If you’re not familiar with the Warframe video game, you can first check our Warframe setting article. This entry assumes familiarity.
This article has S P O I L E R S about the main questline in the game, which has some exceptionally cool moments.
It is not a full coverage of every existing warframe in the game. I only write about those I’ve used at length. And as always with these articles, we have to navigate around video game logic, ambiguous explanations, collisions between gameplay and in-universe reality, and unexplained parts.
This article is a “base camp” article, discussing what warframes have in common.
Each of the covered warframe then gets an individual capsule profile. These are short entries, but having them all in the same article doesn’t work.
The ones with small profiles so far are :
Building a warframe
Each warframe was a scientific and engineering project by a team of Archimedeans – apparently a scientific subcaste of Orokin. As far as we can tell, each such projects involved :
- Designing and building a suit of power armour . These used technologies that are now otherwise lost.
- In many cases, designing and building weapons matching the theme and tactics of the warframe.
- Colonising the “pilot” with a strain of Infestation called the Helminth. This is apparently quite complicated to do right. But the presence of such a precisely Infested body within the suit makes Sentient take-over impossible.
It apparently doesn’t protect weapons, since warframes mostly used low-tech weapons during the Old War.
The pilot is subjected to great torture. One imagines it mostly comes from the Helminth Infestation. But the Orokin were so callous that some may have been gratuitous, simply to affirm domination.
As a result the warframes could barely be kept in line. They also were seen as abominations, intrinsically corrupt and murderous.
The lore of the game often discusses the warframes as individuals. So, say, Inaros or Titania were this person who did this and that. This may mean one of two things :
- It’s video game logic. Playable heroes are simultaneously character classes and individual characters and you’re not supposed to think about it. Think Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege or MOBAs.
- Warframes were individuals. If one performed well, then the equipment could be produced in greater series, and the Infested pilot cloned. Which is presumably much simpler to do than designing everything from scratch.
So there was a first-in-class Limbo warframe soldier. But with enough documentation, resources and facilities it is possible to build “Limbo class” warframe soldiers. Like classes of warships, rather than RPG character classes.
The game also features “Prime” warframes. These are a more powerful, more ornate but (usually) harder to obtain version of the base models.
Within the assumptions above, “Prime” warframes are based on a second generation, or even the original, warframe. More common versions replicate later generations.
Later generations mean copies-of-copies of the clone, which as established by the Grineer means weaker and less stable specimens. And the later generations of the power armour likely are simplified, less adorned, and made less expensive from larger-scale production.
For a real-world comparison, think of the Thompson M1 wartime submachinegun, and how it is a simplified, cheaper, no-frills version of the Thompson M1928 tommy gun.
We are going to assume that, in-universe, Prime warframes are rare. This isn’t the case in-game, as most Warframe enthusiasts put a lot of effort in acquiring multiple Prime frame fighters.
The Tenno can use their Void-powered Transference technique to possess the mind within a warframe. This is one of the hints about a connection between the Void and the Infestation.
Interestingly, one Orokin scientist could also perform Transference. However, she could only do so briefly. And it is possible that she too was altered by a form of Infestation.
The Transference is a mutually beneficial symbiosis. It is, in a way, a dream within a dream.
- The Infested person within the warframe gets to sleep and dream whilst Transference is underway. This brings them much-needed relief.
- The Tenno were also brainwashed by The Lotus into not realising their own identity. The thought that they were the warframe, doing Transference at all times. This “dream” of being a warframe was meant to protect them.
Transference has zero lag. It can work across the entire Origin System, and even across dimensions such as the Void and the Rift. However, one bit of lore indicates that some demanding functions (such as reviving a downed warframe) have range limits.
Shared warframe capabilities
The most obvious are the physical characteristics :
- Warframes are tall, maybe 6’7″ on average. Their weight is both hard to estimate — I’d hazard 450 lbs. — and not, as we’ll see, relevant.
- They are superhuman strong. There’s no way to gauge that in-game, but I’d guess “Class 2” strength for most, and possibly “Class 5” for the heaviest ones.
- They are superhumanly durable. The three main layers are are :
- Physical plating, which can soak up a fair amount of gunfire.
- A whole-body force shield. It is ablative, but quickly regenerates when not stressed. This facilitates storming tactics, ignoring incidental fire when moving quickly, allows for hit-and-run tactics against strong opposition, etc..
- An ability to reboot itself after taking excessive damage.
The latter is a standard video game limited revives plus teammate revive system. Which doesn’t make much sense outside of video game logic. My No-Prize Hypothesis is that it’s done through the Tenno’s Void energy interacting/supercharging— the warframe’s Infestation. However, it can only be done a few times before the damage is too great.
Though warframes are powerful in frontal assaults, they are also extraordinarily fast and acrobatic. They can run at least as fast as a horse, and are as mobile as a parkour expert.
This is bolstered by what seems to be anti-gravity technology. A warframe’s mass can apparently be greatly reduced, allowing them to :
- Make super-jumps.
- Safely land from practically any height.
- Run along walls over at least 30 metres.
- Glide over several dozen metres, angling their trajectory in mid-air. This is chiefly useful to traverse terrain rapidly from an elevated point.
- Slide along the ground at speed and over several metres. The warframe isn’t actually touching the ground whilst doing so. It seems to levitate by about an inch.
By rapidly chaining super-jumps, wall bounces, gliding, “maglev” slides and so on, an experienced Tenno seems able to reach speeds of about 75 km/h over cluttered terrain with elevations.
Stealth and intrusion
This gravity tech is presumably what helps silence warframe footsteps. Even when landing after a hundred metres fall, running all out or forcefully ricocheting off a metallic surface, a warframe is about as noisy as a sparrow.
As usual, we’ll assume that the video game depiction is spatially compressed. Thus, when you stand unseen five metres away from a dude, it’s not that you can cloud men’s minds. We assume that in-universe, the distances are greater than in the simplified view that’s in the game.
Still, a careful warframe can cross even high-security bases with disconcerting speed and stealth.
This is facilitated by their ability to quickly hack security systems. For instance to shut down alarms, or force open locked doors. Since the full-on hacking has to be done by experts, this is presumably done using canned attack routines. One imagines that warframe are kept supplied with user-friendly, fresh intrusion solutions by a team of security specialists.
Skill is still involved. But we can imagine that the hacking mini-games in Warframe represent selecting canned tools and attack forms based upon how the system reacted to the attack so far.
Oddly enough, warframes are still vulnerable to lack of oxygen, viral attacks, toxic aerosols, etc.. This isn’t usually the case with power armour, especially since warframes seem sealed.
My No-Prize Hypothesis is that these attack forms are actually powerful agents based on the Infestation. They thus can attack and warp metal, machinery, living beings, electronics, etc..
Likewise, when the enemy attempts to decompress part of their space station to get rid of an invading warframe, more than a lack of oxygen may be involved. Say, there’s also radiation flooding involved for sterilisation.
A warframe can carry a fair bit of gear, which seems safe from harm. So there likely are compartments and bays within the armour for additional systems.
Typical systems include additional sensors, personal mining equipment, emergency supplies such as additional ammunition, field repair kits, medical supplies, etc..
Larger gear, such as hoverboards, fishing spears, looted weapons, etc. can also be carried more traditionally.
Holsters and sheaths
Warframes also seem to have smart holsters. Presumably with predictive ejectors, servos to widen and tighten sheaths, magnetic plates, etc.. Combined with bacterial neural networks (below), this allows for nigh-instant weapons transitions.
For instance a warframe wielding dual pistols might leap in the air whilst still shooting. At the apex of the jump they might, in the blink of an eye, holster both pistols, draw two swords, and come back down while executing a swooping melee attack reaping multiple opponents.
Even though swooping is bad.
Warframes can be coupled with an archwing harness for space, underwater and atmospheric flight. Archwings are covered in another article.
The bacterial neural networks hypothesis
Warframe features lots of levels. Weapons all have levels, and so do warframes. Both are slotted with mods, each having levels.
But if one steps out of video game logic, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. So here’s a stab at an in-universe model.
Transference isn’t actually flawless. There remains a level of lag and imprecision. To compensate, Tenno are assisted by additional onboard brains. These are neural-networks-in-a-can, borne by an Infested bacterial culture.
There are two kinds – motor and system-specific.
Motor bacterial neural network
These assist with whole-body movement such as running and acrobatics, plus the warframe’s built-in systems. One type of network learns how the Tenno thinks about movement. The other is an in-warframe network that understands how the warframe reacts to these Transferred thoughts.
A Tenno will grow a number of canisters for their thoughts, and each warframe has a canister built in. When a Tenno starts operating a warframe, their canister is screwed onto the warframe canister. Then the two bacterial cultures start learning how to work with each other.
As they do the Tenno\warframe pair grows faster and more accurate.
It also helps maintain thicker force shield layers by anticipating body positions, and directing energy to specific parts of the shields.
System-specific bacterial neural network
These stand-alone systems typically “drive” a weapon. The bacterial canister is slotted into the warframe, then interfaced with its weapon. The weapon is then equipped with thousands of small sensors (think motion sensors on smartphones).
The neural network then learns which behaviours with the weapon work best. Over time this means more accurate fire, better projectile placement, faster parries, faster and more reliable reloads, etc..
However, learning works for a single weapon. It is based on the *exact* web of sensors.
Care and feeding
The density of the neural network can be shaped with feeding the bacteria. For instance, it is possible to direct more nutrients toward the nodes that manage the reloading routine with a given weapon. They will work better and grow denser faster. Other areas of the network will grow quieter, since there can only so many nutrients in the system.
It is possible to increase the amount of processable nutrients. But this requires rare, very expensive tech from the Orokin era – bacterial reactors, and bacterial catalysts.
Bacterial nutrients are called “endo”. This is a corruption of “N-dose”, or “Nutrient dose”.
Immediate action drills
With well-developed bacterial networks, a warframe can execute routine physical actions through sheer “rote”. The Tenno thinks about reloading, but it then occurs without them paying attention.
This can eventually allows for superhuman manoeuvres. Such as flawlessly reloading a shotgun shell by shell whilst doing precision vaulting through the air and communicating over the radio. Or doing complicated acrobatic melee attacks over and over again without any pause.
Note about this section
Again, the thing with the bacterial neural network is entirely made up.
It doesn’t strictly model in-game mechanics. But it provides an approximation of managing warframe/weapons inventory slots, of managing and growing mods, and other “video game logic” constraints.
Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG
Scale and logic notes
Here are “core” stats, which we will then adjust for every individual class/model of warframe.
As noted, there are few comparison points to establish numbers. So a lot is arbitrary (like STR) or loosely eyeballed (like movement scores).
We’ll also assume that warframes are harder to hit than in the game (enemies do not have humongous AV) and less durable. It evens out to about the same durability, but it’s balanced differently. This too is impossible to estimate anyway – all the numbers are way too variable.
Most of the in-game buffs and “spells” are time-limited. So you have to recast, watch for energy consumptions, insert modifiers to make them last longer and/or consume less energy, choose when to use them, etc..
Pen-and-paper RPG gameplay is, of course, very different. In games like DCH, Hero Points replace various fiddly aspects, and player implication doesn’t rely on twitchy bits. Thus, the brief buffs (like Valkyr’s warcry, Trinity’s blessing, Loki’s invisibility…) can be treated more as permanent super-powers.
The Marginal Limitation mechanic– will thus be useful here, to represent “oh sh!t !” abilities and hard-to-sustain ultimates.
When statting up warframes, there’s of course the issue of builds. That is, the specific array of mods that was slotted in to bolster certain capabilities and/or add new ones. These “payloads” can be determined before launching a mission.
In our stats we’ll tend to mush together two common builds. In build-based games (say, Diablo or Torchlight) we tend to go for a sample build, but this is because we present a sample character. This ain’t the case there, as we present more generic equipment.
The builds I use usually resemble McGamerCZ ’s. But the nuances between these and other builds aren’t important as everything is re-expressed in DCH terms. Howbeit, the stats still reflect how I use any given warframe, and entirely different approaches/builds may exist.
DEX 08 STR 07 BOD 10
Other Attributes are the individual Tenno’s, in the vast majority of cases.
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Cling can only be maintained for 3 Phases (if running) or 1 Phase (if stationary).
- Cling doesn’t work on surfaces at more than a 100° angle from the ground (such as ceiling, or protrusions along walls).
- Gliding can only be maintained for 3 Phases.
- Invulnerability – see below.
- Jumping has the Catfall Bonus.
- Radio coms includes video. It also allows The Lotus to anchor her Eye of Cat Power to a warframe. It usually links to the Orbiter and/or Landing Craft, which acts as a relay to the network.
These are listed separately from the stock Powers and B&L for clarity.
Acrobatics: 07, Medicine (First aid): 05, Thief (Security systems, Stealth): 06, Vehicles: 07, Weaponry: 08
Bonuses and Limitations:
Medicine applies to warframes without penalty.
Area Knowledge (Real-time mapping and positioning), Schtick (Paired weapons (all), Fast-Draw (all)).
SHIELDING. This is treated as Equipment so it reads in a clearer fashion, and since not all frames have shields.
Invulnerability has Ammo: 04. The Hidden Messages quest in the game implies that it as a shorter range than most Transference functions, but there’s no other context. Maybe 100M kilometers (41 APs) – it’s a round, reasonable number.
If you are using our hypothesis that “revives” mean supercharging the Infestation within, each use would make the warframe visibly more overtaken by the Infestation. It would then have to be scrubbed and repaired in the orbiter’s “Infestation seat”.
Source of Character: Warframe vidjagame.
Writeup completed on the 2nd of April, 2019.