Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader
December 7th, 2023
PC (Steam, GOG, Epic Games Store), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is among the best-realized settings ever, one that is ripe with stories to tell. As such, it is not surprising to see so many games based on the futuristic universe created by Games Workshop. Very few of these, however, are full-fledged RPGs, which is, honestly, not that surprising considering the deep and intricate lore that makes creating a role-playing game based on it an extremely difficult task for most game development studios. Owlcat Games, the studio behind the Pathfinder series, however, rose up to the challenge with Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, a solid cRPG with tactical turn-based combat based on the classic Rogue Trader ruleset which is only a few steps away from being a must play for all fans of the genre.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader allows players to become a Rogue Trader, an especially esteemed figure in the Imperium of Man who is tasked with expanding said Imperium by exploring and essentially colonizing areas outside its sphere of influence, such as the Koronus Expanse. At the start of the game, however, your custom character is not yet a Rogue Trader but only one of the possible heirs of Theodora Von Valacius. Having been invited to her voidship, the protagonist makes the acquaintance of the Rogue Trader, members of her crew, and the other possible heir, little knowing that they will end up replacing Theodora following her death by the hand of the forces of Chaos. The new Rogue Trader, however, seems destined for a higher purpose, and everything that will happen around them seems to steer them in a certain direction. Their actions will have profound consequences on the uncharted Koronus Expanse and possibly the Imperium of Man as they fight against an evil that seems to be spreading further.
Before we evaluate the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader setting and story, I have to preface how my knowledge of the universe is basic and limited to its central elements. As such, I am not able to tell if everything the game by Owlcat features is 100% coherent with the established lore, so my evaluation will probably be more useful for players like me who don’t live and breathe in the Imperium of Man.
Prior knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 lore and world will make it easier for players to feel involved in the story of the Rogue Trader Von Valancius, but even those with limited knowledge of it will find plenty to like in the game. While the game throws at you so many different terms and concepts right from the beginning, Owlcat Games has done an excellent job making their game as welcoming as possible. A contextual glossary is always available for specific terms, providing quick explanations that are further expanded in the Corpus Valancius, which also includes tutorials that better explain Archetypes and gameplay mechanics. As such, everything there is to know of importance about the Warhammer 40,000 world is readily available at almost any time inside the game itself.
As for the actual story, it is undeniable how the tale told by Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is rather gripping, involving the Rogue Trader in all sorts of endeavors ranging from quelling a heretical rebellion to watching a star disappear. While the story starts to get a little repetitive over time, as it seems like no planet in the Koronus Expanse cannot solve its issues without the Rogue Trader’s intervention, it is refreshing to see the Warhammer 40,000 world outside of the parts of the universe we have seen in several other titles.
Like in any proper RPG, the story is influenced by how the Rogue Trader reacts to the events. Making certain choices dictates their Conviction between Dogmatic, absolute adherence to the precepts of the God-Emperor; Heretical, devotion to the corruption and taint of the warp; and Iconoclast, belief in the value of human life and freedom and faith in the power of goodwill capable of overcoming challenges without following artificial prohibitions. Depending on the Conviction, the story will unfold differently, and certain skills will also become available. While all Convictions do offer some interesting developments during the story, Heretical is the one that leaves something to be desired the most. While it could have been the most interesting, given how being heretical or just leaning towards a worldview that goes against the God-Emperor is seen as the ultimate sin in the world of Warhammer 40,000, the Heretical Conviction is often straightforward evil with little nuance, sometimes bordering cartoonish evil which feels at odd with such a well-developed setting.
With all Convictions offering some unique story developments and interactions, Rogue Trader is a game that someone who wants to experience everything it has to offer will play for a very long time. The massive campaign requires around 50 hours to clear with a minimal amount of side content completed, and possibly more depending on the difficulty level. Going straight for the main story, however, is not the best way to enjoy the game, as many of the side quests are very well-crafted and allow the Rogue Trader to deepen their relationship with the companions and even romance them. They also feel more varied than main story quests, featuring a better variety of situations, such as a contended inheritance of an old pirate turned benefactor.
Much like the story, the companions in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader are rather well developed. Nicely enough, many of them will join the Rogue Trader within the first four hours or so of the campaign, giving them plenty of time to develop. Among them are the Seneschal Abelard, the Sister of Battle Argenta, the Interrogator Heinrix, the Navigator Cassia, the Psyker Idira, the Xenos Yrliet Lanavyss, and the Space Wolf Ulfar. Interactivity with and between them is excellent, as very often, they will make it clear to the Rogue Trader when they disagree with their actions and will also argue among themselves, sometimes with important consequences. Each companion has their own personal history, a questline focused on them and their own epilogues, and they are so well developed that they put many companions of much fancier role-playing games to shame. Romance options are also available, and some can be particularly interesting due to the possible combinations between convictions.
The Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader gameplay doesn’t exactly deviate from what we have seen so far in Owlcat Games and tactical role-playing games, although with some unique tweaks related to the setting. Controlling a party of up to six members, players can explore a variety of different locations in a top-down view after reaching them in space with the Voidship using a relatively straightforward menu-based system that involves scanning for routes in a big map, interacting with a variety of objects, occasionally pass some skill checks, speak with other NPCs and engage enemies in combat. While location design is complex enough, as they offer multiple paths filled with items to collect and enemies to fight, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is most definitely not on the same level as Baldur’s Gate 3 when it comes to world reactivity. While there are multiple ways to solve conflicts, they are not comparable in scope and number to those offered by Larian Studios’ latest game. The comparison is perhaps unfair, given the differences in size between the two studios, but I fear it is inevitable.
This is not to say that the game feels dated. While at its heart, the combat system is extremely straightforward, offering the same cover-based experience seen in other titles, some interesting twists make it rather unique, namely the Momentum system. As the player deals damage, they gain Momentum, and once it reaches a certain threshold, it is possible to unleash extremely powerful Ultimate Abilities called Heroic Acts, which can easily turn the tide of any battle. On the other hand, if the player’s Momentum value drops below a certain threshold, it becomes possible to unleash these abilities as Desperate Measures, which have the same effects as Heroic Acts but with a debuff on top of them.
For the rest, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader’s battle system comes with some of the hardcore features of a tactical turn-based system, such as bullet penetration, which can cause bullets to go through multiple targets, friendly fire, cover destruction, and more. Additionally, the Movement Point and Action Point systems, which dictate a unit’s movement range and number of actions that can be performed in a single turn, work slightly differently than in other similar games, as using certain actions, for example, will prevent the units from moving.
While the combat experience could have gotten dull throughout the game, despite the acceptable variety in scenarios, Rogue Trader makes it so this never happens with its class system, which always gives players something new to play with each level up. The Archetype system comprises four Tier I classes – Warrior, Officer, Operative, and Soldier – eight Tier II classes – Assassin, Vanguard, Bounty Hunter, Master Tactician, Grand Strategist and Arch-Militant – and a final Tier III class called Exemplar. While, on paper, the number of Archetypes can feel low, there are huge amounts of customization possibilities within each Archetype, which are further expanded by the origin of any specific character. To make an example, both Idira and Pasqal start as Operative, but they can learn very different abilities as Idira is also a Psyker who has access to powerful psychic abilities, while Pasqal, being a Tech-Priest, comes with abilities that are unique to his origin, such as the ability to add additional effects to weapons and more.
Even without taking origin and unique abilities into account, each archetype can be built extremely differently. To make another example, my Rogue Trader was built as an offense-oriented Warrior and then Assassin that can dish out tons of damage and can dual wield weapons, while another Warrior in my party, the Seneschal Abelard, was built as a tank capable of withstanding even more heavy damage once I made him a Vanguard. Archetypes, in general, are decently balanced, although some are definitely more useful than others. Officers, for example, can grant extra turns to any party member, resulting in units like Argenta able to clear entire maps by themselves in conjunction with their Heroic Acts.
Much like other games from Owlcat, the versatility of the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader class system comes at a cost: complexity. At the start of the game, those without knowledge of the tabletop game are sure to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and new abilities that each character can learn upon leveling up. Thankfully, as already mentioned, the game features extensive tutorials and guidance for pretty much every mechanic, so with some patience and plenty of reading, it is possible to understand every little nuance of the system better. Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader also features multiple difficulty settings, including a customizable setting, so it is entirely possible to play the game at a low difficulty and not have to worry about creating the perfect build for each character.
Ground combat is only half of the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader combat features, as from Chapter 2 onwards, it becomes possible to engage in space combat, which retains the turn-based aspects of ground combat while introducing a few twists, such as having to move the voidship before a turn can be ended, shields that must be depleted before any ship can be damaged, and different weapons with very specific ranges. While the voidship customization options are almost as extensive as those available for playable characters, space combat feels more than an annoyance, as having to steer the ship properly so that weapons can be used feels cumbersome and slows down the pace of battles a lot, even when fighting against small, weak ships.
Now a staple for Owlcat’s titles, Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader also features some management mechanics where players need to develop and manage colonies and keep them supplied with resources to increase their renown and become able to trade with even more NPCs. Extracting resources is an important part of the game’s space exploration mechanics, and it is relatively straightforward, so it doesn’t feel particularly annoying, as opposed to, for example, the Crusade mode from Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader also features a multiplayer mode that will allow players to join the adventure of another Rogue Trader. Unfortunately, I was not able to test multiplayer out due to the limited online population during the review period.
While Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is generally a solid experience, it doesn’t feel very polished. As is now tradition for Owlcat, the game suffers from a variety of bugs, both minor and major, that get in the way, although many of them were already fixed in the launch version. Having been unable to play through the game again once the launch version went live, I cannot say how much the situation has improved, although the developer confirmed having squashed a total of 1361 bugs, so the experience is sure to have improved. The user interface, while improved over the alpha and the beta, still feels a little clunky, especially with a controller, so it takes a while to get used to it.
The lack of polish, thankfully, doesn’t extend to visuals and performance. While the classic top-down visuals aren’t among the prettiest we have seen, with somewhat simple character models, there’s no denying that they look extremely good, especially the locations, which are ripe with all sorts of details that bring the Koronus Expanse alive. Character portraits are also extremely good, and some cinematic sequences, while simple, help immersion greatly.
The visuals also let the game perform well on a variety of system configurations. At native 4K resolution, max settings during the big boss battle at the end of Chapter 1, the game ran at an average of 66 FPS, with 31 FPS 1% Low on the machine used for the test (i7-13700F, RTX 4080, 32 GB RAM). At the same settings and resolution, with AMD FSR set to Quality, the average FPS shot up to 90, with 37 FPS 1% Low. The game features tons of graphics settings to tweak, so most players shouldn’t have trouble running hitting 60 frames per second. Since this is a tactical turn-based game, high framerates are not exactly a requirement to enjoy it to the fullest.
Despite not being a hardcore fan of the setting, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader managed to capture my attention right from the get-go, resulting in an enjoyable experience for the over 50 hours I spent with it. While the game by Owlcat doesn’t have the wide appeal of Baldur’s Gate 3, it is a solid cRPG that is just a step away from being yet another must-buy title of 2023, mostly due to the lack of polish and some unenjoyable mechanics such as space combat.
PC version tested. Review code provided by the publisher.
With the great amount of love for the setting that was poured into the game evident from every line of dialogue and every little detail, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is one of the best games based on the universe created by Games Workshop, and a solid tactical turn-based role-playing game that can provide hundreds of hours of fun. However, while the lack of innovation isn’t a major setback thanks to its high-quality campaign, the presence of bugs and frustrating mechanics prevents it from being a must-have for all RPG enthusiasts, limiting its appeal beyond Warhammer 40,000 and Owlcat Games fans.
- Engaging story influenced by player’s choices
- Well-developed companions
- Solid tactical turn-based combat
- Deep class system
- Gameplay is not particularly innovative
- Frustrating space combat