Warframe of Mind: Previewing Empyrean and Railjacks with Digital Extremes


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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