This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 381 in March 2023. You can still pick up a copy direct from us. Every month we run exclusive features exploring the world of PC gaming—from behind-the-scenes previews, to incredible community stories, to fascinating interviews, and more.
The problem with most big on-going service games is that they eventually reach a critical mass where the up-front investment is too big for new players. Destiny 2 suffers with this, deleting old expansions and content such that there's no way for a new player to coherently follow the story without watching lore videos on YouTube. But Warframe might just have found a solution, by turning the past into the future with its upcoming update, which is functionally a stand alone expansion.
Warframe fans have been looking forward to The Duviri Paradox for a long time. First announced in 2019, four years ago, the excitement has only grown as each story update between then and now has added complication after complication to our understanding of what Duviri is. If you're someone who has never played Warframe or found it too intimidating to start, then Duviri is for you too. Creating an opening for new players has been at the forefront of creative director Rebecca Ford's mind as development on the update evolved. What can players expect? "You can imagine hearing about Warframe, doing a fresh install and then the Lotus will ask you, 'Do you wish to play with blade and gun or do you wish to experience the paradox?' Of course she'll tell you all paths will connect but the 'Void needs you now, where will you start?'"
So narratively, how does that work? The luxury of a game like Warframe, with so many tools in its narrative box, is that you can play around with continuity. Due to the titular paradox, this quest can act as both a continuation of the story existing players already know, and also as the start for new players. "Of course, you can start at the beginning or end of a paradox."
It follows the Drifter, the mysterious character introduced in Warframe's huge, late-game story quest The New War. New players can choose to come at Warframe's overarching story from a different direction, one that lets them enjoy what's new rather than having to work through years of existing quests to get up to speed.
"It's kind of like our Fortnite no-build mode," Ford explains. "It's like, you know Fortnite but you don't want to build houses? Sure! It's like, you know Warframe but you don't want to have to invest 80 hours to get to the latest update. We're gonna rip it all out and say, with truth to the theme of the story, you can start at the Paradox."
A good thing too, because The Duviri Paradox promises to be the game's most ambitious update so far, by quite a margin.
In Duviri, the Drifter is a wanderer who has been trapped in a dimension ruled over by King Dominus Thrax, a tyrannical overlord whose very emotions alter the reality of his realm. Trapped in a day that never ends, it's your goal as the Drifter to fight back against Thrax and his forces. The demo I was shown took place post-quest, giving us a look at what players will be coming back for after the update's main story is wrapped up. Thrax's realm is a vast open world where the colour has been sapped out, waiting for the player to restore it.
Rather than rolling hills or plains, Duviri is a landscape of fractured islands, with huge statues and massive flying worms for wildlife. Eagle-eyed players will even notice pieces of the Zariman woven through the world, as bits of our universe bleed into Duviri's. It's only fitting it be a little strange. Thankfully to get around you'll have a trusty mount called Kaithe, a skeletal horse that can fly like a demonic Pegasus. And don't worry, the horse is customisable.
Each attempt to thwart Thrax, called a 'day', is a roguelike run, reminiscent of Hades or Slay The Spire. You'll begin with a modest selection of randomly provided weapons to choose and, across your run, earn upgrades to tackle tougher and tougher obstacles. Everything is melee focused here, and Duviri uses the Drifter's lack of power to give Warframe a slower pace, more reminiscent of a Dark Souls than the usual frantic ninja acrobatics. The Drifter is much more vulnerable than your average warframe and players will need to scour the land for perks, called "decrees", to bolster their build. To make things more dangerous you'll have to deal with the shifting moods of Thrax, which give different buffs to enemies each day.
Players can chase more traditional help in a set of dungeons known as the Undercroft, a pocket realm where warframes can remain hidden from Thrax who despises them (why, we've yet to learn). Here you can get access to the bio-mechanical suits the game is named after, provided regardless of which ones an existing player may already possess. This means new players can try out warframes and get a feel for the base game without the long investment.
A run in Duviri, therefore, isn't the long-term fine-tuning of vanilla Warframe, but more the wild abandon of something like Risk of Rain 2. "Have as much fun as you can, break the game if you want to." Compared with the incremental improvements you're used to chasing for your warframe, the upgrades of Duviri are far more powerful. In the demo I see a decree which grants an ever-stacking damage boost as long as the player can keep moving. It's not hard to see how you could combine perks like these to create an overpowered build. Which is fine, because on the next run you start from scratch. Well, not entirely. While Duviri has no town like the game's other spaces, it does have Teshin's cave, the only refuge for the Drifter. It's here you begin each day and can build up some permanent progress, like unlocking weapon slots so you'll have more to choose from when you journey out again.
Longtime players need not worry, there will still be rewards they can take into regular Warframe. Each of the unique melee weapons that the Drifter wields can be unlocked for your warframes too. Though I expect many players, old or new, will be spending a lot of time here. The scope of it is massive, and not just in the environments but in the battles too. Towards the end of the demo the Drifter had to battle one of Duviri's giant flying worms. To do so will require players to call upon allies they can unlock and even, if they're powerful enough, take control of the worm for a short spell. If each run ends with an encounter of this scale, I think the thrill of it will be worth chasing.
These runs aren't just about chasing rewards, as each 'day' in Duviri is also defined by a procedurally generated story, where you'll be tasked with aiding one of Thrax's citizens. "With The Duviri Paradox we're actually pretty inspired by The Princess Bride, we're inspired by all these weird meta-narratives, so a player will hear a familiar voice that gives them the story of, you know, 'the Prince of Fire', and then you're going to meet this character who has this problem and we're gonna push you in a direction that weaves together different real-time goals but also a meta-narrative, with perhaps a storybook theme of sorts." A small departure from Warframe's outlandish sci-fi tales and space opera, then.
Far as this update might take us from the familiar, The Duviri Paradox is the Drifter's tale, a character who is distinctly human in a strange, post-human world. "The Drifter's experience is very important for us to tell, what they held back and what they were denied, and all of Duviri will answer those questions," Ford says. "As things started coming together thematically, knowing this was a story about a person, a character, the Drifter, who is so distinctly human despite the Void and The Man in the Wall and the sci-fi around them. All they really wanted is happiness. That felt like a story I could tell, very honestly."
Warframe has been doing its thing for ten years now. Its last expansion, The New War, felt like the culmination of a decade of storytelling. The Duviri Paradox feels like a departure, a bold step into a whole new realm. A rich roguelike standalone expansion with a strange science fiction story to tell, that might just pave the way forward for games like it to invite new audiences into these long lived games. Proof, if any were needed, that Warframe is still alive and kicking in 2023. If what I saw was any indication, that's gonna be kicking a lot of ass.
You can find out for yourself when it releases this April.