Analyzing the Secondary Systems in Warframe

Hey all,

In the previous post, I discussed core systems from Warframe, including movement and combat. I touched on some of the game’s secondary systems as well, but didn’t go into detail. This post will dive into the nitty-gritty details of some of those systems, explaining and showcasing how they work in tandem with the core systems of the game to shape Warframe’s identity.

Shall we get started?

Secondary Systems


Warframe’s Modding system is one of the game’s ubiquitous secondary systems. Players have access to a wide variety of mods (that drop as loot from kills, rewarded after mission completion, etc.) that can be “installed” into the gear of their choice to improve stats and add new features. The same mod may be installed on multiple viable pieces of gear at the same time.

Weapons (primary, secondary, melee, archgun, archmelee, exalted), the Parazon, Warframes, Companions (sentinels, beasts) and Vehicles (archwings, k-drives, necramechs, railjack plexus) are all moddable items. These will be referred to as gear.

Mods are specialized for each of the above categories and further. Primary weapon mods can come in the form of Rifle, Shotgun, and Sniper mods, for example, while melee mods include standard melee mods and stances (mods specialized for specific melee weapon types). This categorization of mods mean that there is reduced generalization across the board, and players with a wide arsenal of builds and playstyles may need to sink in high amounts of resources to upgrade the necessary mods for each build.

Various mods in the player’s inventory. The blue markers below each mod indicate each mod’s upgrade rank, discussed below.

Mod Types and Upgrading

Above: The Continuity mod, in normal (left) and primed (right) versions.
Below: The Gladiator set mods.

Most mods in Warframe are upgradeable. Upgrading mods requires various amounts of the endo resource, acquired from certain missions and enemies, and permanently boosts a mod’s stats.

Mods furthermore come in a variety of rarities. The standard common, uncommon, and rare mods come in copper, silver, and gold colors, respectively. Amalgam mods are unusual mods that provide bonuses from multiple existing mods, albeit at lesser magnitudes. Primed mods are powerful versions of existing mods acquired from the biweekly Baro Ki’teer trader NPC at high prices. Riven mods are mods meant for specific weapons and possess random stats that are revealed once the mod’s riven challenge is completed. Galvanized mods are special primary/secondary weapon mods that offer temporary scaling bonuses as the player earns kills.

Mod sets are collections of up to 5-6 mods that offer a unique bonus at stronger levels with each installed set mod. These sets typically comprise of mods from multiple categories, requiring the player to make compromises in their builds to make room for these set mods.

Mod Capacity, Drain, and Polarization

All mods have a polarity and drain cost. Polarity is represented by a symbol and can be understood as the mod’s “affinity” type. Drain cost increases with each mod upgrade rank; stronger mods will have higher drain.

Mod capacity increases based on the mastery rank of the gear. Gear at maximum mastery rank will have the full mod capacity available (typically 30 for standard gear, 60 for standard gear with an orokin reactor or catalyst installed and 40/80 for the special Kuva and Tenet weapons, which have a maximum mastery rank of 40).

Mods installed in a weapon, in different configurations. Note the green and red polarities, indicating matching and non-matching polarities between mods and their slots.


The final element of the modding system is arcanes – special upgrade “modules” that are installed into specific arcane slots. Frames, primary/secondary weapons, kitguns, and zaws have arcane slots (arcane slots in primary/secondary weapons must be unlocked using a special item first) that accept arcanes for their gear type.

Many warframe arcanes can be acquired from the Eidolon teralyst/gantulyst/hydrolyst boss fights. Weapon arcanes are acquired from Steel Path and Arbitrations. Kitgun and Zaw arcanes are purchased from Rude Zuud or Hok, respectively.

Arcanes provide additional bonuses on top of mods that affect the player’s overall gameplay. Some warframe arcanes offer negation of specific status effects; others offer additional armor when the player calls down their heavy weapon, or grants nearby players extra energy when the player picks up an energy orb.

Upgrading arcanes is different from mods, as well; upgrading an arcane requires “consuming” additional copies of that arcane. The new, upgraded arcane can be broken down to return these copies.

The upgrade interface for an arcane.
Modding Showcase


Crafting is the system through which players use their collected resources and components to build new items and gear. Almost all gear in Warframe is crafted, and crafting items often requires the acquisition of a blueprint before crafting can begin.

Resource draw is automatic, meaning that players do not need to drag and drop required items and components into crafting slots; the system will automatically consume the necessary resources once the player starts the item crafting process.

Crafting can be a time-consuming process, with small items requiring mere minutes to craft and warframes requiring a few days. All basic crafting is done through the player’s Foundry, located in their Orbiter ship (base of operations).

Various warframes and warframe component blueprints in the Foundry. Note that buildable ones are highlighted, while blueprints with missing resources are grayed out.


Above: The Zaw assembly screen.
Below: A Zaw strike.

Advanced crafting in Warframe is accessed through specific NPCs in Cetus, Fortuna, and the Necralisk (the three current “hub” locations). Zaws were the first of these systems introduced, and are custom melee weapons built by the player from crafted Zaw components.

Zaw components are categorized into Strikes, Grips, and Links. Strikes and Grips determine what type of melee weapon the Zaw will become (dagger, sword, staff, etc.), while Links determine additional stats like attack speed, critical chance, and status chance. Players can mix and match these components to craft a weapon that matches their desired playstyle.

Each desired Zaw component blueprint must be purchased and crafted, then the components can be put together by speaking to Hok in Cetus. Note that once a Zaw is built, it cannot be un-built, nor the components swapped; what you build is what you get.


Kitguns are the primary and secondary versions of Zaws. Players can mix and match different components to assemble a ranged primary or secondary weapon, choosing from Chambers, Grips, and Loaders. Chambers determine the weapon type (rifle, shotgun, etc.) and work with Grips to determine whether the resulting Kitgun is a primary or secondary weapon. Loaders, like Zaw Links, determine additional stats like fire rate, critical chance, and status chance.

Like Zaws, once a Kitgun is built, it cannot be un-built, nor have its components swapped; what you build is what you get.

Above: The Kitgun assembly screen.
Below: Two different Kitguns, ready for assembly.
Crafting Showcase


The Inventory system gives players an overview of the resources, components, items, weapons, and other gear that they currently own. On its own via the Inventory interface, it isn’t wildly interactive; clicking on items only gives players the option to sell the selected item. Interaction with the items within the Inventory is typically done through other systems (e.g. mods in modding, or resources, blueprints, and components in crafting).

Any items the player picks up or finds during any mission aren’t immediately added to their Inventory; rather, loot is only added to the Inventory once the player’s current mission is completed.

The inventory interface. Note the sorting icons at the top.
Inventory Showcase


Selecting from the game’s many available color palettes.

Warframe rounds out its deep customization systems with appearance modification. Through skins, helmets, accessories, animation sets, and color palettes, players can turn a basic warframe into fashionable characters.

Skins are typically frame- or weapon-specific. Some weapon skins are applicable to entire classes of weapons (like pistol skins), while others are specific to certain weapons (like a skin for the Karak rifle).

Helmets are frame-specific and only change the appearance of the warframe’s head.

Accessories are categorized into part-specific accessories (e.g. chest, shoulders, legs, etc.). Ephemeras are special accessories that apply a unique particle effect to the player’s frame (similar to unusuals in Team Fortress 2).

Animation sets allow the player to use any warframe’s animation set with any other warframe. This allows the player to customize their warframe’s movement to match a theme or style.

Color palettes are collections of colors that the player can apply to their gear.

Appearance modifications are purely cosmetic and have no effect on gameplay mechanics.

Appearance Showcase

Resource Harvesting

There are several ways to obtain resources in Warframe. Most notably is the loot drop system; enemies will drop resources upon being killed, depending on the planet they are killed on. Different planets have different resource drop tables that enemies pull from. For example, enemies on Earth will drop ferrite, rubedo, neurodes, and detonite ampules.

Players can passively harvest resources from selected planets using resource extractors. Deploying an extractor on a planet will begin the harvesting process. After a certain amount of time (dependent on extractor type), the extractor can be claimed, earning the player a random amount of a randomly chosen resource from the planet’s resource table.

Deploying a resource extractor on Earth (left) and Deimos (right). Note the different resources offered on each planet.


Equipping a fishing spear (above) and catching a fish in the Orb Vallis (below). Players must click when the indicator is within the red section of the fishing bar in order to successfully catch the fish.

Yes, Warframe has fishing! Fish can be caught on any of the three open-world locations in Warframe (Plains of Eidolon, Orb Vallis, Cambion Drift), each with their own unique types of fish, and offer unique resources unobtainable anywhere else.

To fish, the player needs a fishing spear. There are a variety of fishing spears that can be purchased from Cetus, Fortuna, and the Necralisk, each with unique properties. The Stunna fishing spear, for example, lets out an electromagnetic pulse when it connects with a fish, stunning all mechanical fish in its radius (useful in the Orb Vallis).

Fish in each of the three locations may be caught in a variety of places. In the Plains, ponds, the lake, and the ocean all offer different fish. In the Vallis, fish may be caught in ponds, the lake, and in caves. In the Cambion Drift, fish may be caught either on the surface or in caves. Fish furthermore are active either during the day or night, or both, requiring the player to find the right times to fish in order to catch what they need.


Gems and minerals may be harvested in any of the three open-world locations, just like fish. Different gems and minerals can be refined (via blueprints), and then used to craft various weapons, components, companions, and other pieces of gear.

To mine, the player needs a mining drill, which is purchasable from NPCs in Cetus or Fortuna. They then need to find a resource deposit in the Plains, the Vallis, or the Cambion Drift. Red and yellow deposits mark ores, while blue deposits mark gems. The player then holds left click with the drill equipped, aiming for the deposit’s harvesting markers, to harvest the deposit. Their precision and accuracy determines the quantity of ore or gem earned.

Harvesting a red mineral deposit. Notice the white indicator around the bottom-right section of the ring – the player must stop when the progress bar reaches that marker to maximize their resource gains from this deposit.
Fishing and Mining Showcase


The 6 basic syndicates. Note the upper half of ‘supported’ syndicates versus the lower half of ‘opposed’ syndicates.

Syndicates are Warframe’s equivalent to factions in any MMO. The player gains standing with syndicates by completing certain actions. A variety of syndicates are available to earn standing with.

Standing can be earned with any of the 6 basic syndicates by gaining XP as usual, but with a sigil equipped on the player’s warframe (this is done via the appearance menu). When the player earns affinity (XP), a portion of that affinity is converted to standing for the syndicate whose sigil is equipped. Half of that standing is also given to the syndicate’s ally syndicate, while the full standing is deducted from the syndicate’s enemy syndicate, forcing the player to choose which set of syndicates they want to “align” themselves with.

Standing for syndicates in the open-world hubs of Cetus, Fortuna, and the Necralisk is obtained by completing bounties, or giving certain items to the respective syndicate NPC.

Syndicates offer various items and blueprints for purchase. The items available to the player are determined by the player’s standing with that syndicate.

Furthermore, there is a maximum amount of standing that may be earned with any syndicate every 24 hours. This standing limit can be increased incrementally with player mastery rank.

Codex Scanning

The player’s codex scanner enables them to scan enemies in missions, adding an entry of that enemy to their codex. The codex may be viewed from the player’s Orbiter, and shows all scanned enemies the player has encountered along their journey through the game.

Entries with more scans will give the player more details on the entry, such as elemental weaknesses and drops. Fully-scanned enemies can also be summoned as test “dummies” in the Simulacrum, a testing area that allows the player to test out weapons and frames without needing to worry about dying.

The information entry for a fully-scanned enemy.

Left: The codex. Note the green “complete” icon in the top-right of some entries. These entries have already been fully-scanned.

Codex Scanning Showcase

Why Choose These Systems?

Why did I identify these as secondary systems? What sets them apart from core systems?


I view primary/core systems as the systems with which a game cannot be played without. Removing one or more of these systems from the game would fundamentally change the way the game is played, or prevent the game from being played at all. Secondary systems, then, are not necessary for these systems to function, and my be removed while maintaining the game’s core experience.

Modding offers massive customizability and depth for the player to explore, and enables players to create builds, purely through mods, that fit their preferred playstyle or needs.

However, modding is not necessary for the core gameplay of “equip gear, shoot enemies, complete mission, repeat” to function. Yes, the variety offered by mods allows players to take on tougher enemies more efficiently, but it would be just as possible for a challenge-seeking player to use base weapons and gear to clear out different missions.

That said, the way the game is currently designed does require extensive knowledge of how mods work and what mods are best versus different enemies; as a result, I’d say that while modding is a secondary system, it augments the game’s core systems to build the game’s current overall identity.

Crafting, Inventory, and Resource Harvesting

As posited in my core systems analysis for Warframe, if all weapons and gear was available to the player as built rewards from quests, mission completion, or purchase, there would then be no need for a crafting, inventory, or resource harvesting system. Players would simply be able to access the gear they wish to use from their arsenal.

As it is, crafting and resource harvesting act as a way to extend gameplay by requiring players to invest time to acquire different pieces of gear. This, as a result, also allows the developers to earn money from players who pay for premium currency to bypass this time requirement.

Crafting, inventory, and resource harvesting are therefore not necessary to maintain Warframe’s core gameplay.

That said, for players who enjoy these non-combat activities, fishing and mining may very well be primary systems. As fish can furthermore be sold for platinum (the premium currency), it is technically possible to obtain warframes and weapons through catching and selling fish. The low selling price of fish makes this a difficult task, however.

Warframes can take up to 72 hours to build, each. Extensive time requirements force players to wait for significant periods of time, or to bypass this wait by spending premium currency.

Appearance Modification

Appearance modification is purely cosmetic and has no effect on the core gameplay. No explanation needed for this one, really.

That said, many players in Warframe are heavily invested in the game’s fashion and appearance system. Streamers and forums occasionally hold “fashionframe” tournaments, where players submit their best or favorite warframe looks.

Furthermore, because all cosmetics can be purchased (instead of unlocked from mission completion), it is very possible to not actually play the game via its core gameplay, and simply play the game as a fashion/cosmetic simulator. For players who enjoy this aspect of the game, appearance modification may very well be a primary system – everything else is secondary.

For some players, fashion is Warframe.

Syndicates and Codex Scanning

Various rewards offered by a syndicate.

Neither syndicates nor codex scanning are necessary to maintain the game’s core gameplay.

Syndicates are simply a way to lock various content behind gates that require heavy time investment to unlock (due to the 24-hour max standing gain limit).

Codex scanning, too, has essentially no effect on the core gameplay. It is very possible for a player to play the game and progress through all missions on the star chart without scanning enemies. Scanning enemies may be a goal for completionist players, or players who wish to do extensive testing in the Simulacrum, but it can otherwise be ignored. Indeed, most players appear to use the Warframe wiki, not the codex, for information regarding game systems and mechanics.

What if These Systems Were Removed?

Now here’s a mind-jogger: As secondary systems, I identify these systems as ones that, even if removed, the base game can still be played (albeit possibly at a different level of enjoyment and satisfaction). I explain this in my previous blog post, here.

How, then, might the game change if these systems were removed?


The game would be significantly more difficult. Without ways to specifically deal with different enemies through modding, there would be a focus on proper warframe ability usage and energy management. Warframes with team-buffing abilities and powerful damage buffs, like Wisp and Mirage, would retain their place at the top of warframe tier lists. Explosive launcher-type weapons would also remain strong weapon options, while snipers would rise and rifles would fall.


With crafting removed, there would also be no need to have an inventory or resource harvesting system. Weapons and gear would be able to be purchased straight from the market, or unlocked as mission or quest rewards, fully-built and ready to be used. Acquiring new gear would be much easier, and there would be less of a time-investment requirement. With crafting removed, there would also be no need to have an inventory or resource harvesting system. Weapons and gear would be able to be purchased straight from the market, or unlocked as mission or quest rewards, fully-built and ready to be used. Acquiring new gear would be much easier, and there would be less of a time-investment requirement.


Without syndicates locking content behind additional gates, there would be increased accessibility for gear and other items – just like if crafting was removed. On the other hand, because syndicates give players another goal to work towards and grind, removing them may make it a bit tougher to retain players through time-sink investment.

Appearance / Cosmetics

Without a way to customize your appearance, the only way to make yourself stand out from others would be through your base equipped gear. The game would certainly feel a lot more bland, and the lack of personalization options would almost make the game feel unfinished (thanks to its near-MMO design). Because cosmetics are also a significant premium currency sink, the developers would need to figure out a different way to earn money through the game.

Adding a System

Finally, to close out this post, I wanted to propose an additional system that could easily fit within the current scope of the game’s content: syndicate support.

Missions can be played through in squads of up to 4 players. When entering a mission, the player initially does so alone, and other players may connect to their lobby and enter their squad automatically.

I feel that there is room for the player to obtain AI-controlled “support” from the syndicates they are aligned with. Depending on syndicate rank, the player could choose from a variety of individuals to “conscript” to their personal squad, who can then be outfitted with player-provided weapons and gear. Players could then enter missions with this squad, giving solo-only players a bit more control over their gameplay experience, and giving others still a “squad” to work with while they wait for other players to join. As players join, they would take the spots occupied by these AI-controlled syndicate bots. Furthermore, a system like this would give players additional customization options aside from the existing arsenal categories.

This system could utilize the Railjack crew system as a basic framework.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for sitting through this post! I hope this (and my previous post on core systems in Warframe) helped categorize and explain the difference between core and secondary systems. Note that systems can come in many different forms – core and secondary are just two of the most commonly-used labels. There are also progression systems – systems that shape progression through a game session or run (e.g. experience, score, upgrades, anything that scales) – and social systems – systems that shape the communication network between members of the game community.

As mentioned in my first post, this also marks my first few posts in a while here! A ton of projects and other things have taken up most of my free time for the past few years, and I’ve rarely found time to return. That said, with the semester ending, I might be able to carve out some more time for a couple more posts here in the near future. Thanks for reading!

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