First Look: Warframe’s Empyrean expansion now available on PC

Earlier today at the Game Awards, Rebecca Ford appeared on stage to drop a huge bombshell – Warframe’s Empyrean expansion is now live on PC! And more than that? The Rising Tide update is also live on Xbox and PS4 – exciting! So what better way than to share details on what you should expect than providing a first look. Read on for details.

Not long after Digital Extremes showed off Empyrean on Devstream 134, they invited select Media along to a Virtual Tour, in which they showed off even more of the upcoming expansion to Warframe. We were lucky enough to be able to join one of those sessions.

For those unaware, Empyrean adds a large combat- and flight-capable spaceship (called a Railjack) to Warframe, allowing players to truly experience more of the war-in-space vibe. However, not wanting to simply add a dogfighting mode, Empyrean provides a co-op space raiding experience for up to four players, with roles, micromanagement, ship damage, and even off-ship boarding. It’s a massive expansion; virtually a whole new game on top of what is already a solid video game experience. And did I mention it would be a free upgrade to an already free-to-play game?

Players can join any other player’s Railjack from very early in the game – all they need to have acquired is their Archwing, which is generally acquired from around Mastery Rank 2 (about 10-20 hours into the game). After this point, the player can then join other Railjack parties from the Navigation menu, or by playing with friends or clanmates.

Building a personal Railjack does require players to have progressed somewhat, however – at least to have completed The Second Dream questline. They will also need to be part of a clan with a Dry Dock and the requisite research completed. This will then kick off the Rising Tide quest, which will require the player to invest time, resources, and in-game credits to build their own ship… And this process can not be sped up by spending real-world money. But from what we’ve seen, it looks to be worth all the effort.

The Railjack itself is gargantuan. Players can customise it in a number of ways – in terms of appearance, they can give it a name, place a decal, apply skins, adjust the amount of wear and tear, and apply their preference for colouring. However, Warframe is anything if not deeply customisable in a number of ways, and the ways in which the Railjack can be tweaked are plentiful.

Firstly, there are the Railjack components. These include shields, weapons, engines and reactors, each of which can be replaced as players progress, continually improving the Railjack. They can be researched via Clan Research, starting with Tier 1 components, and working on up from there as each piece of research is completed. Alternatively, components can also be found while out on missions, before being repaired and applied to the ship. Of course, it should be mentioned that higher tier componentry is only available in higher tier missions. These components will upgrade the ship’s primary stats and change the way in which it fires, but let’s face it – when it comes to customisation, Warframe has always been about modding, and Empyrean is no exception.

This brings us to Avionics, which is essentially Railjack’s version of modding. There are three different kinds of Avionics – Battle Avionics, which are Railjack abilities (in the demo, DE showed off mods called Particle Ram and Void Hole); Integrated Avionics, which affect the base stats of the Railjack itself; and Tactical Avionics, which provide tactical, mission-based advantages (the demo included the use of Void Cloak). Each individual mod can be ranked up using a new resource called Avionic Endo, which can also be used to rank up the grid itself and is acquired via Railjack mission rewards or by breaking down unneeded Avionics.

However, the customisation doesn’t stop there, as Railjack brings with it a new form of player-based skill progression. Given Railjack is intended as a co-op activity (more on that later), this new system provides a way for players to bring their experience with them as they join different Railjack groups. Referred to as “Intrinsics”, this system allows players to earn both standard Affinity (Warframe’s terminology for ‘experience’) as well as Intrinsic Points as they progress through Railjack missions. These points can then be applied to one of four Intrinsic roles – Pilot, Gunner, Engineering, or Tactical – boosting certain stats for the player in various areas and unlocking specific skills and Abilities as they go. If this sounds to you like a simplified Skill Tree, that’s because that’s what it is. DE mentioned in the demo that ranking to 10 in all roles should take months, but we’ll see what the dedicated Warframe fans have to say about that on release…

Note that there will be a fifth Intrinsic role that will be added at a later date, which is called Command. This will unlock NPC crew members that can perform certain tasks aboard your Railjack in place of your friends. This includes repairs or offensive roles, and will allow for true solo play. I’m sure many fans are excited about the potential this will bring to the new mode.

Warframe Update

When Empyrean finally hits PCs, expect to find 3 new regions added to Navigation – Earth Proxima, which is the starting area for all players and includes a Free Flight area in which to practice flight; Saturn Proxima, which was shown off in the demo; and the Veil Proxima. Each area will provide increasing levels of difficulty, and will also be locked behind Intrinsic requirements – the example used in the demo was that for the Saturn Proxima mission selected, players would need to be at least Intrinsic 3 in any role in order to participate. Further, the different areas will provide different loot – Saturn Proxima, for example, will provide Tier 2 components, while Veil Promixa will provide Tier 3, demonstrating a very clear progression system. In addition, the Veil Proxima was said to be full of lore, so longer-term players should be chomping at the bit to reach this area.

Missions themselves play out in a number of ways, but smart Tenno will not start without preparing first. Before launching for a mission, players can head down to the Forge in their Cargo Bay and ensure they have an appropriate amount of Payload – a new term that refers to specific resources required for the Railjack, including Revolite, which is required for repairs, Flux Energy for abilities, Dome Charges for the Core Weapon, and Munitions for ordinance. There is, of course, a maximum amount of each that can be brought into a mission, but I expect that certain Intrinsics will allow players to exceed this amount – although this is yet to be confirmed. Should players not have the required amount of resources, they will either need to farm for them prior to the mission, or look to acquire them during, which may be risky.

Of course, it’s the gameplay itself that matters most, and this is where the majority of the demo was focused. That said, it almost feels like there’s not much to say on this, as you kind of need to see it in action to understand the intensity and chaos of the action.

Of the four players, one player must pilot the ship, which of course means that they control the ship as it moves through space. They also have access to weapons in order to shoot down their prey. Two other players can access the weapons to each side of the ship – and the animation here, removing much of the ship from view to provide a suitable HUD, is itself extremely impressive. The fourth and final player then assumes a kind of Gopher role – running about extinguishing fires and repairing damage, as well as forging payload and fighting off any Boarding Parties, although this did not occur in the demo.

The mission shown required the group to take out 30 enemy fighters and 5 crewships – larger, tougher ships that can only be taken out either by using Dome Charges… or from the inside.

You read that right. This is Warframe, after all. In order to take out the crewships, players can access them in one of two ways – firstly, by exiting the Railjack in their Archwing (hence the initial requirement for Archwing). They would then fly through space, battling smaller ships on the way, before entering the ship via a portal at the rear. Gameplay then switches to the Warframe we all know and love, as the player makes their way through the ship, fighting off enemy crew along the way. Here, there are two options – destroy the reactor, or take command of the ship, using it to take out more enemy fighters.

Keep in mind that all of this is happening at the same time. On the ship, someone is still piloting, someone else is putting out fires, and another player is out trying to commandeer an enemy vessel. Or perhaps TWO players are out trying this. Truly, it looks like a lot of fun – hectic, chaotic, and stressful all the while, but a lot of fun nonetheless. It is easy to understand why DE stated that although Railjack can be played solo, it will likely be too hard without the Command Intrinsic.

In addition, any player, at any time, can bring up a tactical menu. This will allow them to do one of several things – spectate other players, give them orders (such as “Do Repairs”, or “Make Payload” and so on), cast one of their allies’ warframe Abilities, or – should the player have a high enough Intrinsic – teleport about the ship.

All of this will work alongside everything else that the team has worked to build over the last 7 years of Warframe’s lifecycle. While not everything will be integrated perfectly, Digital Extremes is working towards that goal, mentioning that the Kuva Lich system added recently will be expanded upon within Railjack at a later date, and that the Open World areas will also be made to integrate with Railjack in some way.

Clearly, Warframe is a labour of love, and although we still have a number of questions around the long-term viability of this mode, as well as how DE will look to bring all of these seemingly disparate ideas together into one cohesive whole, Emyprean looks like the kick to the butt that the game needed. Welcome to Warframe 2.0.

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Greg Newbegin
Greg Newbegin
Gamer since the early '80s. Dad. May or may not be terrible at video games. Also a writer of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror - see what I'm working on at!

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