Digital Extremes pulled the curtain back on Soulframe, the fantasy cousin of Warframe, and the creators told us what sets this new world apart.
Fans descended upon London, Ontario, this past weekend for Tennocon, the annual convention celebrating Digital Extremes’ multiplayer online shooter Warframe and its community. Between celebrations for the game’s tenth anniversary and the excitement for the first in-person iteration of the con since 2019, the air was already electric before the studio revealed a closer look at their new game, Soulframe.
Soulframe Revealed as Fantasy Counterpart to Warframe
At last year’s event, Digital Extremes announced that two key creatives, Steve Sinclair and Geoff Crookes, would be leaving Warframe to spearhead a new fantasy title. Now, a year later, I had the opportunity to speak with Crookes at the event about the team’s progress and ten years of Warframe.
“Soulframe is going to share a lot in common with Warframe,” he explained. “It’s going to be a multiplayer, live-service, free-to-play, RPG-like game. But where it differs is, it’s a game of contrast to what Warframe is. It’s going to focus on the individual. Where Warframe was very high-paced, this game is going to be very deliberate in its pacing with the combat flow and progression systems.”
Core Team Leads New Project with Familiar Goals
The goal behind those progression systems is to “ground the player in this world and see their connections to it.” The demo immediately shows these systems in action as the player character, known as the Envoy, seeks out a mythical stag and the villain corrupting it.
Soulframe‘s hub area is the Nightfold on the “lake of our ancestors,” as Sinclair explained during the live demo. “As we play the game and journey through the world of Midrath, we will meet the souls of our legendary ancestors, bring them here, and build a village.”
The RPG system this time revolves around the Virtues (or stats) of Courage, Spirit, and Grace. Players will form Pacts with “Omen-beasts” found throughout the land, functioning comparably to Warframes. Ancestors’ souls can also be awakened and, in essence, equipped to further expand abilities.
Ancestors, Pacts, and Player Progression
“There’s ancestors that exist in the world that give you progression paths,” Crookes explained. “You’ll find an ancestor who gives you a crafting of weapons path or a crafting of potions path. There’s another ancestor who can give you information in the world where can find loot, and then we’ll branch off from those based on the choices you make.”
These elements may trickle into Soulframe‘s multiplayer when pairing up with random squadmates. Though the system is still in design, players may find they’re “related” to others who chose the same ancestry paths.
“We’re hoping that you’ll be able to look at your family tree, for the lack of a better word, and see how you’re distantly related, and there might be a perk for playing with that person,” Crookes elaborated. “We have ambitions to foster the connections players have to the world and other players.”
Co-op and Companions Showcased
Soulframe‘s first gameplay preview gave a taste of the co-op experience. As the main player of the live demo dropped into a procedurally-generated cave environment, they were automatically joined with a second player, who seamlessly helped them clear the cavern’s enemies.
The live audience at Tennocon especially cheered when the player summoned a bear spirit to instantly maul an enemy and manifest into a mount. A small bird-like familiar also aided the player, guiding them to an exit and breaking them free in a mid-boss fight cutscene. Another spirit appeared to grant the Envoy a temporary fire boon, allowing them to literally burn through opponents’ guards and immolate them.
Perhaps the real show-stealer of the Soulframe demo’s cast is the Avakot, a curious little creature who steers the player toward their goal on this particular mission. The usual high quality of Digital Extremes’ writing is on full display in his brief exchanges, evoking a rich, larger world… and more than a few laughs from the audience.
Before our first look at Soulframe concluded with an epic two-stage boss fight, we saw the Envoy play a quick musical mini-game. In almost Ocarina of Time-like fashion, they learned a melody from one of the statuettes dotting the landscape by pressing buttons to match the notes on a musical staff.
“Music is going to be a big part of the game,” Crookes said. “We’re calling that the ‘flute totem,’ and we’re planning to build that out so the totem can be applied to other instruments you find in the world.”
Optimistic Tone a Departure from Grimdark Trends
What seemed a little moment of peace became critical to the entire demo’s mission. After beating the first boss phase against Lady Deora, the Envoy sends her to the lake of ancestors and replays the melody to purify her, returning her memory. As the corrupted stag attacks, the same melody swells, giving a hauntingly beautiful background to a bitter fight.
“Where both Steve and I are in our careers, decades into this, I think we just both realized we’re looking for a game that offers a bit of optimism,” Crookes said. “There’s combat in this game, there’s conflict—as you saw, we attack and kill people. But what we hope is that this is a game that doesn’t present this conflict as black and white.
“Hopefully we convey that the player’s role in this game is a healer. Heal themselves, heal nature, and heal people,” he elaborated. “We’re really trying to nail stories of redemption. That’s the theme of the game. I think what we’re trying to offer that’s fresh, is a game that can have a healing optimism.”
Familiar DNA Tempered with Something New
However, Warframe veterans need not fear that Soulframe will be an absolute departure. “What we committed to in the demo is to show a very distinct identity for Soulframe and see how that sits. But Warframe is in our DNA. There’s absolutely strange stories that we tell in that game, and we definitely have a characteristic of story we like. You’re going to see those inspirations and these same elements in the story.”
Sinclair echoed those sentiments at a press briefing earlier in the day, where he called Soulframe the yin to Warframe‘s yang. With “so much amazing grimdark” already out there, they decided to lean a little more on the individual experience and do something new.
Soulframe is still in early development with no release window as of yet, but by indications, Crookes and Sinclair’s team seem to be developing something very special, and I can’t wait to see where it all leads.
In the meantime, Digital Extremes fans have no shortage of exciting new updates to anticipate. At Tennocon the studio also announced cross-save support for Warframe will roll out by the end of the year, followed by a mobile version in 2024. The next expansion, The Whisper in the Walls, will arrive in Winter 2023 before the Warframe 1999 update takes players back to the beginning, as revealed in a cryptic, Y2K-themed flashback trailer at the end of the convention.