When Warframe's developers first revealed the Empyrean update during its annual Tennocon convention last year, it felt like Warframe was evolving. No longer were Warframe players stuck running across procedurally generated hallways or open-world zones like Fortuna—now they’d be free to customize and pilot spaceships in co-op battles inspired by indie roguelike FTL, where each member of your squad can man different stations on the ship or infiltrate the enemy ship and sabotage it from the inside. It was ambitious—seeming almost too ambitious—but at Tennocon 2019, which just wrapped up, Digital Extremes unveiled an extended live demo of the new update. And, uh, it's even more ambitious now.
Apparently piloting your own spaceship with your friends isn't good enough for Digital Extremes. You can now infiltrate an enemy ship, kill its captain, and then steal it for yourself (though you won't be able to keep it for good). That's just one of the new features Digital Extremes showed as it played through Empyrean in front of a live audience at Tennocon.
The video above shows the entire demo and is worth watching because, as a Warframe fan, it's exciting to see how ambitious and transformative Empyrean is. There's too much to cover in just one article alone.
Unlike Warframe's previous updates like The Plains of Eidolon or Fortuna, which game director Steve Sinclair describes as "islands", Empyrean isn't just another new area of Warframe with progression and rewards isolated from everything else. Instead, Empyrean is meant to be the glue that binds all of Warframe together as one cohesive world.
Using your Railjack spaceship, you can visit different locations in space, many of which are located in orbit around the same planets where players take on normal missions. This core concept of Empyrean hasn't changed much since last year: You're still piloting a spaceship with your squad, working together to fight enemy fleets. Like FTL, the Railjack only has so much energy that can be diverted to different systems like shields, weaponry, or engines. And each member of the team will need to work together to divert this resource as needed.
During combat, players can also exit the ship via their Archwing flyer and fly around space independently. This also lets players explore wrecked space stations and ships whose interiors resemble traditional Warframe levels.
What I love is how much flexibility every player has at a given moment. During one scene, a Digital Extremes developer infiltrated a derelict space station and was ambushed by Infested. Instead of watching helplessly, the pilot of the Railjack was able to divert energy to a powerful cannon with a targeting radar that displayed the station map along with friendly and enemy locations. Using this cannon, they could provide artillery support to their allies as they made their escape.
My favorite feature is the Squad Link, which lets you send a distress signal to nearby players in your alliance to have them assist you on your mission from where they are. In the demo, Digital Extremes developers are squaring off against a Kuva Lich, a mutated monster that, similar to Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System, changes and adapts after each time you fight them. This particular Kuva Lich has secured an impenetrable capital ship, and just as the squad is about to engage it directly the Kuva Lich activates a shield relay located on Earth that protects it.
Sinclair says this is Warframe's Battle of Endor moment, harkening back to Return of the Jedi when the rebel alliance must attack the Death Star while a smaller force simultaneously tries to deactivate its shield generator on a nearby planet.
With the Kuva Lich safe behind its shields, the players are able to send out a Squad Link beacon that other players in their alliance can respond to if they're not busy. In this case, one player is fishing in the Plains of Eidolon on Earth and happens to be right next to the shield generator. After accepting the Squad Link invite, they're given a mission to blow up the nearby generator so that their friends in orbit above Earth can kill the Kuva Lich. To be clear, all of this is happening in real time.
Fortunately for people like me who have no friends, these Squad Link objectives are optional. If no one responds to your request or if they fail, there will be other, more difficult methods to deactivate the shields of the Kuva Lich capital ship. Sinclair equates this to fighting with "one hand tied behind your back."
That covers most of the glamorous bits. The good news is that a Railjack is in reach for most players willing to spend the time and resources to build one—but it will require a Clan dojo (think guild house if you're new) with a Drydock expansion. Each player can have their own Railjack, but only the host-player's Railjack will be used in missions (so you'll have to choose which player gets to play captain). Even if you're new, though, you can always be part of the crew on another player's Railjack.
There's still no confirmed release date for Empyrean, but given that Fortuna released in November last year and was also revealed around the same time, it's a safe bet that Railjack will arrive either late 2019 or early 2020.
For more coverage direct from Tennocon 2019, you can read about Warframe's new intro video by the director of 10 Cloverfield Lane. We'll have more Warframe news soon.