Here’s what the average Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader experience is like:
Exhibit A — disembark from your massive space-faring cathedral into a planet like royalty. Expect the servants of the emperor to throw you a welcome party and lick your blood-soaked boots. Get ambushed. Brutally murder the enemies of his holiness. Verbally abuse the ruler of the said planet for their inadequate security detail. Cut off the arm of the chief security officer and arrest the ruling body because this shit won’t fly on my planet. Then proceed to purge heresy on the planet, one bolter-clip at a time. Go back to the voidship.
Exhibit B- Wake up to find your void ship in shambles. The unsanctioned Psyker companion your predecessor had a special affection for has lost her cool. Proceed to purge heresy on the ship, one bolter-clip at a time. Find the said companion. Calm her down and order your faithful Adepta Sororita companion to blow her brains off without a second thought because heresy won’t be tolerated. Go back to sleep.
Owlcat Games has nailed the power fantasy of being an all-mighty imperialist asshole who’s just a bad day away from being a space fascist. While most 40K games present the saturated depictions of Space Marines in combat, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, the first CRPG set in the grimdark universe has deviated from the tried and (sometimes) true boys-in-blue formula to deliver an amazing role playing experience that’s a few technical issues away from greatness. Presenting Gameffine’s Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader review.
Unlike most RPGs where you start out as a lvl 1 thug, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader puts you in the boots of a potential heir of the mighty Von Valacius dynasty, a mighty Rogue Trader bloodline- a scion of daring privateers who reign over their own trade protectorate and explore the fringes of Imperial space with the blessing of the Emperor Himself. Things go awry during your selection process. The Von Valancius voidship is attacked by forces of chaos. The current head of the dynasty, Theodora Von Valancius is brutally murdered. Thanks to other potential candidates for the throne becoming “indisposed”, the player character unexpectedly rises to power as the head of the Von Valancius dynasty. But Rogue Trader isn’t just a fancy title. Whether you like it or not, you must take up the mantle, as well as the responsibility that comes with it. Taking the city-sized ship, its denizens and thousands of Protectorate planets under your wing, the new Rogue Trader has some business to conduct in the Koronus Expanse.
Like Owlcat’s previous two outings, the general story, writing, dialogues and quest design are pretty good. There’s an aura of mystery to the story that spans 5 huge chapters. The source material, where everyone hates each other, is treated with respect and the devs even made the lore easy to follow even to the initiate thanks to the addition of an in-game glossary. While there is a large focus on combat, opportunities for role-playing lurk in every corner. Rogue Trader offers three “moral” paths for your super-privileged space-faring avatar: Dogmatic – adhering to the conviction that endangering the lives of millions or billions is justified for protecting the Imperium of man. Iconoclastic- believing that there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and that humanity must be placed above all else. Then there is the Heretical path, where you let the chaos gods run wild in your head. All three are deeply flawed, colorless ideologies that represent the absolute clusterfuck the 40K universe is, was, and will be. Rogue Trader is a lot similar to Tyranny in the sense that the most humane choice in a given situation involves dooming hundreds of lives every single day just to keep the heresy at bay. Rogue Trader is a wet dream for every 40K nerd out there wanting to live out their board-game fantasies in video game form.
Owlcat makes some of the most complex and deep CRPGs in the market, and Rogue Trader is no exception. At the same time, it’s also their most accessible game yet, thanks to not having the baggage of the Pathfinder ruleset. The character creation is pretty detailed, with the character’s homeworld, origin, background, attributes and archetype all contributing to the character class. Players can pick a second and even a third archetype upon hitting specific levels, resulting in the players able to experiment quite a lot with the system. Each level up treats the players to a slew of passives, attribute bonuses, talents and skills free for the taking. This can be quite overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of the basic systems at play, making the character you want becomes a pretty easy process.
Speaking of character classes, for once, in an Owlcat game, I found all the classes to be pretty balanced and viable. Sure, there are some weapons and skills that are way overpowered than the rest, but all the three characters I made blindly had no problem navigating the many perils of the warp on Daring difficulty. Combat is your standard turn-based affair is fun for the most part but sometimes can be pretty janky. The combat is exclusively turn-based, and there are no RTwP elements this time around. Many skills do not work the way they should, but more on that later. I also wish there was an option to modify a companion’s attributes, since a lot of them have “questionable” stats for their archetypes. Speaking of companions, excluding Argenta, the Sister of Battle, the rest of the cast are not as good as the ones in Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous. The romance subplot also seems like an afterthought. Of course, you can easily dispose them and run with custom companions.
Space is an Ocean
Like Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous before it, Rogue Trader too features secondary gameplay loops. And once again, like the former’s kingdom management and the latter’s Crusades, Rogue Trader’s, secondary loop is hit or miss. Being a privileged representative of the God Emperor, the player can chart routes to multiple solar systems, establish colonies in planets, establish trade relationships with various factions and finally, engage in space battles. Traversal, establishing colonies and trading with other factions are pretty straightforward, if poorly explained affairs. There are various resources like navigator points, profit factor, materials, human resources, colony efficiency, colony security, etc. to keep an eye on. But these are largely passive systems, and players won’t have to micromanage them. Trading with factions is as simple as collecting loot, putting them in your cargo with the click of a button and deciding which faction it is that you’re giving it to. The more your reputation with a faction, the better gear you get from them. Since the Rogue Trader has endless wealth, trading works based on your profit factor and not an in-game currency. Pretty streamlined stuff.
I wish I could say the same about the Void combat. Ship to ship combat becomes an integral part of the game as the story progresses. The whole system is best explained as tolerable at best and snooze-inducing jarring at worst. You’d think that with all the privilege that comes with being a Rogue Trader, you’d command a fleet of hulking space cathedrals in exhilarating space combat. Well, it sucks to be you, because Void combat in Rogue Trader is turn-based, slow, boring, limited and devoid of any strategy. You’re almost always outnumbered by even the most pathetic of enemy fleets, and your ship feels like it’s made of bubble wrap for a large majority of the game. Most ships you fight has multiple universal facing weapons and can easily maneuver themselves to hit you from any angle while your own ship struggles to get in position. It does get a bit better once you get more upgrades for your ship but even then, most battles end up with you staying as far away from the enemy ships and hoping that your torpedoes do the job for you. I feel like the whole thing would have been a lot better if it was RTwP, upgrades costed fewer scraps and the ship’s starting armor value was increased by 30%.
Warhammer 40,000 is not a visual extravaganza by any means, but it gets the job done. The art style is colorful but maintains the grim techno-gothic feel of the source material. You can almost smell the engine oil, rotting flesh and taint of chaos throughout. The same can’t be said for the animations, which look pretty janky, especially during scripted scenes. The game managed to maintain between 80–144 fps on my RTX 3070 at 1080p native on maximum graphics. There is no DLSS upscaling, but a blurry FSR option is present.
When it comes to technical issues, Rogue Trader is the least buggy of all Owlcat’s games, but that isn’t saying much. While I was fortunate enough to not run into any game-breaking bugs in my 80 hours of play, the forums are filled with bug reports. Even a few friends of mine had to restart entire sections or even the entire game after hitting brick walls. The bugs I encountered were annoying for sure, but not entirely disruptive. I even ran into a hilarious bug that’d make your character invisible after having sex with a companion. Sex too good? A lot of skills don’t work the way they should right now, and it’s annoying to figure out which one’s working and which ones are not. Character animations get the worst with dead enemies springing back to life, NPCs stuck mid-animation, skills with missing animations, etc. Then there are the bugged achievements, of which there are plenty. I’ve shelved my ambitions to 100% the game for the time being. This all being said, Owlcat has been hard at work releasing patches ever since launch. So far, they’ve released four major patches addressing all sorts of issues, as well as fixing the issues introduced in previous patches. The next major patch is set for launch this month. It’s safe to say that players will have to wait a few months to get the definitive Rogue Trader experience.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is easily one of the best W40K games out there right now, offering a decent story, rich role-playing opportunities, deep character customization, a servicable combat system and the chance to play as a uber-privileged space fascist. The boring space battles and generic companions do drag the experience down a bit and if you’re someone who has a low tolerant rate towards technical issues, it’s best to wait for the inevitable definitive edition that’s bound to come out soon. Glory to the Imperium of Man!
FINAL RATING: 80/100
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue TraderWarhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader
- Rich role-playing opportunities
- Engaging story and writing
- Nails the tone of the 40K universe
- Bugs galore
- Space battles are boring
- Colony management and trading are not very interesting