TennoCon 2019: A longer look at space, ships, and squads in Empyrean, Warframe’s not-an-expansion


You’ve come a long way, Warframe. The once-looter shooter continues to expand, not just in number of Warframes and equipment but in overall scope and depth. It expanded the story starting with The Second Dream, it expanded playfields with the vast open areas of Eidolon and Fortuna, and now it is expanding space, player participation limits, and graphics. TennoCon 2019 showed just how much more the game is pushing past boundaries and enlarging with this update.

But don’t call Empyrean an expansion!

Game Director Steve Sinclair insists Empyrean not an expansion. Instead, it’s a connection. Don’t underestimate this update, however; it won’t be paltry. In fact, it opens the game up significantly in a number of ways, from putting folks in multiplayer ships to connecting space and planetary missions to allowing boarding parties and hostile takeovers. It even connects players to their actions with the Kingpin nemesis system. And all of that in crisper, more impressive graphics.


While talking about Empyrean during a press demo, Sinclair was adamant that it was not an expansion. He described expansions as Islands, where players are asked to leave where they are to go off somewhere else to experience the new stuff isolated from the rest of the game. Empyrean, however, is the opposite of that idea. “What we want to do with Empyrean is to connect what we have,” he said. “This is not an expansion; it’s a connection. So there’s no better way, I think, to connect a large game like Warframe than with a big-a** spaceship.” Although this update does make the universe bigger with the space zones, the whole point is connecting the game experiences — and players — together. He emphasized,

“The idea is that all the reaches, all the missions, the open worlds, the tile sets, and even the squads themselves become interconnected by playing Empyrean.”

First, players work together as clans to create the drydock in the clan dojo in order to build a railjack. (Don’t worry, clans of one can do the same thing. However, if you don’t want to go it all alone, you’ve got time to find a suitable clan before Empyrean launches.) Then, each player’s personal railjack is operated by a group. Next, you have the new Squad-link feature, which will combine actions in space and actions on planets/in other missions to create a specific outcome.

Empyrean is just the start of this connectivity. “Our intention is that all the missions of the game become interconnected,” Sinclair stated.

Climb aboard your custom railjack

Let’s be honest, you really want to know about the massive railjack space ship that you get to own, don’t you? We understand. Although parked in the clan dojo, your railjack is your own personal ship. As such, like everything else you use in Warframe, it’s customizable. You can change colors, add decals, even rename it. If you want a bright purple and green SS Barney flying through space, you can. Customizing the equipment of your railjack, however, is a bit different than what players are used to.

Sinclair explained that there is more to your crew than just the other three players. Of course, it doesn’t make sense if every ship had the same static crew. Instead, whom you acquire to crew your ship determines what improvements you can make. Players can buy folks out of debt slavery on Fortuna and bring them aboard. These folks and other NPCs have specializations and attributes are used to customize your railjack. You can earn, hire, and even fire these individuals depending on how you want to improve your ship.

And what is action like aboard the railjack? Players will use an in-ship interface to control speed and direction, shield deployment, and all offensive gun fire and missiles. Your Cephelon Cy lets you know about resources nearby you can harvest, obstructions ahead to avoid, derelicts nearby to investigate, and dangers that need to be dealt with. There are also space storms to deal with and energy systems to manage, giving variety to each launch into deep space.

During the demonstration, we saw split screens, letting us see the actions of the other players in the squad whether they were at a ship station, flying out in space, or on the other ship. If only this could happen on our own railjacks! Those on the away mission can also get special support from the railjack pilot, including massive strikes. When boarding a working enemy ship, one of the squad can take over control of the ship and use it to fight other enemies alongside you! Be sure to self-destruct it before you leave though. And remember — if you can board them, they can board you! If the railjack is destroyed, the mission fails and players are transported back to drydock to try again or move on to other things.

One thing Sinclair shared was that the team toyed with doing permanent damage on the ships, but decided it just didn’t fit the game. Instead of repairing damage, players will use improvements to further buff the ship. Additionally, new players will be able to be a part of the railjack content by simply squading up with veterans and doing missions with them. This will yield them the same loot to save up for their own ship.

One note: I loved the split-screen ability that allows players to be a part of the different aspects of the mission, but even more I appreciated how the devs found a way to prevent the turning and flipping of the ship from affecting the views of the other players. Squadmates will stay upright in their stations and not get space sick from spinning all about.

Raids, Warframe-style

What would a raid look like in Warframe? My bet is nobody would’ve guessed this, but now we know. While not a real raid, the new squad-link system in Empyrean will be Warframe’s way to have larger groups of players work together toward a specific outcome. Sinclair emphasized that squad-link is about connecting objectives instead of mashing squads together, turning a group of four to eight. Basically a squad can co-op with other squads to get a job done.

How this will work is with a beacon item (Sinclair likened it to a police scanner in The Incredibles) that players can plop down while they are doing whatever they are doing. Then say a friend or clanmate runs into a specific situation (the demonstrated example was a base bolstering the enemy ship with a shield), the pilot can put out a call on those beacons to rally some support. Those who answer — and only friends, clanmates, or alliance members can — have a limited amount of time to take off and complete an objective that will affect the other squad. It is possible to do missions without using squad-link, but they will be harder. Squad-link allows others to help the bigger cause, perhaps lower enemy ship shields, steal valuable data, or other tasks.

Make your nemesis

Another new feature is the new Kingpin nemesis system, something that has been in development for quite a while. This system is actually personally tied to players: A big bad that they face is actually a kuva lich that they created by killing earlier in their adventures. You kill it, ti comes back — stronger and stronger. The nemesis will even wear on its shoulder the helmet of the warframe that killed it as a trophy. More than that, this nemesis will now also have absorbed powers used against it and can now use those powers against the players that killed it before. And these nemeses will continue to grow in power and status, gaining promotions. So each time to face one, it welcomes death if it can’t defeat you. And you need to continue to fight it. Basically, you made the mess, now you get to clean it up. Except the mess keeps coming back and gets bigger each time!

A shiny new Warframe engine

Railjacks don’t have the only new engines in game – Warframe is getting one itself. Sinclair revealed that the demo was shown on the brand-new engine, which displayed enhanced graphics. With re-written rendering technology (called “Deferred Renderer”) on Warframe’s proprietary Evolution Engine, graphics are greatly improved. Sinclair pointed out the real time shadows and the upgraded reflection system as just two examples. He said, “Everything in the game is going to look better, play better, and be more immersive.” From the press demo and the live play at TennoCon, I can say that definitely appears to be the case.

Farther in the future

Not wanting to tie the team down to a specific time, DE didn’t announce a release window for Empyrean, although folks believe it will be this fall before The New War is slated to drop in December. I think Empyrean will be worth the wait — even though we’ve been waiting over a year now since that first tease. We can make it a few more months!

After that, we will get The New War around Christmastime, and I can hardly wait. In the New War, we’ll be facing down Sentients, apparently both deeper in space and on the ground. It’s more than just a quest, devs said. It’s expanding the world. Again. You can see more of what we have to look forward to in the trailer.

That’s a lot of goodness coming in the months ahead (not to mention the already teased The Duviri Paradox). Of course, I had to ask: What else might we see in the future? Associate Producer Mark Olivierre told me that depends on what the players latch onto and their feedback. As he put it, “The sky’s the limit. I guess the celestials are now the limit because of Empyrean.”

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that Digital Extremes funded our writer’s travel to and accommodation at this event. The studio has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage.
Get caught up on all of our coverage of this year’s Tennocon!

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Honestly, the more I hear about Empyrean the less interested in it I become. Until MJ invited me to come along during a stream, the most active player in my Friends list hadn’t logged in for over a year. My Clan is just me, and I’m not in an Alliance.

I really hope any kind of split screen is completely optional. For myself at least it would be a massive waste of screen real estate when I don’t have any to spare (1920×1080, which is apparently Laptop territory for a lot of people.) And it would represent a huge distraction that I don’t want, need, or have any use for.

To be completely blunt, I’d almost rather they made it like the Trials and just slapped a big sign on it saying “Groups only, solo players not welcome.” It would be less frustrating that a system that’s technically *possible* solo, but only barely functional.

(But this article did finally get me to make an account so I can post here, so… yay?)


Couldn’t agree more about the split screen, and having to play like that would also completely destroy my immersion!

I just watched Rebb and Megan chatting about Empyrean on the Dropped Frames show, and they did emphasise that everything about it (other than the Squad Link) should be doable solo, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that does prove to be the case…


I needed this article, cleared up much of the confusion of what? what? where and when again?

So much info all at once i had no idea waht they were going on about, all i heard was no railjack still?

So yea for sure, an expanded version of that is going to be so worth the wait as long as we aren’t heading into pipe dream territory like SC then yeah.

This is going to be a huge multifaceted title with something for everyone, and to think all i used to do was run though hallways killing Grineer for no reason whatsoever. I’d still say World of Warframe would be the ideal direction and model for this game, but that’s my pipe dream.

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Tobasco da Gama

My impression from the public demo was that squad link is available to public squads, too. It’s just that friends, clan mates, and alliance members get first priority to respond.

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Alex Willis

I hope this is the case, because my clan is very “for convenience only” in its gameplay. In that we have a dojo and all chip in for projects but don’t do very much as a clan. (Which is actually pretty great, tbh.)