August 1, 2020 | by Spencer
TennoCon 2020

Like every responsible and considerate organization which had planned for a large community gathering of humans in 2020 prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Digital Extremes opted out of endangering their staff, venue operators, and their community members by adjusting their plans for TennoCon 2020. This year, the annual Warframe convention Tennocon was held entirely online through the medium of streaming. Thankfully, with years of experience streaming to an online audience at this point, the adjustment was largely seamless. Effectively, this TennoCon was an extended devstream – live demonstrations of new content, cinematic trailers for things on the horizon, and cheeky conversations between senior members of their staff -all familiar fare Warframe players are accustomed to at this point.

As for TennoCon itself, Holy Shit There’s A New Skeletal Warframe That Shoots Void Beams And Runs Around As A Skeleton After Blowing Up Their Armor. Xaku, the new warframe in question, is a collaborative effort between the playerbase and the development team; the community proposed ability ideas and the general theme of the warframe, while the devs actualized those elements. Xaku is a weird “broken robot” with a skeletal wireframe dressed up in piecemeal armor which falls away from the main body in a unique dodging animation. They employ void tentacles to trap foes and steal their weapons, and their ultimate ability is to literally blow up and have their bits of armor act as shrapnel, after which you can run around as the goofy skeletal frame within. As something of a Big Skeleton Fan myself, I am of course enamored by Xaku’s design, and as a person who enjoys thievery in video games, stealing weapons from enemies and then using their own arsenal against them is right up my alley.

Xaku, Warframe

The big new update for Warframe is called “The Heart of Deimos,” and its demonstration at TennoCon showed it to be a clever and efficient combination of old and new content. In Warframe, there are many factions vying for resources and survival in a future version of our solar system. One of these factions, which has been in the game for years, is the Infested. They’re a biological weapon gone horribly awry which infect and infest mechanical apparati and biological life alike. The other antagonistic factions in the game, such the Grineer and the Corpus, have had their own biomes and levels for a while now, but the Infested have always had to piggyback off of pre-existing assets. They were always implemented as a variant faction, so you’d have a Grineer level, with all the Grineer enemies replaced with Infested versions, and then you’d slap some Infested accoutrements throughout the levels’ rooms to visually connect the enemies to the environment. It wasn’t awful, but as other factions became more robust with each update, the Infested quickly began to wither by comparison. “The Heart of Deimos” is the answer to this withering; an update entirely focused around the Infested faction.

To go along with this Infested update, the Helminth is getting a complete renovation. A weird biological mass of Infested flesh tucked away in a room on your ship only accessible under certain conditions, the Helminth as it stands now is limited in its usage. Currently, the Helminth is the only way to acquire an Infested companion, and it’s mainly used by Nidus, an Infested warframe. Beyond that, it’s just a funky room in your ship that has a cool aquarium under the floor, but with the Heart of Deimos update, you can actually feed the Helminth various resources and even warframes in a style clearly reminiscent of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. Doing this allows you to unlock Helminth abilities which you can graft onto your warframes to replace their existing ones. This adds a new level of customization, as there are many warframes who have at least one ability that is lackluster for any given build. The Helminth, like the Infested, has long been a neglected facet of Warframe and it would have been so easy to focus on the new without paying attention to the old; to showcase the big while ignoring the small, and I think that attention to this single weird room you could feasibly ignore for hundreds of hours, makes this update feel more complete.

New Helminth interface

As the update’s name suggests, Heart of Deimos adds a second moon to Mars for players to access on the star chart: Deimos. Previously, only Phobos was visible, so now both of Mars’ moons will be playable locations in Warframe. But they didn’t just create a new zone for Deimos – they actually pulled an older zone into Deimos’ construction. This zone, the Orokin Derelict, is unique because it isn’t directly connected to the rest of the star chart, and you need to construct special keys to even visit the Derelict levels. This zone has been one of two which are solely inhabited by the Infested faction, and due to its weird position in the star chart and unease of access making it difficult to reliably find other players for matchmaking, DE has decided to combine it into the Deimos content. It’s unclear right now how exactly this will shake out, but if it means you can now get the Nekros warframe on Deimos (accessible much sooner than the Derelict), this will make player progression much better for newer players, as Nekros is primarily used as a looting frame since he can double enemy drops. Also he’s a necromancer skeleton frame, so obviously he rules.

I’m always a fan of when dev teams of online games reuse old content that maybe didn’t work out so well, and repurpose it to be engaging and useful to players without scrapping all of the work that’s already been done. It’s a great way to efficiently recycle assets and areas, which saves time and effort, while also integrating it more cleanly into the current version of the game. There’s a melancholy associated with abandoned corners of an online game, and it’s pleasing to see those corners dusted and renovated. It just makes the rest of the game feel more complete and considered: an impressive feature for games that are constantly being iterated upon.

Deimos itself contains the third open-world area in Warframe. This means that all three of the major antagonist factions in the game have an open-world area devoted to them: the Plains of Eidolon on Earth for the Grineer, the Orb Vallis on Venus for the Corpus, and the new Cambion Drift on Deimos for the Infested. Due to TennoCon being entirely streamed this year, DE added special stations in Warframe for players to visit. If you were in one of these relays while the stream was live, you and everyone else were transported to exhibition platforms which showed off various new assets from the Cambion Drift.

One of the virtual exhibits from Tennocon 2020

Showing off a new character

It was a surreal experience, as the models and animations were fully rendered and demonstrated in-game, in real time. Being there myself, I got to see some of the new enemy types up close, as well as a couple new characters important to Deimos’ storyline. It wasn’t visually astounding, but the context alone gave me a greater depth of appreciation. This wasn’t necessary by any means, but it was done as a concession for there being no in-person TennoCon due to the global pandemic. In lieu of human bodies, we showed up in our warframes, which is a weirdly immersive situation in the context of Warframe’s narrative. The whole affair isn’t a novel concept – many online games like Fortnite have done virtual events already. But why it was done is what made it something more.

All in all, I have to say this is probably one of the best presentations we’ve had out of games since the novel coronavirus threw a wrench into big gatherings and venues, but that’s mostly attributable to Digital Extreme’s experience with streaming events live on a biweekly basis. Maybe it’s that familiarity I mentioned before that left me feeling more pleased by this year’s TennoCon. Or maybe it’s the sick as fuck robot skeleton. Hard to say.

The Heart of Deimos launches on August 25th on all platforms.

Spencer

Spencer is a skeleton from Florida's B-side, currently skulking around Washington state, and he always plays the thief in games.

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