Warframe's Empyrean expansion is forging new connections between players and squads


It’s more than a simple expansion

Steven Sinclair, director of Warframe, is excited. He and his team at Digital Extremes are pushing hard on a massive new expansion for the game. The centerpiece of it is the Railjack system, a new battleship players will be able to take into the Origin System for space combat. But for Sinclair, this expansion is not simply about creating a new area for players to explore or opening up the vast emptiness of space to spectacular battles; it’s more about players and how they connect with one another in this ever-growing universe.

Sinclair talked a lot about the influence that went into the Empyrean expansion during a Q&A session with the press before TennoCon. He talked about the influences the team latched onto during its development, including indie hit FTLand Return of the Jedi. While some developers might cite an influence that barely registers with players when they play their game, that’s not the case here. It’s quite evident where Digital Extremes found its muse for this update.

Warframe Empyrean expansion

As stated above, the centerpiece of Warframe‘s Empyrean expansion is the new Railjack ship. Available to players who are part of a squad — though nothing is stopping you from having a squad of one — the Railjack ship will give players new opportunities to explore the nooks and crannies of the Origin System. This ship will feature its own unique control system and, much likeFTL, players can recruit a wide variety of people to man their ship, all of whom will be ready to give you a friendly wave when you pass by. When going out in a squad, one player will pilot the ship while others can explore it or man the guns should they run into enemies.

In our demonstration, there were three players teamed up trying to take down an enemy ship being protected by a shield generator on a distant planet. While one player piloted the ship towards the smaller enemy vessels, the other two took to space, gunning down grunts and infiltrating enemy ships. Inside the ship works like most every other area players have experience in Warframe, but after everything inside is dead, they’re left with one of three options: abandon the ship, destroy the ship, or hijack it and use enemy weapons against them. In this case, the player decided to hijack the ship, gun down some grunts, and blow it up in spectacular fashion before heading back to the Railjack.

Watching it in action reminded me of a more fast-paced version of the battles I fought in Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime. That game gave players the ability to sabotage enemy tanks, but the act of infiltration went both ways. I could destroy their tank from the inside and they could do the same to me. That principle exists in the Empyrean expansion as well. After blowing up a few enemy ships, the Railjack was inundated by grunts, requiring everyone to stop what they were doing before the ship was destroyed. If the enemy does get the upper-hand on players and manages to blow up their ship, the game treats it simply as a mission failed. You won’t lose your ship.

Warframe Empyrean expansion

With the other enemy ships eliminated, the squad turned their attention to the target vessel. Inside was a Kuva Lich, a representation of the new revenge system. Like Middle-earth: Shadow of War‘s Nemesis system, enemies you defeat in the game may come back to get their revenge. In this case, Emra Rok was seeking vengeance on the leader of the squad, using systemic language to reference past encounters with them. Unfortunately for the squad, Emra Rok was protected by a massive shield generator. They could try and break the shield on their own, but to get to him easier, they’d need to call for help.

Empyrean will introduce the new Squad Link system, which allows different squads to complete objectives that directly benefit one another. In the example we were shown, the squad sent out a call for help. On a distant planet, a group of fishermen answered the call and soon they were infiltrating and destroying a nearby shield generator. Much like the Battle of Endor, once the team blew up the shield generator, the original squad was able to access Rok’s ship.

Connections like those will be the backbone of the Empyrean experience. Sinclair says he wants every mission in the game to be interconnected, which is quite the undertaking given just how much content there is in Warframe. But Sinclair is promising all of Warframewill be “lifted” by this new expansion. Not just by how players interact and assist each other, but also the general appearance of the game. The expansion will introduce a completely rewritten “Deferred Renderer” into the Evolution Engine, adding real-time shadows and greatly enhancing the look of all areas of the game, not just the select few Digital Extremes has chosen to upgrade in the past like Gas City or the Plains of Eidolon.

All of it put together points to a dramatic new addition to the Warframeuniverse, something this game isn’t short on. Sinclair and his team have done everything in their power to make the game the sensation they truly believe it is, and with roughly 50 million players and counting, it’s clear they’re making all the right moves with each new addition and expansion.