Warframe: The Duviri Paradox Hits a Roguelike Reset Button

Creative Director Rebb Ford talks time travel and sixguns in this major update interview.

Warframe: The Duviri Paradox came in like a dream. The game’s update trailers tend to do that. Warframe somehow seems to always add something you never thought possible in its biggest expansions — usually with a big, flashy debut at TennoCon, the game’s annual fan convention.

The reality is often a lot less spectacular, owing to the still-scrappy feel of developer Digital Extremes. Updates add capital ship combat, stompy mechs fueled by corpses, open-world zones full of building-sized monsters, a “Nemesis System” pulled straight from Shadow of Mordor. But it often takes time (and many smaller hotfixes) to iron out big technical issues that plague the new content.

In an interview with Fanbyte, newly crowned Warframe Creative Director Rebb Ford even acknowledged that the game’s most recent addition, Angels of the Zariman, “wasn’t great at launch.”

She blames it partially on second guessing herself; it was one of the early updates overseen by her when she semi-secretly took over the game several months ago, after all. Yet you could call a lot of updates in the decade-long history of Warframe updates “bumpy.” Just look at Archwing and Railjack. If you play the game, you know these fresh ideas seem fascinating on paper, but it can take weeks or months for the devs to make them gel with the rest of the experience.

Maybe that’s why The Durviri Paradox disappeared for three whole years.

Its original TennoCon 2019 trailer came as a surprise for several reasons. One was that The New War, another major story expansion that promised to end the surprisingly deep years-long story arc of Warframe up to that point, had already been teased a year earlier. The Duviri Paradox seemed completely unrelated: visually, narratively, and mechanically. It was even more dreamlike than the game’s current fantastical far future world, featuring hollow-headed horses and Ennio Morricone inspired western whistling played over black-and-white space dragons in the distance. And then there’s the time travel…

It looked weird. Even by Warframe standards. It looks just as strange now that we’ve seen gameplay. Ford explains that the expansion is “flirting with roguelike elements.” The new content takes place on a floating island within (or perhaps beyond) the Void, a parallel reality from which most of the “space magic” in Warframe derives. This includes things like faster-than-light travel and the abilities of the player character: a custom creation called the Operator. Even time seems fluid here, as death only resets certain parts of the world. Hence the roguelike elements.

Even ignoring those new features, Warframe is in a very different place now than it was in 2019. Ford was “but a humble community director” for many years. Yet she also filled a slightly less officious role, the voice of the Lotus, who has essentially become the mascot character — and occasional antagonist — of the game. In other words, Ford has a very different background than her predecessor, Steve Sinclair, whom she says she’s already well aware people will compare her to.

“All my experience is in Warframe,” Ford explains, “And critically analyzing the release and development of every update we’ve ever done from the community’s point of view.”

That actually starts with another major update: Veilbreaker. While she and the team take The Duviri Paradox over the finish line, this smaller expansion is set to release before the time-bending add-on, and will be the first add-on of its size made publicly under her oversight. This is a project she really wanted to do from beginning to end — including elements like bringing back the MIA Kahl-175 as a playable character (though “the dev team are all on board,” as well).

You don’t always play as the Operator in Duviri, either. Instead, you take control of the Drifter: a character introduced during The New War, which finally did release in 2021. (Ford actually describes Veilbreaker as the “second punch” of this particular plot while Duviri heads to entirely new pastures.)

Once assumed to be an aged-up version of the Operator (who is still physically a teenager in Warframe), the Drifter is actually a version of the protagonist from an alternate timeline. A world where they never received supernatural Void powers — instead relying on wits and conventional weapons to survive.

Maybe “conventional” isn’t the right word. We see the Drifter wield a severed hand that shoots color into the monochrome world around them. This is another nod to The New War. During which the Lotus gets the appendage lopped off by her obsessive ex-lover. The hand careens through time and space and smashes into the Drifter’s world like a meteorite, allowing them to influence the malleable world around them.

They’re not the only ones with this power, though. A masked king called Dominus Thrax can alter the island according to his mood, Ford explains, which changes the environment you play through on a daily basis. When Thrax is mad, the island might begin to burn. If he’s happy, things might calm down. You need to deal with the consequences.

We saw this for ourselves during the TennoCon 2022 demo. An angry Thrax face made from a firestorm appears in the background. Just before the Drifter pops pegasus wings from their horse and goes to battle with the aforementioned space dragon.

Dealing with Thrax means using that magic hand and a few other tricks to change things around. You unlock respawn points by bringing color back into monuments, but can also gain “Decrees” from a skull-faced thespian named Bombastine on the “central island” of Duviri, as Ford puts it.

This is also where you “build your build” by doing side activities and exploring. The demo shown at TennoCon, for instance, showed a mirror image puzzle with the Drifter and Operator cooperating through time. Ford heavily hinted that players will even need to select a particular Warframe to use during a “Duviri day” as part of their temporary loadout. Beyond the main island are also portals leading to “Warframe-specific zones” which allow you to engage in “full, unrestrained Warframe action.”

Yet it all circles back to the Drifter. They seem a good deal easier to kill, at least temporarily, from what we can see. Ford explains that the character will be “the guiding nucleus” for everything else as players complete daily loops on the islands.

These features are all part of that important character build aspect of roguelikes. One skill shown during our demo added fire damage to melee strikes; another stunned enemies with every dodge roll. Between all this you also have one of those empty-headed horses — called a Kaithe — that functions surprisingly similar to Torrent from Elden Ring. Before it grows wings, it sports a double-jump and can be summoned from thin air.

Despite the obvious From Software comparisons, The Duviri Paradox actually seems to emulate another game: Warframe itself. Ford described the expansion as though it will function like the entire rest of the game in microcosm. One that can be replayed over and over again on a daily cycle, yet still “balances players’ work-life” by not making it too much of a grind.

“We’re not trying to make it a 10-hour daily activity,” Ford explained. “We want to make it really refined and tight and not too punishing at all if you miss a day. That’s not what we’re going for at all.”

Instead of a jetpack, your first mount is a magic horse. Instead of introducing the Operator to the Drifter, it’ll be the other way around. Instead of starting off as a techno-organic Warframe, you start as its pilot. The Drifter even hops through a portal and straight into the game’s intro cinematic directed by Dan Trachtenberg, which hints that the Warframes will eventually be playable and selectable in this “mode.”

“[You] start off at your low-powered point that you’re used to off with in Duviri and then make your way by doing activities, solving problems, to usually a very keen climax that may involve a dragon fight… or something more threatening.”

This feeds into what seems like the real heart of The Duviri Paradox: making an expansion that’s meaningful to both new players and veterans alike. This is another major problem for Warframe. It’s dense as all get-out — a victim of all those wildly different gameplay elements and the systems that support them. It’s practically impenetrable to new players.

At the very least, that’s how it often appears. Ford actually gave a good example of one bewildering scene for new players: death. Veterans Tenno often let themselves die in the “bleed out phase” of multiplayer, rather than wait for friends to revive them, simply because it’s faster. Faster times mean more missions, which means more chances at loot, which is the core of the game for most hardcore fans. But a newbie might be left wondering… why?

The team is apparently trying to “smell out why that is” and adjust death within The Duviri Paradox accordingly. These under-the-hood decisions probably have a greater impact on what makes content “approachable” than the fancy and flashy new stuff Warframe typically promotes. It’s a useful rhetorical win to say, “this expansion is great for new players.” It gives them a jumping-on point: something to look forward to quickly without hundreds of hours of investment.

It’s also an interesting narrative choice. The “paradox” runs parallel to the story ending with The New War. In fact, you can complete The Duviri Paradox first. This allows new players to experience the plot in a totally different way than players who already know what’s going on. If you start with the new story content, then circle back, your relationship to the characters will be different than someone who played it the “original” way.

You might even have different expectations for the game itself. Warframe becomes a bit of a power fantasy by the endgame. You slice and vaporize enemies by the dozen. In The Duviri Paradox, Ford wants players to imagine “Your gun only has six bullets. What are you going to use them on?”

Not literally, of course, but the idea is to make folks “really care about the tools they have.” Perhaps contrasting against the hundreds of weapons and dozens of Warframes Digital Extremes has slowly managed to funnel into the game over the years.

The fact that it took so long to complete this circuit is probably another result of that “scrappy” feel to Digital Extremes. The studio has only made a handful of its own games, of which Warframe is by far its most successful. In the last decade-plus, however, every other project the developers worked on has been a sequel, tie-in, port, or the multiplayer segment of someone else’s game. Excluding one game that got canceled, anyway.

That’s clearly changing now, however. The studio has partnered with Airship Syndicate (makers of the surprisingly excellent Ruined King: A League of Legends Story) to produce a new MMO. Longtime Warframe director Steve Sinclair has also moved on — to make a fantasy successor to Warframe called Soulframe.

This sort of leapfrogging might seem odd, but that’s Warframe. It’s an odd game. One that’s getting weirder all the time. It’s going to be very interesting to see which new directions Ford further takes it in a post-Duviri world. But, like that hue-less island floating in the Void, this feels like a port of call leading into that next world. The game we know doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, but more players will be able to join in on whatever comes next.