Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader artwork and logo showing off the characters

Following in the footsteps of Owlcat's previous games Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is an immensely vast and deep ocean of cRPG goodness! It's filled with all sorts of interesting characters to chat with, locations to strip bare of anything that looks even remotely valuable, a plethora of insane cultists to squash in turn-based combat, and as is tradition, a dazzling array of bugs that would make even Papa Nurgle proud!

So if you're curious about what exactly Rogue Trader does well, as well as where it strays a big too close to heresy, allow me to share with you my thoughts after spending a frankly unhealthy amount of time playing it over the past week.

Video version of this review (~15 minutes)

Combat and complexity

Rogue Trader is a classic cRPG, and the game is not ashamed of this fact whatsoever. From the very first screen you'll be presented with hundreds of different stats, perks and abilities which you can mix and match in order to create exactly the kind of character you want. You can grab a two-handed chainsword and run at the enemy while screaming like a lunatic; you can be a terrifying psyker raining death from afar while risking your very soul with each spell; and you can even completely give up on weaponry and focus on supporting and directing your underlings from the backline.

This level of customization is one of Rogue Trader's greatest strengths, and also one of its potentially greatest flaws. While you can indeed create some highly imaginative, varied and powerful builds, doing so requires a firm knowledge of RPG systems and way, way more math than most people are going to be comfortable with.

Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader review screenshot of a very complex spell

Surely this could've been actual numbers?

Usually this sort of thing would be obfuscated and reserved only for turbonerds like me that care about squeezing every advantage we can out of a character, but in Rogue Trader pretty much everything besides the most basic of attacks is littered with formulas, special modifiers and unique conditions. Once you embrace the madness and really dig your teeth into the game it'll all start to make sense, but until then you're going to be checking and re-checking your abilities over and over again in order to figure out what Rogue Trader even expects of you.

Climbing that mountain is well worth it, however, as there are some really funky builds to explore. Just as an example, the Grand Strategist specialization allows you to transform certain areas of the battlefield into unique zones that offer different types of buffs and debuffs for characters standing in them. You can then further enhance those zones with a variety of abilities, thus heavily incentivizing you to plan out your strategy from beginning to end in order to make the best use out of them. As such, a singular Grand Strategist can massively impact how you approach any particular battle, and they're not the only ones!

Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader review screenshot of the player using abilities in combat

It's amazing how much a little bit of paint can change the course of battle

At its core the combat is all about positioning. You want to get your characters into cover, flush the enemies out of cover, and then focus fire on the important targets one by one until you're victorious. If you don't want to, it really doesn't have to get any more complicated than that.

However, even the most basic of builds like the 'shooty shootman that likes to shoot mans' have a lot of depth to them since almost all of their abilities and perks can interact with each other to create devastating combinations. My favorite little trick is orchestrating things so Argenta, the Sister of Battle companion, can empty her entire bolter magazine into a demon's face before her turn even begins! The end result is a turn-based combat system that looks very standard on the surface level, yet contains a great deal of complexity for those willing to get their hands dirty, and I must admit, that's exactly what I like.

And just in case all of that simply isn't enough for you, Rogue Trader also has space combat where you and an escort get to battle against other small fleets. The big thing here is that your turn rate is very limited and that you can never stop moving, so the space battles are more of a puzzle than anything else. It's a fairly small part of the game so I won't dedicate a lot of time to it, but what I will say is that it's far superior to Wrath of the Righteous' Crusade mini-game and quite enjoyable in its own right. It's also definitely something I wouldn't mind seeing fleshed out further instead of simply leaving it as a side-attraction, since I do believe the concept has some serious potential.

Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader review screenshot of the space combat

Despite being only a small portion of the game, the space combat is quite intriguing

Pacing problems

That said, while I do genuinely enjoy the combat and the interplay between various abilities, there is one recurring problem that kept bugging me all throughout my playthrough - the wonky pacing. Just about every encounter will have you face off against a dozen enemies, and in some you will have upwards of fifty. For the most part this is perfectly fine as watching your characters explode a whole gaggle of goons in one move is deeply satisfying, but there does come a point where simply blasting through hordes of enemies stops being fun and instead just becomes tedious.

If you already know the enemies pose no threat to you and that you've won the battle before it even started, going through the motions of wiping all thirty of them from the map feels more like a chore than anything else. This goes doubly so when you're traveling across the star map as you're frequently going to get assaulted by random enemies, none of which ever pose a threat, yet all demand a sizable investment in resources or time in order to dispatch.

This was an issue in both Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous, so I'm very disappointed to see it repeated in Rogue Trader as well. It's not a deal-breaker by any stretch, especially since the actual combat is so satisfying, but it does feel like you're occasionally being forced to stop eating cake in order to fill up on plain bread - a distraction that Rogue Trader really doesn't need.

Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader review screenshot of a large battle against weak enemies

Look at all those bodies! And this isn't even a third of them!

Story and writing

Unlike some of the RPG elements I've mentioned thus far, the actual story in Rogue Trader is fairly easy to comprehend. You are a newly crowned Rogue Trader - an unbelievably powerful and influential individual with a carte blanche to do basically anything you want, as long as it's in the service of the Imperium. If this means you have to commandeer an entire planet or strike deals with outlawed alien races, then so be it! You have a giant piece of paper signed by a literal god saying you can, so who's going to stop you?

Naturally, you don't just get to sit back, drink fine wine and enjoy the good life as a full-blown heretic uprising has thrown your corner of space into complete disarray. So with cultists everywhere, warp travel limited and madmen raving about some sort of apocalypse about to happen, you'll need to personally take charge of the situation, explore the stars in search of potential clues and allies, establish and develop new colonies, and hopefully sort everything out... or just make things so, sooooo much worse for everyone if you're so inclined!

Much like its predecessors, the writing in Rogue Trader is generally great across the board, so much so that I've been missing out on sleep for the past few days as I just couldn't stop myself from diving into one more quest, just one more! Regardless of where you go, from the bastions of humanity to the most backwater of worlds, there's just about always someone to have a lengthy conversation with. Not all of these are important or have any sort of connection to the overarching story, but what they do offer is a closer look at the Warhammer 40k universe and some of the fine details that often get lost when focusing on great battles with thousands of Space Marines.

Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader review screenshot of a ruined underbelly of a city

It's easy to forget there are actual people struggling to survive in an uncaring universe

As you wander across the stars you'll also pick up an entourage of eccentric characters that will serve as your advisors, bodyguards, confidants and perhaps even as romantic interests. If you've played any of Owlcat's previous games, it should come as little surprise to hear that most of them are fascinating. In fact, my biggest quibble here is the simple fact that I couldn't bring all of them with me whenever I went to undertake a mission!

The main reason I found them so endearing is that they act exactly how you would expect their archetype to act, yet without pushing things to the point of absurdity. The Sister of Battle is ultra-religious and aggressive, yet she tempers that with her desire to help others. The Inquisitor wants to destroy everyone and everything that even smell slightly funny, but he's also willing to let things slide if it's for the betterment of mankind, and so forth. These small touches of humanity give them a lot of personality and make them feel like actual characters rather than the simple caricatures I've come to expect from most Warhammer 40k games.

The downside to all of this, if you wish to see it as such, is that Rogue Trader has a lot of text for you to go through. A lot! Some of it is voice acted, mostly when it comes to character-specific quests and the main storyline, but the vast majority is just good ol' text on a screen. Personally I don't mind this sort of thing as long as the dialogue isn't just waffling around for no reason, and thankfully Rogue Trader does a good job of keeping things focused. So while there's the occasional bit of dialogue where I could feel my eyes glazing over, Rogue Trader generally managed to keep me immersed and engaged with whatever was happening.

Warhammer 40000: Rogue Trader review screenshot of Lady Cassia talking

I sure hope you like reading, because that's basically half the game

Techical troubles

On the technical side of things, I'm happy to report that Rogue Trader is quite stable. I've encountered no crashes or major glitches, my performance has been excellent all the way through, and the load times have been quite speedy on my SSD.

However, this doesn't mean that Rogue Trader is free of technical problems. On the contrary, it's so riddled with bugs that I don't think I've managed to do a single quest without encountering at least one, though thankfully they're all mostly small annoyances. These include characters tap-dancing while attempting to move during combat, cinematics not playing properly, tooltips being completely wrong, enemy actions taking ages to complete, sounds persisting through scenes, sounds not playing at all, the camera getting stuck on random bits of scenery, and the list goes on for a while.

Much like Nurglings, individually these bugs are no problem whatsoever, but when they accrue in sufficient numbers they can really wreak havoc on someone's mind. When you're just sitting there, staring at one cultist after another fiddling with their grenade for thirty seconds before actually throwing it, all the while your screen is completely locked onto them, you very quickly realize why some people might want to join Chaos and raze the entire universe!!!

That said, it's important to reiterate that these are not game-breaking issues. While they did frustrate me at times, none of them ever impeded my progress or forced me to reload a save from an hour ago like I had to do in Wrath of the Righteous. So while I do hope many of these issues will get fixed in the near future, Rogue Trader is thankfully playable even with them around... as long as you don't mind your characters breaking into a dance-battle every once in a while!

Warhammer 40000: Rogue Trader review screenshot of a camera bug

For an extra challenge, try to win a battle while your camera is glued to a tree!

Presentation and atmosphere

The final thing worth talking about is the presentation. First and foremost, it's important to note that while Rogue Trader is generally easy on the eyes, it's by no means on the same level of graphical fidelity as some of the AAA games out there. This is most noticeable with the animations as some of them can be quite stiff, or even outright missing. Personally, I don't really care as I'm quite happy to trade a bit of graphical fidelity for a massive and fleshed out world to explore.

As for the actual visuals and atmosphere, they do an excellent job of portraying the Warhammer 40k universe in its entirety, and not just the propaganda version of it. What I mean by this is that you will not only run across absurdly large cathedrals and magnificent factories, but also a lot of downtrodden slums, long-abandoned cities, ships that are nearly falling apart, and other such example of the extreme inequality that is rife throughout the Imperium.

Since this is an RPG, Rogue Trader has also included a variety of different ways to approach the Warhammer 40k world and its many dillemasms. You can go with the standard dogmatic outlook and shoot everything that seems even slightly unusual, take a more nuanced look at things and attempt to make drastic changes for the betterment of all, or just go full blown Chaos worshiper mode and chew on baby bones for breakfast, second breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Whichever option you end up going with, it's blazingly obvious that Rogue Trader gets exactly what makes the Warhammer 40k universe tick. As such, I think can confidently say that Rogue Trader has managed to carve itself a path to the upper echelons of Warhammer 40k games.

Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader review screenshot of a military parade

Closing thoughts

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is a cRPG player's dream. It's absurdly vast and intricate, offers a great degree of customization and roleplaying opportunities, and best of all, it's a very faithful adaptation of the equally vast and intricate Warhammer 40k universe.

While it does have some notable problems, mostly the same ones you might be familiar with from Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous, Rogue Trader is a ton of fun and a game I'll likely be replaying quite a few times over the years. So if you're a fan of oldschool RPGs or Warhammer 40k general, I'd heartily recommend checking Rogue Trader out. It really is great!

[Note]: I've also taken the opportunity to create a brief beginner's guide covering some of the most important tricks and strategies I learned throughout my lengthy playthrough. So if you'd like your first time with Rogue Trader to be as nice and smooth as possible, I'd welcome you to give it a look.

Warhammer 40000: Rogue Trader screenshot of a corrupted, mad tech priest

Welcome to Warhammer 40,000 - it's a crazy, crazy universe!