Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review – Captain of Empires

Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader Review

There are two types of gamers for whom Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader will be a delight. The first group includes fans of turn-based, tactical CRPGs, especially those heavily focused on combat. The second group is made up of Warhammer 40K fans — and they are legion — with a deep love of the game universe and its lore. If you land anywhere in that Venn diagram, then Rogue Trader might be your new obsession. Gamers newly converted to CRPGs thanks to Baldur’s Gate 3 will find Rogue Trader a similar but more exacting experience.

Diving Deep

Based on a tabletop game from 1987, Rogue Trader’s tutorial prologue accomplishes the task of teaching the basics of movement and combat and sets up the tone of the narrative. It doesn’t exactly ease the player into Warhammer’s deep ocean of lore. There are a lot of opaque, arcane terms and character references, so be prepared to do some reading. Basically, you’re a bit of a mercenary outside the system, with a strong desire to turn a profit. The Imperium of Man gives you a massive ship and its blessing. Your tasks include exploring the edges of the realm, discovering new planets, establishing trade and alliances, and defeating pockets of resistance.

Owlcat is the developer responsible for the Pathfinder games, so players should expect the same level of narrative detail and complexity. In Rogue Trader, nearly every action or story decision ripples out and forward. This isn’t surprising, but the cast is immense and you captain a ship with hundreds of citizens. Choices matter. On top of that, eventually, your mini-empire includes an array of planets to manage, called a voidship in the game’s parlance. It’s a little like managing a large stable of fast-food restaurants, where you’re always playing politics with the managers. Oh, and keeping the employees on task and the customers safe.

Battles Big and Small

Managing the economy of ships and planets is only one third of Rogue Trader’s challenge. The other two are small-scale, turn-based battles and ship-to-ship combat.

When it comes to the small encounters, Rogue Trader follows familiar rules. This means you’re commanding a small party in turn-based, tactical fights. Positioning and cover mechanics play a pivotal role. Each character has an array of special abilities on cooldown timers, but they can only use one per turn. The classic fantasy roles of tank, ranged specialists, mages, and healers make up the bulk of your shifting parties. The combat moves quickly, but there is a lot of it and some of the fights drag on past the point of fun.

Ship-to-ship space combat feels like an interesting element that doesn’t quite fit. For one thing, the naval battles really drag, slowing the pace of an otherwise exciting game. Your hulking ship is not exactly nimble, and some of the enemies spit out endless-feeling waves of small craft to dispatch. It’s too bad that the naval encounters couldn’t have been real-time battles, a la Homeworld.

The 40K Vibe is Strong in Rogue Trader

Although just as operatic in scope and drama as its fantasy version, classic Warhammer 40,000 is more focused on political and institutional rivalries, clashing religions, and economic warfare. This comes through in Rogue Trader’s excellent writing and the visual design of the ship and other environments. Everything is rich in detail. While some character animations in combat lack a bit of smoothness, character designs, spell effects, and other combat elements are very well done and visually engaging. Visually, my biggest gripes were with the camera, which was occasionally unwieldy and hard to position, and some of the darker areas. There are times when it’s hard to find characters on screen when scenery gets in the way.

Although Rogue Trader’s voice acting isn’t quite on par with that of Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s generally good and there’s a lot of it. The score by Paweł Perepelica is excellent, full of the big musical gestures, and oversized orchestral and choral cues you’d expect from a Warhammer soundtrack. The environmental audio and combat lack a bit of punch, however.

Though nothing was so bad as to crash the game, there were a few bugs, AI characters immobilized in the environment, and a handful of other rough edges. But like the Pathfinder games, Rogue Trader is immense and I’m sure patches will be forthcoming.

Do You Like to Read?

CRPG fans heavily invested in Warhammer 40K will thoroughly enjoy Rogue Trader, but there’s enough backstory and written lore to bring newcomers up to speed and into the fold. Rogue Trader is generous to a fault with combat and sometimes the momentum stalls in the naval combat or over-lengthy tactical battles. Overall, Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader is an engaging turn-based RPG and another reminder of how rich the Warhammer universe can be.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Great Warhammer 40K vibe and setting
  • Engaging characters and story
  • Tactical combat is excellent

The Bad

  • Slow naval combat
  • Very text heavy and arcane
  • Some minor bugs