As I’m writing this, Warframe just launched its third battle pass, Nightwave Series 3: The Glassmaker. Only it’s not really a battle pass. The series of challenges and rewards is completely free to all players, like Warframe itself. And it’s more story-driven than anything you’ll find in something like Fortnite, Apex Legends, or even Destiny. The Glassmaker is an in-game hunt for a serial killer with crime scene investigations. And none of that is surprising. Warframe is secretly (or not so secretly) a very story-driven game. But that’s still a hard thing to talk about, almost five years after the massive plot twist that changed the game forever.
The twist occurs during The Second Dream: a quest that only becomes available 20-30 hours into the game. Up until that point, you’re only given the briefest context for the game world. You’re a voiceless cyber ninja fighting factions of bad guys across the solar system. A disembodied handler — a woman called The Lotus — sends you on repeatable missions across proc gen worlds like Jupiter, Earth, Pluto, etc.
There are minor tales, like the one about the Glassmaker. Some of them even hint at a greater history. But they’re ultimately side stories. They don’t add a real plot to Warframe, dozens of hours or sometimes several years into playing the game, like The Second Dream does.
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My colleague merritt got to the big quest herself last night. She was looking for a new looty, shooty, grindy game to fill the void left by Destiny 2 — as that game struggles with a terrible content drought. Years of legacy content was ready to fill that gap. Meanwhile Nightwave makes good grease to glide our way into an all-digital TennoCon (the annual Warframe fan convention where big, new content is always teased).
“Oh my god fucking Warframe is going to make me cry,” she told us in Slack. I immediately asked if she’d gotten to The Second Dream. “I got to the big story part yes,” she added.
That’s the kind of dancing around the topic you do when you play this game with friends. And Fanbyte staffers spread hobby games between each other like wildfire. A couple other folks started reinstalling Warframe or booting it up for the first time ever after merritt and I started up. While I beat The Second Dream when it launched, in 2015, the rest haven’t gotten that far. We don’t want to spoil it. It’s kind of an unwritten taboo in the game’s community — one that players have been shockingly good at maintaining… Even if developer Digital Extremes and Warframe itself are starting to crack after years of keeping a straight face.
The game’s seven year anniversary trailer, for instance, shows snippets from The Second Dream and even further plot beats. Meanwhile, the new Nightwave series includes cosmetics that all but spell out an enormous piece of the puzzle.
At this point I’m wondering how much longer the facade can last — or if it even should. Spoilers are necessary to critically engage with media. Not to mention explaining the twist ahead of time can give potential players a hook, when they might otherwise think Warframe is just another grindy, free-to-play action game with a weird, wet aesthetic. I’ve certainly shared the twist with friends who’ve asked me to. And it’s almost always turned out for the best. New players get lured in and can still appreciate the gut punch of The Second Dream, like merritt, while the rest of us can talk about how incredibly cool the game has become.
I won’t spoil the big twist in this piece (you can read about it in this excellent article if you want to cut to the chase). Though I do think we’re rapidly approaching a time where it’ll be okay to talk about what Warframe really is, for most of the people who play it. Personal experience tells me that’s the best thing for the game and its players.
This has been a fun community effort — a collective, knowing silence that makes you feel like a part of something bigger for as long as it lasts. But one nice thing about Warframe is that it’s always changing. The game is full of communal moments to rally behind. Some are very silly… Even five years after The Second Dream, and nearly a decade of play, it still surprises me. It gives me nothing but confidence that we can let go of the past to engage even more with the present.