At Tennocon 2018, Digital Extreme’s annual Warframe convention, the developer had a huge surprise in store for fans—one that promises a radical change to what Warframe, as a videogame, actually is. A live presentation showcasing the new open world zone of Venus ended with a major twist that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. During the demo, villain Nef Anyo bombarded the player repeatedly from space, but just when everyone thought the preview was over, Digital Extremes showed how players will get their revenge.
A ship descends that the group of four boards and then pilots seamlessly into orbit where they engage Nef Anyo’s capital ship directly. Called Codename: Railjack, it’s an entirely new game mode where players explore and fight in space from the comfort of their own battlecruiser. It’s basically Warframe’s take on beloved indie game FTL. Each member of a group will man a station on the ship, like piloting or manning turrets, while simultaneously fighting off enemy fighters, capital ships, and even direct invasions inside the ship. Similar to FTL, players can also divert energy to different systems like powering up thrusters to increase speed and maneuverability. There was even a moment when a hull breach depleted life support systems that had to be repaired.
You won’t just be on the defensive, either. At any time, players can depart their own ship and fly around space in their personal Archwing flightsuit to engage enemies more directly. More impressive, however, is the ability to infiltrate enemy capital ships and sabotage them from the inside to weaken them for a killing blow. During one intense sequence, one developer was running through the halls of the enemy capital ship while another was in what creative director Steve Sinclair called “commander mode” which let them hack the enemy ship to open airlocks and assist her teammate.
It’s a stunningly ambitious new mode, but it’s unclear how this experience will fit into the greater Warframe campaign. During an interview, Sinclair did confirm that these ships would feature a progression system similar to most everything else in Warframe. Players will be able to level them up, upgrade, and modify their various abilities. They aren’t just giant boats either, but have special abilities similar to Warframes. Sinclair described one as a “death blossom” of missiles that “destroy everything in sight.”
In my review, I said “Warframe is the most Frankenstein-esque game I’ve ever played.” It’s a mish-mash of different ideas and systems that don’t always work well together, but Sinclair said Codename: Railjack is intended to be the glue that binds Warframe’s open-world levels, procedurally generated corridors, and Archwing space combat together. These ships will also be instrumental in exploring space beyond the solar system that Warframe has been confined to for its entire lifespan. Last month, Warframe released a new “cinematic quest” called The Sacrifice that turned the page on another chapter in Warframe’s esoteric and wonderful story. The next chapter, called The New War, was also teased at Tennolive and sets up an inter-solar system conflict with the arch-villain Sentients that exist beyond the borders of our star system.
This update “takes Warframe down a totally uncharted path,” reads a press release I was provided with ahead of time. It’s described as being the next part of a “grander vision.” When I asked Sinclair to explain what that meant, he spoke of Dark Sector, the unreleased game that Digital Extremes tried to make before Warframe. In that game, Sinclair says, groups of players would explore and invade ships in procedurally generated sectors of space. It was an ambitious project that Digital Extremes was never able to realize, as detailed in the No Clip documentary. Codename: Railjack is their attempt to finally bring that vision to life. I already have a difficult time explaining Warframe to my friends. I have a feeling it’s going to get worse.
Codename: Railjack has no release date, but considering the new Venus open world zone isn’t expected until late 2018, I’m willing to bet it’s going to be a long wait. Check out our coverage of the new Venus open world zone and the awesome hoverboards you’ll use to explore it.