While there is no shortage of video games based on Games Workshop IPs out there, it’s not often we get one that’s truly worth talking about. However, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is a fantastic turn-based tactical RPG that makes amazing use of its source material while still providing an immense amount of freedom to its players. Unfortunately, it also happened to release in the same year as another RPG based on a major IP, Baldur’s Gate 3, which outperforms it in pretty much every aspect. With that in mind, Rogue Trader might not be the best tactical RPG to come out in 2023, but it is the best Warhammer 40,000 title released last year.
Assemble Your Crew
One of the most unique aspects of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is the leniency that is granted to those holding the title of Rogue Trader. They’re essentially above the law and can do things that might be considered heretical in the imperium (as long as it’s not an actual act of heresy). This allows Rogue Trader to be one of the most diverse games in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
For example, it’s possible for the Rogue Trader to assemble a group of companions that would not be possible anywhere. Grab yourself an Adepta Sororitas, a Psyker, a Space Marine, and even an Aeldari. Someone of lesser authority would be executed on the spot for even considering working with a Xeno. Find a cool heretic weapon or artifact? Put it to use, and no one’s going to send the inquisition after you (hopefully). There are even battle scenarios where this is incredibly useful, such as donning the attire of recently deceased cultists to infiltrate an enemy stronghold.
While there are a handful of pre-made characters to choose from, the only way to fully customize your Rogue Trader is to create one from scratch. Thankfully, there are a good amount of options available, including standard appearance options, such as portrait, gender, face types, body style, skin tone, hair, tattoos, and augmentations. Players can also choose from a variety of homeworlds that have unique bonuses, an origin that will determine certain skills and talents, and finally, one of four initial class archetypes: Warrior, Officer, Operative, and Soldier.
Out of all the options available, I found the starting class options to be one of the more boring aspects of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. They essentially boil down to melee attacker, ranged attacker, buffer, and de-buffer. For the first few levels, there’s barely any noticeable difference between the archetypes as most characters feel like they have a similar strength and weapon proficiency but this definitely changes once you near unlocking the second tier of archetypes. I suppose this makes sense as there isn’t a huge variety of skill sets among humans in Warhammer 40,000; it’s more or less experience and weaponry that can set heroes apart from the rabble.
One problem I found this creates is skill bloat. At least on the lower difficulties, the operative doesn’t feel particularly useful while having a ton of abilities to add weakening effects to enemies. For the most part, standard enemies will die in 1-2 attacks, so using a character’s entire turn to debuff doesn’t feel particularly great except for during boss fights. The Officer has a similar problem in that the buffs don’t feel that impactful. However, they can provide extra turns to friendly units, which can be incredibly helpful.
Another thing to mention is the unique companions often feel significantly more useful than the custom ones you create or some of the more generic ones you can obtain. For example, very early on, you’ll recruit Sister Argenta, who is simply better than other soldier options for quite a while, and shortly into Act 1, you’ll have the option to recruit an Officer with massive AOE attacks that can carry you for quite a while.
Exploring the Galaxy
By far the strongest aspect of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is its use of Warhammer 40,000 lore for building amazing environments and creating an overall immersive aesthetic. Everything feels like it was built with a purpose in mind, and the dialogue doubles down on this by providing different perspectives that you would expect to come from a noble, a psyker, or an inquisitor. Everything feels like it’s in its proper place; only the Rogue Trader is there to shake things up. Your choices determine whether you go down the dogmatic, iconoclast, or heretical path.
For the most part, the game is split up into a few key parts. There’s the bridge of your ship, where you can interact with crew members, receive missions, and deal with minor problems that arise. The ship itself can be piloted to various destinations, including planets, space stations, and trader ships. Then there’s ground exploration, where you can control individual crew members, and finally, there’s grid-based combat in both space and on the ground.
I was personally not a big fan of the space combat. It feels a little clunky due to the fact that your ship has to move each combat round, and it turns very slowly. Weapon range and area are based on the direction you’re facing, and it can often take many rounds to position your ship in a way that it can attack enemies. However, ground battles feel really well constructed. Unless you’re ambushed, you can choose your initial party formation. There’s plenty of cover and environmental items to interactive with or use to your advantage. Making cultists, war entities, and the forces of Chaos explode in a puddle of goop is so very satisfying. There are also a lot of ways to approach missions and there are often various options instead of just guns blazing depending on your party composition and whose advice you take.
However, there are still a few problem areas. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of space to explore once you do land on a planet or specific mission zone. There might be a few hidden caches or accessible areas, but it’s mostly straightforward. The variety mostly comes from choosing your party composition and the options present via dialogue instead of your personal actions. This definitely felt a little constricting after playing Baldur’s Gate 3 and having the option to completely ruin your game experience by interacting with the wrong item at the wrong time.
I also experienced some decent performance issues, regardless of whether I was playing on my gaming laptop or desktop PC. For the most part, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader ran at 60 FPS, but for whatever reason it would dip to more than half that during combat, despite only a couple models moving simultaneously.
In general, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader should be a great experience for any Warhammer fan or someone who likes turn-based RPGs. It’s strong enough to stand on its own feet in either genre but comes together for an overall good experience, even if it might not be the best RPG to come out recently.
Full Disclosure: The product reviewed was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.