The Soulframe game reveal was undoubtedly the most eye-catching at TennoCon this year, with the RPG game‘s announcement trailer and website further raising excited eyebrows among fans of Warframe and its developer Digital Extremes. PCGamesN was allowed an exclusive Soulframe interview with Geoff Crookes, creative director on the upcoming MMORPG, which has drawn influence from Princess Mononoke and other Studio Ghibli projects.
One Large World to the Next
Warframe has been a live-service game for almost a decade and it’s anything but dead. Its next major update, Duviri Paradox, looks set to add as much as any of its predecessors when it lands this winter. Though it’s always a tough decision to step away from such a vivacious project, Crookes felt it was time for Digital Extremes to embark on another.
“Creatively and personally it was definitely a tough choice. We’re still very much connected to Warframe, and with how it’s growing it’s not like we grew tired of working on it. Quite the opposite, given what the project still has to offer after all these years. This just seemed like a good time to grow, and Steve [Sinclair, video game director at Digital Extremes] and I wouldn’t have started something new if we didn’t have the same passion for this as we had when starting Warframe. And speaking to the company’s growth, we have people here at DE who have been instrumental with Warframe, so this is a great opportunity to give people a chance to grow professionally.”
MMOs are notoriously some of the most difficult games to make, and the challenge has only grown as the genre has matured. Any such game releasing today has to contend with solidly established titles such as Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Destiny 2, and as always, World of Warcraft. Crookes, perhaps indicating the kind of entrepreneurial mindset a game director needs, sees this as motivating: “We like this challenge. It’s pushing us to try to be as unique as we can in the themes and role the players will have in this new experience. Like with Warframe, we’re hoping if we can be successful there, it will find its audience,” he says.
Stylistically and aesthetically, Warframe is what you’d call ‘sci-fi’. Soulframe is obliged to go in a very different direction by contrast, which is its own source of focus, while also enabling a scope that Warframe couldn’t match due to its concrete world-building. The direction was a no brainer: “It wasn’t a tough choice, no,” Crookes says. “We knew we wanted to offer a stylistic contrast to Warframe and luckily Steve and I share a lot of the same inspirations, so it was pretty fun for us to spin our wheels and start to lay the foundation. Having said that though, we are leaning into some of our aesthetic strengths, so I’m sure Warframe players will notice some similarities to certain looks or choices.”
Representation, Diversity, and Turbans
MMOs are often lacking in skin colour options – even large games/communities such as World of Warcraft took more than 15 years to add additional ethnicities even though its playerbase is from all over the world.Crookes felt it was pivotal to provide these options: “This is very important to us, especially with us coming from a game that has as diverse a playerbase as Warframe. It will be a key aspect that for character choice we offer a full representation of options.”
Warfarmes such as Nezha were created with Chinese folklore in mind, and this similar forethought will be reflected in Soulframe. “As fantastical as Soulframe will be, we very much want the world to feel grounded and relatable. Having that kind of cultural depth and diversity will only help with that,” Crookes says.
Players of certain marginalised groups – including myself – have been asking for turban representation/customisation options in character creators, and this is increasingly being heeded with recent examples including Disney Dreamlight Valley’s Early Access. How about Soulframe? “That’s a cool question,” Crookes says. “I was actually speaking with a character artist close to a year ago about thinking of ways we could offer turban options as a customisation choice.” Similarly to our last response, we want Soulframe to be a very inclusive experience for players of all backgrounds. Diverse representation is important to us and we know it’s meaningful to our community. We can’t confirm turban options or other traditional headwear at this time, but we can promise that we are taking a hard look at the level of customisation players will have available to them.”
This commitment to diversity extends to the game experience too, which DE is aiming to make “as broad as we can without diluting the experience. We hope to have a broad amount of class options that welcome different play styles in hope people want to explore Soulframe.”
Soulframe Release Date and gameplay
Surprising few, Crookes confirms that “Soulframe will be a free-to-play experience. Our team is excited to utilise the vast experience we’ve gained working on Warframe towards creating an entirely new game that will bring the fantasy genre into Digital Extremes’ portfolio.”
Warframe itself can be a hectic experience, with many enemies on screen, abilities going off, and explosions aplenty. Soulframe looks set to be a slightly less intense experience. A cinematic reveal is not gameplay, true, but Soulframe’s does depict the protagonist in an ability-powered fight with a more deliberate pace, and Crookes drops further hints of “shaking off Warframe habits – Warframe is a very fast-paced, frenetic game, so we have to keep reminding ourselves to rein it in. Things like animation timing, effects, intensity.” We also know that Soulframe will be open-world from the start, and that Elden Ring “has absolutely been a subject of some conversation” on certain topics, including “how excellent their combat pacing is.”
It might’ve been a daunting prospect to unveil a major new project at a show like Tennocon, which has become a byword for ‘the Warframe show’, especially in its early stages, but Crookes committed to an old principle to settle his nerves. “We always feel varying degrees of anxiety around Tennocon, no matter the reveal, but Warframe taught Steve and I that if we build something we enjoy it translates to the players. So far Soulframe has been incredibly fun and rewarding, and we are very excited about how we are approaching this world, so we hope this works again for us.”
Be sure to stay on PCGamesN for all the latest details on Soulframe as and when they are disclosed. “Soulframe is still very much in early development stages at Digital Extremes,” Crookes says. “While we don’t have a launch date or window to share at this time, we do plan to keep players engaged by periodically hosting development streams that will offer information and insight into our teams’ progress.”
If you missed any of our previous coverage from Tennocon 2022, please check out our exclusive Rebecca Ford interview with Warframe’s outgoing creative director. If you’re looking for something to play while you wait for Soulframe, we’ve got some great fantasy games to recommend.