With a decade’s worth of content to explore, Warframe can be intimidating, especially for those who are just starting out. However, players who are patient enough to delve beyond the high-octane ninja flipping and space-mech murder gameplay will find one of the most compelling plots in all of gaming. The game recently concluded a long-running, highly dramatic plot centered around the Lotus, players’ collective Space Mom. And with Wednesday’s new update, Angels of the Zariman, developer Digital Extremes has opened a new act for a universe that has grown to rival canons like Warhammer 40K.
The world of Warframe takes place in the Origin System — a far-future, very sci-fi version of our Sol system — after the fall of the gilded Orokin Empire. The player fills the role of an Operator of the titular Warframes, mecha-organic murder machines, and fights to protect the few remaining innocents from genetically modified, rapidly decaying supersoldiers, space hyper-capitalists, and an extra dimensional infestation. Warframe also keeps a major part of its core premise secret until about 25 hours in — and the community carefully guards that spoiler from new players.
“Our biggest failure rate is how do you get a player from finishing the tutorial to The Second Dream?” community and live operations director Rebecca Ford said in a call with Polygon. “That’s the minefield of ‘Oh, god, will someone make it through’ for us, so that needs some patchwork repair — this update does a pretty good job at removing unnecessary obstacles, but it’s clear to us that getting someone there is what makes them actually like or love Warframe.”
For years, the main focus of the game was the player’s relationship with an enigmatic, maternal figure known as the Lotus, who happens to be voiced by Ford. Now that The New War expansion has resolved that story, Angels of the Zariman is set to crack into several of the other weird, wild parts of the Warframe universe.
And for the uninitiated, Warframe truly does get bizarre, going to places where other games are afraid to tread. One major quest zone has you chilling with a bunch of socialist revolutionaries in a Venus debt colony, where people use robot bodies to labor and work off the debt to free their consciousness from brainshelving. Another hub is centered around a family drama, except that family is a bunch of scientists consumed by a rot from between realities. It’s a little more cerebral than killing eight boars in the woods.
“We make [our characters] as human as possible, under a wrapping paper that feels like it’s on space LSD,” said Ford.
Angels of the Zariman is meant to be a victory lap after The New War, but also a fresh start. As such, it’s an interesting transition for the writing team. “It was an exercise in creative fulfillment, but also serving an audience that has put more trust in you than you might have in yourself,” said Ford. “As a creator, you’re always questioning your decisions, like ‘is this the right choice?’ But when you have an audience to reinforce things, it makes it a much less lonesome feeling.”
As the release to Angels of the Zariman approached, Digital Extremes’ communications have been “hijacked” by a mysterious figure, and fans are already speculating as to who this could be — and dreaming of how they might be able to befriend him, like we have with many of the other NPCs in the game. Even players who aren’t into the nitty-gritty endgame are banding together to solve Zariman-related ARGs and to wildly speculate on plot ramifications. They’re also taking the time to ship a new ominous character (dubbed Signal-Chan) with other characters, like the traumatized ship AI Cephalon Cy. (Listen, it’s not as weird as it sounds in a setting like Warframe.)
As for what’s next: We may have seen hints of that in the past, specifically in the 2019 TennoCon trailer for the Duviri Paradox, which showed an older Operator wandering through a realm outside of time and reality. “Players will be wise to inspect every aspect of this update to see what paradoxes could be born,” Ford said. “We’re very committed to blowing your mind with logic … which won’t make much sense until it happens. There’s one or two details in this update that will serve as a foundation for Duviri. If you know where to look, you’ll perhaps find something of interest if the Duviri Paradox caught your eye.”