It's a busy day for Warframe; not only is developer Digital Extremes poised to release the free-to-play sci-fi shooter's latest update, Call of the Tempestarii, on all platforms today, 13th April, it'll be launching its long-awaited Xbox Series X/S update, bringing parity with the recently enhanced PS5 version, at the same time.
Call of the Tempestarii - which comes to consoles in tandem with the Corpus Proxima and the New Railjack update recently seen on PC - introduces a brand-new story quest tied to Warframe Sevagoth and a still relatively mysterious Void Storm mechanic. However, it also aims to build on the groundwork laid in Corpus Proxima and the New Railjack, turning that update's significantly streamlined, more accessible space combat into an experience better integrated with the game's more traditional on-foot action.
Digital Extremes initially introduced Railjacks - essentially pilotable ships for use in deep space combat missions - back in 2019, but as chief operating office Sheldon Carter explains, it became increasingly clear significant portions of players simply weren't engaging with the system. "What we had was the higher the Mastery Rank level you were, which is a way we measure the overall player progression, the more apt you were to have engaged and to be playing with that stuff. And the inverse relationship [was true], so we just felt like that wasn't the goal for the system... it wasn't supposed to be the end-game system, it was supposed to be a system that everybody could engage with."
Enter Corpus Proxima and the New Railjack, which was designed to make it considerably easier for players to not only acquire their own ship but play solo, through the use of AI crew, ensuring they weren't reliant on other high-level players or beholden to someone else's play style. Part of that work involved a "top to bottom" examination of Warframe's Railjack system, lowering the barrier to entry and tidying up some of the more convoluted components. "There's certain things that, to be fair, didn't even make sense," says Carter. "We had Railjack avionics, and we have a whole mod system, so that got folded together so it's easier to understand... wherever we could, we tried to fold systems together."
Following that rework, Carter believes the studio has managed to get "the grind into a place where [players can] get on board and really start using the Railjack quite a bit easier and engage with those systems a lot more", something further aided by the newly introduced AI crew system. "Because once you start putting crew on," explains Carter, "you can kind of focus on the types of things you find most enjoyable about the experience. Maybe you're the type person that doesn't like to fly... you don't want the dog work of being the pilot? Yeah, well, then you can concentrate on being the gunner, you can concentrate on doing the things that that you want to do instead of having to spend time kind of being a jack of all trades yourself."
Of course, Digital Extremes' struggles nailing down the Railjack system isn't an entirely new experience for the studio. After eight years of continuous development, Warframe is a dizzying mix of systems, which can be intimidating, if not outright repellent, for newcomers - and it's something that comes to the fore whenever a new update brings a fresh influx of players. "You have to be looking at that every time there's a whole new batch," explains Carter. "What's their experience like? And I think [the recent PS5 launch] was good for us again, from a data perspective, seeing all the players that jumped in and where they were hitting boundaries. There are different type of players potentially... different challenges with different hardware, and so it kind of forces you to keep revisiting the new player experience."
Luckily, Warframe's core fanbase is, Carter believes, incredibly open to the studio's ongoing grasp for accessibility. "What's kind of interesting is that for a lot of our dedicated fans that have played for a long time, they want their friends to play with them. And the feedback on that point is, 'Hey, can you make it so that when I tell my friend to come jump from whatever game they're playing right now to come play Warframe with me, it's easier for them to get into it?'. So my sense generally is that whatever we do in terms of accessibility, those players don't seem to mind... As long as we're continuing to make content for the people that have got us where we are, they don't have any issues with us trying to make it so that more people can play."
And Call of the Tempestarii should offer plenty for old-hands. There's the new Void Storm mechanic, for starters, and while Carter is reluctant to reveal too much ahead of launch, he teases it's designed to "change the context of missions and create really big problems for players and enemies". Furthermore, once inside a Void Storm, players can crack Relics, used to get Prime Warframes and Prime weapons. "I think from a metagame perspective," he says, "it's going to be amazing for players to be able to crack whatever Relics they want inside".
Void Storms will make their debut as part of a new story arc - which Carter calls a kind of deep space ghost story - within Call of the Tempestarii, further building on Warframe's expansive lore. Digital Extremes' continuing dedication to fully fleshed-out story content is perhaps somewhat unusual for a live-service-style game, where studios inevitably favour short, endlessly replayable loops, but Carter sees story as integral to Warframe's success. "I think it's a really important aspect for our player base," he explains, "and to have a context... why you're doing what you're doing is so important to us. I absolutely understand that it's definitely the most expensive content to make, but... I don't think you can do a straight accounting ROI on what story is because it's great for context and we love it. We love making it."
"It's also really great for pulling players back because they want to see what the new story is about," he continues, "and that might let them reengage with friends... and it might just make them realise what they loved about the game and how we've streamlined a particular part of it - so I see that as the expense is worth it but it's from a lot of different angles".
Beyond story though, there's another reason today's update might prove to be a particularly big draw: following Warframe's PS5 enhancements update at the end of last year, Xbox Series X/S will finally receive a similar treatment alongside Call of the Tempestarii's launch ("Everything has a supply chain component," explains Carter of the gap between releases, "and I think we just ended up getting the PS5 [development] kits earlier, so we were able to just get there first"), introducing up to 4K resolution and 60fps, alongside significantly improved loading times. There's also a game-wide texture remaster, offering increased levels of detail and colour, plus dynamic lighting and reduced hard-drive requirements.
"In terms of getting it to run on the Series X," says Carter, "we've been running for a while... and it's amazing. I only managed to land a PS5 a few weeks ago so I've had the Series X for a while and I've been excited to get it on there... and I think there's some benefits because the load time improvements we figured out on Series X end up translating to PS5 as well, so kind of as you push through each of these life cycles you end up getting optimisations... those load times, the tighter controls, just a better overall experience for both."
As for the future, I couldn't leave without asking for an update on cross-progression, one of Warframe's most requested, if still frustratingly elusive, features. Digital Extremes, sadly, doesn't have a lot to share on that front right now, but Carter did note that "a big step towards doing [cross-progression] is something we're doing with Tempestarii, which is you kind of have to release everything at the same time."
"And that's one of the things that's been a challenge for us," he continues. "We managed to take a big step with Heart of Deimos and we're doing that now with Call of the Tempestarii, so we're kind of setting ourselves up from an organisational standpoint so we're doing that regularly... and when you start to do that, then the idea of cross-progression becomes a little less daunting. [That's] not even talking about the technical hurdle, but just from an organisational side, it's kind of setting ourselves up for that, so that's why I'm actually really proud of the fact Heart of Deimos and now Tempestarii will be across all platforms, because I think it sets us up for success down the road."
And those eager to join Digital Extremes on the next leg of its ongoing journey with Waframe can download Call of the Tempestarii on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, and PC from today, 13th April.