It’s an impressive feat for a live service game to survive for a whole decade, It's a more so for a game to maintain momentum - not just surviving but thriving. But Warframe has been doing exactly that.
The free-to-play MMO-lite sci-fi third-person shooter from Digital Extremes has been going strong since March 2013. Its long-running, high-concept storytelling and fast-paced, kinetic combat systems have captured the hearts of a dedicated fanbase, sucking in more than 70 million players. However, chief operating officer Sheldon Carter and his team have high ambitions for the future, starting with the newest expansion Whispers in the Walls, coming towards the end of 2023.
“It’s so exciting for us to start the next 10 years,” said Carter. “We’ve had 10 years of Warframe that have put us through [our] first two story arcs, but we’re starting this third arc which is just a totally new and different way to experience Warframe.”
Not only does Whispers in the Walls “introduce a new conflict” according to Carter, but it also spells the resolution of a plotline “that we’ve been teasing for a very long time.”
Much like Destiny 2, Warframe’s world is underpinned by mystic forces responsible for the reality-bending technology that makes the high-concept sci-fi possible. The Void, an extra-dimensional plane from which the Operator - the game's protagonist - draws their power, has cast a shadow over the game’s ongoing story. However, according to Carter, “experimentation [and] understanding the darkness that lays underneath” will be core aspects of the new update.
Whispers in the Walls deals with those responsible for first experimenting with the Void, exploring the secrets of scientists whose work would go on to create the Warframes and plunge the solar system into conflict. With Whispers in the Walls, Carter and his team are pulling back the veil by allowing players to explore “a whole underground lab”, allowing fans to tackle “a secret there” that’s at the heart of the Warframe setting.
A new challenger approaches
All this talk of new conflicts and deep metaphysical forces may well be off-putting to potential new players - especially when you consider the sheer volume of content that’s been added to Warframe over the past decade.
That said, Carter is keen to ensure that Warframe’s third big arc remains accessible to new players. “We want to give players the ability to catch up on story and then start in with Whispers in the Walls. We want to give players a chance if they haven’t played Warframe before.”
In Warframe’s current iteration, “each update has to be something that players can get back into”, continued Carter. “If you’re a new player, we’re going to be like ‘hey, here’s how the story has progressed to this point; now you’re in, and there’s something exciting for you right away’”. This, in Carter’s view, is how Warframe can appeal to “a new generation of players.”
However, Whispers in the Walls’ onboarding system is also designed to appeal to lapsed players and longtime fans, too. Carter made it clear that “if you’re a longtime player who’s invested so much time and energy, we’re going to pay that off for you. The storylines you’ve been excited about are going to get fulfilled and more interesting.”
The long game
As Warframe has grown and matured over the last decade, so too has the team at Digital Extremes. The developers have “come into their powers”, said Carter, “especially our newer teams.” He went on to describe Whispers in the Walls as a “return to form” for the team, as they strive to offer a delicate balance of procedurally generated content and scripted, story-driven encounters.
“It’s why they don’t let me do that stuff,” quipped Carter. “Our team is incredible because they’ve learned all these things over the past years… we gave them the freedom to create an update that encompasses the skills that they’ve refined .”
To Carter, his team’s accumulated knowledge was key to shaping Whispers in the Walls. “We don’t lose a lot of people at Digital Extremes,” he remarked. “We have a team that’s been around for a very long time. This team… cut their teeth on procedural level generation, and so, to be able to go back and really sink their teeth into it is exciting.”
When designing the new levels and the procedural systems, Carter made it clear that “the most important thing is to be dynamic, so that you have this feeling of change each time you go through it. You want that familiarity… but also that enemy progression - flipping a few tiles - [allowing you] to find those elements of surprise and delight that come from the mix.”
For Carter and the team, Whispers in the Walls represents “a kind of evolution of the game - a mix of the roots of the game coming smashing into the future.” It’s clear that Digital Extremes see this latest update as a turning point, and an opportunity to capitalize on 10 years of accumulated expertise. Whispers in the Walls promises high-concept sci-fi mysteries, a range of procedurally generated environments through which to fight, and a revamped system for bringing in new players. It’s an enticing proposition, with a low barrier to entry that’s got me reinstalling the game to see what all the fuss is about.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.