“in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war,” warns the motto of Warhammer 40,000. A violent sci-fi universe with no happy endings, it’s been the setting for countless games – but few have brought its gloomy prophecy to life as well as Owlcat Games, the studio behind sprawling role-playing game (RPG) Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.
As the name suggests, players are cast in the role of a Rogue Trader – individuals who have been granted near-unlimited freedom to roam the stars, pilfering and ruling on behalf of the Imperium Of Man. After unexpectedly inheriting the title of Rogue Trader from your predecessor, you’re put in charge of a city-sized spaceship and sent to foil a galaxy-spanning plot by the evil forces of Chaos. If you think that’s a tough gig, just wait until you leave the prologue.
The formula of Rogue Trader will be familiar to anyone who spent their summer playing fantasy hit Baldur’s Gate 3. An isometric-view RPG, players explore planets in real-time, but drop into turn-based combat when fights break out. In the brutal world of Warhammer, these battles are never far away.
To make matters worse, whether you’re facing Chaos-worshipping cultists or deadly Xenos, you’re often outgunned and vastly outnumbered. To even the odds, you can field up to six fighters, and each are equipped with some of the strongest weapons imaginable. An army of rebels may ambush you deep in an alien jungle, but few of them can survive a grisly chainsword swing or laser round from your sniper’s Long-Las.
The game also measures the “momentum” of fights – kill enough baddies and you’ll get to use incredibly powerful heroic abilities, while losing too many allies can unlock desperate last gambits. In addition to a destroyable cover system, Rogue Trader does a phenomenal job at selling this massive, lively firefights.
That sense of scale translates to the rest of Rogue Trader, which is an RPG of staggering size. One minute you can be fighting for your life in ruins ruled by undying robot Necrons, to next you might be cutting shady deals on a Hive planet wracked by crime and cults. It’s all brought to life with Owlcat’s writing, which embraces Warhammer’s eccentric brutality – we lost track of how often we had the choice of executing someone for a perceived slight.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. Credit: Owlcat Games.
Warhammer fans in particular will appreciate Owlcat’s dedication to bringing the gothic world of 40K to life – this really is one of the universe’s richest adaptations to date – but don’t worry if you can’t tell your Space Marine from your Tyranids. The game can be enjoyed as a standalone sci-fi epic, and a built-in dictionary handily explains any of the universe’s lingo that pops up.
It’s not always smooth sailing though, as the scope of Rogue Trader can be intimidating. Besides ground battles and adventuring, there’s fully-fledged ship combat, along with systems for planetary colonisation, managing your intergalactic reputation, and trading. These areas of the game will likely go down like Marmite – immersive layers to some, boorish chores to others.
Likewise, Rogue Trader’s progression menus can be too numbers-heavy, even for genre veterans. Creating your character is a joy – you get to pick everything from their careers, to their highest and lowest moments in life – but levelling them up can be dull. There are massive amounts of stats and modifiers to account for with each level, and while the game does a decent job at recommending which upgrades to take, it’s still overly complicated. Clunky menus can also make it difficult to find what you’re looking for, and further into the game we encountered quite a lot of glitchy cutscenes, janky character models, and enemies that wouldn’t take their turn in combat.
Yet most of the bugs we encountered were more immersion-busting than game-breaking, and ultimately weren’t enough to spoil the sublime worldbuilding and frantic combat at the heart of Rogue Trader. The grim darkness of the far future is mostly just war, as it turns out, but trust us – once you get stuck in, it’s not half bad.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader launches on December 7 for PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PS5. We played on PC.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader nails the gory battles and gloomy atmosphere of its source material, but sometimes feels too big for its own good. Not everyone will enjoy Rogue Trader’s meticulous depth, but those who have the patience to trawl through bugs and over-complicated menus will be rewarded with an intergalactic epic.
- Gripping combat
- Excellent worldbuilding brings the Warhammer 40,000 universe to life
- Lots of well-written quests with tough moral dilemmas
- Frustrating bugs that become more prevalent as you get further into the game
- Levelling up characters feels dull
- Managing trade and other Rogue Trader duties isn’t very fun