playing standard missions that it would take up to 3-4 hours to reach your daily Focus cap by normal means Naturally, players gravitated toward what was efficient. Investing 10-20 minutes of their time into reaching their daily caps was a sacrifice many were willing to make in order to progress within this new system.

To this day Digital Extremes has not done anything to increase the rates of Focus acquisition (beyond shared affinity from squad kills) and yet has systematically removed areas of the game in which players would efficiently farm for it. It came as no surprise when even Draco was removed in the Specters of the Rail Update last month in July. A small handful of players are privy to exploitative means of generating high Affinity per minute by abusing mechanics in regards to spawning, but these are now secrets kept close to heart as a result of dwindling options and a fear of overreaching changes which might impact the game as a whole.

 


 

Failing to Learn from Past Experiences

E6-Exalted Blade

The Focus system is new in the sense that it provides a different set of rewards than other parts of the game, but the mechanics it employs are similar to other systems already in place. Going beyond the skills and effects already discussed in this article, the way Focus itself is generated is very similar to Syndicates. Likewise, the installation of Focus Lenses draws on parallels with the Arcane Enhancement system. As mentioned earlier in the article, both the Syndicates and Arcane Enhancements were once a part of the Focus system design. They had cannibalized ideas that were originally intended for the Focus system and utilized them in other ways to deliver new content. It strikes me as odd that, given how closely the concepts were related, Digital Extremes could not see the connections between the two and learn from the lessons they had already (and painfully) gone through.

Lesson 1: Syndicate Standing

E6-Syndicate Standings

When Syndicates were introduced in Update 15.0, it was a completely novel idea. Players could now make use of Affinity beyond the standard progression track of equipment and mastery ranks. They could convert that Affinity into a tangible reward to be redeemed with their choice of one of six factions. Syndicates presented many exciting rewards, even before the exclusive cosmetics and empowered weapon variants were added to the reward lists. Augmentations to empower your favorite weapons or warframes, Void Keys for T4 missions, powerful exclusive Large Team Restore gear items, as well as a variety of cosmetic Sigils were all made available in the initial update. There was one small hiccup, however.

The initial conversion rates of Affinity to Syndicate Standing were atrocious. Update 15.0 had come out on October 24, 2014, but it wasn’t until Hotfix 15.2.2 on November 14 that the Standing gains were increased. And by a significant amount, at that. Syndicate Standing had been increased by a factor of 10, from its initial release of 0.25% to 2.5% Affinity converted into Syndicate Standing. Other improvements were made to Syndicate Standing gains as well: Sigils now provide a boost to your Affinity to Standing conversion rate, Syndicate Mission rewards now scale with your Sigil bonuses, improvements to the Syndicate Mission Standing rewards in general, the addition of Syndicate Medallions in Update 15.6, and then another step further of improving the value of the Medallions in later updates. The overall track record of Syndicates has been to improve the ease of earning Standing.

However, the road for Syndicates has also been a bumpy one. When Syndicates released with the 0.25% Affinity conversion rate, there was not a daily cap on how much Standing you could gain. In addition, many of the Syndicate rewards (including the Large Team Restores at the time) could be traded with other players. The race to find the most hyper-efficient grind emerged.

E6-Daily Syndicate Missions

Though several mission types became viable, the most popular and convenient mission node was Viver – An indoor Corpus Interception mission on Eris with convenient spawn gates that proved favorable due to the high quantity of Eximus units inherently spawned on Interception missions. A single EV Trinity and Radial Javelin Excalibur, both modded for maximum power strength and maximum range, could generate substantial amounts of Affinity and subsequently Syndicate Standing in short periods of time. Hyper-efficient groups utilized a combination of other abilities to speed up the process as well. Overnight a handful of players had gained a powerful choke-hold on the player trading market for all Syndicate goods. It remained a closely guarded secret for some time, but the word eventually broke out and Digital Extremes responded by introducing a Daily Syndicate Standing Cap in Hotfix 15.2.1 three weeks after the initial release of Syndicates.

Focus did not learn from this lesson and repeated the same mistake; there was no cap on the gain when Focus was released. Though Digital Extremes responded much faster this time, it is shocking they did not consider this sooner given what had happened with Syndicates. Additionally, though Viver itself was now gone, there were still well-known efficient farming locations available at the time such as Draco. Perhaps with Focus Lenses only providing Focus to the player’s individual Affinity from kills, Digital Extremes made the assumption that players would not be able to utilize Draco for their Focus farming. And, to some credit, it was true that at most two players at once could effectively work on their Focus gains with this system, the simple solution would be to take turns in a squad where two players support, two players kill, and then alternate. What Digital Extremes had not anticipated was the hyper-efficient Solo Stealth method.

However, there was more to the lesson they should have learned from the release of Syndicates beyond the idea of a daily cap. Syndicates faced a rather unique problem; among the rewards available for Standing were valuable items which could be traded among players and thus impact the economy. Focus, on the other hand, can never be converted back into the game’s economy by any means. The real lesson is that if there is a system that relies heavily on Affinity, players will seek out the most optimal and efficient way to generate those kills. Focus is a system detached from the player economy and solely affects the player’s account. It seems unnecessary to make the conversion rate so low that it is simply not feasible to generate a meaningful amount through standard gameplay.

Lesson 2: Arcane Enhancement Installation

E6-Arcane Enhancement Installation

Arcane Enhancements were added to the game on March 19, 2015, in Update 16.0 and introduced a new type of upgrade system for players to enhance their favorite cosmetic items. When these enhancements were initially released they became a permanent fixation on whichever piece of equipment you installed them on. At most, players could have two different Arcane Enhancements equipped at a given time due to the restrictions to only being able to install them on helmets or syandanas (Note: Valkyr’s Bonds and Nekros’ Mortos Binds were handled as a special case in Hotfix 16.5.3). The investment of installing an Arcane Enhancement and then improving it to the max rank was a steep one compounded by a daily time gate and random chance acquisition. Players had to carefully pick and choose which pieces of equipment they wanted to enhance.

Ultimately this led to a problem for Digital Extremes. Why would a player ever want to buy another syandana or alternate helmet if they had already invested so much into the ones they installed the Arcane Enhancements on? It wasn’t until Update 17.0 on July 31, 2015, that Digital Extremes added the Arcane Distillers which could be used to remove the installations and allowed players to transfer their Arcane Enhancements across equipment. Arcane Distillers were made available via Syndicates and initially cost 100,000 Standing to purchase. Eventually, the price was reduced to 50,000 Standing (and improvements were made to the installation and removal user interfaces. As recently as August 5, 2016, Digital Extremes announced on Devstream 78 that soon Arcane Enhancements would no longer require Arcane Distillers to remove. In an upcoming update players will be able to freely remove and reinstall Arcane Enhancements at will.

However, Digital Extremes has still not announced any plans to improve or adjust Focus Lens installations for your equipment. The only way to remove a Focus Lens is to replace it with another; you cannot remove, upgrade, or disable a Focus Lens once it is installed. Once you have completed a school, you have the choice to avoid using equipment with those Lenses or to destroy the Lenses by installing new ones. It is not necessarily a bad idea to give players a reason to consider their choices before making an investment such as this, but it is also important to reflect the versatility of options available in the game.

Lesson 3: Exalted Blade Optimization

E6-Mire Exalted Blade Build

Arriving on June 17, 2015, Update 16.9 included a massive rework for the warframe Excalibur. Chief among these changes was a new skill: Exalted Blade. One of the most exciting features of the Exalted Blade skill was that it would inherit the mods installed onto your melee weapon and enhance the ability’s damage. This intentionally included mods such as Syndicate Weapon Augments as evidenced by various official channels including the Hotfix 16.9.4 patch notes which included a fix for clients not receiving the benefit from the augments.

By August 19, 2015, Digital Extremes had a change of heart on the matter. Update 17.2 explicitly listed a change which limited the interaction with melee mods. Digital Extremes even posted an Official PSA about the change a few days prior to the update going live. Covert Lethality had proven to be a powerful mod choice for Exalted Blade and served as the catalyst for this change as a principle of creating a better balance.

Many players were unhappy with the changes. Being able to use Syndicate Augments had provided Exalted Blade with interesting choices for companion melee weapons to the ability. For example, players could use the Mire equipped with Toxic Blight for a significant increase to elemental damage and gaining the Blight effect. After a certain number of kills which provides a boost to movement speed and restores 25% of your base Energy. Covert Lethality on the other hand was allowing players to instantly kill any enemy which was not in an alert state (or blinded).

Beyond whatever other balance concerns there might have been, ultimately this was a healthy change for the game. The augments had provided significant benefits to Exalted Blade which was fun, but at the same time it effectively made every weapon without a desirable augment (or without an augment entirely) an inferior choice by default.

With the upcoming Syndicate Melee Weapons, Warframe will have over 100 options for Melee weaponry. As frustrating as it might have been to lose the benefits of the Syndicate Augments, it did improve the versatility of options for Exalted Blade companion melee choices.

Focus is a restrictive system due to the way Focus Lenses are installed and collect Affinity. If you happened to have installed your first Focus Lens on a warframe such as Atlas, you will only be able to generate Focus while playing as Atlas. If you choose to play as a different warframe, you will either have to install a Focus Lens on another piece of equipment or forgo the potential Focus gains for as long as you do not play Atlas. Compounded by the increased scarcity of Focus Lenses earned through gameplay and the inability to remove and reinstall a Focus Lens, you must use the same equipment every day until you are either done with progressing in a particular school or you buy more Focus Lenses. As a result, Focus Lenses rob you of equipment diversity on a daily basis by restricting your options to work towards the rewards offered the Focus system.

 


 

Upcoming Changes to the Focus System

 

2016-PAX-East-ExoSentientAndWeapon

 

At this point we have very little information in regards to upcoming changes or additions to the Focus system. I have been tracking developer news for a little over 5 months now here on TCN’s InDev Page, as well as revisiting older news sources such as the Devstreams. The only information we have about upcoming Focus features comes from the 2016 PAX East Panel: Procedurally generated Sentient/Focus-related weapons which grant the player a special arm-weapon of sorts. Other than this concept image, not much information was shared as to how players would acquire or empower these weapons.

And that’s about it. Digital Extremes has commented on the Focus system a few times mentioning that more things are on the way, but nothing has been elaborated on at this point.

 


 

What Would It Take to Improve the Focus System?

 

E6-Focus Restored

 

After all of this analysis and critiquing, I feel obligated to make a few suggestions as to how to improve the Focus System. However, I accept that at this point some things simply cannot change. Changes made because of the Focus System are not likely to be reverted. Extermination missions will no longer provide big fat spawn clumps for AoE kills, Solo Stealth blender missions will not return, and the Operators are here to stay. I consider myself capable of providing objective feedback in this regard, regardless of my own personal preferences, but I am only capable of suggestions. It is entirely possible that some of the key issues I identified as flaws with the Focus system are internally recognized as strengths by Digital Extremes and they alone have the data to support any such claim.

 


 

Improving Focus Lenses

Focus Lenses are at the heart of progression within the Focus System. To address the concerns with Focus, these items must be considered.

Focus Lens Acquisition

With an erratic history of acquisition, I would assert that now is the time for Digital Extremes to reconsider Focus Lens acquisition methods. Rather than being a limit of one of each type of Focus Lens per season, we could explore a few different options:

  1. Without changing any of the Market offerings or other Sortie rewards, Focus Lenses could be offered as a secondary reward roll per daily Sortie completion. It could either be a guaranteed acquisition or a percentage chance. The player would randomly receive one of the five Focus Lenses similarly to how the Resource Blueprints are handled in the Nightmare The Law of Retribution Trial.
  2. Rather than having a Focus Lens be specific to a school, Focus Lenses could provide one form of generic Focus which can be freely assigned to a player’s school of choice. This could be accomplished by converting all existing Focus Lenses into this new generic type or by adding a new “Refined Focus Lens” which would require four of any type of Focus Lens to merge into this new generic Refined Greater Focus Lens. The Crafted option could be made available as a crafting blueprint from the Market.

Whatever the future of the Focus Lens is, we should keep in mind that Digital Extremes would not want to impede the sales of Greater Focus Lenses on the Market. Ideally the trade off would be the traditional choice of investing time or paying a premium to have immediate access to something. At the very least, Focus Lenses as a Sortie reward should be reevaluated due to the length of Sortie seasons rising from 15 to 60 days.

Affinity to Focus Conversion Rates

One of the key ideas I espoused in the editorial topic The Roles of Affinity in Warframe was consideration of time investment. How much time should players be expected to invest in these new systems? What is the threshold of activity to consider this system successful or a failure?

Convergence was implemented as a means to address this, but it is an extremely difficult task to have the Convergence orbs follow the flow of combat in a meaningful way. I would suggest improving the base gains from the Focus Lenses to at least the level they were prior to the addition of Convergence. In fact, I would propose they be raised to significantly higher amounts which scale with player Mastery Rank. Maybe even consider a bonus to Focus gains for targets which have been fully scanned in the Codex.

After all is said and done, it should not matter how quickly you can generate Focus. Digital Extremes has already set a daily cap on the amount of Focus you can gain and the Focus system does not impact any other gameplay systems or the game economy. What would be the harm in a player reaching their cap in 20 minutes as opposed to 40? It could even improve the amount of feedback Digital Extremes receives in regards to various Focus Skills and help them to fix any issues identified with them. As it currently stands, 129 days for Madurai can quickly become 130, 131, or however many days you happen to miss your Focus cap. Each additional day required to unlock these skills is another day Digital Extremes is not generating data or feedback on these skills. Each additional day required to unlock these skills is another day until the resources invested in developing them gain value with the players.

Additionally, I would strongly recommend adding Daily Focus Missions or Tasks which players can complete to earn a lump sum of Focus. Ideally these would be added directly to the Sortie missions, though other options could work as well. It could also be worth exploring the option of adding Focus as a bonus end of mission reward detached from Affinity in general but still counting against the daily cap.

Installation of Focus Lenses

Perhaps the greatest limitation of this system is the way in which Focus Lenses are installed. No matter what the change is, Digital Extremes would ultimately be facing a potential decrease in Greater Focus Lens purchases in the Market. Popular suggestions among the community include concepts such as allowing players to freely remove or swap out Focus Lenses or to be able to apply them to a loadout slot rather than individual pieces of equipment. Perhaps simply being able to upgrade an already-installed Focus Lens could help improve the investment cost.

If Digital Extremes does choose to adjust the installation of Focus Lenses in the future, I would strongly recommend a greater emphasis on versatility. Perhaps all it would take is an improvement to the acquisition methods, but I would hope that in the future players could freely select their equipment without the fear of either wasting Focus on a completed school or losing out on their daily allowance of Focus.

 


 

Improving Focus Skills and Convergence Mechanics

First and foremost the in-game presentation of the Focus Schools upon completion of The Second Dream should be expanded upon to give players a preview of the available schools and their respective skills. Moving beyond that, Focus Skills themselves need to be addressed. At the core of the problems with Focus Skills is the issue that they are impractical and costly to use. Likewise, the mechanics associated with Convergence are impractical to utilize.

Focus Skill Cooldowns

The current functionality of Focus is that you must wait a set amount of time before being able to activate your Focus Skill in a mission. With each additional perk activated on your selected Focus School the cooldown gains an additional 45 seconds on the timer before it can be activated. Not only is this a problem in regards to fitting into the flow of combat, it’s not fun.

Disregarding the usefulness of any given skill, it’s just not fun to have to wait around to be able to activate the skill. You’ve spent 103 days working towards activating every single Naramon perk, but you now have to wait nine minutes to activate the skill in any given mission. Many missions don’t even last nine minutes!

To improve the usability of these skills, I would propose one of the following options:

  1. Remove the penalty of +45 seconds per active perk on a skill tree. With this change, Focus Skills will either take 180 or 120 seconds to activate depending on if the mastery type perk is activated.
  2. Allow players to work towards charging up their Focus Skill via gameplay. This could be accomplished similarly to how Syndicate effects work in relation to Affinity gains or it could be incorporated into the Convergence system in some form.

The reality is that most Focus Skills are only ever used to quickly toggle on the Passive effects which persist for the remainder of the mission. Unless broader changes are planned, it would be advisable to at least encourage players to make more use of the current offerings available from these various schools without penalizing what is already working well.

Focus School Investment Costs

To the point: It should not take over 100 days to master a Focus school. Players have accepted the system as is for now because the most of the skills are considered useless at this point, but that is not a strong point of defense to justify these high investment costs.

Adjusting the various Focus schools to have an equal investment of time to master them would be the optimal solution to the current problem. In consideration of a change, it would be advisable to reevaluate the amount of total Focus required to invest in any given school. Currently it ranges from 8.7 million up to 12.8 million. For Focus to work as a successful player retention system it needs to both provide users a daily reason to return to the game and meaningful rewards to work towards. The daily caps are a means of getting players back each day, but with such low Affinity to Focus conversion rates the player might not feel as if they’re progressing as they miss their daily caps by tens of thousands every day.

The goal of such a change would be to give players a feasible progression track rather than asking for years of investment. Considering Warframe’s aggressive updating schedule and tendency to revisit existing systems in order to polish them up with a “2.0” version, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will be able to complete all five schools. Well, aside from those who managed to abuse early exploits to earn enormous sums of Focus within the first day or unlocked perks without having to spend points via an old bug.

Take a Second and Third Pass at Focus Skills and Perks

Many, if not all, of the Focus Skills themselves are underwhelming. Long cooldowns, limited effectiveness, and the lack of scaling are all considerations in what makes a Focus Skill impractical to use in gameplay. However, some of the perks go above and beyond those concerns to create conditions which are detrimental to the player for almost no benefit.

The most noticeable among these are the Focus Active perks which add a “corrupted” style positive and negative effect, such as Naramon’s Traumatic Redirection. Gaining 3 guaranteed critical strikes is an obsolete mechanic in the face of Body Count and Blood Rush or even just Maiming Strike. The constant health drain is useful, but only as a mechanic abused to trigger effects such as Vex Armor, Arcane Grace, or Arcane Avenger. Each Focus school has a similar set of perks on its tree with these corrupted effects which offer insignificant benefit for significant cost.

Active Perks in general are just not practical to use in gameplay. With long cooldowns and nominal effects, there is no incentive to even use these Active perks when you could just use a warframe ability that accomplishes the same effect much more efficiently. For example, why would anyone want to use Naramon’s Cloaking Aura when you could just use Ivara’s Cloak Arrow instead? There’s no cooldown to it, it’s easier to apply, and you can even get a much longer duration for the stealth effect.

Meanwhile, some Passive perks are recognizably stronger than others. It will not come as a surprise to anyone if and when Naramon’s infamous Shadow Step sees any kind of adjustment, but on the other hand Unairu’s Stone Shape is inconsequential for the majority of warframes and even for those with higher armor values it is not a significant improvement.

It would also be worthwhile to consider adding some form of synergy among the Focus schools. The Focus icon shows all of the rings connected, yet they never intersect in game beyond the state of equipping Lenses or being connected to the Operator at the center.

Making Convergence Feel Rewarding

Convergence in its current form is less of a reward and more of way to break free from the penalties of the adjusted Affinity to Focus conversion rate. Improvements have been made to the spawning mechanics of Convergence, but the effect is still lackluster. There are a variety of possibilities to improve it within the existing systems, though I would strongly recommend to go beyond that and give Convergence a more rewarding role.

I would like to propose the following adjustments to Convergence:

  1. Significantly improve Focus gains when Convergence is active. Balance the gains around standard play rather than worrying about efficient farming methods. Use the daily Focus cap to address balance concerns with efficient farming.
  2. When Convergence is activated, grant a buff to the player and all squad members within Affinity range based on the player’s selected Focus tree and possibly any active perks.
  3. Change Convergence to spawn individually per player rather than simultaneously for the entire squad. Until changes are made to enemy spawning to create the opportunity for a high-Affinity yielding scenario, there is no need to time these together with squad members. Additionally this would remove the possibility of an AFK player causing further Convergence spawns to delay.
  4. Picking up Convergence and/or earning Focus while Convergence is active reduces the cooldown of your Focus Skill. This could be accomplished as a flat reduction to the cooldown or by reducing the cooldown by an amount relative to Focus gained during the Convergence.

If changes are made to any of the other components of Focus, these four items may need to be tweaked a bit further for a better balance between gameplay experience and design balance.

 


 

Closing Thoughts

Orokin Moon

Steve Sinclair, Creative Director for Warframe, published the following message on Twitter approximately one week after the release of the Focus system in Update 18.0:

“Changes for Focus gain/abilities/passives in pipe. System came online very late but we shipped. Hang in there Tenno!”

Source: @sj_sinclar – Twitter

Focus was a system that was meant to be the endgame progression track for Veteran players. It was meant to provide meaningful and powerful benefits for progressing within the system. To create a new combat experience within the old.

And it has failed to do so.

As is the trend with Warframe, the update likely came a bit rushed in order to satisfy an arbitrary deadline either due to marketing agreements or other similar commitments. This is an unfortunate reality many software developers face and Digital Extremes is no exception. Most players understand that the aggressive updating schedule employed for Warframe will ultimately mean that there will be mistakes, but they accept this in exchange for a constant stream of new content.

This article is perhaps one of the longest I will ever write on a single topic within Warframe and I accept that ultimately it is a foolish expectation to think that the developers will give it much consideration. After all, failure is an aggressive word to use to describe something. It implies that there is some ideal outcome which was not reached. That there was something more to be done which could have brought about success. If only an exercise in futility, I believe it is important to be able to analyze and understand what went wrong with the Focus system and how these mistakes sent shock waves to other parts of the game. I believe it is important to keep these things in mind so that Digital Extremes can be held to a higher standard and learn from these experiences rather than repeating the same mistakes again. It is my opinion that “failure” is an objective assessment of the Focus system in its current state.

Focus still has a great deal of potential to it and I expect Digital Extremes will be addressing the system in the near future with The War Within and in later updates as well. It has been a long 9 months since its initial release and for better or worse many parts of the system have not yet been addressed or even acknowledged up until this point. It is my hope that by presenting this information the community can open a dialogue with Digital Extremes on the topic of Focus and the philosophy behind its design.

This article is not meant to be accusatory or an attack against Digital Extremes. Though my opinions are prevalent, the core of this article presents and interprets facts. Warframe is a game subject to aggressive updating and is not afraid to make broad strokes to revitalize failing elements. Hopefully, Focus will be addressed soon.

 

 

Special thanks to MeetTheJoves, Stjarna, and –Q–Gelbug for taking the time to give some feedback on this article.

Written By TGDM

Overly sarcastic video game enthusiast.

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