Here's how Warframe plans to reinvent its melee combat

© Digital Extremes
By Kevin Wong
It’s one of the biggest multiplayer hits in years and now Warframe is upgrading its melee combat. Here's everything we know so far.
The first phase of Digital Extremes’ Warframe melee rework will address two long-running issues regarding hand-to-hand combat. Both will make the melee aspect of Warframe more fluid and seamless – closer to the ancient warrior archetype we've been told the Tenno are.
The first change will allow instant switching between melee combat and gunplay. It used to be that by pressing the Quick Melee button, your avatar would take out his weapon, slash with it, and immediately return it to its scabbard.
In order to take out your melee weapon and keep it out, you would have to hold down (not click) the Switch Weapons button. Thus, by its very design, melee occupied a supporting role. Most players relied on their guns as their first option.
In the latest update, pushing the quick melee button will cause the player to take out the weapon, hit with it, and keep it out. And if you want to put away your sword, you can press the Fire button, and you'll immediately switch back to your former firearm.
Done properly, this allows for a higher degree of player control; you can equip the weapon you need to at the moment you need it, even mid-air. You can see this mechanic in action in the video below from Devstream #123 on February 8.
The other major change you can see in the video is that the air slam is now aim-able rather than going straight down by default. It's another way that the team is giving players more control over their characters' actions.
So how did the community respond to these developments?
One concern that came up on the Warframe message boards after Devstream #123 is that by allowing the melee weapon to stay out, the developers are also doing away with Quick Melee's combo-less attacks. And some of these combo-less attacks, contrary to their name, have a smoother looping effect than the combo-ed ones.
It's a legitimate complaint; by creating fluidity in one area, it's entirely possible that the team will inadvertently decrease fluidity in a different area. The developers have said, however, that they plan on revamping the entire combo system. So hopefully, this is the sort of problem that will sort itself out. Players simply want the most effective, fluid mechanic, regardless if it comes out of Quick Melee or not, and the developers would do well to prioritise effectiveness over a sweeping, static change.
Another constructive feedback concerned the targeted air slam. What if the damage scaled in accordance to how close the enemy was to the point of impact, and also by how high you slammed from? It would make logical sense, and it would also create a risk-reward option; you would have to make yourself more vulnerable by slamming from a greater height.
In the future, we can expect to see individual adjustments to individual weapons, and range adjustments to melee weapon categories, so that close range fists and weapons become more viable in builds. It will be important for the developers to frame these changes properly.
Generally speaking, players don't like nerfs, they'd rather other weapons get buffed, which would have the same net effect. A nerf to polearms, for example, would be more likely to cause fan outcry than a buff to daggers. And other changes, such as combo simplification and cosmetic changes to individual melee moves, will come later. Those things are still up for debate and also take longer to develop.
After multiple delays to this long-promised melee update Digital Extremes are taking the right approach. By focusing on the stats and the mechanical nuts and bolts, they're building something to last, rather than building something to look pretty. And hopefully, the subsequent waves won't be far behind.