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The following article/section is conjecture. Content is subjected to change/removal as the game progresses. Please do not use this article for critical in-game information.
While we were able to find solid and legitimate supporting evidence for essentially the whole story as it is written, it comes from a variety of sources and each of those pieces of information were likely written by a number of different people. This article strives to be more than a simple compendium of disparate lore tidbits. We took in all of the various bits of lore information and documented them in a chronological and readable way to produce the most complete story possible.
There has also been much debate and talk from the developers and Warframe community as to whether or not Dark Sector is canonically part of the Warframe universe. The developers have said it both is and is not. As most of what we know of the lore for Warframe ties perfectly into the Dark Sector story, this article includes some information and references to it and how it relates to Warframe lore. Take confirmation of either instance with a grain of salt, until Digital Extremes officially shines light on the correct scenario. As of now, DE has confirmed that Warframe and Dark Sector are inextricably linked; with Devstream 52, DE has added that Dark Sector is not a prequel, instead that a lot of WARFRAME's ideas were inspired by their original rendition of Dark Sector.
This page will be regularly updated as the developers, Digital Extremes, release more information.
The Story/History of Warframe
Dark Sector Era
WARNING: This section contains Dark Sector spoilers!
- This section has been intentionally abridged at the request of the Warframe Wiki's administrator. If you would like the full story on Dark Sector, buy and play the game or read its wiki here.
On Earth during the cold war, the United States invented something called the Technocyte virus. It remained unused and largely untested for a number of decades until 'The Agency' sent a submarine with infected aboard it to the Russian island of Lasaria. A supposedly rogue member of The Agency named Robert Mezner, a specialist in 'nanotechnology as it applies to bioenhancement' was sent to Lasaria secretly to test and propagate the virus amongst its citizens.
Another Agency agent named Hayden Tenno was sent to Lasaria to kill Mezner and was quickly attacked by Nemesis, essentially a prototype Warframe made of Technocyte or a similar nanotechnology that looks like a mix between Rhino and Nyx in Warframe and was worn by a woman who was working with Mezner. Nemesis infected Hayden with the same modified strain of the Technocyte virus that Mezner used on himself.
At this point, most of the game of Dark Sector plays out. Hayden reacted uniquely to the virus as it only mutated his right arm/shoulder visibly as well as spawning a Glaive from his technocyte-organic flesh. For other humans and animals, the pain quickly drove them to insanity and they mutated into horrible monsters with techno-organic parts or entire bodies. Hayden's congenital analgesia made him not feel pain, something that was likely the reason the virus did not drive him mad.
At the end of the story, Hayden acquired another prototype Warframe (that uses the same character model as Excalibur in Warframe), defeated Nemesis and Mezner (who was driven mad by the virus) and survived the traitorous Agency. Even so, the Technocyte virus ended up being released into the world either through Mezner's efforts or intentionally by the Agency.
The Glaive's codex entry also reaffirms that the weapon or at least it's design and function were used by the first Tenno in Warframe. Who this character was is not confirmed but believed to be related to Dark Sector's Hayden Tenno in some way.
While the virus itself was not airborne it still spread over the planet Earth and consumed most fauna, either killing creatures or turning them into monsters. Humanity survived and managed to colonize other planets and cosmic entities in our solar system. Hayden Tenno is the only one known to have assimilated and adapted to the Technocyte virus at this time. It is unknown if he had children of his own.
Flash forward a few thousand years (or potentially more), and the origin system is run by a race called the Orokin. They were either robots/AIs created by humanity, a transhuman race, or a totally alien race that showed up in the solar system. For a time, the Orokin ruled the solar system and spent a great deal of time building large outposts and experimenting on genetic samples of creatures found on Earth. From this point, we know that a war erupted between the Orokin and 'the Sentients'. There is no confirmed information on who the Sentients were but it seems most likely they were human or AIs as there is no other known race in the solar system. Excalibur's codex information provides some of the most detail on the time period:
The Warframes were created for the Tenno, humanoid survivors of the void, as a last-ditch attempt by the Orokin to combat the Sentients. Excalibur was the first Warframe created during this time, it's form based on the proto-Warframe from pre-Orokin time. The Tenno were unique among the humanoid races in that they possessed the ability to interface with advanced technology due to their ability to assimilate the Technocyte virus. As Hayden Tenno of Dark Sector was "the first Tenno" and the first to successfully assimilate the virus, either his lineage or humans genetically modified with similar genes were given title of 'Tenno', although it is noted that in Warframe, Excalibur was the strictly named as the first, at least in terms of the Orokin.
From here things get a bit less specific. The Tenno are responsible for the fall of the Orokin via the events known and referred to as the Old War; and it most likely occurs on Mercury, due to the Terminus sector existing in the planet, fitting the description of Mercury being the only remaining Orokin Tower in the solar system. It may is for this reason the Corpus frequently refer to the Tenno as 'the Betrayers', as the Corpus worship the Orokin and the technology they can salvage from them. They may also refer to them as the betrayers for siding with the Grineer in conflicts, as the reference to "Betrayer" cropped up during the time where players could side with the Grineer in regional conflicts, both of which are plausible causes for the name.
After the Great War came The Collapse, when humanity or the dominant humanoid race split in five major directions. The Tenno went into cryosleep for unknown reasons yet to be explained. Some of humanity stayed the way they are and formed three out of six Syndicates, them being Arbiters of Hexis, Red Veil and New Loka, populating many of the planets and astral bodies in our solar system. Some of the humans took to cloning themselves to create armies and adapted mechanical enhancements and became the Grineer, led by the Twin Kweens (Queens). Some of the most tech-savvy humanoids became a 'Merchant Cult' who worshiped money and relics from the Old War and Orokin called the Corpus. The Technocyte virus infected and mutated living beings and came to be known collectively as the Infested.
Some indeterminate number of centuries later, the Corpus are widely considered the governing force in economics and research. The Grineer both fight with the Corpus for power and buy technology from them to support their constantly degrading bodies. At one time, The infested had all but conquered a few of the Origin System's planets but have been pushed back to their residence on drifting ancient Orokin Derelicts and recently conquered Eris, apart from the occasional outbreak on populated planets. All that is left of the Orokin are the forgotten Prime weapons they either built or had a hand in building, and towers in a dangerous area known as the Void.
The Tenno are becoming reawakened by The Lotus, or other Tenno under the guidance of The Lotus, not remembering anything of their past. Many Tenno awake from Cryosleep already wearing a Warframe that The Lotus informs them how to use. They are then set loose upon the solar system either alone or in small squads to tackle a wide variety of missions designated by The Lotus to maintain balance between the Grineer and Corpus factions or to quell Infested uprisings. Some Tenno also work for the Grineer or Corpus as mercenaries for pay.
The Lotus is implied to be a secretive organization that provides guidance to revived Tenno. Their primary spokesperson appears to be a humanoid female simply referred to as Lotus. The Lotus icon has been employed since the beginning of the Technocyte scourge in Dark Sector, in Dark Sector as a means to identify black markets. The continuity of this logo is mysterious, but appears to be a fixture in Tenno culture as most Warframes bear it.
References and Evidence
Technocyte is a virus that afflicts living tissue and mutates it, often giving the unfortunate host variants of colored nodes that may substitute for the hosts now loss of vision in most cases. Since Dark Sector's canonicity is not confirmed, we do not know its origin for sure, but it is clear that both forms of the virus are very different, as Dark Sector's variant gives infected hardened skin. Those mutated by the virus lose most of their intelligence and appear to act on instinct and are capable of little more than guttural noises and violence. It is likely that infected creatures of higher intelligence, which exist as Infested bosses, as they try to talk to and reason with the Tenno players during their assassination missions. The infested are also prolific beyond what would be possible for an unintelligent race, meaning that there may be some form of organization, or hive mind, that guides them.
The virus could be present in Warframe for many possible reasons. Some of those include:
- The virus survived from its initial release on Earth as seen in Dark Sector. (making the games exist in the same universe)
- The Orokin created the virus when experimenting with humans (see Orokin as Genetic Manipulators). The virus was accidentally released after the Orokin were exterminated. (which makes the Dark Sector virus introduction highly unlikely)
- The virus was intentionally released by the Orokin in an attempt to combat the Sentients.
- The virus manifested somehow in the Void and was spread by the Tenno.
Tenno are likely infected with an adapted to a form of the Technocyte virus, and Warframes are likely made of technocyte material, or something similar. The codex entry for the Ether Sword says it was used by Tenno to kill (presumably) allies that had become infested, being a quote "humane" way to dispatch of them.
Alad V got into the habit of experimenting with the current strain of the Technocyte, attempting to create advanced bio-weaponry at the expense of his job and alliance with his fellow Corpus. Infested have been able to combine with nanites since the infested began in Warframe, however until Alad V got into experimenting with their evolution he allowed the Virus, or perhaps the nanites they were able to assimilate, to link with cybernetic and robotic components. This allowed the Virus to infest the once Immune Corpus Osprey and Moa, creating hybrid abominations that can use long range attacks, spawn more Infested units, or spawn small Infested Maggots that appear to be bred or grown inside their parent Brood Mothers. Like Infested Ancients, Maggots do not appear to be rotting, decomposing, or having trouble holding together host flesh, and appear to be a completely stable and possibly new entity themselves.
Orokin as Genetic Manipulators
Orokin genetic experimentation was mentioned specifically during Livesteam 11. "When Earth got totally screwed over and the Orokin started using DNA to rebuild different animals that suited them, some of that stuff went wrong..." referring to the creation of the Sand Skate (sting ray/skate) enemies that appear in the Grineer settlement tileset.
Official lore for the Tenno states that they are descended from a 'mythical' race on Earth. It also states that this was during the Orokin Era, long after a great deal of humans were killed or transformed by Technocyte. How the Tenno were created by the Orokin is still a mystery, but they are most probably tied to the void in some way. It is also likely that they were genetic experiments conducted by the Orokin, using the Technocyte virus and technocyte-adapted human DNA. In Ember's lore, we find that a military ship known as the Zariman was sent into the Void and was apparently lost, however some top Orokin knew about the ships return and kept the ships return a secret. An investigator by the name Kaleen was tasked with finding out what happened to the Zariman, and broke quarantine by coming into contact with the lost ships only survivors; scared children, resulting in her being burned by one of the children. The head of the meeting implies that they did not put children on the ship as it would "violate procedure", however they could have been lying to cover up secret experiments, or the effects of the Void somehow turned the crew into children, both are uncertain.
Further in Rhino Prime's codex lore, we find that the Orokin often performed cruel, inhumane experiments on on the Tenno in order to test and measure their specific strengths and weaknesses. It is assumed that the "beast" in this lore entry is in fact Rhino Prime or at least, a primitive version of him, without "restraints", which can be assumed to be what tenno are in their pure form and not contained within a Warframe.There is a reference by the Infested boss J3-Golem that the Tenno exist in bodies not entirely unlike the assimilated bodies of the Infested. He will call out to the player, "Why do you destroy us? We are your flesh.", asserting a connection between the virus that afflicts the Infested and the Tenno themselves. This further confirms the notion that both the Tenno and the Infested are both products of the Orokin Era. J3 could also be referring to the Tenno flesh metaphorically, meaning their Warframes. J3-Golem has since been removed from the game but his taunts and quotes can still be heard from Phorid and Lephantis, the other Infested bosses.
The opening message from Councilor Vay Hek regarding the Cicero Crisis also specifically mentions 'Orokin engineered super-weeds' on Earth that make most of the planet uninhabitable due to their penchant for destroying artificial buildings. The Grineer planned to poison the plants so they could better control the planet but were stopped by the Tenno.
The Sentients and the Orokin
There are a great many disparate facts regarding the Sentients and the Orokin that as of now makes conclusions about either race difficult to make:
- The Orokin are considered a separate race from humanity. Humanity's existence may extends into modern day (the Warframe era) whereas the Orokin were destroyed by the Tenno.
- It is also never confirmed that any character in the game is actually human, not even the New Loka even though it is implied that Earth is their homeworld.
- The Sentients fought with the Orokin. The nomenclature used infers that either The Sentients or the Orokin were a non-sentient form of intelligence, presumably some kind of artificial intelligence or an alien race so far removed from what we know as sentient that they are not considered sentient by our definition. There is no evidence of such an alien race but there are many examples of sentient-level artificial intelligences in Warframe.
- The Sentients were able to turn advanced Orokin technology against them, implying a masterful grasp of technology.
- The Orokin had a masterful grasp of genetics and living being/computer hybridization. This is evidenced by the Corrupted enemies that inhabit Orokin installations. The Corrupted are 'mind controlled' biological (Grineer, Corpus and Infested) and mechanical/technological (MOAs) creatures, showing advanced knowledge of both neural science and technology. An artificial intelligence of Orokin design known as a Neural Sentry is responsible for controlling the Corrupted and using them to defend the Orokin installations.
- The Orokin had no fear of Technocyte as they experimented with it and with creatures/plants afflicted by it.
- The Orokin often tortured the Tenno in cruel experiments, as hinted by Rhino Prime's lore, which may have backfired after the sentients were destroyed by the Tenno. Also hinted by Rhino's codex, the Tenno could possibly be controlled by the scientists responsible for testing/creating the Tenno, and after the fall of the Orokin the Tenno somehow broke free from their restraints and/or collectively realized how they came to be what they were now, and slaughtered the Orokin.
- Using this lore, it can be consumed (but only through speculation) that the Stalker may be a Tenno without this lack of restraint, who was cast into revenge after seeing the Orokin be slaughtered. Perhaps the act of Tenno defeating important faction leaders is what causes the Stalker to remember the fall of the Orokin and act out of spite, even though he himself either has no allegiance with any of the factions, or all of them, making his motives still very questionable. What is known however, that the underlining motive for his revenge is the fall of the Orokin itself.
In Livestream 11 the developers also discussed future missions in production that would take place in 'virtual space' in the Orokin mainframes. There you will do battle Tron-style with the artificial intelligence controlling it, presumably the Neural Sentry, meaning the Orokin were at least able to develop incredibly sophisticated AIs.
One lore element that brings this theory into question is the Stalker's codex entry (see below). It states directly that at the end of the Old War, the Tenno beat victory drums and on the ninth beat, the Tenno executed people and blood filled the stadium. Whether they killed actual Orokin, proxy bodies used and created by the Orokin, humans/Tenno that were still loyal to the Orokin or whether the Stalker was using hyperbole is not stated. We know that there are currently humans that worship the Orokin (the Corpus) and it is entirely possible such loyalists existed during the Great War as well. It is also possible that the Stalker is recounting the moment of the Tenno betrayal and that the Orokin were celebrating some victory with their new Tenno soldiers when the Tenno turned against their creators and killed the Orokin.
The End of the Orokin
The Corpus are described as worshiping the Orokin and their technology in a number of places and they refer to the Tenno as 'the Betrayers' many places in the game. Due to the Warframes being Orokin creations, it stands to reason that the Tenno betrayed the Orokin. We know that the Tenno were created by the Orokin to combat 'the Sentients' and that in the end, it was they that killed the Orokin. The betrayal would be what ended the Old War (which ended the Orokin Era and the Orokin) and started period of time known as The Collapse.
The Stalker's codex entry currently provides the most information about the end of the Orokin and the Great War:
It is unknown whether all Orokin were killed/destroyed or whether some escaped execution and still exist.
Lotus as an Entity/AI Relation
In Mobile Defense mission, when players insert their datamass into the target computer terminal, the Lotus would say something to the effect of "You have managed to insert me into their terminal. Defend, while I hack into the Grineer network", suggesting the Lotus to be some kind of program, but this could simply be referring to her being able to access the network.
The Lotus herself says in game at the end of some missions, "Great work. I am pleased with your performance,", which heavily hints that the Lotus is an entity.
Warframes are suits of armor that can be wielded by Tenno and created by the Orokin in order to take advantage of the technocyte-adapted Tenno's ability to interface with technology and enhance their powers. They are made up of 'nanotechnology' according to Grineer engineers and may even be technocyte or a similar material. They have a security system called 'reactive dissolution' that triggers when experimented on to hide the technological secrets from the human races (namely the Corpus and Grineer). Alad V recently (see The Gradivus Dilemma) found some way of manipulating Warframes and experimenting on them without activating their self-destruct mechanisms. His use of Warframe components to create the hybrid Zanuka is the first time any non-Orokin is known to have any success with modifying Orokin Warframes.
Warframes are likely based on the proto-Warframes Excalibur and Nemesis from the Dark Sector Era. The Excalibur Proto-Armor Skin was released and its description reads, "Discovering the precise nature of this recently uncovered armored prototype has proved elusive. Initial attempts at dating point to ancient origins, perhaps even predating Orokin Empire." The armor is nearly identical to the armor worn by Hayden Tenno during the later events of Dark Sector. As Dark Sector's canonicity is not confirmed, we know at least that the idea for Warframes, particularly the design for Excalibur, is thought to predate the Orokin.
The game lore specifically mentions that the Infested come from a plague that was remarkably similar to the one from Earth's history, the Technocyte outbreak that started at the end of Dark Sector. It is likely that the Infested are the same virus or strain of Technocyte that existed on Earth in the ancient days. It is also possible that the Orokin re-released the Technocyte virus on the solar system during the Old War in an attempt to stop the Sentients by using infected creatures to their advantage. Another possibility is that after the Old War, the Technocyte experiments the Orokin were running managed to spread on their own now that the Orokin were no longer there to control them, eventually creating the Infested.
Orokin re-engineering of the Technocyte virus from Earth seems very likely as the infested are composed more of flesh than their mostly metallic counterparts in Dark Sector, although the purpose of re-engineering remains unknown.
Tenno SpeculationRescue 1.0 missions wear the Lotus symbol and are clearly more 'natural' humans then any entity in the game. Rescue 2.0 hostages' skin are covered up however, so their physical appearance is unknown. The old rescue hostages can also be seen in the cryopods during defense missions and some mobile defense missions.
Dialogue from Vor during the Vor's Prize quest seems to indicate that Vor believes that the human body inside a Warframe is, itself, merely a conduit for the Void energy that is the Tenno's true self.
Many 'Tenno-made' weapons also bear the Lotus symbol.
Tenno, Orokin and the Lotus
Despite it not exactly being clear what the relationship between these three groups are, evidence in Warframe clearly indicates that they all share some kind of connection. First, we know that the Orokin created the Warframes for the Tenno, as the Tenno are the only ones who can use them. Second, most Warframes contain a Lotus symbol on them. It is possible that the symbols were added after their revival from the cryopods but that seems unlikely as in the Warframe trailer, we get a clear shot of the newly revived Excalibur's helmet and it has the Lotus symbol on it, meaning it had to have been there since the end of the Orokin era, when the Tenno entered cryostasis. This heavily implies that the Lotus has been around since at least the Orokin era and given that it survived and is closely related to the Tenno, we know that it sided with 'the Sentients' at the end of the Old War. Third, we know that the Lotus is interested in reviving and directing the Tenno against the other three factions that control the solar system. It is also worth noting that, in the old tutorial, the player is revived in what looks to be an overrun, possibly Infested Orokin outpost, which Lotus has access to, along with holograms and energy dispensers. While it's not impossible for others to breach Orokin Security (see Sling-stone and Dragon Keys), there have only been two cases in Warframe where any current entity had any success at all interfacing with Orokin technology (see Zanuka and the Seer).
Sadly, with this being the only solid information we have at the moment, it is difficult to draw any legitimate conclusions about the relationship between the three groups. What seems most likely is that the Lotus was responsible for the Tenno in some way during the Orokin era and that it now attempts to direct them again to, as she puts it, "protect the balance". Lotus transmissions have purported that most actions the Tenno are directed to take are to maintain the balance of power within the solar system but it is impossible to know the Lotus's real motives or plans.
One final thing to note about the Lotus is that her emblem appears in places in Dark Sector. It is so far not known why or how this relates to things in the Warframe Era.
See examples of Warframes with the Lotus symbol here:
Awakened without Prime
It is no question that the Tenno came from the Orokin Era and had their original prime Warframe, who are also responsible for the fall of Orokin Empire. However, it does not explain why the Tenno are awakened with defect Warframes, as opposed to their superior prime variant.
Whilst she was described to be the guide of the Tenno, it was never truly explained who she is and where she truly come from. The only time where her individuality was questioned was in the very beginning of Dark Sector, where she is "prized as a rare beauty... and yet, it blooms amidst filth and decay." However, the game itself have never gone through the details as to what the Lotus is; questioning whether it truly refers to her, or was just spoken as figure of speech.