Warframe's new expansion is a stunning alien landscape full of giant robo-bugs

Stepping onto the Plains of Eidolon the first time was a surreal experience. For years, Warframe players had been dashing and bullet-time sliding through the claustrophobic corridors of alien-looking spaceships. Last year Plains of Eidolon ditched all of that, taking Warframe's kinetic sword and shotgun combat into wide open spaces. Now, developer Digital Extremes is taking it a step further. During a presentation at TennoCon in Ontario, Canada this weekend, Warframe fans were shown an extended 20 minute demo of the new Venus open world zone called Orb Vallis, and it already looks like a massive improvement over the Plains of Eidolon.

Forget the auburn—and slightly monotonous—rolling hills of the Plains. Orb Vallis is a stunning alien landscape covered in a light sprinkling of snow, giant mushrooms, sea-like flora, and towering robot bugs that clamber over its mountains (yes, they will attack you). It's five times as big as Plains of Eidolon (which was about 5 square kilometers) and already feels much livelier. It's a vast space where groups of up to four players will explore, complete bounties, fish, mine, and fight.

Orb Vallis is the central addition to Warframe's Fortuna expansion, which will be arriving later this year. Living in this terraformed version of Venus are the Solaris United, a bizarre race of half-human half-robot slaves that are fighting for freedom against their Corpus overlords. It's a cliché-sounding premise that Warframe is adding its own weird twist to as evidenced by the opening cutscene featuring a chain gang humming a solemn tune as they work. They're a people so in debt that they've had to mortgage their own partly mechanical bodies to the Corpus.

The new hub is the underground city simply called Debt-Internment Colony where players will pick up quests, buy Fortuna's new tools, and put together more pieces of Warframe's esoteric lore. Similar to Plains of Eidolon, there is a new weapon crafting system but instead of melee Zaws players will be forging Kit Guns that fill your secondary weapon slot.

At its core, though, Orb Vallis will function the same way as Plains of Eidolon. For the most part that means completing a rotating list of bounties or farming materials for various uses. The bounty system has been greatly improved: now, Solaris United agents will appear at bases that you liberate on the map so you can more easily hop from one bounty to the next.

Mining and spear fishing are two activities that will directly carry over between the Plains and Venus. But one really cool new addition is a unique animal preservation system where players seek out and capture endangered animals for relocation to safer environs. It's keeping in tune with Warframe's often weird features (this is a game where you have a gun that shoots music you create in a synthesizer).

What I love most is how involved it is. While exploring Orb Vallis you might come across tracks in the wilderness that you can follow. If you have the appropriate lure, you can make animal calls to try and lure the beast out. It's a weird call and response mini-game where the animal will make a specific noise that players have to mimic. It's hard to explain, but creative director Steve Sinclair said it was heavily inspired by hunters using moose calls. The animal will make a certain sequence of noises that players then recreate using a user interface element that simulates different pitches. It's weird, so just watch the Twitch livestream to see it in action.

Once the animal is lured out, you'll then have to find a place to hide until it's exposed and then you'll shoot it with a tranquilizer. Animals have different rarities that is partially dependent on how successful you are with recreating their call, with rarer animals offering more Solaris reputation. Once the beast is knocked out, you can extract it with a drone in a way that feels very reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 5.

Not everything living on Venus is friendly, though. Corpus bases are scattered all across the zone, but an even bigger threat is the 'Orb Layers'—giant spider bots that stomp around. Similar to the massive, titular Eidolons, these are essentially endgame bosses that players will have to initially avoid at first. What's cool, however, is these giant spider tanks aren't confined to anyone space and can be constantly seen scaling mountains in the distance. 

In that sense, Fortuna feels like it shares a similar structure to Plains of Eidolon. Players will farm materials, complete bounties, and eventually form groups to hunt and kill powerful endgame bosses for powerful loot. I just hope that, unlike Plains of Eidolon, Fortuna won't be so compartmentalized from the rest of the game. Still, Orb Vallis looks like a promising and ambitious update coming on the back of Plains of Eidolon, which was in itself an ambitious update.

Speaking with Sinclair, he was also able to confirm that many of the innovations of Fortuna will be retroactively applied to Plains of Eidolon. The new bounty system, the K-drive hoverboards, and potentially even the animal conservation minigame will all be added into Plains of Eidolon at a later date.

I'll continue our coverage as more details emerge from TennoCon, which I'm attending all weekend.