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Warframe New War narrative deep dive with Digital Extremes

Rebecca Ford talks more about the narrative implications of The New War, alignment, and where we're headed next.

Warframe’s big quest updates have long been some of the biggest highlights of Digital Extreme’s space ninja MMO. Mixing the rampant sci-fi combat that flows throughout the whole game with weaving narrative threads has often led to explosive moments that capture the awe of the entire community.

With The New War, this looks to be another one of those moments. As an update three years in the making, promising a long awaited conclusion between the player and the Lotus, we sat down with live operations and community director Rebecca Ford to talk about what we can expect from the latest chapter in Warframe’s story.

VG247: How did that idea of telling the story of The New War from the perspective of characters that aren’t Tenno (player characters) come about?

Rebecca Ford: I think in that case, it was Steve Sinclair (video game director at Digital Extremes) writing down all these ideas. For him to start the war off from the perspective of the enemy, and I don’t want to project onto Steve’s mind, it made the war feel like a war. There’s only so much you can do to make a war in a game called Warframe feel like a war, when everything you’re already doing feels war-like. You get kinda lost in the sauce of war there! So how else can you tell people the war has started than to play it as an enemy.

That idea and commitment no one saw coming. Who the hell tuned into Tennocon and thought “we’re totally going to play as Teshin in The New War!” I think it entirely was a brilliant move to signal the launch of a war in a game where all you do is fight.

VG247: With the inclusion of these new characters there are a lot of narrative strings coming together in The New War. There’s all the previous lore established in quests, the new characters, the wider conflict being explored. How do you balance telling this wider narrative with the more personal story of the player and The Lotus?

Rebecca Ford: Well, I have to answer this without spoiling it. The efforts we’ve gone to in The New War to absolutely commit to that story have been exhaustive, and every story thread we’ve set up between The Second Dream to the Chains of Harrow has a role to play in The New War. The culmination, lets say, of all these years and quests are meant not to end Warframe. This is not a finale. This is taking us to a place where everything coming after The New War has this unifying experience, where everyone knows what the stakes of the world are going to be, and the story will have that very clear and precise chapter. There’s no ambiguity.

VG247: Would you consider bringing back this approach for future updates? Telling the story of Warframe from a wider perspective than just the Tenno?

Rebecca Ford: We honestly don’t know right now. I’m obviously not going to say no to that, because anytime I’ve said no to something we’ve ended up doing it. It wasn’t made for that purpose, but like everything in Warframe it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We’re very adaptive.

VG247: From what I’ve heard, the New War reminds me a lot of The Second Dream. When that came out back in 2015, it established itself as this big community moment and also as a milestone point with real gameplay ramifications. Was there a goal to try and replicate that Second Dream effect here?

Rebecca Ford: Oh, it would probably be a sin to say we’re trying to recapture the Second Dream magic, and we don’t dare try that! Whatever happened there, the universe had to have been aligned for The Second Dream to happen the way it did. To get the admiration it has even to this day. We don’t try and touch that, but I will say that nothing has influenced The New War more than The Second Dream.

It isn’t by virtue of us trying to redo it, it’s because of why that quest is so important to us as developers and the community that we decided what better source of inspiration for this chapter than with the chapter that started it all. I will swear by that, and people will see what I mean when they play through it.

VG247: I have to ask, can we expect a similar ‘OMG’ moment from The New War like we got from The Second Dream?

Rebecca Ford: I think so! But for me, will I never be able to separate the fan girl from the professional? I think not. So take that with a grain of salt from someone with 2500 hours in Warframe, but also works here.

VG247: During the press demo the topic of alignment came up, and you said that the choices players have made would be respected, but won’t lock anyone out of content. You were quite firm on that. Does that mean that there’s some sort of payoff we can expect from this system based on player choices we’ve made over the years?

Rebecca Ford: In my opinion yes and no, because I would say you make one of the most important choices based on the system you already know. So as the player you know that when you’re going through, you’re either aligning yourself neutrally, to the moon, or to the sun. You can deduce what that means to you as a player, but we’re not going to give you a glossary on sun means this, moon means that. It’s your story, and we’re not going to put you in a position where what you’ve chosen is locking you to an outcome.

However, I like to think our intention is that the heuristics you've built up by looking through all these options and having the freedom to choose them is sustained in The New War, and it will result in an extremely important choice in the conclusion.

But that choice isn’t going’s not like The Witcher 3 or Mass Effect you know what I mean? That’s why I’m so delicate about it, because I don’t want people to think that they f-cked up because back in 2015 they chose the bad ending. That’s not the message we want to send.

The message we want to send is that we introduced that alignment system as a way for players to tell their story, and not necessarily a way for them to change the outcome of the world directly. This is a character development tool for yourself, it’s not a system engagement tool for the world.

VG247: Right so it seems as though while the initial choices you make in quests are locked, and there is a banner on accounts that say “Gee Connor did you really have to pick every Moon choice?” you’re never locked out of options like Mass Effect’s paragon / renegade dialogue prompts.

Rebecca Ford: Bingo! You nailed it. There’s not a scenario where you can’t pick sun because you’ve only gone moon.

VG247: Will alignment live on post-New War like it has done previously?

Rebecca Ford: That is a good question that I can’t answer currently, because it all depends on how players react to The New War! We’re not going to lock ourselves into a situation where we either do or not continue with it, we will make that decision alongside our players.

VG247: I have a bone to pick with Steve actually! He told us ages ago to keep a hold of the Paracesis, so I upgraded it thinking it would be super important in The New War, but from the Q&A I’m led to believe that isn’t the case!

Rebecca Ford: It is important! But it’s not mandatory.

VG247: So what does it affect in The New War story?

Rebecca Ford I can’t tell you that! It’s important, it would be impossible to play The New War without seeing the Paracesis, but you don’t need to bring it with you. The reason we’re not making it mandatory is meta, I guess this is where you see how the sausage is made. We waited too long to decide on whether it should be mandatory, and the crafting costs to make it were too high to tell players now that they need it. Could you imagine if you launched The New War day one and found out you had to farm 1,000 Ducats?

VG247: You mentioned in the Q&A that a content warning was added ahead of the new content. I’m obviously not going to ask why because of story spoilers, but can you talk me through why the team thought it a good idea to add something like that in this case?

Rebecca Ford: After doing some of my work for the quest, and working with my team specifically on it, some people on my team made one or two remarks to me that were an “oh s**t” moment in that we may be entering trigger territory.

So I brought it up as neutrally as I could, because I didn’t want anyone to take the wrong reasons for why I was bringing it up, and mentioned that objectively certain things happen in the story and we have to warn people. There was no issue adding it, I would say I added it myself on a Friday night just to make sure it was airtight.

It’s meant to provide that accessibility option for those who may find frightening scenes, violence, or depictions of emotional abuse triggering. We felt we needed to warn people.

VG247: Is it a situation where if players aren’t comfortable they can skip those scenes? Or is it just a heads up so that no one is caught blindsided?

Rebecca Ford: It’s a broad heads up. We haven’t done anything that I would say counts as intense depictions, it’s just mature subject matter. It’s not explicit depictions like you might see in a show or other media. In our case we’re being very forthcoming about depictions or implications. That might make people uncomfortable, but it’s done in a way that is in some cases allegorical, in some cases not. It’s something people can navigate once we’ve given them the information that it will be there.

VG247: What does the future of Warframe’s narrative content look like? As this seems to be both a big conclusion for the game’s narrative and a kickoff point for the future of the game, what can we expect?

Rebecca Ford: I think there will be no ambiguity about what comes next once players have finished The New War. I think there will be very clear indications on the state of the meta world, I say meta because people will be watching our dev streams where we give them direct information on those things. The quest itself has quite direct conclusions that will allow players to have a clear understanding of what’s coming up.

The New War is launching on all platforms December 15. If you want to know more about what is coming in the update, we’ve got a write up of everything coming in The New War update here. If the three year journey of The New War is more up your alley, we’ve got another interview on The New War’s development since its reveal and through COVID.

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