Digital Extremes has ambitious plans for Warframe, including an engine upgrade and epic space battles that connect players in different areas of the game together. The studio showed 40 minutes of live gameplay with a recent development build of the game at TennoCon 2019, its annual Warframe-focused convention.

Steven Sinclair, creative director at Digital Extremes, spends a few minutes at the start of the demo showing off some of the improvements the new engine offers: real-time shadows, completely new reflection system, new materials, and new art. As shown in the demo, these changes unquestionably improve the overall visuals of Warframe.

The remainder of the demo is focused on Warframe: Empyrean, an upcoming addition to the game formerly known as Railjack.

If you are looking for the "wow" moment, skip to the section titled "Squad Link" below, or around 28 minutes in the  YouTube video embedded at the end of the article.

General Railjack mechanics

Over the course of the demo, Sinclair gave more detail about how Railjack's systems would work:

  • Each player has their own Railjack, but you earn new technology and upgrades together with your squadmates, regardless of whose Railjack you are aboard for a particular mission.
  • The Railjack in the video had four equipment slots for weapons and countermeasures: pilot-aimed guns, side turrets, ordinance (missiles), and defence (decoys).
  • While a Railjack may have multiple crewed turret emplacements, they all share the same equipment slot.
  • Equipment does not level up like your warframes and gear does in the rest of the game. Instead, Sinclair said your Railjack's equipment is leveled up "technologically". Likely, this means that you slot in better equipment as you earn it along the way.
  • Railjacks can be customised much like any other warframe, weapon, or companion in the game. This includes giving your ship a name, which appears on its side. Queue avalanche of Boaty McBoatface Railjacks at launch.

Railjack upgrade interface

What we want you to do for Empyrean is get in your ship and fly seamlessly [from mission to mission], but those missions actually have Void Storms in space, or other circumstances...
  • The Systems interface for Railjack appears to let you install various modules classified as either Weaponry, Battle, Tactical, or Systems.
  • Where the rest of Warframe uses a mod system that gives you a certain number of slots and a finite amount of "mod capacity" on each weapon, companion, or weapon, Railjack will work differently. With Railjack, you are able to slot in many more systems than you might need on a mission, in preparation for what you might face. You may then enable them from the ship as you need them, on-the-fly.
  • Sinclair said: "What we want you to do for Empyrean is get in your ship and fly seamlessly [between missions], but those missions actually have Void Storms in space or other circumstances that might be different factions."
  • Looking at the demo, the default Railjack has 100 energy available and underneath each system an energy cost is shown. The lowest cost is 10 energy and the highest is 60.
  • Battle modules are like warframe abilities, but rather than choosing a warframe for its abilities, you slot in the abilities you want for your Railjack. Tether, Blackout Pulse, and Particle Ram were featured in the demo.
  • Tactical modules affect combat and also help you support the away team. Tactical Shock, Resource Scanner, Shadow Field, and Enhanced Restoration were featured in the demo.
  • System modules shown in the demo were: Shields, Engines, Shield Inductor, Polarized Hull, Auroxium Plating, and Overthruster.
  • Rather than go with a persistent damage system that would require you to repair your Railjack after running a set of missions, Digital Extremes is working with a boost system that it calls "Reinforcement".
  • The demo shows the ability to upgrade your Railjack engines for 100 Titanium to increase its speed from 1,000km/h to 1,150km/h for five missions. Titanium is not yet available as a resource in the game.

Crew and missions (new Star Chart?)

You will refer to me as such. Aboard this railjack we work before we play. – Cephalon Cy
  • Your Sigma Series Railjack will come with a brand new no-nonsense ship Cephalon, or AI, called Cephalon Cy.
  • The Railjack's crew are non-player characters (NPCs) that you earn with specialisations that affect the way the ship plays. You can hire and fire as you see fit.
  • Railjack crew may come from newly-introduced factions, such as the Solaris United which were added to Warframe with the launch of the Fortuna open world on Venus.
  • Sinclair referred to the first mission shown in the demo as an "Exploration" mission. This requires that you fly to a place of interest, infiltrate it, and obtain whatever knowledge or technology that might still be there.
  • He explained that the mission was obtained from a Solaris United engineer that was recruited to the Railjack's crew.
  • Another new resource the demo shows is Cubics.
  • While the away team was retrieving the Derelict Archive in the Exploration mission, the person on the Railjack was able to provide support using the tactical modules equipped.
  • The demo shows the Tactical Shock module in action, which freezes enemies in place for the away team to pick off at their leisure.
  • Empyrean's "Mission Complete" screens show squad member contributions such as Most Kills, Loot Gatherer, and Most Melee Kills.
  • The demo showed a different Star Chart for Railjack missions than the core Warframe Star Chart. This new Star Chart included a new area called "Heliosphere".
  • For Earth, the Empyrean Star Chart showed fewer nodes than the core Warframe game, suggesting that it is a completely new Star Chart.
Warframe: Empyrean mission completion screen

Kuva Lich — the Warframe nemesis system (formerly "King Pins")

  • Another new mechanic demoed was a nemesis system. Initially called "King Pins", Sinclair joked that the codename might cause confusion because they are not created when they kill you, they are created when you kill them.
  • Currently these special bosses are officially known as "Kuva Liches".
  • Kuva Liches are characters that are custom to you, and have a long-term relationship with you. They can grow so powerful that they end up controlling their own capital ship which you will have to assault with a Railjack.
  • In terms of the lore, Sinclair explains that enemies spike themselves with Kuva and hope to be killed with a warframe power on the battle field so they can steal it.

Ship-to-ship combat

  • During the fight to take down a Kuva Lich, the demo showed how players can board enemy capital ships using the railjack's Blackout Pulse and Archwing catapult. You are then able to kill the crew aboard the ship, assassinate the pilot, and take control of it.
  • Like in the original reveal of Railjack last year, the new demo showed an enemy boarding party getting onto the ship using Ramsleds.
  • Players who were off-ship were able to immediately return to the Railjack using a gear item for their warframe called Railjack Recall.
  • This recall system can be disrupted by environmental effects like Void Storms.
  • Attacks from an enemy boarding party may result in fires breaking out inside the Railjack. These were put out using a "Multitool" gear item.

Squad Link

This is it. We think this is the game-changer.

One of the big surprises at this year's TennoCon was the announcement of Squad Link. This will allow one squad of players to assist another squad with their current mission. In the demo, the feature was showcased in the battle to assassinate the Kuva Lich.

The crew aboard the Railjack had successfully defeated the Kuva Lich's support fleet, triggering the next phase of the fight. The Lich activated a Disruptor Field which was beamed around his ship from the surface of the nearby planet: Earth.

To disable the field, the Railjack crew can send a signal asking for help. For the purposes of the demo, a friendly squad was already in position on Earth, in the Plains of Eidolon open world area.

It is necessary to understand that the Plains of Eidolon is a completely different area of the game. The squad that was on the Plains was not connected to the mission that the Railjack crew were playing at all.

"You've probably heard for years, 'A lone Tenno operative is raiding this ship for supplies,' and you wondered, 'Who was that lone Tenno operative?'," Sinclair said at TennoCon.

"What if we could take our co-op game between people that are in the same session and connect them to other co-op games happening in real-time all across the game?"

The demo shows that to activate Squad Link, players who are interested in grouping up must place a beacon to search for other squads that are in need of an assist.

"It's opt-in," Sinclair said.

The mission that has the Squad Link component available—in this case the Railjack-based Kuva Lich assault—scans through a prioritised list for anyone willing to help you out: friends, clan mates, and alliances.

Upon finding a friendly squad that has deployed a Squad Link beacon, the game brings up a quest dialog for the team who agreed to help out, offering a reward for their services. The demo showed another new resource as a reward: Isos.

After accepting the invitation to help, the Squad Link beacon disappears and the mission begins.

Sinclair explained that Squad Link is not compulsory for the Railjack team. They would be able to continue on their mission without Squad Link if they so chose.

"It is not a hard barrier," he said. "But it's a much more difficult situation [without Squad Link] and doesn't have the Squad Link resources and rewards associated with it."

Spoilers: Void Storm

Fair warning: The end of the demo contains spoilers for anyone who hasn't finished The War Within quest.

The full gameplay demo for Warframe: Empyrean at TennoCon 2019 is embedded below.