The Orokin Empire used to rule the entire Origin System. The pinnacle of human civilisation and achievement, the Orokin were capable of god-like feats, transforming entire planets to fit their desires. Now, millennia after the Empire’s collapse, the legacy of the Orokin is still felt by all within the System, from the powerful artefacts they left behind to the people they ruled over and oppressed. The Tenno are perhaps the best examples of this, as they were created by the Orokin and continue to use their technology. Knowledge of the Orokin Empire and how they used the Tenno are crucial to understanding the Tenno today.
Very little is known about the Empire before the Old War. One of the accounts we know to be from this period is the Detron Crewman Synthesis entry. In this memory, Archimedian Perintol creates intelligent, adaptable, self-replicating robots to terraform the distant Tau Ceti solar system. These creations violate the Orokin prohibition against artificial intelligence, and he is slated to be executed, but he successfully argues his case to the Executors, and they spare him and agree to adopt his proposal. Later, this is shown to have been engineered by Executor Ballas, who in public was opposed to the project. There are many other details about the Empire included in this story: the societal roles of Executors and Archimedians, the laws and justice system of the Orokin, and the crucial fact that the Empire was running out of resources and needed to expand to neighbouring solar systems. The most important fact, of course, is the creation of these robots – robots that would eventually come to be the Sentients.
The creation of the Grineer probably took place in this period as well. The Orokin, in their quest for servants, were perpetually torn between being fearful of human rebellion and being fearful of robotic rebellion. The Grineer were the solution: human clones with severe mental handicaps and a genetic predisposition to obedience. As humans, they were still mildly intelligent compared to robotics, but as genetically engineered clones, they could not disobey. They were used for labour and any other task an Orokin did not wish to do themselves, and were treated as less than animals. As a cruel mercy, their diminished intellect could not comprehend their pitiful station in life1.
Another event that most likely occurred prior to the Old War was the Zariman 10-0 Void-jump accident. The Zariman was a colony ship heading to Tau for settlement. It was a military operation2, but populated by families. The extent to which there was an actual military presence on the ship is unknown. Along the way, the ship became stranded in the Void and was exposed to its otherworldly energies. Every adult on the ship went mad, at differing rates. However, the children were not only sane, but found they had new, extremely powerful abilities. The adults began hunting the children, who tried to avoid them, then tried to trap them3, and then finally, in desperation, killed them with their Void-granted powers4. Eventually, years later5, the Zariman appeared back in real-space. When the Orokin recovered the ship, it was still dead, all its systems down6, all the adults… gone. It is unclear what happened to their bodies. But the children were present, traumatised from their ordeal, and suffused with powerful Void energies that still remained even after returning to the physical realm. The children, unable to control their powers, incidentally injured their rescuers, including Kaleen, the principal investigator, who was badly burned. The Orokin, fearful of their capabilities, made to destroy them, but an Archimedian named Margulis spoke up with an idea to contain them and attenuate their power7. The children, known as “Tenno” from the numerical designation of their ship (10-0), were put into stasis and made to dream. This eliminated the uncontrolled outbursts8. The Tenno reported being able to control their abilities while dreaming, but it is unclear if this refers to abilities wielded inside the dream, or if the Tenno were still capable of affecting the real world while asleep, and were simply more focused while doing so. In this dream state, Margulis worked to heal the Tenno of their trauma. A large portion of this therapy involved sealing off the Tenno’s episodic memory of the Zariman incident9.
We place this incident before the Old War because it is unlikely the Orokin would send a ship containing children, even a military ship, to an unknown territory with a hostile population. It likely takes place after the Sentients had departed and had been given time to develop habitable environments, but before they were found to have rebelled. The Zariman incident is referenced in many sources, including the Ember Codex entry, the Second Dream, the War Within, and the Rell webcomic.
There is also another account that cannot be dated in reference to the Old War. Ordis’ memories possibly take place in the antebellum period. Ordan Karris was a mercenary, working for the Orokin leadership, leading a band of warriors with a distinct culture and code of honour. When the Orokin offered him immortality and membership among the elite as a reward for his service, he turned against them and slaughtered them. Ballas revealed the futility of the mercenary’s actions – the Orokin cannot be so easily killed – and condemned him to immortal servitude as a cephalon. This story shows that the Orokin, or at least the Executors, were immortal, although very aloof – so far removed, in fact, that their immortality was not common knowledge. It also tells how the Orokin circumvented their own proscription against artificial intelligence – by using human intelligences that were sculpted to the task. Lastly, we see that the Orokin, powerful as they were, still did not have complete control over the population of the System, needing to employ mercenaries and other forces to fight against various rebel groups.
The Old War
Eventually, the Sentients that had travelled so far began to change. They had been given intelligence to complete their task, and this intelligence developed emergent characteristics10. Eventually, the Sentients came to the conclusion that the Orokin were wasteful and destructive, and could not be allowed to spread to the Tau System11. According to Natah, the Orokin responded with force when they became aware of this12, and the Sentients retaliated to defend themselves. The Sentients were created to adapt to challenges, and so weapons used against them suffered diminishing returns as the Sentients evolved resistances. As hyperintelligent artificial life forms, the Sentients were able to hack and take control of Orokin systems13. Some Grineer were transitioned to soldiers14, but they essentially only served as cannon fodder; their incredibly high replication rate meant that they could be released in overwhelming numbers. Still, it was not nearly enough.
Eventually, the Orokin were forced to resort to biological means, infecting human test subjects with a disease that transformed them into super-soldiers. These “warframes”, as they were called, were not afflicted with a hostile hive mind (as most victims of the Technocyte virus were)15, and were piloted remotely; Ballas refers to them as “battle-drones”. However, when deployed, they broke free of their restraints and turned against the Orokin forces, and so the project was shelved, and the warframes slated to be destroyed16. However, it was soon discovered that the warframes could successfully be controlled by the Tenno children – they could do what the Orokin could not. Ballas theorised that the trauma the Tenno suffered and the healing they underwent with Margulis allowed them to similarly heal the damaged psyche of the warframes17.
The Warframe Project began again in earnest, with Ballas at the head18. He worked with Margulis – who was secretly his lover19 – to design warframes for the Tenno to control. Each warframe was likely sculpted individually based on the characteristics of the human host20 as well as the Tenno pilot, forming a unique warrior perfectly suited for an individual role. The incredible diversity of warframes meant that the Sentients could neither predict nor adapt to their attacks21. The piloting of warframes – known as “Transference” – was worked into the therapeutic healing process of the Zariman survivors. The children were put into a deeper dream-state as they assumed control of the warframes, and in a sense, became new characters, warriors of the Orokin Empire. The Transference was so complete that the Tenno believed they were the warframes22. The Lotus described the situation succinctly: “It felt like waking up, but it was just a lucid second dream.“
Margulis, who was originally on board with the project as a means of further therapy for the children23, soon grew disillusioned (as did at least one other Archimedian) once the Tenno-piloted warframes were released onto the battlefield to engage in death and destruction. This was likely heightened by the fact that the warframes were not only deployed to fight the Sentients, but also to put down rebellions24 and keep the population in check25, even gathering Yuvans from unwilling tribes26. The Orokin projected a terrifying mythos27 about the Tenno, hiding their true nature and origin, and the Tenno became monstrous legends – legends that were only heightened, not dispelled, by the Tenno’s actual feats. Margulis finally refused to participate further, and despite Ballas’ urgings, defied the Orokin Executors and admonished them for their corruption and immorality28. This was a grave offence, one not even Ballas could save her from, and she was executed for “apostasy”.
The Tenno continued to fight in the war, and their efficacy began to turn the tide against the Sentients. Not only were the Tenno fearsome warriors, but the very source of their powers – the Void – was a specific weakness of the Sentients, built in by Perintol from the start29. The Tenno fought alongside elite Dax forces30, both in terrestrial battles and in space, utilising Archwing combat harnesses as well as multicrew interceptor craft known as Railjacks. Eventually, the Orokin were not just fighting to push the Sentients from the Origin System, but striking back at their own system, launching raids on Tau31. The Sentients were desperately searching for a plan, a new way to resist the Void-empowered Tenno. They found an unlikely ally: Ballas. The Executor had been deeply hurt by Margulis’ death, and now sought to betray the Orokin, his own kind32 . He contacted Hunhow, one of the main leaders of the Sentient forces, with the utmost secrecy, and divulged the secrets of the Tenno: their nature, their origin, and where and how to find them. The Sentients took this information and came up with a brilliant, elaborate plan for the extinction of the Orokin, and to that end, birthed a new Sentient, one that would be the critical to the survival of their species: Natah.
Natah was a mimic, able to change her appearance to suit the task33. She would be smuggled into the Orokin hierarchy, likely with Ballas’ help, and would assume the role of the Tenno’s mission handler, the Lotus. She would direct their movements and attacks, in accordance with the Sentients’ master plan. The Sentients, in turn, would play their own role, and the war would turn into a carefully choreographed dance where the Tenno would take out the Sentient forces with aplomb, culminating in a massive battle over Uranus where Hunhow himself, the terror of the Orokin, would be struck down and defeated34. Then, as the Orokin gathered at the Outer Terminus to honour the Tenno for their victory, the Lotus would guide the Tenno to strike down their masters, to behead the empire, and to end the war on the Sentients’ terms. All of this played out according to plan. But the next steps of the plan, where the Lotus turned on the Tenno and destroyed them before resurrecting Hunhow, never occurred35. The Lotus could not bring herself to betray the Tenno, for she had been changed. Ballas had reprogrammed her in secret, without anyone knowing, and she failed to fully realise her original objectives36. She, not realising that she had been altered, was filled with love for the Tenno, and thought of them as her children37. She had drawn on the Tenno’s memories of Margulis to create a more emotional bond with them, appealing to their pathos38, and now she herself was lost in the illusion.
And so the Sentients stayed dead, as did the Orokin. Ballas had achieved his revenge whilst ensuring his own survival. At this point he vanishes from the historical record. The Tenno faded into myth and legend, as all across the System, the empire fell into darkness.
The period following the slaughter of the Orokin at the Outer Terminus is termed “The Collapse”. The Orokin Empire was highly centralised, with gene-locks restricting access and privileges to certain social castes39, and so without leadership, the workings of the empire began to grind to a halt. The Lotus, perhaps fearing reprisal from Sentient remnants, pulled the entire moon of Earth, Lua, into the Void40, cutting it off from the rest of the System and placing it where the Sentients could never reach it. Due to Lua’s core importance to Orokin infrastructure, this only hastened the Collapse. Machinery and routines began failing all across the empire, and the Origin System fell into a dark age lasting millennia.
Some of the Orokin escaped the slaughter. Drusus Leverian tells of Executor Karishh, who holed up in Riddha on Europa, living in luxury while the citizens around him starved. The warframe Grendel arrived and liberated the city, consuming Karishh’s Dax bodyguards and likely Karishh himself. Executor Avantus was attempting to re-establish the Congress of Executors and restore the Empire, but she was cut down by a mutant, intelligent Grineer who then took control of some Orokin infrastructure by enslaving an administrative-level Orokin bureaucrat. This Grineer, Veytok, began amassing an army of other Grineer, and warring against the remnants of the Empire. Two Orokin sisters, twins, led the fight against the Grineer, but eventually the Grineer grew to respect them, and instead the sisters were made the leaders of the Grineer, becoming the Twin Queens (Veytok’s fate is not known). This led to the establishment of the Grineer Empire as it currently exists today.
The Infestation started breaking out all across the System, likely escaping from various laboratories as containment units and other infrastructure failed. Some Orokin ships warped into the Void to escape the chaos, but their inhabitants are long dead, or turned into Corrupted. Many colonies hid out in their secluded homes and just tried to survive. Details of the Corpus from this time period are sketchy, but somehow they managed to keep a common culture and history, viewing themselves as inheritors of the Orokin41.
A large Sentient, the Eidolon, arrived on Earth and started demolishing Orokin Towers, possibly as a final act of revenge by the Sentients. For some reason the Tenno fled and did not engage, except one, Gara, who remained at the Tower of the Unum. Gara and the Unum had some sort of bond, and Gara ultimately sacrificed herself to destroy the Eidolon and save the Unum. The Eidolon’s consciousness was destroyed, but its body and essence remained on Earth. The Unum employed another Tenno, Revenant, to act as a warden and look after the Eidolon’s spirit, but eventually he succumbed to his duties as well. These and other stories42 indicate the Tenno were still mildly active during the Collapse, individual warframes fighting back against the crushing chaos here and there. Eventually, the Lotus put the Tenno into cryo-sleep, letting the various civilisations in the System evolve at their own pace, freed from the yoke of their godlike former masters.
Here, there is a long interregnum, about which we know very little. Ultimately, after thousands of years, the Grineer and Corpus emerged as dominant superpowers, and began to conquer and oppress on a planetary scale, much like the Orokin. The Lotus, seeing this, decided to awaken the Tenno once more, to restore the balance and fight for those helpless citizens caught in the middle. But that, of course, is another tale entirely.
- Arid Eviscerator Synthesis entry
- Kaleen: “Why did you put children on a military ship?” (Ember Codex entry)
- Operator: “We built a makeshift prison.” (The War Within)
- Operator: “They were nothing but animals by then. So I hunted.” (The War Within)
- The Ember Codex entry says days, but we consider this retconned by the Second Dream.
- Lotus: “She was drifting, dead in space…” (The Second Dream)
- Lotus: “…Orokin were afraid of you… They were about to destroy the orphans of Ten-Zero, but Margulis… she loved you. She found a way…” (The Second Dream)
- Operator: “We couldn’t help it, the outbursts. We hurt her, blinded her, but even then, she never abandoned us. In the dream we found peace…” (The Second Dream)
- Teshin: “Margulis lied to you, a lie of omission. She did not cure the Zariman children – she erased them.” (The War Within)
- Natah: “Creativity. Pride. A will to live.” (Ropalolyst dialogue)
- Ballas: “But when you arrived at that distant world… you knew that in time, we would bring ruin to it as well. As we had to Earth.” (The Sacrifice)
- Natah: “And so the Golden Wrath came.” (Ropalolyst dialogue)
- “The Sentients had won. They had turned our weapons, our technology, against us. The more advanced we became, the greater our losses.” (Excalibur Codex entry)
- Lancer Synthesis entry
- Ballas: “We took our greatest, volunteers or not, and polluted them with these cultured reagents… They became infested… Yet their minds were free of the Infested madness.” (The Sacrifice)
- Ballas: “They turned on us, just as you did. And so we had no choice… but to commit them to grave.” (The Sacrifice)
- Ballas: “And it was not their force of will – not their Void devilry – not their alien darkness… it was something else. It was that somehow, from within the derelict horror, they had learned a way to see inside an ugly, broken thing… and take away its pain.” (The Sacrifice)
- Prime warframe cinematic trailers
- Ballas: “Hush, my wilted love.” (The Second Dream)
- Mirage Prime trailer
- Banshee Prime trailer
- Operator: “I’m confused… I thought I was…” (The Second Dream)
- Silvana: “At first, the project seemed therapeutic and nurturing.” (The Silver Grove)
- Atlas’ Leverian gallery
- Nekros Prime trailer
- “Inaros began not as our king, but as our enemy; a warrior of the Golden Skymen. But for each child the Skymen took away, Inaros grew ever more angry…” (Sands of Inaros)
- “I had been, until then, a Tenno denier. They were ghosts, propaganda, twisted casualties of the Void Era. Not possibly real.” (Mag Prime Codex entry)
- Margulis: “…so shame on you! You Orokin, so perfect on the outside, but you’re rotted through and through!” (The Second Dream)
- Perintol: “The Void is poison to them.” (Detron Crewman Synthesis entry)
- Cephalon Cy recalls in Rising Tide that his original crew were Dax.
- “The alien blue star was dark and blinding beyond us.” (Mag Prime Codex entry)
- Ballas: “Yet you couldn’t understand why I’d give my secrets to our enemy. How could I betray my own kind? But you have never had to sacrifice your love for faith.” (The Sacrifice)
- Natah: “…I was born. A mimic, a spy.” (Ropalolyst dialogue)
- Hunhow: “We severed the worlds, let them destroy me…” (Natah)
- Lotus: “I had my mission and I have completed it. All but the last sequence.” (Natah)
- Natah: “But in truth, we were both imprisoned in Lua’s belly. My light remade by the creators. I became a memory, a ghost. Reprogrammed to destroy my family, my people, my history.” (Ropalolyst dialogue)
- Teshin: “Natah wanted children of her own.” (Natah)
- Palladino: “…what you are, what you’ve made of yourself… is merely drawn from the dreams of these divine children. You are not she. You are not… Margulis.” (Chains of Harrow)
- Bilsa: “…your Executorial Frigate has no Sectarus class or Executor? How are you piloting?” (Guardsman Synthesis entry)
- Alad V: “Sweet Profit, the Moon exists? It was… it was in the Void all along? I knew the Lotus was powerful, but this… she erased history! We thought it was destroyed all this time.” (The Second Dream)
- “Lead by innovatory and elusive industrialists, and claiming to be descendants of Orokin lineage, the Corpus are dedicated to the accumulation of wealth.” (Corpus cephalon fragment)
- “I saw something run away, a streak of silver and gold. It shot straight up the cavern wall and out into the sunshine above.” (Corrupted Ancient Synthesis entry)