There will be fishing. That this is the least surprising aspect of the next, game-changing Warframe update says much for its seismic nature. While gaining the ability to spear fish with your javelin is, undoubtedly, important, the biggest shake-up coming in Plains of Eidolon is the game’s first open-world zone.
Kilometres of hand-crafted terrain await explorative players, along with a functioning day/night cycle, and a night-time threat so dangerous that even the standard enemies scarper when the sun goes down. In both tone and construction, it couldn’t be further from the procedurally-generated sci-fi tiles that make up the game’s dungeons to date.
“It’s going to be one of the most remarkable moments in Warframe’s development, because it’s going to change the way you interact with the game,” Digital Extremes live ops and community producer Rebecca Ford – who also voices Lotus in the game – tells us.
“If you’re a player, you understand the paradigm. You load up a mission, it’s going to be procedurally generated, and you’re going to extract after you do something. [Plains of Eidolon] is a completely different gameplay paradigm, because it’s a world that you can access at any time. It’s open and vast, and exploring it will give you an entirely new environment to discover.”
Ford describes the plains as the “graveyard of Earth.” The coastal landscape is interupted by huge structures created by the Sentients, is bustling with wildlife, and pocked with the remnants and legacy of the oft-referenced Old War. The invading Grineer, the race of military clones that have been causing problems for some time now, are seeking to exploit the artefacts left over from this ancient clash.
“The Old War is something we’ve referenced in-game for years, and it’s essentially the turning point that made warframes what they are,” Ford explains. “We all know it was an epic battle. We have it in writing, we have it in lore, we have it in quests, but we’ve never /seen/ what carnage came from it. The [team] got to put that carnage into reality with the open zone, because the race of Sentients which we introduced last year, they’re scary.
"We haven’t seen a lot of them, but we’ve seen them do some nasty things. Now, we’re basically walking through a Sentient graveyard. That’s why we’re calling it the Plains of Eidolon; at night time, dead things make ghosts. Something very nasty creeps out of the lakes and vast ponds. That’s going to be a threat that the players know about – it’s legendary, and it’s coming for them. You’re going to have to look out for that.”
Eidolon will have its own resources to gather, bespoke crafting goals, and there’s even a new Warframe and weapons to build if you take on the relevant missions. Everything can be tackled with up to three friends, including the aforementioned fishing, but exactly what we’ll be using all the fish we spear for isn’t clear yet. Here’s hoping the Sentients’ ghosts have severe seafood allergies.
You’ll also be able to soar above Eidolon using your Archwing – the first time they’ve been available to use overground rather than in space. At the very least it should make getting about much easier.
While the Grineer are a problem for you out in the plains, they’re also harrying a newly introduced race of scavengers called the Ostrons. These peaceful scavengers, who have a grotesque line in harvesting biomechanical tissue from living structures called Orokin Towers, have founded the coastal town of Cetus – a makeshift base camp which lies just outside of the plains and from which they, and you, will head out on sorties to collect materials and undertake missions.
These friendly NPCs are one of the beneficiaries of players’ collective efforts in the game so far, and thrive precisely because of every warframes’ actions. They have their own language – raising the game’s total dialects to four – and now need your help again.
“These people are the casualties of war from what everyone’s been doing,” Ford says. “They’re the ones who are trying to survive despite the horrible things that have been going on around them with these factions that are warmongers, exploiting trade, and whatever. These are the ones you’ve been working to protect unknowingly. Your actions have allowed them to flourish and build this scavenger outpost.”
Teasing all of this life, and vastly different design ethos, out of Warframe’s existing engine has, unsurprisingly, been no small challenge. “This is the first time we’ve had to push our engine to the limits,” Ford says. “How do you build an open zone from the ground up using our engine? Our engine is in-house; we don’t use Unreal or anything.
"Our art team knew that it would all be hand-designed. Where things go and how they get there is going to be at the liberty of our tech system when it comes to foliage and grass, but the intent of this area is for it to be explored – we’ve got to put stuff in places to be found. It’s an art style players haven’t seen, it’s a new race of people, it’s a new type of lifestyle. You’ve been playing in this environment that’s this beautiful porcelain wrapped environment, but it turns out it’s actually alive.”
Despite Warframe’s singular aesthetic, there are, of course, now two elephants in the room, namely: Destiny and Anthem. Warframe’s robotic ninjas and dark backstory certainly set it apart, but it’s hard not to notice what appears to be something of a convergence.
“When we saw Anthem go live, we had the same reaction as when we saw Destiny get announced a couple of years before,” Ford admits. “This is the second time we’ve had ‘twin syndrome’, where we’re like ‘Oh no, it’s another sci-fi co-op game!’ At the time of Destiny, we were scared – you’re always scared when there’s a presumed competitor.
“I haven’t dug around in [Anthem] to see how close it is to Warframe, but when I saw it, it looked different enough that I think it’s going to help our user base realise that sci-fi is ‘in’ and you should play as much of it as you want. Once you go sci-fi, you want it all! If you like Anthem, you’ll find out about Warframe, and if you like Warframe, you’ll like Anthem. Those sorts of comparisons tend to help us all out, despite the fact that the games are competitors. It’s always been very positive for the community, in my experience. They get to become immersed in a world they love, whether it’s ours or someone else’s. They’re happy, so it’s good for me.”
It’s a sound point. For all the hours you can pour into Destiny, and the many that Anthem with presumably swallow, it’s always possible to find more. And Warframe, despite it’s lower profile, currently has 30 million players and regularly troubles Steam’s top ten list of games with the most active users. Plains of Eidolon could well expand its appeal to many more players.
So the only thing left to ask at this point is whether Plains of Eidolon represents a sea change for the future. Is this the first of many open-world areas? And can we expect to see fewer procedurally generated dungeons from now on? Either way, things are going to get weird.
“Our goal will be to expand on this,” Ford says. “We think, hope, and strongly believe that this is what players have wanted the whole time. In that respect, we’re almost certainly going to make sure we’ve got another one lined up as soon as we release this one – just so we can provide a similar experience, but with the weird things about Warframe that attracted people to its art style in the first place. When you first played Warframe, you saw a ninja in a space suit fighting weird things on a ship – it was weird sci-fi. I expect that will be next, but that will be once we get this announcement out of the way.
“While we will probably still do procedural levels, it was time to try the next big new thing. We’ve done that about four times in Warframe’s history, to try and do something completely different and new that challenges us, and the payoff has been incredible.”