Usually, Warhammer games come in two variants. Tabletop adaptations or novel adaptations. Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader is of the latter variant. It grasps your attention right from the get-go and doesn’t let go of it until the very end. In my review, we’ll see what this charming game has to offer.
The Story of Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader
The story is probably the best part of the game. I honestly felt like I was reading a Dan Abnett novel while playing through the campaign. Dan Abnett is probably one of my favorite authors, no other author manages to grab my attention so thoroughly, especially when it comes to the Warhammer universe. So when I got the same feeling while playing through Rogue Trader, I was pleasantly surprised.
Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader puts you in the shoes of a Rogue Trader. Sort of like a real-life Conquistador, but with a lot more privileges to boot. As a Rogue Trader, you’re chartered by the Emperor himself to explore the known and unknown regions of the Universe, so that you may bring them into the imperial fold.
Now, where our real-world Conquistadors had to deal with the occasional scurvy or flu outbreak, Warhammer 40K’s denizens have to deal with what is colloquially known in the Warhammer 40K community as “warp-fuckery”, among a slew of other undesirable situations.
Even though the game has a nasty tendency to throw you into distressful situations, it still manages to give you a feeling of agency that is rarely matched by other games. Your choices carry weight in the universe. A bad choice that you made 5 hours ago can and will come back to bite you in the butt. This fact necessitates prudence in almost every decision you make.
The Gameplay of Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader
Oh boy, where do I even begin with the gameplay? Honestly, there’s so much substance to the game that I can easily spend hours talking about every neat little detail and still not cover everything. In essence, it’s a turn-based tactical game in the style of XCOM or Baldur’s Gate.
You take command of a cast of unique characters, all with their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the characters are predetermined, except for the player character, which can either be selected from a list of premade characters or a custom unique character. If you don’t mind the hassle, you can even upload your custom portrait and use it in-game.
The game uses a class system that it calls Archetypes. Each class has its fine nuances, however, in general. Soldiers are good for shooting, Warriors are good for melee, Operatives are good for buffs and debuffs, and Officers are good for buffing your warship. More on that later.
If you’ve played DnD before, you’re probably already familiar with the combat system. Characters have Movement Points and Action Points. Each character has a set distance to which they can move and a set cost for each action. The presence of a cover system also greatly enriches the tactical aspects of the game.
Did Somebody Mention Warships?
Oh yes! Warships are absolutely a part of this game. Meet The Emperor’s Remarks, my personal flagship. Any Rogue Trader worth their salt must have their bonafide flagship to rule their dominion from and they’d be a pretty cruddy Rogue Trader otherwise.
Taking care of your ship is actually a big part of the story. Any sailor can tell you that maintaining a ship is a lot harder than building a ship. Over time, kinks will develop in any piece of machinery, especially in ones that are thousands of years old. Having to take care of your warship adds to the immersion of the game.
What about the void combat though? Well, if you’ve played Battlefleet Gothic Armada before, wash away your expectations right away. This isn’t that type of space combat game. Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader takes a more tactical approach to its void combat. You only have one ship at your disposal, so you better make it count.
It’s in the void encounters that the strengths and weaknesses of your ship become apparent. It’s also those moments that end up being the most intense. Losing an ally during an encounter isn’t a big deal, as the characters are immortal. Losing your ship on the other hand is an instant game over.
Dialogue So Good It Even Humanizes Xenos
The reason I called Rogue Trader a novel adaptation rather than a tabletop adaptation is because of the things it allows. In tabletop adaptations, the relations between the different factions are usually black and white. In Rogue Trader, they are anything but that. Rogue Traders are pragmatic characters, as such, they will practically employ anyone willing to join them.
For reference, in the course of the campaign, your motley crew will consist of an Unsanctioned Psyker, a Space Wolf, a mutated Navigator, an Aeldari Ranger, a Drukhari pirate, and many more charming weirdoes.
Getting to know your crewmates makes the superficially grim world of Warhammer feel slightly less hostile. And, ironically, in getting to know your crewmates you also discover yourself. Each character has 3 alignments that they build towards. Dogmatic, Iconoclast, and Heretical. The decisions you make during dialogues will send you down each of the three paths.
Will you stand for rationality and the Imperial Truth and be an Iconoclast? Does the imposing danger alarm you and send you down a path of Dogmatism? Or are the promises of the Warp so appealing that you are willing to sell your soul and go down the Heretical path? Each decision brings with it drastic consequences later on, so think them through wisely.
The Things I Liked About Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader
Honestly, I loved everything about Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader. It does so many things right that it’s impossible to elevate just one thing above the rest. The difficulty selection screen at the start is quite extensive, which is always nice. The main story as well as the side content is enticing and memorable, and the combat is challenging enough that it remains rewarding and fun throughout the game.
In my opinion, it’s one of the best 40K games to come out in recent years. It perfectly captures the grim-dark feel of the 41st millennium. You have just enough agency to make a positive change in the universe. However, deep down you know that no matter what you do, the war-torn 41st Millenium will never truly be at peace.
The Things I Didn’t Like About Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader
My main complaint with Rogue Trader mainly comes down to content spacing. There’s a LOT of content in Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader. Hundreds of hours even. However, that content isn’t always equally distributed. Certain points in the game feel barren, while at other times it feels as if content is being shoved down your throat.
Admittedly, this is mostly a nitpick of mine. I like it when a game spaces out its content. That way I have more time to process everything and remember important details. When a game shoves everything in my face all at once, it becomes hard to distinguish and remember what’s important and what isn’t.
Final Verdict and Closing Remarks
All in all, Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader is a balanced experience that offers a bit of everything, both to 40K and non-40K fans. If you want to get the 40K feel without reading through a long-winded book. Play Rogue Trader.
The game is abundant with richness in almost every aspect. From the story to the gameplay to its cast, to the world it’s based in. In a few years, I can see this game being considered a classic. I for one know that I will be coming back to it over and over again.
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This review is based on the PC version of Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader Review. The key was provided by UberStrategist PR Team and Owlcat Games.