The Warhammer 40,000 universe makes for an incredible setting. Its decomposed, tech-infused Gothic aesthetics were always going to make for a perfect fit for video games when transitioning from tabletop, a fact that Owlcat Games clearly understood when they set out to make Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. The developer is known for their work on the Pathfinder games and now they’re taking a stab at the wildly expansive Warhammer 40,000 universe to bring 2023 yet another RPG. The question is, can Rogue Trader stand tall alongside this year’s massive genre hits?
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader puts players in the boots of the titular Rogue Trader, which is a label that carries much more responsibility than the name implies. To kick things off, players will fine-tune the background and starting attributes for their Rogue Trader. It’s honestly one of the most engaging character creation systems out there, expertly translating the concept of a character sheet into the digital gaming space. There are a variety of backgrounds and archetypes (read: classes) to choose from to get this space-faring journey going. Needless to say, it’s a strong first impression.
Start Off as a Somebody
Whereas most RPGs would see players begin the adventure as an unimportant nobody, Owlcat sees the player-made character blessed by the God Emperor himself to take on the Rogue Trader role. That role provides an immense amount of authority, giving near-total control of all that occurs in the furthest reaches of the unexplored system overseen by the Imperium of Man. Here, that is the Koronus Expanse. There is all manner of dealings occurring in this sector and it’ll take a Rogue Trader to sort it all out however they see fit.
Players will travel the Koronus Expanse with their companions — recruitable members include a Space Wolf, a Psyker and more that I won’t spoil — establishing connections with colonies, fighting of extraterrestrial xenos, and numerous other situations demanding attention. Overwhelming may be the only way to describe the sheer amount of all that awaits the player on their travels, but you won’t find me using that word in a negative context when it comes to story-rich RPGs. Even for those less familiar with the extensive lore of the Warhammer 40,000 universe can find as much joy as die-hard fans thanks to a contextual glossary in-game that provides information about various terms that appear while chatting and exploring.
When it comes to combat, Rogue Trader offers ups brutal, impactful turn-based action. The systems at play here are deep and allow for different playstyles. Melee-focused players can spec into Weapon Skill, whereas those preferring ranged engagements can lean into Ballistic Skill. That’s only a base-level decision when it comes to building out the type of combatant you desire, with advanced archetypes further specializing the player’s focus. Regardless of your chosen route, you will be met with tactical turn-based combat reliant on action points and incorporates a dash of XCOM to the mix for good measure.
Now, I have to say this next part to adequately prepare prospective buyers, even if what is to follow feels unfair. Owlcat has put together a perfectly combat turn-based system that manages to put the punchiness one would desire from these encounters on display. And yet, the system feels a bit antiquated in the wake of Baldur’s Gate 3. I know, I know. That’s no fault of Owlcat Games. How could they have foreseen that the genre would receive one of the most popular and transformative entries in ages? I’m not saying Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader can’t stand on its own, but I think it is worth mentioning to temper expectations regarding combat fluidity and pacing if you are taking the plunge after spending countless hours with Larian Studios’ recent work.
Space for Improvement
That piece aside, the existence of other award-winning RPGs has no bearing on the state of Rogue Trader‘s space combat. The player voidship is used to navigate the wealth of locales littering the Koronus Expanse. That particular travel can often result in random encounters, triggering ship-to-ship combat. It’s a stark contrast from the ground-based action, leaving much to be desired. Ship weapons have different engagement distances, requiring proper positioning. It’s the constant moving around for required repositioning that bogs down these engagements as you try to deplete enemy vessel shields. It’s a real drag compared to its boots-on-the-ground counterpart, making for a chore rather than exciting combat variant.
If this were the only weak point of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, it might be easier to overlook. But sadly that isn’t the case. Unfortunately, the game suffers from a wide array of bugs and glitches. These range from silly moments of T-posing to progress-erasing blockers. It’s a shame to see bugs crop up in so many areas, even if the severity of each isn’t always maddening. There’s a version of that game that may live on the horizon after a handful of patches, but what we’re left with at the moment needs a bit more polishing. That need for tightening up also extends to the random (and extremely punishing) difficulty spikes, but at least that can be partially remedied by a generous list of customizable challenge settings.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review Verdict
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader: Owlcat Games took special care of their endeavor in creating a beautifully grim setting within the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Nearly everywhere you look, Rogue Trader nails its digital realization of the source material. The grittiness of the surroundings is reflected in the brutality of battle, but ground combat far exceeds the tedium of the space-bound dogfights. There's truly a great Warhammer 40,000 game here, both for newcomers and longtime fans, but its edges remain rougher than desired due to a litany of bugs and inconsistent difficulty problems. A great game exists on the other side of focused patches, but right now it's only "mostly" good. – Joshua
Editor’s Note: Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader was reviewed on PC, and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.