One of the highest hurdles for a long running game is to onboard new players without scaring them with the sheer amount of stuff that exists in it. With The Duviri Paradox, the latest Warframe expansion from Digital Extremes, they tackle this problem head on. They also address the other lingering and more existential quandary of how can a game known for reinventing itself over and over again do so in a way that feels new and modern?
Warframe is easily among the strangest science fiction settings I’ve ever experienced. The story of our solar system (but in the very far future) features clone soldiers, a cult that literally worships money and profit, and space ninja robot corpses piloted by psychic teenagers. All the ills of this dark future are the fault of the Orokin, an evolution of humans that love body modification, and being the absolute worst.
Its story, which is intimidatingly dense with lore about secret societies and ancient empires, is all due to the rippling consequences of one starship, the Zariman, crossing the veil of this reality into the Void, and eventually coming back Event Horizon-style, bringing a whole bunch of terrible things with it. That last part is a bit of a recent revelation, introduced with large content and story updates The New War and The Angels of Zariman in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The story up to that point was told in patch work quests that would maddeningly dance around important narrative bits but rarely commit to something clear and definitive, story wise. Unreliable narrators and lots of time between big story updates helped create a mystery that likely did as much to keep players like me asking questions and digging around for answers as it did obfuscate developer Digital Extremes efforts to figure out where they were going with all this exactly.
The answer was something you’ve seen a lot in stories today – this canon timeline isn’t the only one. But as is signature of Warframe, even their multiverse is fucking weird. Enter the Duviri Paradox, a sort of pocket dimension beyond even the multiverse that serves to add some color to Warframe’s reality-bending story arcs of the last few years while also attempting to spice its gameplay up in the most dramatic way since it launched in 2013.
Duviri itself is a series of floating islands ruled with an iron fist by the mysterious Dominus Thrax, whose emotions are inextricably linked to the world itself. When he is joyful, the world is green and verdant, and the sky is blue, when he’s afraid the colors of Duviri are muted and a sickly miasma chokes the sky. Of the four available open world areas, Duviri is certainly the most visually dynamic.
Content wise, it’s also the most unique. Like other open regions, it’s teeming with stuff to collect, but instead of going to a hub city to get quests that dump out to the region (ie. Cetus to the Plains of Eidolon), all of the activities are initiated in the region itself. Be it from odd shrines that need you to find pieces to make it whole again, or an escaped prisoner that needs you to fend off the law while they secure their exit, Duviri’s missions are truly some of the more diverse in Warframe’s history. That isn’t to say they are wholly different or more creative than shooters of its ilk, but Warframe vets will be doing things they haven’t done in the Origin System, at least.
You’ll also be doing them all as The Drifter, the alter ego of your Warframe’s pilot. Instead of dawning biomechanical super armor to dismantle waves of enemies, your combat escapades will be more scaled down and personal. To account for the fact that you aren’t an armored space colossus in this form, melee and ranged combat are largely reworked, with more emphasis around parrying incoming attacks, guard breaking, and interrupting with your trusty sidearm. Moving across the islands is made easy thanks to mighty Pegasus-like steeds called Kaithe, which can take flight and glide across the vast plane quickly.
Completing any task, like finishing a side quest, opening random treasure throughout the world, finding unique lore items, or even fighting roaming bands of enemies will grant you and your party a “decree.” Decrees are buffs that add traits to you, which can be stacked together and mixed/matched with other traits during your run, roguelike style. Some blend into each other nicely and can be easy to see how they play off one another; decrees that add status effects to your attacks and ones that do extra damage or cause extra effects to enemies inflicted by a status are obvious pairs. They stick with you for the length of your run, and don’t reset until you successfully retire from the circuit on your own terms or die trying. Unfortunately there’s no obvious way to guide your builds towards any consistent coherence. You can’t block certain decrees from showing up, and it doesn’t seem that decrees you’ve picked previously have any effect on those that will show up down the line. Almost every decree is good, and they all give some sort of benefit, but it also feels completely random.
There’s a second side to Duviri, the Undercroft, which is completely different from all of this. Here you take randomly selected Warframes and gear through an increasingly difficult gauntlet of mission types in the Void-themed environments of the land that exists just outside of Duviri. This is where you’ll do more hardcore farming for new gear, and it’s a welcome way to jump into the game brand new if you aren’t a Warframe head yet. For those who are veterans, this is a hit and miss activity. I personally liked the opportunity to pick frames and weapons I don’t have or don’t use to give them a whirl, it’s certainly enticed me to investigate farming for new gear in the future. But if you roll a frame or weapon you already have, you’re limited in how you can mod it. If you haven’t already created a mod loadout for it, then you’ll be stuck with the default selection, because you can’t mod it when you queue up for this expansion. This is a bigger problem for those looking to do Steel Path (read: hard mode) content because having great mod builds is key to survival.
You can choose to explore both of these worlds separately, but the so-called Duviri Experience lets you alternate between both the overworld of Duviri and the Undercroft. This can be time consuming, but is really the only way to get some of the new, more exotic materials necessary to craft the new items. I found it to also be the most risky in regards to bugginess. As ambitious as The Duviri Paradox is, it is also one of the jankiest games you’ll play this year. In its current state, you’ll find that side quests fail to load, or will bleed into one another, ultimately corrupting both. Phases may not load, leaving you stuck in a limbo where the only way out is to abandon your whole run and leave without the final prizes. This can be very disheartening since a full run of The Duviri Experience can easily push towards an hour of game time.
It’s interesting to see the debate about the state of games launching undercooked and full of bugs that completely miss The Duviri Paradox. Maybe it’s because Warframe players have been waiting a very long time for this update, and are just happy to be here? Maybe it’s that games as a service is a sort of development relationship that has nurtured a unique sort of patience with its community and audience. Whatever the reason may be, I think the largely on target critique of game condition falling dramatically low of expectations applies to The Duviri Paradox just as much as it does Jedi Survivor or Redfall.
That, of course, hasn’t stopped me from pouring dozens of hours into the Paradox already. The roguelike elements make long grinding sessions feel more convenient and dynamic, and the new overworld is unlike anything else in Warframe’s dense content lasagna. I can’t say I’ll be as devoted to the grind in a month, but at least they have me happily in my frame, bullet jumping and ninja flipping right now.