Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review
Surprisingly Tyranid Free!
It can be a grueling task to adapt an established universe into an epic adventure befitting the source material. Owlcat Games tries to do this once again with its latest turn-based cRPG Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader and successfully encapsulates the vibrant and rich universe, while falling short in other areas. Bugs, glitches, and loading times pad a lengthy, yet enjoyable, adventure to ridiculous levels. Patch work may be incoming, but it’s currently a fight against aggravating qualities rather than an experience that immerses players.
Far away from the established parts of the galaxy lies the Koronus Expanse. This is a lawless area with riches constantly fought over by the Imperium of Man, pirate clans, and the elf-like Xenos. The Imperium is represented by three Rogue Traders chosen by the Emperor of Mankind and given the freedom to expand humanity in ways they see fit. As such they aren’t easily trifled with. The player character is the latest potential heir to the Rogue Trader Theodora Von Valancius. On a typical trip through the Warp, an alternate dimension used to travel the vast distance of space where travelers are at the mercy of the demonic entities within it, Theodora’s head of spies Kunrad Voigtvir stages a coup with the help of said entities. This leads to Theodora’s death and the player becoming a newly minted Rogue Trader ready to shape their dynasty.
Choices in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader don’t fit neatly into either good or evil. There are three convictions — Dogmatic, Iconoclast, and Heretic — that players can choose from and it can be very difficult to be a traditionally good person in this cutthroat universe. Dogmatic characters are militaristic, strict, and fanatically devoted to the Emperor of Mankind’s tenets; rules are strictly enforced, and trying to bend them can easily lead to death. Iconoclasts value life and aim for peace and survival, potentially allowing the rules to slide. Heretics just want to see the world burn, befriending the chaotic, insane, and demonic to wreak havoc on the Koronus Expanse. There’s a fascinating level of nuance in many of these decisions, with many choices having no happy outcome, making for a well rounded and interesting to explore universe.
The Koronus Expanse is frankly terrible for the common citizen. They are consistently used, abused, or sacrificed by all the major players in the universe. With nobility corrupt and consistently infighting, many turn, either by necessity or force, to one of three religious sects. The Imperium has common citizens pray to the Emperor of Mankind for salvation and avoidance of temptation, continuing to live in poverty. Omnissiah are tech-priests who revere machinery, looking to understand and soothe these mechanical spirits by adorning themselves with voice boxes and metallic tendrils. Few follow Heresy willingly as most of the sect is brainwashed and driven insane to allow for the stronger members to continue depraved acts of humanity’s darkest base desires. The Imperium and Omnissiah are largely able to get along thanks to their Dogmatic natures, uniting against Heresy for its chaotic and demonic nature. Meanwhile, Pirates pillage anyone they can see and Xenos hate everyone. Xenos are split into two camps with the Aeldari ignoring humanity unless they encroach on their lands while the Drukkhari consider them playthings to be tortured and killed, but both agree that the Mon-Keigh (their name for humanity) are less than them.
As a Rogue Trader, the player is powerful and influential enough to befriend, or anger, any of these camps and come out relatively unscathed. This means that their companions can come from various viewpoints. Every companion’s journey highlights moments of strength and weakness in these real, yet very flawed individuals. Companion quests are a highlight of the story as they enrich the world, make villains loom larger, and add context to the blank slate that is the Rogue Trader.
The ability to experience the full breadth of freedom the game offers is rarely guaranteed. Partly because of the gameplay aspect where active and passive skill checks are made with percentile chances of succeeding. This part is fun and always gives a sense that anything can happen. Unfortunately, it is also full of glitches. Some options that should appear never do, or will abruptly end a conversation too early. These glitches mean that sometimes only one option can continue the game and, as of this writing, there are still some companion quests and romances that just don’t work.
Parties in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader always include the customizable main character and up to five party members. They land from the voidship and are able to freely walk around unless something attacks them. When this happens, the game transitions to its grid-based tactical combat, which has plenty of possibilities for map objectives, environmental hazards, and combat abilities. Typically, having a mix of melee, ranged, and psyker (magic) wielding characters is a good idea. Every character has dozens of skills that fit in an action bar leaving plenty of options. Psykers are unique in that they have devastating skills, but they degrade the veil, which can cause feedback to injure or even kill themselves, or summon powerful hostile demons to combat. With dozens of passives, multiple attributes, and a lot of skills there’s tons of build possibilities for characters. While daunting, companions have a few archetypes that are easy to follow and the Rogue Trader has presets to start out with. Experimenting with builds is possible as players can rework them for free on their voidship. Basically players can find fun skills, build around passives that enhance them, and gather attributes that heighten them and characters will turn out fine.
Combat feels like more than a skirmish every time. New enemies keep popping up that have different specialties to keep players guessing. Enemies also rely on numbers and varied skills to wear down players. This war of attrition can easily be detrimental as each knock unconscious, and some of the traps, will add a debilitating injury. These add up and make strong characters very weak fast. The only real way to guarantee these injuries heal is from returning to the voidship, since items that heal it are very rare. Careful movement is a luxury in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. While traversing as a group the party members can flail wildly, jumping into traps carelessly, or will run off and start a new combat as the player simply tries to loot a cargo container. There is a cursor mode for movement and a pause button, these do help, but is much more time consuming to accomplish anything. There’s also moments of party members getting stuck in nebulous voids between boxes effectively removing them from the game until a reload is completed. On the other side, the neutral and enemy AI has no sense of self preservation or teamwork. They will actively run into instant death environmental traps or shoot blindly into a crowd of their teammates for a minimal chance to hit one foe. Luckily, neutral characters are often weak enough to rarely hurt the player, but it makes for a laughable immersion break nonetheless.
Partnering with these annoying always present glitches are load times that are otherwise virtually unfathomable on current consoles. Every loading screen lasts from thirty second to over a minute. This means every restart, door to a new area, entrance to the voidship, or shift to the galaxy map all lead to a significant wait. There’s also a secret limit to save files that at least mentions when the game can’t be saved, but neglects to mention that players need to deleted old saves to fix it.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader isn’t just fighting, dialogue, and glitches though, as there’s trading to be done. There is a lot of items in the game. Most are cargo that are used to build Profit Factor with various factions to trade for good equipment. The rest is a mix of interesting gear and a lot of useless spare parts that can also be shipped out as cargo. It’s easy to just collect everything as there’s no limit and anything can be sent to cargo without having to leave the mission. Some of the best equipment is gained through trading, so it works as a tolerable mini-game to keep building faction reputation with each mission.
Rogue Traders can also explore with their voidship. Voidships traverse the galaxy via warp paths that, if not made safe, can lead to random encounters that take up more time. Successful void jumps lead to scanning planets for cargo, materials to help colonies, or side adventures. Colonies have their own side adventures where the Rogue Trader chooses projects for additional cargo and equipment. Side adventures take shape in dialogue choices, some routine and others presented with a third-person storybook styling, or landing party missions. Seeing the world-building lore through these dialogue choices and third-person events is always a treat with landing missions taking up a lot of time due to multiple fights involved.
The voidship can also take part in its own combat. Ship combat is a lurching affair that acts much closer to naval combat than space. Ships have to turn in massive open spaces to get in reach of short-range cannons making it a wide-berthed game of cat and mouse. These fights can be incredibly difficult, and barrelling through them by levelling up isn’t possible. Voidships have their own skills and equipment to tinker with to at least give some options for the player.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader has a varied soundtrack with an overarching theme to it. All the tracks lend to operatic vocals that mix with a sweeping orchestra. Individual tracks don’t really stand out but there’s a consistent high quality lent to each track. Voice acting is used sparingly, it is almost exclusively tied with dialogue on the voidship. This means companion quests are lent that extra weight with great vocal performances, but also leads to wishing the entire game is similarly treated. Visually, character models blend in with others of their race or class making things feel blurry at times. Those ever present glitches make even trying to view the scenery a problematic affair. The hand-drawn portraits for important characters are fun and well-crafted though making static scenes enjoyable. Story scenes lend to a camera with a mind of its own as some thrilling moments are blocked by a wall as it shifts on its own based on where the player left the camera heading in.
There’s a lot of love in the story presentation of Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader. It is a blast to see how dark and depraved the world can get and how each of the companions build their journey. There’s just a ton to do, with an exhausting 100+ hour experience made longer with glitches and ridiculous loading times. These issues are constantly undercutting the core experience and making even the joyous parts feel like a chore. Maybe there’s a day where the chores are only a distant memory. That time isn’t now though.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A deep enriched story that is a lot of fun to see unfold
Combat is quite fun
The soundtrack is a consistent delight throughout
Bugs cause consistent and overlong reloads
Ally and Enemy AI break immersion with their laughable actions
Some quests don't work