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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review

Abelard, fetch the flamer, the heavy flamer

It’s pretty awesome to be a Warhammer 40k fan these days. A nonstop barrage of kickass titles are blasting out and revelling in the dark, blood-soaked imagery of that hopeless millennium. It’s only a small bummer that most of them are distilled into a shooty experience, where you blast first and ask questions never. This dark and comedically oppressive universe defines itself on the hopelessness of it all – so colour me surprised at how the talented staff at Owlcat Games have managed to subvert the usual Warhammer video game experience by way of its most unique asset: a license to flaunt the rules of 40k.

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader employs a very particular asset of Warhammer 40k lore, which is its eponymous namesake – the ability to play as your very own Rogue Trader. In a setting defined by authority and desperately pathetic odds of survival, a Rogue Trader instead flaunts all that bullshit in the name of trailblazing new frontiers and seeing what they can leverage to keep humanity afloat. It’s basically a permit to do all the shit nobody else is allowed to – provided you don’t do anything too unforgivable. This means you can hang out with all the species you’d usually blast, visit the places you’d usually bomb and even sleep with the ethereally beautiful aliens you’d usually wipe out if you fancy. It’s downright unheard of in the Warhammer video game space.

Nun with a gun

I should probably mention that this is all deliciously draped over a turn-based RPG format that lends very well to establishing your ragtag corner of the universe. But before you start navigating the grid-based combat, you’ll start with crafting your very own Rogue Trader, with a familiar spread of stat allocations and background details to nail what ‘kind’ of Rogue Trader you wish to be. While character customisation is serviceable, it definitely lacks when compared to a similar RPG titan such as Baldur’s Gate 3, but you can at least employ the hilarious additional option of importing a custom image of what your freelancing degenerate looks like – adding a deeply personalised giggle to your in-game portrait when it appears.

Initially, the amount of stats and abilities had me reeling, and almost wishing I had something like a D&D Player’s Handbook to really get across everything I was seeing. I let the overwhelming wave of player choice wash over me, and decided to just focus on whatever seemed to help me shoot baddies best, and perhaps charm strange and exotic individuals if they wished to chat. To this end, I came to realise that the systems in play are actually quite simplistic for the sake of getting into the thick of the action, where depth is there to be explored if you want to roll your sleeves up (or just look up a guide that someone far more clever has written.) Your homeworld will offer a bonus to how you operate, your origin will similarly define a range of skills and talents, and finally you can choose from some defined classes including Officer, Operative, Soldier and Warrior. These loosely translate into different ways to biff or blast your enemies, with the creamy middle of your abilities dealing with buffs and debuffs to help or hinder. You can also lean into psychic powers, but any denizen of the Warhammer 40k universe knows that is first class ticket to having your head explode.

Look at this handsome idiot

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Once you start to fill out the threads of your particular niche, you can then look towards covering any weaknesses either by leaning into your weaponry, abilities, or the far more exciting option, companions. Initially my Officer lad established he was good at knocking out one goon at a time via a well placed gunshot, so beefing up my frontline with someone more melee friendly paid dividends. I then addressed my lack of area of effect by utilising the most efficient solution: righteous fire. My lovely zealot lady was more than happy to turn up the heat, and now I had a good simmer going on with multiple enemies. It’s a logical way to solve your problems, with the added bonus that all of these tools in your toolbox are fantastic and fun to interact with.

Conversing and doing stuff with your ragtag allies is amazing, with each of their dynamics cleanly leaping out of the Warhammer 40k mythos. Sister Argenta, a plate-armored battle nun, paid no heed to any romantic advances my Rogue Trader might have tried to charm her way – she only has eyes for the God Emperor himself, obviously. Idira is a psyker, able to manipulate the weird and wonderful warp energies into powerful psychic attacks; and of course many of the crew were wary and worried about this special talent. As mentioned prior, people with special gifts often meet grisly ends – so if you would rather deal with a more refined instrument of the Emperor’s Will, you can even find yourself hanging out with a full-blown Space Marine (essentially a walking tank, and not a bad bloke for a chat if you have the chance). While each character is well written and a hoot to talk with, this actually spotlights one of my biggest gripes about the game, and it is an understandable one: voice acting.

The game is not without voice acting, and the talent on display clearly understood the brief. Smarmy villains and self-important douchebags of the universe ooze with arrogance, valiant defenders and enigmatic aliens will capture you with their tone and cadence. It’s great stuff. But then there are the hefty portions of dialogue that are just text. And it is not a case of laziness, or even budget really – but one of scope. Owlcat has produced a monstrous title that leans into the absurdly huge storytelling that simply has to exist in an RPG with a scale that matches its setting, and in doing so they have made the conscious decision to grab big voice acting moments where they can, and text anywhere else. It’s acceptable, but only really takes on a negative connotation when you hold it up next to the voice acting sections and find yourself wishing there were more of them. In the wake of a monumental title such as Baldur’s Gate 3 you’ll be wanting – and while these dishes may not come from the same kitchen, Rogue Trader is still a hearty meal.

Story-wise, you’ll basically be enjoying your own origin story as to how you came to be the heir to a Rogue Traders position. Much like winning the genetic lottery and becoming royalty, only with less glamour because the far future is still a dark and gruesome place. You’ll then need to address the numerous complications that arise with inheriting phenomenal power and the enemies that covet it. To navigate this tale, you will have a ship at your disposal, handy for shooting the shit with colleagues and sorting out any between-mission issues. You can also take this vessel into space-borne combat – though there is an element of frustration as the majority of weapons do work off a fixed hardpoint, meaning you end up spinning and wheeling about like an old school pirate ship to broadside baddies. Beyond your ship, the vast and terrifying universe awaits – with a great many missions beckoning you to visit all kinds of mundane or far-more-alien locales. With your boots on the ground, you are (mostly) free to explore and even approach problems (read: enemies) how you see fit. The spaces are generous, and poking around can yield some rewards, but you will find yourself feeling cramped at times when you realise you have absolutely embarked on what the developers intended to be a quick 20-minute adventure – rather than a more epic outing. In true RPG fashion, forming up a particular party can have a massive impact on how your mission fares, so giving the ol’ chin a scratch before touching down can be worthwhile. 

If you experience purple glow, see a physician before your head explodes

Within these amazing environments, you then get to impose your privileged position how you wish. The game features a unique twist on morality, avoiding traditional good/evil alignments. Instead, it presents a three-sided “pseudo-morality” system reflecting the grim realities of the Warhammer 40k universe. Your choices will instead have outcomes that are classified as either Heretical, zealously following the Emperor’s will, or a rebellious iconoclast who rejects the rigid dogma of either side. And these choices can range from tiny, inconsequential character moments, ramping all the way up to cataclysmic destruction of human life; and sometimes that option was the only one that felt like the right thing to do.

Overall performance was markedly impressive, to the point where I was actually surprised to discover that the game was a Unity project – there are just that many systems at play that I assumed it would be something bespoke. Of course, it isn’t without fault – FPS will dip during more involved combat experiences, especially when there is a great deal going on in a turn. There were also a number of times where a bug might poke its head in – such as an elevator that refused to arrive, and the odd NPC that might stare at you blankly instead of responding or acting. With the routine saving of the title, a quick load fixed every one of these that I personally encountered – but I would be remiss to imagine that others might not be so lucky.

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Ah yes, the Imperium of mans greatest asset: Disposable human lives

Final Thoughts

The Warhammer 40k universe has seen itself displayed in video games a number of times now, with each new title managing to shed some light on a particular corner of it. Rogue Trader easily manages to punch well above its weight class, effortlessly cramming so much of the grim future-fantasy mythos into a tidy RPG that is rock solid where it counts, and forgivably serviceable elsewhere. Exploring this bleak universe and its denizens feels incredible, whether you are having a casual chat or turning them into a fine red mist, prompting an experience that invites you to delve deeper over the hours of story that await you.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review
The grim darkness of the far future is my playground
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader not only promises, but delivers the very thing it was designed to be – a meaty, authentic Warhammer 40k game that feels right at home in its RPG trappings.
The Good
A smashing application of the Warhammer 40k universe
That Unity engine is doing some very heavy lifting
Combat and player growth feel meaty and rewarding
Tons of mission variety
Companions are wonderfully weird and unique
Genuinely hours upon hours of content to experience
The Bad
Tyranids may be absent, but bugs aren’t
The sporadic voice acting is a bummer
Sprawling mission maps really highlight the cramped, restrictive ones
8.5
GET AROUND IT
  • Owlcat Games
  • Owlcat Games
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
  • December 7, 2023

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review
The grim darkness of the far future is my playground
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader not only promises, but delivers the very thing it was designed to be – a meaty, authentic Warhammer 40k game that feels right at home in its RPG trappings.
The Good
A smashing application of the Warhammer 40k universe
That Unity engine is doing some very heavy lifting
Combat and player growth feel meaty and rewarding
Tons of mission variety
Companions are wonderfully weird and unique
Genuinely hours upon hours of content to experience
The Bad
Tyranids may be absent, but bugs aren’t
The sporadic voice acting is a bummer
Sprawling mission maps really highlight the cramped, restrictive ones
8.5
GET AROUND IT
Written By Ash Wayling

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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