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Warframe's The New War expansion brings its massive universe into focus

Commentary: The popular free-to-play action title is readying an Avengers: Infinity War-scale event, which will establish a new future for the game.

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The New War introduces new playable characters, allowing you to step into the role of other characters throughout the universe.

Digital Extremes

As Warframe celebrates its eighth anniversary, the free-to-play action role-playing game remains something of an oddity. Over the years, Digital Extremes' online game, set in a universe of warring factions, has grown in scope and popularity. This has been achieved all while maintaining an accessible microtransaction model for its free-to-play experience that flies in the face of games that put monetization at the forefront.

But now the online world of Warframe is setting the stage for its next expansion, The New War, which could be its most radical one yet. First announced in 2018, the expansion introduces a new threat that forces several factions that were once foes to come together, giving players the chance to see different perspectives of the galaxy-spanning conflict for the first time.

The New War is, in many ways, an expansion that seeks to unify the many disparate modes and activities of the game, all in sync with extended single-player experience. Along with the new cinematic quest, Warframe will also introduce a new Frame (playable characters) known as Caliban, who wield lasers and spin around "like a Beyblade," according to one of the devs. This puts the playable roster of Frames to 48.

We got an extended look at The New War expansion ahead of its Dec. 15 launch. We also spoke with Digital Extremes chief operating officer Sheldon Carter, alongside Rebecca Ford, the director of community and live operations, about the making of the expansion. According to them, The New War is not only the game's most significant expansion yet, but it will also set the stage for a new phase of Warframe going into 2022 and beyond.

"What we've done in the past is introduced a lot of added pieces and components to Warframe. We've added open worlds to explore, Imperium Railjack ship combat and other things, but they all felt isolated and in their own pockets," said Carter. "So we wanted to do this epic conclusion to many arcs in the overall story in this expansion. Ever since we first announced it [in 2018], we really wanted to deliver it from a storytelling perspective, and I think that's going to make people excited. But at the same time, we also wanted to give each of these individual factions and characters their time in the sun."

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Kal-175 is a new playable character from the Grineer faction, and he has his own story to unfold in The New War.

Digital Extremes

I've personally put 400 hours into Warframe over the years, and even after all that time, I always have this impression that I'm learning something new about the game. Warframe and its sheer volume of content are sprawling in nature, which can make jumping in a challenge for both veterans and newcomers alike. But if you stick with it, you'll find a game that offers not only fast-paced missions to take your custom Tenno characters for quick action but also some in-depth story missions that make clever use of its far-future, cyberpunk setting.

It's a game that manages to keep giving after nearly 10 years of free updates. Just in the last few years, Warframe has added three unique open-world planets to explore, squad-based ship combat and even a series of optional detective-style missions to uncover answers to long-dormant mysteries. While these are interesting, one of the downsides is that they often feel isolated from the larger flow of the game, making them seem like detours.

To that end, one of the goals of The New War is to introduce a new cinematic story quest and establish more connective threads to many of Warframe's storylines and gameplay modes. The New War puts this unifying mantra at the forefront with an extended single-player quest, which sees you step into different characters' roles from opposing factions, such as the fan-favorite Teshin, a samurai-esque warrior who is the leader of the Conclave.

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The Railjack makes a return in The New War, with special missions that have you partner up with other characters.

Digital Extremes

These cinematic quests offer up some of Warframe's most exciting and unexpectedly touching moments, the kind of storytelling you wouldn't normally expect from an online free-to-play game. Without many of the hallmarks of a modern free-to-play game, the developer's approach with Warframe is surprisingly modest, and Digital Extreme's director of community and live operations credits it as the reason for the game's continued success.

"I never once have doubted our ability to provide a brilliant free-to-play game with fair monetization," said Ford. "I think any missteps from that have been immediately corrected. I do not think there is a world where we ever lose that reputation. And if we do, it's only a matter of time until it's fixed. Because there is there just isn't a world where we don't do this the way it's meant to be done by our standards, for free-to-play. So I'm steadfastly and keenly interested in our balance between free and paid content."

I found myself intrigued by what The New War event has to offer. It's a significant event for the online world of Warframe. The scope of the upcoming storyline and its galaxywide stakes feel similar to something like Avengers: Infinity War, and that's exciting. I can't help but be impressed by how the game continues to grow, and it's got no signs of stopping in the future with other expansions and events at the ready.

But for now, The New War is a stunning and bold event for Warframe, and I'll certainly be checking back in to see what the future will bring for the game.