Warframe's recent update helps fast-track new players to The New War, and after playing it, it's easy to see why. This sizeable cinematic quest is an elaborate showcase of lavish cutscenes, huge space vistas, and one incredible story beat right after another. The developers at Digital Extremes are using all the tools to make the arrival of Warframe's new big bads, the Sentients, a momentous occasion for their years-in-the-making storyline.
Right from the start, it throws you into the shoes of three characters from major factions caught up in the invasion. Starting on Earth you take control of Kahl, a cloned Grineer soldier who's simplemindedness is strangely endearing. Aboard a spaceship in orbit is Veso, a helpless engineer who uses robots to fight for him while he takes orders from a laughably unsympathetic overlord who can't even remember his name. Lastly there's Teshin, the fan-favourite ninja who carves a path through a Sentient ship all by himself.
None of these segments are groundbreaking, nor do they shake the fact that Warframe is built atop the bones of a game that's almost a decade old. In spite of this, gimmicks like ordering robots around as Veso and juggling elemental powers as Teshin make for a fun twist. Even fighting against the aging game's limitations, all of these parts serve their narrative purpose, fleshing out the world and giving new perspectives. Each character gets their own little arc. While the questline keeps things small and grounded in the moment-to-moment, there's a huge number of locations and characters throughout, impressing upon you the sheer scale of events. One minute you're shooting your way across a planet's surface and the next, you're zipping around a humongous space battle in your own craft. The New War is a big, inescapable event.
But everything we've been shown pre-release was almost a clever bit of misdirection. This war isn't fought in massive battlefields but on a much smaller, personal stage. Following the quest's first act, the Tenno are on the back foot and left with none of their warframes or even their powers of the void. You're left almost entirely human and extremely vulnerable, pitted against corrupted warframes under a new regime. These enemies, called Archons, are your main foes over the central chunk of The New War and make for a fun challenge when you have to fight them without your usual arsenal. You can tackle them in any order, and each one has its own little tricks to figure out and exploit. While Warframe's age holds them back, I still had a blast figuring out how to best each of them.
The solar system is an even darker place in The New War, with bastions of refuge like Fortuna turned into shadows of themselves. A corrupted version of "We All Lift Together" is haunting, twisting one of the game's most poignant expressions of its themes into a new anthem of subservience. On top of the fate of the solar system, you're hell-bent on trying to rescue your mentor/protector, Lotus, and there's a lingering question of whether it's both possible and wise to do so. Your character has more of a presence than ever before in this quest, with lots of spoken dialogue. And with no mentors left to guide them, they're making their own choices now. Watching your operator go from a hopeless youngster to a maturing, capable fighter is one of the updates' most compelling parts.
To stand a chance and set things right, you'll have to call on some friends and forge unlikely alliances. The team at Digital Extremes have spoken about how much planning The New War represents, and as you play, you definitely see that. Even aside from the sheer production value of its lovingly animated cutscenes and new assets, the plotting brilliantly ties together dozens of characters and subplots from across years of quests. It's exciting to have so much payoff stacked in one storyline with none of it feeling forced. This is the organic next step for the story.
For all the foreshadowing that precedes it, the quest has more than a few delicious twists that some fans will no doubt have already put together. Things get strange, and I appreciate Warframe trusting its audience enough to convey key beats with minimal dialogue and relying on visuals to do the heavy lifting. That I can not only follow a storyline that blends together rogue AI, psychics, the bending of space and time as well as alternate realities but also remain invested in each reveal, speaks to how much work Warframe has picked up over the years. More than that, it has picked up tremendous momentum. The New War is firing on all cylinders, pulling everything together and charting a course into all new territory. As enjoyable as this story is—and it's the most important story Warframe has told to date—it's still laying the groundwork for what's to follow. There is closure here, though, and a conclusion to at least a significant chapter of Warframe's narrative. Catharsis abounds.
Warframe is the most compelling free-to-play game available right now. As I sank hours into this latest update I was frankly dumbstruck at points thinking how this elaborate narrative adventure costs nothing but time to experience. Plenty of games out there have more graphical horsepower, yet Warframe still goes toe-to-toe with gaming's best space operas. There's nothing in The New War that fundamentally changes how you play it or that will win over anyone who dislikes what's there already. But for fans and those seeking a grander, stranger sci-fi epic, Warframe is comfortably a heavyweight in the best shape of its career.