When it comes to content delivery in Warframe, it can be hit and miss. Every major expansion had its strengths and weaknesses. Whether that was in the narrative, playable activities, or new environments. There was always something missing that made the initial experience feel lacking. That is until Whispers in the Walls. Where it not only delivered the experience it promised, but it went above and beyond. From a mysterious journey into a creative new zone to so many thrilling and satisfying cinematic story moments in between. With so much build-up towards the future of an already great narrative, as well as finally confronting a long-standing threat, this expansion pulled me in and refused to let me go until it was over.
Developer & Publisher // Digital Extremes, Tencent, Panic Button Games
Platforms // Switch, PlayStation 4|5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date // Free, December 13th, 2023
Reviewed On // Xbox Series X
Into the Void
Whispers in the Walls starts off with the Tenno venturing into the Necralisk on Deimos at the request of Cephalon Loid. Loid, despite being a mechanical construct, laments about suffering from a dream to the Tenno that prompts him to start something called the “Kalymos Sequence”. This sends the Tenno into a mysterious new zone opened within the Necralisk, called the “Entrati Labs”. It is here that the Tenno stumbles across two strange entities. The human version of Loid, and these lifeless giant golems called The Vessels. But there is more to these labs than meets the eye. As the story is focused on The Indifference, a foe hidden in the background of Warframe for years, and the whereabouts of Dr. Albrecht Entrati, the owner of the labs.
Having all of these plot threads intertwined into one story feels like a tall order. Especially with the short run time of an hour and a half. But there was never a wasted moment in this story. Its use of cinematics spliced in between many different gameplay segments always felt coherent and creepily interesting. For example, when the Tenno arrives in the labs for the first time, there is this loud knocking bellowing from The Indifference that distorts the colors in the labs. Followed up by entering a room where you could hear knocking to see a child staring at a staircase that gets ripped away to reveal a concrete-filled desert-like alternate reality spliced in with the labs. It was gripping, and very exciting.
But there was one segment that stood out to me because I did not think it would be in this expansion. That being a fully playable teaser for Warframe: 1999, the next expansion that was revealed at TennoCon 2023.
A Blast From the Past
Partway through the quest you step into the shoes of a new and mysterious new character, Arthur. His introduction was wonderfully bombastic as he mowed down infested CRTs in a train to the song “Into the Void” from Nine Inch Nails. Arthur is on a mission to find Albrecht Entrati with his companion Aoi. But just as Arthur steps off the train, he is tasked with just more killing before eventually collapsing and waking up to the sight of Albrecht causing a calamity. It was a short-lived segment that was very ominous but showed there was so much more to the story in Whispers in the Walls.
I really loved this segment of the story as it was very linear and set up Warframe: 1999 very well. The subway Arthur ventures through is covered in otherworldly tendrils. With balloons, confetti, and abandoned substations. It looked beautiful and real, but very unsettling, as though you should not have been there. The rest of the story, especially the finale, lived up to the expectations set by this segment. It was grand and exhilarating while staying true to the game’s narrative themes of abandonment and control.
Suffice it to say, but the story was fantastic. A great introduction to the next main story arc, while confronting a long-standing villain like The Indifference. While also fleshing out the labs, the cast of characters found within really drives it home.
The Cavia in Whispers in the Walls
The Cavia is an all-new faction found in the main hub of the labs, known as the Sanctum Anotomica. Alongside Loid, there is Fibonacci the fish, Bird 3, and Tagfer the beast. When ranking up through the faction, you unlock these vignettes with audio of an interaction the four of them have. Progressing through a post-story conflict they are all going through. For example, Tagfer confronts Fibonacci over something Fibonacci feels guilty about. While Loid has to act like a parent to them all. While Fibonacci constantly wants the comfort of “Papa” Albrecht Entrati and Bird 3 going through an existential crisis.
This faction hands down is the best-written one that Warframe has. Every member of the Cavia has their moments to shine in not only these vignettes but the story and missions as well. Fibonacci is the one that mostly guides the Tenno while Loid is busy trying to figure out how to get the Tenno to 1999. He is very bullish and confident, even insulting enemies while praising you. The voice acting from Neil Newbon of Baldur’s Gate 3 fame really shines through. He really sold me on a believable cocky and British fish.
Bird 3 came off as annoying at first but became very endearing and I love talking to him due to his chipper attitude. While Tagfer, mine and the community’s favorite character, became a very scary character due to his hatred of Albrecht Entrati in a scene I will not spoil. Loid himself shined mostly throughout the story, however. In a scene where The Indifference taunts him, he shouts at it to focus back on the Tenno instead of him. As he was not ready to come to terms with the reality of the situation he was in.
This is a fantastically written group of very sympathetic characters in Whispers in the Walls, and I cannot wait to see how they are used in Warframe: 1999.
The Entrati Labs also plays a major role in the overall expansion. As it is the first zone to feature two different environments that bleed into each other. It is a procedurally generated tile set. Meaning the layout of the environment will be different in every mission. But there will be a great variety of different rooms to encounter. You could either be running through a gothic mad scientist’s lab with the Vessels being either picked apart or being constructed. Or going through more open desert-like environments with towers of concrete in the distance with tube-like clouds.
When roaming around the labs, you can find a lot of secrets. Such as rooms you have to go through vents to find, or ledges in the desert where you can just take in the scenery. But you can sometimes encounter a floating book that when you interact with it, starts a boss fight against a random doppelganger that are called The Whispers. The Whispers come in two forms, Scathing and Mocking. Scathing uses an aggressive move set where he flies around the environment throwing waves of energy with his sword. While also building walls around him to avoid damage from you.
Mocking focuses more on trying to root you to the ground with a spear and throwing bolts of energy from the new Grimoire weapon. The Whispers are a very devastating boss that can either be easy to take down or a foe to be reckoned with. Especially since considering the Scathing Whispers’ move sets are so hectic and scary. Just like some of the new foes and activities to take on in Whispers in the Walls.
The Tide of Murmurs in Whispers in the Walls
The Entrati Labs in Whispers in the Walls features an expansion on an already existing enemy faction known as the Necramechs. There are now robot dogs that can sap your warframe’s energy or miniature mechs that overwhelm you in numbers. But if you shoot their arms off you can cause them to explode and damage foes around them. However, they are not the star of the show, as the new Murmur faction features brand-new enemy types with weird designs to them all.
When you first get introduced to them, they take the form of alien-looking arms pulling around cinderblocks. But they quickly become more interesting in design. From snakes that roll around instead of slithering in the sand. As well as flying triangles that have arms protruding from the body to give enemies extra shields. They are a very refreshing new foe, and they become hard to balance with the new Necramech foes. Having to avoid having my energy get sapped while trying to take down a rolling snake with a lot of health can get troublesome. But it made this new area so unique, especially considering how they mesh with the new activities.
Something Old, Something New, Something Renewed
There are various new activities in Whispers in the Walls. Such as the Alchemy game mode that involves throwing elemental vials at various crucibles in the labs, then shoot pipes to get the temperature at certain thresholds to get new rewards. There is also a unique weekly game mode called “NetraCells” that act as a means to get more Archon Shards or rare Arcanes. It is very difficult and adds a new meaningful activity to the roster added in this expansion. Such as a unique boss takedown against “The Fragmented Tide”.
This involves capturing eyes to eventually summon the boss. One of the cool things about this boss takedown is that there are three different variants. Like the Suzerain that throws parts of its body around and can summon eyes to shoot beams of light at you and your allies. While the Anchoride charges at players while shooting beams out of its hands. As well as forming a spire of itself that twirls parts of its body around.
The Fragmented Tide is such a joy to take down. It has the right amount of health and enough variety in its move set. But what makes The Fragmented Tide stay in the minds of players is a secret raid-like version of itself. It was a surprise and a very welcome one considering this content is aimed at endgame players who want more of a challenge and a guaranteed cosmetic reward for taking it down.
But there is some reusing of older activities. Such as standard survival and extermination. As well as a renewed version of Mirror Defense that summons spires to defend the objective instead of just giving it shields when you collect items around the map. But how they keep them fresh is by having the Murmurs burst through the ground when you find spots to relax in, or when you think you have taken down everything. There are also some subtle details that make the Mirror Defense interesting, like when you have to move to the different objectives, you can hear loud knocking or bellowing from The Indifference.
But while these are great activities overall, are the rewards worth it?
The Spoils of the Labs
Whispers in the Walls features a lot of cool rewards for players to sink their teeth into. Like Qorvex, the 55th warframe that requires a lot of work to make his skills useful in the new activities. Alongside him is a new heavy gun Mandonel, the Ekhein hammer, and the Grimoire, a whole new weapon class.
The Grimoire is a rapid-firing weapon with no ammo restrictions or reloading. While also having an alternate fire that shoots a floating electric orb that stuns enemies. The Grimoire also hosts eight exclusive mods to earn in the new activities, making it a very synergetic weapon. Whether that is causing constant energy regen or increasing warframe power strength when you hit enemies with the alternate fire. The Grimoire is also given to the player for free, as well as the new Tennokai melee system.
Tennokai can be unlocked on every melee weapon and allows the player to perform heavy swings of those weapons for free at random chance. But similar to the Grimoire, there are exclusive mods that alter the benefits of Tennokai on the weapons. Whether that is guaranteeing Tennokai after a small amount of hits, or increasing the range of the Tennokai hit and how long the player has to activate the swing. Tennokai feels very fluid and powerful, I cannot get enough of it.
The Ekhein hammer and Mandonel are a little underwhelming. Ekhein is too slow and relies on Tennokai to increase its attack speed. While Mandonel’s quirk is just not enjoyable. Having to line up a shot to create a line that the regular fire benefits from sounds great, but the line does not have a great duration.
I only really enjoyed Qorvex, the Grimoire, and Tennokai overall. As well as some of the other miscellaneous mods added. Such as a passive energy regen for warframes, and the new class of radiation status effect mods for every weapon. These opened up new build possibilities for everything and I am still adjusting weapon builds nearly three weeks after.
Wonderful Performance, Gorgeous Lighting, and Beautiful Sounds
Whispers in the Walls has some hits and misses on the technical side of things. First off, the new zone loads extremely quickly compared to other zones in the game. While also running at a rock-solid 60 frames per second. There is also a new global illumination tech being used for the expansion overall that makes the Entrati Labs beautifully lit. But at launch, the lighting was conflicting with itself when any desert-like room and lab room were next to each other. Just by looking at the example below, you can see the lighting changing depending on where you stand.
This has been fixed, but it was a persistent issue for days that dampened the initial experience. There was also an audio desync in the opening scene for the playable Warframe: 1999 that fixed itself after it transitioned to gameplay. But these were the only issues I encountered in my weeks of playing this expansion. It is a very polished experience otherwise, however, and the soundtrack really drives home the experience overall. Outside of the old-school rock in the Warframe: 1999 segment, the main soundtrack consists of very creepy vocal tracks. But is also Viking-inspired music, similar to Heilung.
It sounds more like hissing, bellowing, and whispering to have the soundtrack match the theme of the expansion. The sound design in the labs is also incredible. From being able to hear the shuffling from the Murmurs in the heat of the battle, to hearing pages fly around when you break parts of the decor in the labs. It is all so wonderfully realized and makes the experience nearly perfect.
Final Thoughts on Whispers in the Walls
The more I play the content within Whispers in the Walls, and the more I think back on the very memorable story it had, left me extremely impressed. The new Murmur foes and Necramech enemies are a great and challenging mixture. Alongside really awesome rewards like the Grimoire and Tennokai. All held together by one of the best new zones in Warframe with its variety and many secrets found within. Including audio logs that let you hear more about Albrecht Entrati himself.
Whispers in the Walls sets a whole new bar of quality for Warframe. I loved every minute of it despite some of the technical issues. Digital Extremes went the extra mile in this expansion. The playable teaser for Warframe: 1999 did not have to be there, but it was and it was very cool. The Entrati Labs could have been one location, but it had two different realities spliced into it, making it feel like a shared world. The Cavia may have been just animals, but the writing and voice acting made them incredibly memorable. I cannot recommend Whispers in the Walls enough and I am so excited for what is to come moving forward.