This is a discussion post – the first (of many, hopefully) on this blog. Here, I will gather all the information on a particular topic – the Prime Warframe cinematic trailers, in this post – and analyse the subject as a whole. Note: this topic was initially written before the Sacrifice quest came out, which has superseded much of the revelations contained herein.
The Prime Warframe trailers, as narrated by Executor Ballas, reveal much about the warframes, the Orokin, and Ballas himself. Let's look at each trailer one by one (in release order) and see what we can glean from them individually.
Note: This discussion is currently out of date, and does not include the most recent Prime trailers.
The Saryn Prime trailer is the first Prime Warframe cinematic trailer, coming on the heels of the Second Dream quest, where we were introduced to the characters of Ballas and Margulis. In that quest, we learned that Ballas was an Executor of the Orokin, and that Margulis was an Archimedian working with the Tenno who was secretly his lover. For unknown reasons, Ballas, in his official capacity as Executor, was forced to execute Margulis, even though he clearly cared for her.
In this trailer, Ballas is speaking to Margulis (or, more specifically, to her memory, as she is already dead). He says that he has made a warframe specifically to clear Earth of the Infestation. This says a lot in just a few words. First, it tells us that Ballas is making warframes. It is unknown if he is the top-ranking person on the project or if there are others involved, but it seems likely he's the one in charge based on his rank, which we know to be quite high.
Second, this tells us that Earth was plagued by the Infestation during Ballas' and Margulis' lifetime, enough to the point where it was mostly uninhabitable (we later learn that Archimedian Silvana was on Earth, studying the Infestation). We don't exactly know how the Infested were released on Earth, but it was presumably accidental. Earth, due to its role as the source of humanity, used to be the (or a) seat of Orokin power ("bathed in gold and solemn blue") but no longer. Now Orokin power resides on Lua (and possibly on Mars, where Ballas lived at one point). We don't know if Saryn was ultimately successful at exterminating the Infestation on Earth, but it seems likely given that there is no Infestation there now (other explanations include the use of some other kind of weapon or tactic against the Infestation, or the genetically engineered flora and fauna of Earth exterminating the Infestation by itself).
The third thing this tells us is that Ballas still has feelings for Margulis even after her death. It's easy to think that Ballas is a heartless monster who uses people to further his agenda and then throws them away, but his speech here shows that this was not the case with Margulis.
In the Vauban Prime trailer, Ballas instead appears to be talking to the other Executors ("for your consideration"). He is presenting Vauban to them, showing off his latest creation. He is also presenting a mission for Vauban: to strike against the Corpus (or their predecessors within Orokin society). The Corpus are manufacturing the weapons that the Orokin are using. This is curious for two reasons: why did the Orokin not control weapons production themselves, given their predilection for hoarding other means of control through genetic locks? And the second: assuming that "our long war" refers to the struggle against the Sentients (referred to elsewhere as the Old War), why were the Orokin relying on Corpus-made weapons, which are generally energy-based? The Sentients were well known for being resistant to energy weapons, so why were Corpus weapons being deployed against them? We have no good answers to these questions, but our current assumption is that this is a plot hole that DE is unaware of (it's an extremely minor one).
As an aside, it's interesting that Ballas starts this trailer by saying "Lust was my sin." Obviously this is a transition into the greed of the Corpus (and a reference to the Seven Deadly Sins in Catholic tradition), but as a stand-alone line it is curious. Is he referring to his relationship with Margulis? Assuming this line is being said to the Executors along with the rest of the trailer, did his relationship with Margulis become public knowledge after her death? Also, why does he call it "lust" when there were clearly deeper feelings involved (as we see in the Saryn Prime trailer, among other sources)? Perhaps he is lying to justify his indiscretion to the other Orokin. Perhaps he is in jeopardy due to this revelation about his personal life and is under pressure to produce results with the Warframe Project or risk expulsion from his position.
Of course, this is merely speculation. It is possible that Ballas was simply too powerful to experience repercussions from his relationship with Margulis. Up until this point, we have never seen evidence of Ballas facing any consequences for his actions (emotional turmoil notwithstanding), so perhaps it is foolish to assume he would in this case either.
In the Nekros Prime trailer, Ballas is once again presenting a warframe to the Executors. This time, he highlights the use of psychological warfare against the "tribes" (likely scattered groups of non-Orokin peoples with diverse cultures and traditions, analogous to the colonies in modern in-universe parlance). By creating Nekros to be an embodiment of death, its mere presence would be terrifying, and would cripple the enemy even more than the objectively fearsome powers it possessed. Of course, this tactic would not work against the Sentients (or the Orokin, as Ballas notes). So far, all the Prime Warframe trailers at this point have depicted warframes designed to do something other than kill Sentients (which was nominally the sole purpose of the Warframe Project).
There isn't much lore in this video, except a reinforcement of the idea that the Orokin (or just the highest-ranking Orokin) are immortal (by this time, Spectres of the Rail had been out for over a month, so enterprising Tenno who had collected all the Cephalon Fragments would have known that the Orokin Executors were immortal already).
The video shows Nekros Prime attacking a Grineer asteroid base, but this is unlikely to have actually happened in Ballas' time, as the Grineer were not known to have rebelled against their Orokin masters until after/during the Collapse.
The Banshee Prime trailer continues with the theme of presenting a new warframe to the Executors, and also continues with the theme of psychological warfare. This time, Ballas highlights the individuality of the warframes, especially compared to the numbing conformity of the Grineer, who are being used as cannon fodder against the Sentients (and other enemies, presumably). As of this writing, there are 46 warframes in the game, 32 of which have Prime versions. The astounding diversity of attacks that the warframes could unleash upon the Sentients was surely of great value to the Orokin.
The Valkyr Prime trailer was released after the Banshee Prime trailer, having been delayed due to the War Within update and that quest's demands on the animation team.
This time, Ballas is once again speaking to the Orokin, but it's not clear that this is a presentation of Valkyr to the war council, or whatever he was doing in the other trailers. It's almost as if he is talking to them in absentia, as he is talking to Margulis in the Saryn Prime trailer: talking to them while they aren't really there.
The reason for this is the content of his message. He almost appears to be envious of the warframes (notably: NOT the Tenno piloting the warframes), as the Orokin have lost their animalistic qualities in their pursuit of perfection.
Ballas says that the warframes have strong emotions, desires, and feelings, and that these are suppressed by Tenno transference but not extinguished. This is perhaps the first concrete evidence we see that the warframes have a consciousness of their own. There was the scene in The Second Dream where the warframe pulls the War sword out of its chest, seemingly without Operator transference, but there were multiple ways to interpret that scene. Now Ballas explicitly says the warframes are both alive and conscious, in some capacity.
He also notes that the warframes are of "human seed". This is a little disturbing, especially given the current assumption that warframes are composed, at least in part, of technocyte infestation. Is he saying that the technocyte is ultimately of human origin? Or, more gruesomely, that each warframe was a person that was deliberately infested? If so, that would explain the origin of the warframes' consciousness, and perhaps their rage at being "trapped and tortured". This theory appears to be confirmed in the quest The Sacrifice.
In the end, he is both awed by them and afraid of them, saying that the warframes' animal rage will one day destroy the Orokin. As an aside, we have not seen evidence that this was the case; from what we currently know, it is assumed that the Lotus directed the Tenno to destroy the Orokin, and they did so either via transference with their warframes, or in their physical Tenno forms utilising Void blasts and Void beams. The warframes themselves, as conscious beings, have not yet been revealed to have been involved. Of course, the Sacrifice quest reveals that warframes are quite capable of harbouring murderous intentions against the Orokin, and would gladly carry them out given the opportunity.
The device that the Corpus are shown to have used to contain Valkyr is of interest. It appears to use some kind of Sentient energy, as it emits the same sound that plays when Sentients appear on the map in-game, and it briefly showed a ghostly image of a Conculyst before firing. As of this writing, this device does not appear in-game. Similar devices are present in the Orb Vallis as defensive turrets, but do not seem to have any connection to Sentient technology.
The Valkyr Prime trailer is notable for being the longest so far, in terms of both video length and words, and for being the only trailer so far where the warframe's name (Valkyr) is not said at the end. Whether or not this fact is significant remains to be seen.
The Oberon Prime trailer, like the Valkyr Prime trailer before it, appears to be spoken to the Orokin, but not to their faces. Once again, Ballas delivers a message that the Orokin probably do not want to hear. He speaks of greed, waste, wilful denial, and, most damning, comeuppance. What is depicted in the video is a group of Grineer polluting the environment of Earth with industrial waste, but Ballas was presumably talking about the Orokin, as he uses "we" and "our" to talk about the group in question. Is this a change of heart for the way he has led the Orokin? Or is this a repudiation of his colleagues for their actions? Is it his intent to unleash Oberon and other warframes against the Orokin, or is it a prediction of what is to come regardless of Ballas' actions? Exactly what transgressions is he discussing – literal poisoning, or a more figurative defilement? The later quests, specifically The Sacrifice and the Chimera Prologue, seem to indicate that his main reason for turning against the Orokin was the death of Margulis.
The "Gray Mother" is an interesting turn of phrase. We believe this to be a tradition among the Orokin and some other in-universe cultures, of an embodiment of Earth, or perhaps a mother figure who watches over Earth specifically, and not an actual person. It is worth noting that New Loka's religious beliefs appear to centre around a "Mother". This is assumed to be the same entity. By the same token, Silvana refers to Earth as the "mother of us all".
The Mirage Prime trailer is not directed at the Orokin, unlike every other Prime Warframe trailer (save the first, Saryn Prime). Instead, Ballas appears to be talking directly to the warframe itself. Building off of what was revealed in the Valkyr Prime trailer – that the warframes have a consciousness and a human origin – he appears to depict a person being turned into a warframe, presumably through technocyte infestation. This process appears to be quite painful, and ultimately is supposed to strip away individuality, memories, and higher brain functions, turning a person almost into a zombie for the Tenno to pilot. This is a horrifying revelation about the origin of warframes, which is eventually made explicit in The Sacrifice, which was released six months later.
Ballas speaks to one warframe in particular – the original Mirage. He says that she subverted the infestation process. Somehow, instead of being erased, some of her person lived on. It's unlikely that her complete consciousness was retained, but enough of her personality was embedded in the final product that it was significantly different from Ballas' initial concept. What that concept was is not elaborated upon.
The Hydroid Prime trailer returns to the themes of the Nekros Prime trailer – the use of psychological warfare against the Orokin's subjects. This time, instead of the dread of the grave, Ballas turns to other, similarly ancient fears: dark, quiet places and the abyss of the sea. He reasons that the very formlessness and fluidity of water will accentuate the horror thereof, and so he designs a warframe to take on those aspects.
The manner in which the trailer portrays the combat may imply that the water Hydroid summons is some kind of illusion or metaphysical, Void-propagated condition rather than actual water, but it's not clear how literal the depiction is. Hydroid is shown fighting Tusk Grineer on the Plains of Eidolon, which, as noted earlier, does not reflect any Orokin-era incident in the available record, and so drawing conclusions from the footage may be a misguided endeavour.
The Octavia Prime trailer is an interesting one, as it touches on several subjects. At the start, Ballas alludes to a primal human desire for entertainment. Then, he lists three reasons for Octavia's creation. First, her rhythms will suppress any nascent hive-mind symptoms from the Helminth process – what Ballas refers to in his Vitruvian as "the Infested madness". The Tenno's interactions with the Entrati, particularly Grandmother, lend some credibility to the idea that the Infested hive-mind can be resisted through concentration and meditation, but this is of course complicated by the fact that the Helminth process is supposed to wipe away the personality underneath – leaving no psychological bedrock upon which to build a defence. Using music to stir memories may counter that effect. Regardless, this concept is endlessly fascinating.
The second function of the music is to coordinate ("harmonise") the Tenno in combat. This has been mentioned before: in Octavia's Anthem, Hunhow says that the Tenno used the Naga drums to organise the slaughter of the Orokin, and it is implied that Octavia's ability to do so was one of the reasons he targeted Cephalon Suda for destruction. If this is the case, then Octavia must have been very important indeed as a strategic and tactical asset during the Old War.
The third aspect of the melody is entertainment for the Orokin masters. This, of course, aligns well with our understanding of Orokin priorities. Ballas goes on to reinforce this purpose in the next two sentences, which, combined with the allusion at the beginning of the trailer, makes it clear that this is his chief focus. Despite Octavia's terrifying killing power and supreme tactical advantage, the Orokin are still concerned with their vain pleasures. In the end, the revelations of Octavia's Anthem illustrate how the Orokin's hubris led once again to their downfall.
The Gara Prime trailer, like Mirage Prime before it, appears to focus on the individual who was infected with the Helminth and turned into Gara. Ballas recounts that she volunteered for the procedure, despite knowing the entirety of what it entailed – that is, the painful, gruesome transformation and the eventual subsuming of her personality and consciousness. The reason that she would volunteer is not stated, and is fertile ground for speculation. The fact that she was aware of the process narrows down her possible identity significantly, since, as the Cephalon Fragments state, knowledge of the warframe program was strictly controlled. Perhaps she was an Archimedian working on the project who, like Silvana and Margulis, became disillusioned with her work and sought to become a victim rather than an oppressor. Perhaps she was a Dax bodyguard of a high-ranking Orokin who was stirred to patriotic duty. Regardless of her identity or intentions, her act of sacrifice is highly notable.
However, this made some Orokin unhappy. According to Ballas, Nihil demanded she be glassed, rather than turned into a warframe. Perhaps he was offended by the concept of self-sacrifice. Perhaps she was indeed a criminal (Nihil's bailiwick), and her knowledge of the warframe project came from spying and eavesdropping, and he did not want to reward such behaviour. Nevertheless, Ballas appears to have respected her courage, so Nihil did not secure the unanimous vote that Legem 6-243 requires for execution1. In the wake of this debate, Ballas did the logical thing and granted her request. As an ironic gesture to Nihil, Ballas designed the warframe to use glass as its armour and its weapon, thus partially fulfilling Nihil's desire as well in an incredibly literal sense. The volunteer's defiant personality became a part of the warframe, as evidenced by its idle animations.
We learn that Ballas is in charge of creating the warframes, and presumably the entire project, but still must present his work to the other Executors. The spectre of Margulis and her execution hangs over Ballas, both internally and publicly. He expresses dissatisfaction at Orokin civilisation and its effect on the world, and sees the warframes as a way to correct that, perhaps by ending Orokin civilisation entirely. We don't know how much of this was action and how much was just speech, but it's possible that Ballas may actually have had a hand in the Collapse. Of course, we later learn in the Sacrifice quest that this is more or less the case.
We learn that warframes are made by infesting people with Technocyte, each person warping into a beast made for war, and losing their personhood in the process. Their consciousness is retained, in some form, and sometimes larger elements of their personality. Exactly what kind of effect this has is still unknown, although we were able to gain further insight to this process with the Sacrifice quest.
We also see warframes deployed against Infested, Corpus, and colonists, despite their original directive to fight the Sentients. The fact that warframes, the elite warriors, were used implies these were serious conflicts. Fighting on multiple fronts probably contributed ultimately to the downfall of the Orokin, especially if they were regularly warring against smaller tribes of colonists.
This is the first discussion post on this website. What did you think? Do you have your own theories or analyses? Let me know in the comments and I'll add them to the main body of the post! Hopefully I'll be able to make more discussion posts on other topics where we can stitch together the bits of lore this game gives us into a tapestry that provides a clearer picture of things like Orokin society, the nature of the warframes, the personalities within Corpus hierarchy, and other interesting topics.
Thanks for consulting the Orokin Archives!
- As noted by Nora Night during The Glassmaker.