Warframe takes place in the distant future of our own solar system with many of our planets and moons as locations for the myriad missions. You play as a Tenno awoken from cryosleep by the Lotus who serves as your guide in the game. You awoke within a Warframe which channels Void energy in concrete ways based on which Warframe you have equipped. Two factions, the Grineer and the Corpus, fight over control of the solar system. A third faction, the Infested, are a mutual enemy to everyone as they are an uncontrolled infection spreading through the system.
Digital Extremes has not released an official canon outside of snippets in quests and codex entries. Speculation on lore is a hot topic on the forums, but I hope to keep what is in the game clearly separated from my personal beliefs (which I call head-canon) in this article. One of the biggest unknowns is what exactly a Tenno is. Do the Tenno actually have a physical form or are they beings of energy/spirit? How do they inhabit the Warframe?
But here is what we know, and some of my personal speculation to go with it. I will try to avoid spoilers for anything beyond the first two introductory quests.
In our future (but the game’s distant past) there was a group known as the Orokin who created an empire. While it is not said what the Orokin were exactly, I suspect they were a form of elite transhumans. They mastered cloning creating the Grineer as slaves. They had powerful terraforming technology used throughout the solar system, which is called the Origin System in-game. Perhaps as a result of their fall and no longer maintaining these systems, this included creating indestructible forests on Earth and reversing Venus’s greenhouse effect to the point where it is now a frozen wasteland. They also experimented with the Technocyte virus (the source of the Infestation) and the Void.
The Old War
Then came the Old War. The Orokin Empire fought the Sentients. There is very little we know about actual Sentients, specifically if the Orokin created them or if they started as a completely alien force, but we do know that the Sentients were winning the war. The whole race had the ability to adapt and/or learn when one died and they also had the power to control advanced technology. This unfortunately included the weapons of the Orokin. Based on the name Sentient, I believe it is likely that they were an advanced creation of the Orokin which achieved sentience as opposed to an alien force but that is not confirmed by anything in-game as of yet.
With the failure of the Orokin’s advanced weapons, the Empire turned to other options. They first attempted to arm their soldiers with more primitive weapons that used bullets or blades, but this failed. It was most likely because the troops were ineffective with the low technology. Their next weapon was the Infested who also failed, we can assume because of their uncontrollable and usually mindless attacks. Finally, from their research into both Technocyte and the Void, they created the Warframes and possibly the Tenno operators. This turned the war. The Tenno harnessed the Void energies for devastating powers and could use the gun and blade technology very effectively. The Sentients where pushed back through the Outer Terminus on Pluto and that Rail (a Void travel device) was destroyed – securing the Origin System and ending the Old War.
Based on the Stalker, who may be embellishing the event, during the victory celebration that followed the Tenno turned on their Orokin masters and destroyed them and the Empire. We do not know how long the Collapse lasted, but the Cephalon Symaris lore seems to indicate that it wasn’t as sudden as the Stalker suggests. What we do know is by the end of the Collapse the Tenno went into cryosleep and the Origin System was left to the remaining humans and slave clones. The former would form family units called Corpus and the later would be lead by the Twin Queens and become the Grineer. At some point the Infested are cleared from the Origin System, likely still living only in the Derelicts.
Enough time passes, likely centuries, that both the Tenno and Infested fade into legend. During this time the Grineer clones have become so degraded as copies of copies they must replace much of their body with cybernetics. The Corpus families grew into massive corporations controlling trade and technology. The Grineer and Corpus become locked in a struggle to control the Origin System, with various unaligned groups such as the Colonists and Syndicate members caught in between there power struggle. The leaders of the Grineer known as the Twin Queens send General Vor to find the Tenno and their Warframes. The Twin Queens want the Tenno destroyed, but Vor is hoping to unlock the secrets to restore their decaying army. At the start of the game, you play as a Tenno who is woken by the mysterious Lotus as Vor comes to claim you. His repeated failure results in his demotion to Captain Vor.
Following the events resulting from Vor trying to claim your Warframe, you receive information that a Grineer named Dr. Tengus is experimenting with a “new weapon” discovered in the Orokin ships left derelict in the Void. He unleashes the Infested once more on the Origin System in the quest Once Awake.
Warframe is a living game with special limited time events moving the story forward. At this point in time, these events cannot be “replayed” nor have they been rereleased, so this document treats them as part of the history of the Warframe universe. While most of the events were designed to introduce a new enemy or mission type, several had an impact on the lore of the game.
In Operation Sling-Stone the Grineer have created a new class of battleship called a Fomorian and plan to use them on their Corpus enemies in a attempt to reduce the ruinous prices of resources charged to the Grineer. The Lotus tasks the Tenno to destroy this new weapon. The primary reason she gives is to maintain balance in the Origin System, with a secondary reason that this attack will limit needed resources for a time. Alad V is introduced as the head of Grineer Relations, though he is very contemptous of the Twin Queens and her clones. With the Tenno’s help, the Grineer are forced to retreat and decided to pay more than they originally bargained so that Alad V will hide the secret Grineer settlement on Phobos. General Vor takes the blame when the Tenno discover the settlement on Phobos during the Arid Fear Event and decides to stay there to confront any Tenno that invades along with Lieutenant Lech Kril.
Alad V discovers a large cache of Tenno cryopods near Sedna and despite an agreement to turn those over to the Twin Queens he keeps them and begins a (not-so-) secret weapons project. The Grinner send General Sargas Ruk to recover the cache by force starting the Gradivus Dilemma, named for the Mars base used to store the cryopods and the fact the Tenno had to choose between supporting the Grineer or the Corpus. Siding with the Grineer gives the Lotus a chance to save the sleeping Tenno, but increases the territory enslaved by the Grineer. Siding with the Corpus allows Alad V to experiment on the Tenno but halts the Grineer advance. In the end the community of Tenno supported Ruk and Alad V had his research project defunded by the Corpus Board of Directors.
Frohd Bek, father of Darvo and member of the Corpus Board, hunts down Alad V on Jupiter to recoup the costs resulting from the Gradivus Dilemma. Alad V retaliates by sending Infested to Bek’s fleet. Frohd Bek turns to the Lotus for help, telling her that Alad V managed to keep at least one Warframe, the Valkyr, and is creating a monster called Zanuka from her parts. The Tenno clear the Infested from Jupiter and confront Alad V who has completed Zanuka – a very powerful pet and the Corpus assassin. While Frohd Bek is victorious, his son Darvo breaks with the Corpus over the situation asking the Tenno to escape the Corpus Board.
Meanwhile, a Grineer politician named Vay Hek rises to power and attempts to destroy the massive Orokin engineered forests of Earth using what was called the Cicero Toxin. The Tenno choose to save the forests and prevent the Grineer from expanding their settlements there. Following his embaressing failure, Vay Hek decides to rebuild the Fomorian fleet with thousands of ships. If completed, he can easily dominate the Origin System so the Tenno work to sabotage the efforts. The Tenno are mostly successful, but rumors of Formorians persist.
The Lotus discovers mysterious Corpus ships which have heavier armorment and travel along unusual routes. Upon investigation, the Tenno discover they are carrying Infested tissue which is being guarded by heavy Corpus troops. The Corpus forbid research on Infested, but Alad V has decided the Technocyte virus could be a powerful weapon and begins experimenting on it. He discovers a strain that infects almost anything including robots, weapons and even entire ships. Alad V creates several new Infested types and even infects himself to begin a new Mutalist Empire. Tenno, Grineer and Corpus unite to destroy this threat. Mutalist Alad V is defeated and the Infested are contained on Eris for the most part.
Vay Hek returns with a new Grineer super-ship called the Balor Fomorian. His goal is to get revenge on the Tenno by destroying their new meeting places called Relays. Using the newly rediscovered Archwings, Tenno take to open space and try and destroy the Fomorians before they get in range and obliterate the Relays around each planet. In the weeks that follow, only three of the original seven Relays remained, but the Twin Queens considered Vay Hek a failure and promotes Tyl Regor in his place.
Tyl Regor uses his new power to build laboratories underwater on the moons of Uranus. His cloning experiments, in addition to creating new and stronger clones, results in a cure for Mutalism. Alad V will lead the Tenno to the secret labs so they can stop the experiments, but in return wants the cure. His rival on the Corpus Board named Nef Anyo wants it destroyed so that Alad V is not restored to normal. For the first time, the game platforms split – the PC and XB1 side with Alad V and provide him the cure, while the PS4 Tenno destroy it for Nef Anyo. Regardless of the outcome, members of the anti-Corpus Board group Black Seed raid Alad V’s laboratory and steal one of his last Infested weapons – Juggernaut Spores.
Most recently Tenno have been finding mysterious drones that rapidly flee once they scan the Tenno. They do not appear to be a member of any known faction nor is the technology similar to the Orokin’s.
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