Warframe is the new Guitar Hero

One of the great video game tragedies is the death of the rhythm genre, as we hit a cultural (and closet) saturation point on plainly ridiculous plastic guitars. Strangely, Digital Extremes—the maker of Warframe—has decided to fill that void with the Shawzin, a neon future-lute that allows your psychedelic Warframe character to, basically, play Guitar Hero.

Don't believe me? Tune into DNexus' YouTube channel, where he picks up his keyboard like a Fender Stratocaster, and burns through an entirely recognizable cover of Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks."

Or Buff00n, who synced an electric keyboard to his PC so he could bust out a shockingly fully realized version of Ocarina of Time's "Gerudo Valley" theme. (Complete with overdubs!) His poise is incredible. This would 100 percent be a five-star classic in Rock Band.

But my favorite, by far, are the various interpretations of Dragonforce's "Through The Fire and Flames"—which has become something like the "Freebird" of rhythm games ever since its inclusion in Guitar Hero 2. I like to think that even in the far-flung future, on distant alien worlds, there will still be dudes with long hair, cargo shorts, and big ugly power metal t-shirts shredding it to this song.

The Shawzin can be purchased for 40 platinum at Warframe's in-game market, and was released at the end of August. The genesis of the instrument comes from a different music mini-game, the Mandachord, which hit the servers back in 2017. The Mandachord resembles something more like a synthesizer, or a drum machine, rather than the rockstar viscerality of a guitar. Musically, DNexus told me that the Shawzin works as a piano, with multiple scales and 12 different keys. That's what he said he liked about it, when I reached him over email.

"The piano key system [for the Shawzin] is a very smart, and because of that, the Shawzin is a relatively easy instrument [to] compare to real life string instruments," he said. "Also, Digital Extremes is very smart to separate tones into different scales, otherwise Shawzin will be very hard for ppl who doesn't have music basics to play with."

DNexus added that the Shawzin can be purchased with in-game currency, and is built like a platform—something for players to add to and innovate with over time. In that sense, he said it's built just like the rest of Warframe, as a persistent tool that can take you as far as your creativity allows. 

Buff00n took things a step further. He told me he was never great at Guitar Hero, but as a hobbyist musician himself, he's finally found a rhythm game that works for him. Instead of staring down an endless chart of color-coded tablature, he can experience his own space-opera pop fantasy all his own, with music he's created.

Almost all the content is player-generated, there is no progression, and there are no stakes other than bragging rights. A determined and talented group can gather in game and jam, but most of the fun so far has come from making something and sharing it, he told me.

"What makes the Shawzin special, compared to both Guitar Hero and rhythm games in general, is that it's a real musical instrument. The only limit is the player's own talent and imagination.  It's a creative tool, similar in a lot of ways to Warframe's Captura feature, which allows players to produce images and short videos using in-game locales and their player characters, and which also has no bearing whatsoever on the core gameplay. In that respect Warframe's Shawzin is nothing like Guitar Hero."

Here's hoping Digital Extremes keeps adding more instruments to Warframe. I'd like to see a space saxophone next.

For how to play some of these songs, check out our guide to the best Warframe Shawzin songs.

Luke Winkie
Contributing Writer

Luke Winkie is a freelance journalist and contributor to many publications, including PC Gamer, The New York Times, Gawker, Slate, and Mel Magazine. In between bouts of writing about Hearthstone, World of Warcraft and Twitch culture here on PC Gamer, Luke also publishes the newsletter On Posting. As a self-described "chronic poster," Luke has "spent hours deep-scrolling through surreptitious Likes tabs to uncover the root of intra-publication beef and broken down quote-tweet animosity like it’s Super Bowl tape." When he graduated from journalism school, he had no idea how bad it was going to get.