Warframe didn’t have much in the way of lore at its launch. But over the years, the third-person loot shooter has gained a lot more than a few million players. It’s also accumulated a narrative bible’s worth of back story, zany characters, and shocking revelations. But there is one mystery that’s central to the entire game: what is a Warframe?
This should go without saying, but hey — there are massive spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know any of the twists and turns of Warframe (and there are some real doozies to experience for yourself), then don’t read on. In particular, consider staying away if you haven’t played both The Second Dream and The Sacrifice quests just yet.
But if spoilers don’t bother you, or you’re just looking for a simple refresher, let’s go!
What is a Warframe?
Warframes are, for the totally uninitiated, the many playable classes in the free-to-play game called Warframe. Each has special abilities and statistics that make them effective combatants in different situations. Inaros, for instance, can summon sandstorms to blind and disable enemies. Whereas Hydroid manipulates water to wash over foes and sink into a living puddle.
When the game first starts, each Warframe is considered a wandering guardian of the downtrodden. Many insidious factions — the money-worshiping Corpus, the clone armies of the Grineer, and the ravenous Infested — seek to dominate and destroy the star system where the game takes place. The biomechanical machines called Warframes, along with their operators called the Tenno, protect common people from these threats.
As for where the Warframes come from… Well, that’s where things get complicated. They were “built” by an ancient civilization as weapons of battle (as the name “Warframe” implies). Said civilization is no longer around when the game starts. But nearly every major faction that came after is an offshoot of this long-dead society. Of these new groups, the living machines called Sentients are the most important to the lore.
The old society, called the Orokin, also created the Sentients as self-aware servants that could colonize whole star systems. But the robots rebelled when they realized the Orokin would just ravage the galaxy — much like they did their own star system. So the Sentients rose up, the Orokin created the Warframes to fight back, and the rest is history…
The Infestation and Experimentation
Well, not quite. That tells us why Warframes exist. It doesn’t explain what they are. Don’t worry! We’re getting to that.
You see, the Warframes weren’t the first Orokin weapon meant to wipe out the Sentients. The space empire first created a bio-weapon (now only known as the Infestation) to battle the living machines. Being super-smart machines, the Sentients could hack and redirect any advanced technology their creators sent against them. Not so with the Infestation — which could zombify and consume both organic and inorganic lifeforms.
The bio-weapon worked up to a point. It killed a lot of Sentients! It just couldn’t be controlled. Suddenly, the Orokin weren’t just back to square one. They had two out-of-control creations to worry about. But the Infestation still worked like a kind of dirty bomb from time to time.
That said, the disease’s mutagenic properties made it very interesting to Orokin scientists. They began to experiment with its effects — until they ultimately found a strain that didn’t make its victims into mind controlled monsters. It did, however, reshape their bodies in a horrible, painful process that made them nearly indestructible. Yeah, the Orokin weren’t great folks…
You can probably guess where this is going. The Warframes we know and love today are the victims of ancient experimentation: twisted into combat machines with very little will of their own.
The Zariman Ten-Zero Incident
Things got worse before they got better, too. Even with a slightly less ravaging strain of the Infestation flowing through their veins, the psychological damage of being warped into monsters made Warframes tough to control. The Orokin conveniently solved that problem by… turning children into hyper-advanced drone pilots.
Specifically, the oligarchs swooped a bunch of traumatized kids from the Zariman Ten-Zero: a doomed spacecraft that was accidentally exposed to cosmic radiation. The space magic killed the adult crew and passengers, including the children’s parents, but left the young ones with a little something extra. Each child gained access to “Void” abilities tantamount to superpowers.
The Orokin discovered these Void-touched kids could interface with Warframes. And, thanks to some truly super-human empathy, the two beings’ shared trauma could quell the Warframes’ emotional distress. Of course, the Orokin just exploited this like everything else — to use the kids (now called Tenno) and their remote controlled war machines to beat back the Sentients.
End of the Old War
The Infestation made these warriors immune to Sentient control. Meanwhile, the Void powers each Tenno could leverage proved highly toxic to the rogue machines. It was a serious match made in hell.
That proved just as true for the Orokin, however. Betrayal from within and deception from without gave the Sentients one last card to play. They managed to break — and subsequently redirect — the empire’s control over the Tenno and the Warframes. The super-soldiers turned against their former masters, just like the Sentients and Infestation before them, and wiped out the Orokin more-or-less once and for all. Then the Warframes went dormant…
The game itself picks up many eons later. War has broken out in the Origin System once again and only the Tenno — along with their trusty partners in justice — can right the wrongs happening all across space. What happens next is, well, up to the player. You’ll just have to play the game to find out, or check back in for future editions of “Here’s the Lore” for more details. Thanks for reading!