Gauss is out. And, sadly, he seems to exemplify my one biggest gripe with Warframe's design. While every new weapon has a good chance of stirring things up, shifting balance and creating new powerhouses to compete with old ones, Warframes tend to struggle a bit with staying relevant. It is somewhat of a 'to be expected' issue, considering we have Saryn and Mesa, who are the undisputed queens of rapidly clearing vast hordes of enemies, and it's hard to compete with them for damage output, while on the defense side we have a fairly large variety of very hard to kill frames.
Every frame that comes out is mostly judged on their ability to control, survive, and boost weapon kill potential. It's a shame, in my opinion, that damage fell off the wagon entirely somewhere along the line.
I understand and agree with DE's concern about Saryn-esque gameplay. Push a button, everything dies. No one else gets to fight anything. I will not propose anything of the sort. But a persisting reluctance to put any punch behind Warframe ability damage is not the solution. There's more creative ways to resolve this concern, and those ways may be able to unlock fresh, exciting new ideas and concepts.
The best part? There's quite a few ways that have already been implemented. So in this thread, I will list a few of those mechanisms and will explain how they could be used to build for more relevant damage-oriented Warframes that -don't- break gameplay down.
1: The external resource
Solution for energy overflow
When Warframe launched, it seems like DE wanted to rely on MOBA style ability set-ups. Three regular abilities with moderate cooldowns, and a fourth, 'ultimate' ability that features a longer cooldown. However, they opted for energy costs in the end, as opposed to cooldowns, and over the years, energy income has been improved.
To the point where the 'ultimate' ability's comparatively high energy cost is no longer a way to hold it back. This means not too much power can be put into it, as it is too easy to get that power out.
This is where an external resource can be used effectively. In Baruuk's case, his Desert Wind is allowed a bit more punch (Large AoE waves that ignore terrain collision) in exchange for having usage restriction in the form of 'Restraint'. Baruuk is forced to play the game in pace with other Warframes until he has accrued enough external resource to use his ultimate, at which point he is able to lay waste to enemies until he has expended all of it. Well, in theory anyway.
This is a good format for building stronger frames. A suggestion I had for an Ember rework changed her ultimate into a Phoenix form, which consumed 'cinders'. Cinders would be acquired through her other abilities, mainly by setting enemies on fire. While the Phoenix Form would be active, she would get a special exalted weapon and be able to fly (And be unable to drop below 1 HP with the augment) while consuming cinders continuously. Once the cinders run out, the ability would end, and she would have to harvest more cinders to be able to use it again. This way, while she is able to utterly annihilate large swaths of enemies while in her ultimate form, she would still spend a good chunk of the game on the same playing field as other Warframes.
2: The build-up
Solution for power scaling
Of all the frames we have, Nidus is the closest we have gotten to a solid damage-frame design. Most Warframes' damage abilities simply do not do enough damage to scale even reasonably well. Their damage starts out fairly low and the restricted modding capacity doesn't allow it to improve much.
Nidus' mutation, on the other hand, fixes that. Virulence, his main damaging ability, scales in damage based on the number of mutation stacks he has. Every five hits from it grant a stack, and every stack increases the ability's damage by 100%. Stacking up to 100 times, this means a whopping 10.000% increase to its damage. For comparison: Ember's fireball, which, in terms of design, is a quintessential damage ability, deals either 400 damage, or can be charged up to 800 damage. Virulence has no charge up, has a base damage of 200, but can be increased, via mutation, to 20.000. He only needs four stacks to break even with Fireball's charged form.
This is a good way to allow Warframes to have power in their abilities without having them hinder their teammates' gameplay too much. Their slow start gives other frames an advantage over them early on, but as a mission drags on, Nidus starts to overtake and shine. This could be used more often to allow Warframes to remain more relevant in longer missions as well.
Nidus is already a good example of a frame that runs a build-up mechanism to great effect, but we could have more frames employ this. Imagine if Volt's static stacked up in a more permanent fashion and applied to his Shock. It would help to put it back on the map. Same goes for Frost's damage abilities. If he had a stacking mechanism to do with undercooling, it could allow him to expand his use outside of Snowglobe.
3: The cooldown
Solution for persistent power spike
As mentioned before, 'ultimate' abilities aren't really 'ultimate'. They're used continuously due to an abundance of energy. This means that an ability that is supposed to cause a power spike instead just creates a power plateau that a warframe gets stuck on. Something like Equinox' Maim, Garuda's Talons and even Volt's Discharge are extremely consistent output. That's a fairly good thing, you want these abilities to be accessible, but if they are to be used continuously, they need to be brought down to stay in line to a reasonable degree.
Harrow's 'ultimate', Covenant, is undoubtedly extremely powerful. Completely immunising your entire party from -all- damage and status effects at the push of a button? That's brutally powerful. The thing that offsets it is that, once the invulnerability expires, the damage negated is turned into a crit chance buff. And while that buff is active, Covenant cannot be recast.
This effectively gives Covenant a cooldown, a downtime. Something that leaves him vulnerable. A sort of 'burnt out' state during which he faces the same challenges everyone else does.
This could be used in other instances to similarly leverage higher power on ultimates. Imagine a damage frame that is able to emit a single wave that deals massive damage to all enemies in a large radius, and subsequently gets a buff of some kind. Maybe he gets bonus armour, or shields, or his fire-rate is increased. While the buff is active, he can't recast it. This adds a tactical challenge to the ability. Choosing when to use it to get the most value out of it, and while it allows the frame the kick of 'I just went godmode there', it also allows the rest of the party to play inbetween his casts.
4: The mini-quest
Solution for persistent power spike
Gauss is the other solution to the same problem. As much as his kit feels hindered and just a tad undertuned in most areas, Redline is a -blast- once you get it to fire. Everything about him is improved, giving you a very powerful feeling while you zip around and tenderize your enemies.
Redline doesn't come for free. Every time it is used, the player has to fulfill its condition to get the reward. In Gauss' case: Movement. Moving charges his battery, and he needs to push it 100% over the redline to get the reward to trigger, which means he needs to focus on staying mobile. Lots of sprinting, lots of Mach Rushing to push that battery as fast as possible.
This is very similar to the cooldown concept, but it fills the downtime with gameplay, keeping the player on their toes. Imagine if a melee oriented Warframe had something like this. Activate the ability, then you need to make a certain number of melee kills to trigger the ability, which massively increases your melee range, speed, damage, crit stats or status stats, maybe augments your other abilities, too. Slap on a good sound effect and you've got a super satisfying experience, where the sound just tells the world around you 'You're all screwed now!'.
This is also a good option for a 'mage' style Warframe, as this concept could alter abilities. Imagine if a frame had something akin to Ember's Fireball, except while 'redlining', that fireball is always fully charged, or bounces, exploding on each bounce, or it instead hurled a fan of fireballs.
Basically, the mini-quest is a way for frames to be tasked with -earning- their godmode experience, as opposed to giving it away for free, continuously.
I hope the devs read this. I am loving each of these mechanisms, but I wish they would be put to use more frequently, and with a bit more conviction. We need stronger frames that aren't just vessels for the weapons they carry. We need better casters, too. We're void-addled godchildren, whose dreams and aspirations inspired the warframes. Surely there must've been Tenno that dreamed of wielding their powers like a conductor of destruction?
It would do the game and, I imagine, the team some good to ease off the brakes for Warframes. They've got a lot of catching up to do compared to weapons. After all, if the Lenz can blow up a massive area for 660 damage, or 1320 damage with one single mod, then surely Ember's fireball deserves to do a bit more than 800 damage after a three second charge?