At Tennocon 2023, reveals were plentiful for fans of Digital Extreme’s sci-fi action MMO Warframe. But perhaps the most interesting (no shade to Warframe 1999, of course) was Soulframe, which had its first gameplay demo presentation in front of a large crowd.
I had concerns that perhaps the game would be too derivative of the company’s most notable success story. Ever since the game’s reveal last year, “fantasy Warframe” was a label attached to the project. Partly due to ease, of course – you say that and people instantly get the gist – but also due to shared DNA between this new adventure and the decade-old galaxy spanning romp.
If the Tennocon 2023 demonstration did anything, it helped Soulframe set itself apart from its older brother. It does appear as “fantasy Warframe” here and there – a common thread between the Warframe, Soulframe, and even Wayfinder is clear to any familiar with the company’s work – but Soulframe takes off in a newfound direction from its peers in a way that’s instantly refreshing to look at.
For one, it’s slower. Way slower. A fact that may initially worry long-time fans of Warframe. One of the best bits of Warframe is its speed, its looseness. Soulframe appears purposeful, heavier but not without reason. In an age where Souls-likes reign supreme, where third-person action-RPGs have a stranglehold on the industry, it’s a game with obvious appeal to an audience outside the Warframe faithful.
This means that Soulframe has the potential to have more impactful, kinetic fights than Warframe has. With that being said, this sort of thing relies quite heavily on the weapon-to-weapon experience. Warframe has some weapons that pack a serious punch, and others that don’t quite have that level of kick behind them. Whereas Warframe’s gameplay loop is addicting due to the speed and versatility of the experience, Soulframe will have to nail that punchiness that you find throughout the best third-person action games around today.
It’s also good to see Digital Extremes use Soulframe’s slower pace as an opportunity to re-think combat. In Warframe, especially with some expertise under your belt, you absolutely rocket through levels. This is intended and reflected in the game; enemies come in vast waves so players can quickly dash into an area, wipe out dozens of enemies with bombastic attacks, then leave just as quickly. Soulframe is slower, so the dozens shrink down to two or three, and bombastic attacks transform into environmental interactions.
Spike traps, fire effects, kicking fellas off cliffs. Nothing altogether new for gaming but seemingly integral to the process of exploration in Soulframe. Slow and dangerous foes hit hard, so slowing down and dropping some spikes on a guy? Go wild. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic style. I think it would be a real shame if the unique modifiers for each class (or pact) don’t allow you to mess around with these newfound environments.
Speaking of environment, Soulframe is obviously a game with an environmental message at its core. There’s been this trend of game’s making use the current doomer state of the world as background dressing (I’m looking at you, Battlefield 2042). To see Soulframe place the struggle between modern comfort and ecological damage is genuinely interesting and vastly different than the various other MMOs around right now.
I was also happy to see a tease at customisation. The Courage / Spirit / Grace stat having both an action and dialogue impact is nice. The sun and moon affinity system in Warframe was always in a bit of a weird spot, so with that playing a more obvious role with your personal character expression is refreshing to see. Also, ancestors providing stats in your characters soul appears to be a simplified replacement for mods. It all looks easier to digest, and more traditional RPG in style, which ultimately I think is good for the game’s future. Some things are good in Warframe, but shouldn’t be forced into every project Digital Extremes does.
Watching the demonstration live, and several times since, there’s a lot of neat aspects to Soulframe. However, while a first impression is important, actually transitioning into a full game is a different matter altogether. I’m anxious to see whether the slower approach to action retains that satisfying oomph that Warframe has. I’m also keen to find out Whether the ancestor-focused progression and customisation will be as enticing as Warframe’s own intricate approach.
There’s obviously some slack you’ve got to give to a new game versus a 10-year-old monster, but to a degree that’s an unavoidable bar Soulframe has to battle against. With no firm release date, I’ll personally be keeping tabs on the project as it nears an eventual release date. If realized carefully by the team behind it, it could shape up to be an exciting addition to the MMO marketplace. As of right now, it’s certainly one of the most intriguing.
All content above is based on a hands-off preview, and was written following a trip to Tennocon 2023, which was paid for by Digital Extremes.