TennoCon 2023: The soul of Soulframe is healing, redemption, and cute critters

    
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Last year’s TennoCon introduced us to a tease of Digital Extreme’s new upcoming game, Soulframe. Since then, MMO gamers – including me – have been eagerly awaiting more information. And thankfully, TennoCon 2023 delivered. While the convention didn’t focus on this title (a push now for a two-day event, one for Tenno and one for Envoys, yes?), DE Video Game Director Steve Sinclair and Creative Director Geoff Crookes offered up a substantial gameplay demo during TennoLive, giving us a better look at this sister to Warframe. After a pre-con demo with Sinclair and some extra time chatting with Crookes, I gleaned even more information. Here’s what I learned, starting with the soul of Soulframe.

When introducing the demo, Sinclair said, “We want to make something that is fantasy, but is not a grim dark fantasy, it’s a cozy fantasy.” He shared that for him, the idea is to offer a focus on healing and redemption, emphasizing that “everyone can see redemption in their lives, that we can return to nature, that it’s not too late to heal ourselves and the world we live in.”

What is Soulframe?

A big question on fans’ minds over the past year is what exactly is Soulframe? As a product of the Digital Extremes team that spent many years developing Warframe, the new game naturally shares some core commonalities. Sinclair described the similarities in structure: its core, its PvE focus, its procedurally generated dungeons, its persistent state, and its free-to-play model. However, things diverge after that. The older sibling is a fast-paced explosion of metal and massive battles, space ninjas fighting wars or the remnant of wars with guns and tech. Shoot first and ask questions later wouldn’t be a stretch.

Soulframe, however, has a very different and distinct feel. Sinclair said, “As Sheldon [Carter, COO of Digital Extremes] said yesterday, it’s the yin to Warframe’s yang.” Not only is the fantasy setting a polar opposite with magic and trees and cuddly critters, but it is also slower-paced, more personalized, and — as Sinclair quipped during the press pre-con demo — even Disney-fied. (In more ways than one we later learn!). He elaborated:

“It is a very personal game for Geoff and me. For me at least, it is a response to the angry and anxious culture that we find ourselves in. So there’s a lot of Disney princess in here that you won’t find in Warframe. Where Warframe is blasting 50 people and being a super space ninja, Soulframe is much more pensive and slower. You will see a dramatic tonal shift. In the fantasy genre there is already a lot of amazing grim dark, and so we wanted to try and make something that is not that.”

Sinclair said it was a focused decision to make sure that Soulframe highlighted the individual more at the start to make sure the players know what their role is. We’re Envoys. We are there to help and heal the world.

The goal of saving souls

That key component of Soulframe is saving souls. Literally. You’re not beating things to a pulp to hurt them; you are beating them up to save them! OK, that sounds like a bad take on a religious inquisition, but in the game’s reality, you truly are trying to set other souls free from the Ode’n — and evil order that is oppressing and manipulating othersĀ  — just as you yourself have already escaped. As a disgraced soldier, a traitor to the Ode, you work to cleanse the corrupted world.

Saving souls was illustrated in the boss fight during the demo; after pounding Lady Deora into submission, the “player” used skills (a music minigame, to be exact) to pull her out from where she is trapped in the Silvern Sea. When the player succeeds, in the real world she is redeemed, with her memories and free will returned to her. Then, the player fought the giant stag she was sacrificing and remove the corruption on it and the land. Here in a single battle instance is the entire theme of healing and redemption that Sinclair mentioned: the land turning from cesspools of slick oils and blackened, twisted trees back to its beautiful, colorful glory, and both the stag, Garren Root, and Lady Deora have shed the same filth from body and mind.

The aid of the ancestors

While Tenno get aid and information from Space Mom The Lotus, the Envoys of Soulframe will get aid and strength from their ancestors. Progressing through the game, Envoys not only rescue current living souls but will find and awaken their ancestors. These ancestors are then invited into the Envoy’s Nightfold tent within the plane of souls, the Silvern Sea. As an Envoy, you can travel freely between the mortal realm and the soul realm. And it is in the Silvern Sea that you will build up a village of your ancestors, which becomes the place from whence they grant aid and guidance.

That village of the ancestors, which will expand as players beat back the Ode, is each player’s personal hub — an orbitor equivalent from Warframe. It is where where you go to change your loadout: class (pacts), outfits, etc. Crookes indulged me on this topic: Yes, you will be able to personalize and decorate the place to some degree!

The village is also where you see your stats, which are spread through three virtues: courage, spirit, and grace. Sinclair called these fighter, magic, and assassin archetypes. Players will build these stats up as they wish. He also explained that the only way to gain permanent skills is by reconnecting with the ancestors: Envoys have the problem that their heart, their very soul, was taken from them. The only way for them to gain permanent skills through this reconnection with their ancestors. “In essence, ancestors and your attunement with them become the way skills work in the game,” he said.

The pacts, the equivalent of classes in Soulframe, constitute abilities. Accessing the Silvern Sea can be done anytime, meaning you can change your class on the fly. Players are born with the Fae pact but gain more through progression; pacts granted by either the ancestors or by beasts you have rescued and healed. The power of each pact is in the right arm, and changing pacts changes only the arm, unlike Tenno, who change between complete warframes.

Walk with the animals, talk with the animals

Remember the Disney-fied comment from earlier? This really comes out with the animals. One, they talk. Two, they come to your aid; some even become your companions! And three, they gather around you just attracted by your goodness. Seriously. At the opening scene of the demo, what you might think is a dynamic load screen is actually your Envoy resting, complete with a gaggle of cute critters snuggled around you that are spooked off when you move. Upon questioning, Crookes shared that the number of critters will change based on player’s gameplay; the animals are drawn to the healing aura, so the more a player heals others, the more animals will gather. Not a big game-changing fact, but a fun bit of ambiance instead.

Speaking of talking animals, I am totally enamored with the little talking turtle-like critter Avakot. I don’t know if it is allergic to humans (it sneezes a lot!), but it is simply adorable and works to help you out after rescuing it, starting with sending you to rescue Garren Root. Yes, I already want an Avakot plushy for my desk! More animals throughout the game will help in some way, even if they aren’t pet companions or mounts.

Mounts! The trailer also showed off a giant wolf mount. Being the pet/mount/housing fanatic that I am, I naturally zeroed in on this with my interview with Crookes. I learned that yes, the mounts will also be fighting companions with very specific combat functions. And yes, there will be other types of mounts. As for what kinds and how you acquire them, be it taming or raising, those systems are still being developed. Does this mean Garron Root, that magnificent stag, could be a mount? Nope, Crookes answered. Instead, when you rescue a beast, you gain its favor. It can grant you a pact to use, but it can also grant you permission to interact with its race, thereby allowing you to try to gain another one as a mount companion.

Dungeon diving

Gameplay will be across the overworld of Midrath island and the secret procedural dungeons connected to it. The lore and story seem to be very important to Soulframe from the get-go. Sinclair even shared that dungeons are explained by lore. He said:

“The lore is that the world of Alca is angry at what the Ode are doing to them, so there’ll be earthquakes and shifts all the time, which are the lore reason for why these dungeons are reconfiguring and offering different paths and different playthroughs.”

In some places within the dungeons there are puzzles to solve to continue, such as the correct formation of statues. I sincerely hope there is even more, as this is a type of gameplay I dearly miss! Sinclair and Crookes also showed off how there is more physics in the game, with traps and breakables. I very much appreciated using traps against the enemies in the dungeons. Dungeons also have a wildcard soul; here’s how Sinclair explains it:

“These are wandering souls that haven’t been able to release themselves from their guilt or whatever is holding them here, and they constitute a fourth slot for every run that you play in dungeons. Every dungeon in the game is going to be featuring these wandering ancestors andĀ  soul that bring variance to the repeat runs of the dungeons. So it’s not just your loadout but you might also get a wildcard in your kit.”

As for the procedural dungeons, when it comes to the story progression of rescuing a main NPC such as Lady Deora, it is a one-and-done event once you rescue her soul and heal her – unless you fail, in which case you replay it until you succeed. After that point, her healed self will be around in game and will keep interacting with you from that state.

Ready to be an Envoy

I, for one, and super stoked about Soulframe, and I am already making room in my heart and calendar to dive in. The theme energizes me, and I am really excited for the extra ways to play, such as using music to free the souls and puzzles to solve to advance. Now, I just have to wait for it to open its doors!

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in London, Ontario, Canada, for TennoCon 2023, bringing you expert coverage on Warframe, Soulframe, and everything else under the Digital Extremes umbrella! In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that DE paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at this event. DE has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event.
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