Warframe unveils its “The New War” update soon, putting a bow on years of speculation about the long-delayed storyline. That kind of closure feels like an appropriate way to close 2021; developer Digital Extremes has spent the last two years making its free-to-play shooter feel more “complete” across the board. Though many of the nearly decade-old game’s ancient problems — like rough tutorials and online lag — persist. Chief among them, even for longtime players like me, is often learning just how the pieces come together.
That all-important endgame is one such fragment. Warframe almost seems to pride itself on being willfully, consciously different from other live games of its type — games like Destiny 2 or perhaps even Fallout 76 being the closest comparisons. In which repeatable endgame content is vital. Those games typically rely on complex “raids” where players work together to complete complex (or artificially toughened) tasks. In exchange, participants get sexy rewards, like a gun powered by a guy who got turned into a bug.
Because those games have that stuff, Warframe does not. At least that’s how it often feels. There are no raids in the game (not anymore). They’ve been replaced by wandering monster hunts against ghostly kaiju or robot spiders that talk like Lewis Carroll characters. There’s also a “Nemesis System” where each rivalry ends in a starship fleet battle across deep space. Some players complain that these very different elements of the game feel disconnected. They’re right, too, up to a point. Warframe has done a lot to interconnect these systems. Yet it’s still incredibly bad at telling you how these islands of content interact.
The nemeses, or “Liches,” for example, only tie into space battles at the very end your rivalry. There’s a decent chunk of grinding, trial, and error across more standard missions on Earth, Mars, and futuristic versions of other planets from our solar system before you realize you need a ship (and preferably some upgrades) to finish the fight. Not to mention you might not even realize why it’s worth pursuing your opponent at all. Which is how you wind up with the same Lich harassing you for two years before you bother reaping their rewards and realizing how it all works. Like me…
But while most weapons in Warframe are crafted by the player, Liches drop some of the very best guns in the game — fully formed and ready to fire. You can even hunt multiple similar Liches to fuse their loot together into more powerful gear.
All this information is freely available online. It’s knowing where to look in the first place that’s the issue. Warframe has very little in the way of tutorials; the best you can often hope for is a quest that points you to a particular new item. Such as your foe-finding battleship, the Railjack. Once you have the item, you might not know it’s the only way to acquire certain playable characters. Or that an update from last year made Railjack missions a very good source of in-game cash. Or that you need a fairly competent one to
I only recently popped my first nemesis, Mokk Tevo, on her flagship around Earth Proxima amid explosions and nebula smoke. I took her Kuva Brakk hand cannon as compensation for all the resources she had stolen from me since 2019. Not bad; not great. Of course I could have fished for something better. I just had no idea back when Liches were introduced that you could dictate what loot they dropped.
I knew better the second time. I knew I wanted a Tenet Arca Plasmor (a souped-up shotgun that blasts microwave rectangles) from the second Lich I killed — technically called a Sister of Parvos, since she came from the Corpus faction. Fabriciana was nothing like Mokk; awkward and eager to please her boss compared to the cold, calculating killer I first faced. The adversaries’ unique personalities are a nice touch. Just like their ridiculous names that match the growing list of sci-fi Warframe jargon.
That’s why I can say things like “Returning to my Railjack eventually introduced me to the Orphix, which requires a Necramech bought at the Necralisk on Deimos.” Basically, I’ve gotten way more into ship-to-ship combat again. And a certain mission type, where you battle monsters called Orphix, requires you to bring a big mech suit obtainable on one of the game’s open world zones. Everything feeds back into something else — organically, in theory, but mostly with the aid of a wiki in practice.
Once you unlock those systems, you can start upgrading them, and the process begins anew. That’s the current endgame. And the flashy climax in a disintegrating warship really does feel unlike anything else in games “like” Warframe. Those two straight years of listening to my nemesis snipe at me added to the satisfaction, but mastering the system altogether hasn’t gotten old yet. Meanwhile it’s preparing me for the future of The New War and whatever extra unpredictable challenges it brings. Hopefully.
It’s not a perfect system, but Warframe isn’t a perfect game. It’s a pretty constantly evolving one. And after years of growing outwards (with those open-world zones, killer robots, giant spaceships, and such) it’s good to see the developers also looking in between. Putting my zombie space wizard on ice, and stealing their signature gun, felt like the most complete loop I’ve experienced in the game yet.
Now we see The New War hinting at big changes to more existing content. The demo shown at this year’s TennoCon features the original open world zone in flames. Its mysterious, fortune-telling citadel made of living meat gets squashed by a robot dreadnought. Warframe has touched up its locales before, but this feels like a more drastic sea change for the game’s world all at once. So much groundwork has been laid already. The New War might finally bring some closure, but it also looks like the start of even more to come, too.
Disclaimer: Leyou, parent company of Digital Extremes, was purchased by Fanbyte parent company Tencent in 2020. Though Tencent has no oversight or direct contact with Fanbyte editorial. Seriously I keep writing these disclaimers, but I am 100 percent sincere when I say I’m pretty sure they forgot they own this company.