Warframe of Mind: Previewing Empyrean and Railjacks with Digital Extremes

    
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Last Friday’s dev stream showed off more about Warframe Railjack – more as in flight and in fights! The devs detailed the new systems and aspects of progression inherent in this multiplayer ship, then treated viewers to a very chaotic but thrilling Railjack mission at Earth. It definitely helped get players more excited for the time they could officially launch their own ships, but when they had to focus more intently on the tasks at hand, it became harder for the devs to discuss the process.

Then after the weekend, Digital Extremes offered another more private tour to show off even more gameplay, and I jumped at the chance. Live Operations and Community Director Rebecca Ford hosted this, taking us virtually aboard her Railjack (no, I wasn’t invited to play on the dev build, bummer) where she jumped into another mission. This time she went solo to show off the different aspects of crew jobs at a slightly less harried pace.

Systems check

Before we dived into the action, Ford gave a refresher course on the systems that introduce new gear, new power, and new levels of player coordination. It starts with clans working together to research weapons, engines, reactors, and shield for the ships. When Empyrean first launches, clans will be jumping into researching these necessary parts immediately. Upgrades, however, can come through researching better parts or by collecting wreckage left behind from Railjacks demolished in the Old War days by the sentient threat. Upgrading the reactor improves the use of energy for ship tasks, and improving the engines and shields increase your ships stats.

The meat of Railjack power comes from the customization of avionics. Ford describes avionics as “the fundamental way your Railjack will stand out in battle.” There are three types of avionics at play in the Railjack. Battle avionics are the ship’s powers or abilities, like the Warframes themselves have powers. Every ship comes with up to six or more abilities that can be slotted; players choose three that can be used in battle. Integrated avionics are passive boosts that improve the base stats of the Railjack (through its components). These are basically your ship’s mods. Finally, the tactical avionics are real-time ability mods. These are powerful abilities used in the heat of battle. The ability to go invisible with Void Cloak? Yeah, that sounds pretty spiffy. Note that these abilities can have cooldowns, which is different from how DE usually handles abilities.

Ford pointed out that the active power management system that was shown earlier in development was scrapped because it just wasn’t a fun mechanic and took too much away from the experience.

While it’s true that players will be starting from scratch to level their Railjacks and power levels there, Empyrean is not a complete power reset. On the outside of the ship on away missions, players are dependent on their Warframe and Operator powers to complete missions. So everyone brings that personal power to the table, while also building up intrinsic Railjack powers.

Currently co-op

An important thing to understand about Empyrean right now is that it is designed for co-op. “We expect some players will get good enough at Railjack to play solo, but it is not the optimal experience nor is it what we designed around,” Ford explained. When the expansion launches, the difficulty in the missions will revolve around having a full squad on board. However, Ford also noted that it will not remain that way indefinitely; a future update will include the ability to solo by allowing players to choose building an NPC crew for their ships. If that is your preferred playstyle, “invisibility is a solo player’s best friend,” Ford told me.

Note: If you don’t have a Railjack yet, you can join a squad through the interface in your orbiter. This is also very helpful if you want to join friends who are not in your clan. Players can also access their own Railjacks via their orbiter.

Player progression

While you are building up your Railjack and upgrading its components and mods, you are also progressing as a crewmember/captain. Yes, you get goals and specializations! Under the Intrinsics on the Railjack UI, players will find the four specializations that will be present on Empyrean launch: tactical, piloting, gunnery, and engineering. Later on, the fifth option, command (which will bring the solo game into it all with NPC crew you can hire), will join the list. At that point, DE assured that players will be able to respec all their earned points if they want to put any into command.

Ford explained that these specializations are progression that players will take with them to any Railjack they board, be it their own, a friend’s, or a random squad’s. It allows them to help no matter what ship they occupy. As she put it, “This is the way we’re solving some of the co-op issues that people may have had in their mind about how things will work when only one Railjack gets used.” This also allows veterans to help newer players complete missions with their more advanced skills. And everyone gets the same loot! So yes, even if you are the one back on the ship sealing hull breaches (I think I’ll be doing that a while!), you are rewarded for the success of the mission just the same as everyone else.

Gazing at some gameplay

Like many players, I watched the devstream last week and saw some Railjack action. But I got to see even more as Ford piloted a new mission during our tour. Watching her definitely got me excited to go on missions with friends — and even made me feel I could be useful. (First stop will be the free flight node at Earth Proxima where I can practice how to Railjack without having mobs ripping my face off.) For the tour, Ford chose a tough mission at Saturn Proxima. here are a few tidbits from the experience.

I noted that Ford ignored a number of the smaller asteroid pieces and fly right through them while still dodging the bigger ones. She explained that collision damage could be negated at specific ranks and noted that players can do damage to ships with collision, especially with a ramsled that — you guessed it — rams the other ships. Ramming ships is fun all right, but the most entertaining moment was watching Ford fire herself through fighter ships to destroy them! I also really liked the archwing cannon that shoots you through the hull of an enemy ship so you can commandeer or destroy it.

I watched as Ford ran between piloting and using its missiles (be sure to prepare and make these types of items ahead of time so you aren’t doing it in the heat of battle!), hopping on the side guns with their impressive visual scope, shooting herself onto enemy ships, and quickly teleporting back to protect her own using her high-level tactical intrinsics abilities. She also had to put out fires and plug holes in the hull. Unlike the devstream, this trip included boarding parties that needed to be repelled. Although she didn’t have any squad mates, Ford demonstrated using the tactical UI to support her companions whether they were on the Railjack or on an away mission.

In the end, we didn’t have time to complete the entire mission, but she did check off at least one objective. And full completion wasn’t the goal anyway — showing off the many ways to participate in a Railjack mission was. Perhaps another goal was to excite us for the expansion. And in both of those, she succeeded.

Is Empyrean the pinnacle?

Plains of Eidolon and Fortuna were both intensely ambitious and defined Warframe in a whole new way. But looking back, I can say that neither of those has the same scope as Empyrean. Where the first two added new ways to play, Empyrean is adding a new way plus is tying all the current ways together into one experience. “What we’ve done here is connected on-foot missions to Grineer to archwings to a brand-new spaceship that ties it all together,” Ford told me. Players will start to notice and recognize that the POIs in missions are like old, familiar tilesets.

“Fundamentally it’s connected every type of content we ever released, from archwing to sabotage to boss fights. And now, it’s just the beginning of how we’re going to connect everything on top of that.”

For instance, factions are in the future. Squad link and lich integration are also still to come.

According to Ford, Empyrean answers the question of how DE grows a game for seven years – something many online titles don’t pull off. “Everything that we are doing with Empyrean and Railjack is based on providing a completely new Warframe experience for people that love the Warframe world,” she says.

“Empyrean is a different way of solving the problem of how do you keep Warframe interesting and fun. It’s extremely ambitious, and it’s rooted in our desire to do what we feel is the most fun for Warframe’s future, and what journey we want players to go along on with us.”

No, launching the Railjacks is not the end of Empyrean development. The launching of the ships is just a step: The Rising Tide is just the beginning of the war. Devs assure us that so much more is to come. As Ford put it, “We have a lot of big plans for Empyrean development.” Where will it all lead us? I am interested in seeing, but I can wait a bit while I have my Railjack to build and master!

Pick a ‘Frame, any ‘Frame! The Warframe galaxy is in danger, Tenno, and Space Mom needs help to combat it. Are you in the right Warframe of Mind to join in? MJ Guthrie has enlisted; she suits up in her favorite ‘Frames biweekly to fight the good fight, blasting the Grineer and Infected into smithereens.

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oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Halfway through my railjack build, only another 3 Million credits to farm :) My clan is a ghost one these days so it is just me building it all.

Not sure if the game play loop is going to work for railjack or not being co-op but I will give it ago. It could be great or end up like archwing missions.

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kgptzac

Very offtopic: I’ve been watching all Warframe official streams, and it feels very odd to see DE Rebecca being referred as “Ford”.

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Alex Willis

I’m really excited. I’m also not intimidated by PUGing or co-op play, so the notion of soloing being a ways off is not scary to me in the slightest. (I find it curious how an MMO, or MMOesque, can be held to negative account for not building in solo elements for things that were clearly designed with groups in mind. Why aren’t 12-main raids soloable, etc?)

The material costs for disposable items that can be used/lost in missions is something that hasn’t been discussed too much. Right now the biggest comparison might be relics, which if not unlocked before mission end can be “lost”. But this is part of the risk/reward, right? I don’t see anything wrong if the payout is worth it. Things like disposable energy/ammo pads etc are other examples of “money in the hole” if you lose the mission. But so what?

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EmberStar

I don’t take risks with my resources. I completely ignore Arbitrations, and almost never do Sorties. (Ie, the only mission templates that I have a reasonable chance to fail at and lose any “invested” resources on consumable items.) For me, the “so what?” is that I don’t enjoy it, and won’t do it. If Railjack is based around grinding for resources to spend on ammo so that I can shoot things to grind for resources to make more ammo… I can just save myself a whole lot of time and expense and frustration by NOT spending the ammo in the first place and NOT running the missions.

If you don’t mind playing with random groups, good for you. I hope you enjoy the mode, I really do. At this point in time, it doesn’t look like I’ll be having anything to do with it, because the gameplay they showed off in the last devstream is basically exactly the *opposite* of anything I’d even slightly enjoy attempting with random strangers on the Internet.

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Alex Willis

I don’t know what to say. It sounds like you don’t like much of Warframe.

If [Warframe] is based around grinding for resources to spend on [frames and weapons] so that I can shoot things to grind for resources to make more [frames and weapons]…

I mean…that’s the gameplay loop, right? There’s no endgame, only a grindgame. Not trying to argue with you, just suggesting that maybe Empyrean/Railjack is more similar than different to most of the base game than you’re suggesting.

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EmberStar

I mean…that’s the gameplay loop in the game, right? There’s no endgame, only a grindgame.

If you want to play it that way, maybe. I grind at my real job so that I don’t have to treat Warframe as a second unpaid job. I don’t grind for new Warframes. I save up for Prime Access, then use the platinum that comes with the bundle to buy what interests me. I don’t normally need to worry about resources because I never have to spend them on building projects. I can spare the small amount of resources it takes to make healing and energy consumables because I *don’t* team with Sprintframes and Min-Maxers. So I can put down three Medium pads and just wait for them to run out and recharge even Ivara with Primed Flow. (She has 743 energy, so three Medium pads don’t actually quite reach full.)

I play Warframe because up to now I’ve enjoyed what’s there. However I suspect that you and I play it in quite different ways, and for possibly entirely different reasons. For me, grinding for a new Warframe isn’t content. Owning the new Warframe and spending a few hours a week running Exterminate missions in the Derelicts with it is, and that’s what I enjoy doing.

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EmberStar

And to be clear, the existing missions aren’t going away. But I *have* been playing those for years. And if all the new content is likely to be locked behind a system that I consider to be basically unplayable (and the footage they showed in the devstream looked pretty close to impossible to solo) then I really don’t have anything to look forward to. Since I’m not the target audience for how Railjack is going to launch, we’re back to the part where I have to consider that maybe my time and resources are better spent somewhere else.

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EmberStar

If you notice that I’m online when you can play, then my Railjack will be at your command.

I just wish that Warframe was a little better at letting you know that friends *are* online. Right now you have to go through three menus to even know if any friends are on. Or depend on third-party programs like Discord and Steam.

Hit Esc, select Communication, then Friends. THEN it will show you if anyone is on. Would it be so hard to even display an icon in the corner of the screen on the Orbiter? Just the “friends” icon with a number next to it? :(

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EmberStar

I’m honestly not impressed with what they showed in the devstream. Not at all. Literally the only people I know that I’d be willing to team with for it is the Stream Team. There’s too many ways that the system feels “griefer friendly” for me to even want to risk it with totally random players. Everyone wants to be pilot, everyone bails out to battle via Archwings. It costs resources to make ammo and the fire extinguishers, everyone refuses to spend theirs or wastes the captain’s on making random junk that isn’t needed. No one wants to put out fires and the ship explodes, everyone instantly dies, mission failed.

I’m also not hopeful about “we’ll get to adding solo later.” DE has a long history of putting out stuff that’s somewhere between “Okay” and “barely functional” and then just leaving it that way as they immediately move to the next shiny thing. They were going to release Fortuna in stages, with big plans to add a Nef Anyo boss battle to the story and a third Orb Mother fight. Both of which have been put on hold indefinitely. And like they’ve already done with the Kuva lich system. The current gameplay loop there is (in my opinion) pretty awful, and they’ve *already* shelved doing anything about it until “sometime later. Maybe. If we feel like it.”

Basically, their devstream pretty much ruined any and all interest I had in Railjack and Empyrean. And by extension the New War and probably the Duviri Paradox, since it’s being heavily implied that Railjacks will be needed for both. I hope I’m wrong and they’ll get right on adding solo support and fixing the many things wrong with the Kuva lich system. I’m bracing myself to NOT be wrong, and considering how I’d rather be spending my money and free time instead.

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sophiskiai

I share your concerns about PUG griefing, but intend to give it a solid try and see how it goes – partly because I’m concerned about whether there’ll be enough Railjacks to go around so want to make mine available to the public for at least a little while, partly because I’m hoping the number of randoms with a “This is so cool!” reaction will outweigh the number of griefers and people arguing over roles.

I do think DE have made a mistake by working on too many huge ambitious projects at once and telling us about them too early. It’s been a year and a half since they first showed off Railjack and teased The New War at TennoCon 2018, many years since they first talked about the Kingpin system that eventually became the Lich system. Which means they’ve spent this year juggling a lot of plates (Fortuna, melee overhaul, Liches, Empyrean, New War, Duviri) while trying to placate an overhyped and impatient community and not giving any of those plates as much time and attention as they need.

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Alex Willis

But this “build a system, finish 3/4 of it, leave it to simmer for years” is how it has *always* been in Warframe. There’s a whole catalogue of semi-finished projects. The game is practically a workshop for sandboxy ideas.

I think “griefer” is the wrong concept to apply to Warframe players when it comes to problematic gameplay. I don’t think many are motivated by “griefing” as some might be in PvP. Rather, it’s the speedrunners and meta-builders who are part of the problem. In a lot of ways, the main issue is the opposite of what you suggest: it’s not the immature griefers who will pose the biggest challenge, but the efficiency-obsessed metagamers who will make life miserable for anyone who does not measure up performance-wise. I think we all had problems in our first few Mastery Ranks understanding how a game mode worked because the munchkins in your squad were all Speed Volting to the finish line and you got 2 kills in and then got lost on the tileset and were berated by the MR20+s for taking too long. THAT is the problem community in Warframe, not people who are out to ruin someone’s mission by deliberately sabotaging it.

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EmberStar

But this “build a system, finish 3/4 of it, leave it to simmer for years” is how it has *always* been in Warframe. There’s a whole catalogue of semi-finished projects. The game is practically a workshop for sandboxy ideas.

Yes. And for me, this is apparently the tipping point where the “start stuff and never finish it” method of designing the game is finally too much. Especially since more content *that will probably also launch unfinished* is going to be locked behind it.

To me, the griefers and sprintframes and min-max obsessed metagamers are all part of the same thing – the group of people I don’t want to interact with, ever. As for them deciding to specifically not balance for solo play (despite apparently acknowledging that a sizable portion of their playerbase has Solo mode turned on most of the time) I absolutely hold that against them.

With very few exceptions, I play Warfrme *despite* the fact that it’s an online multiplayer game. NOT because of it. Before they deleted the Trials (raids,) I never ran them. Not once. I attempted the original Eidolon fight a couple of times. I’ve never tried it again since. (Yes, it can be done solo, if you want to fight it with a tiny number of very specific Warframes using extremely specific mod and weapon loadouts. I don’t enjoy playing that way, so I don’t.)

If stuck with Warframe despite the “never finished” development because it’s the only way I can be a techno-organic ninja space wizard. And like I said, I hope the devs can do something to change my mind about Railjack. Right now, it looks like the best I can hope for is to ignore it completely as I do with Eidolons and the Orb Mother fights, and just do without everything they lock behind it. If that turns out to be any further story progression then… well, I guess there won’t be anything left to keep me around. Not that I have the slightest illusions about whether the devs care if I keep playing. (Hint: They don’t. Not even a little.)

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Alex Willis

To me, the griefers and sprintframes and min-max obsessed metagamers are all part of the same thing – the group of people I don’t want to interact with, ever.

With very few exceptions, I play Warfrme *despite* the fact that it’s an online multiplayer game.

Before they deleted the Trials (raids,) I never ran them. Not once. I attempted the original Eidolon fight a couple of times. I’ve never tried it again since.

ok then