REVIEW: Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader Impressions

Last Updated on July 1, 2023

Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader is an upcoming CRPG developed by Owlcat Games. After achieving considerable success with their previous titles Pathfinder Kingmaker and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, Owlcat Games are taking a crack at the Warhammer franchise.

As an enormous fan of CRPGs of all kinds, I’ve been waiting for Rogue Trader ever since its announcement. Huge thanks to Owlcat for providing Grimdark Magazine with beta access, and I was the lucky guy who got to play the closed beta.

So a few disclaimers before I go further. First — this is a beta, so there are many unpolished and unfinished things in the game. While the closed beta allows players to access the first three Acts of the story, it is still an incomplete experience. Voice acting in cutscenes isn’t implemented and there’s a fair bit of missing work on optimization, so I’m not judging the game based on this. Speaking of early impressions, the open beta contains a lot of content. Owlcat’s CRPGs are gigantic experiences. The Pathfinder games easily top 100 hours for most players. I got access to the beta last week and with my other commitments, I couldn’t invest dozens of hours into the beta.

Preliminary Thoughts

While I’m a fan of the Warhammer universe, I’m no expert. Just like my coverage of Warhammer 40K: Darktide last year, I went into Rogue Trader a little rusty on Warhammer’s lore. However, I’m no stranger to CRPGs. Rogue Trader opens up with the incredible visuals and space-opera that is Warhammer, greeting players to a great soundtrack. Starting a new game, I went through the extensive character creation screen, with the option to tweak many difficulty settings from the get-go. I went with a bog standard character for this preview test, focusing on guns as well as the normal difficulty option, so I could get the core experience.

The concept is fairly simple. Originally an heir to the Rogue Trader position, the player is thrust into the role after a classic sabotage/betrayal act. During this opening set piece, you’re introduced to the world through lore inspections, long dialogue sequences and a set of tutorials to learn the ropes. After a chunky set of combat sequences, a mini-boss fight that almost killed me, and lovely deaths, the game opens up properly, and the player can explore the Warhammer universe.

For a beta, I’m really happy that Owlcat Games allowed their backers to play such a large chunk of the game before full release. I did not play the alpha that was just a small, vertical slice of the Act 2 gameplay, so I was pleased they offer such a large experience to delve into. Like other Owlcat games, Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader is an enormous, complex game with many systems working under the hood, and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. I spent half an hour in the character creation alone, and the prologue throws a lot of information at the player. It took me a while to get used to everything, but the amount on offer impressed me.

Visual design is great, especially for a CRPG like this. Every environment is handcrafted with a living atmosphere, bolstered by great sound. I felt like I belonged in the gigantic spaceship as I explored its crevices. The key to building these worlds is making sure every corner has something interesting to do — more difficult than it sounds! Environmental storytelling is shown through inspections that describe the scene, alongside NPCs doing their work. In this present build, there’s very little voice acting implemented, and I noticed a lot of repetitive dialogue in the NPC shouts. This is all normal, so hopefully by full release, this will be improved. Remember — the beta version does not represent the full product! Regardless, I was blown away at times by the visuals, and there’s a ton of detail in the environments.

Even the interface is pretty. A full tutorial codex compliments a lore encyclopedia for easy access, and as a lore glutton, I enjoyed delving through everything to learn more. Navigating menus made me feel like a Warhammer elite marine, digging through ancient, sacred texts with all the metallic clunks. When I’m excited about a game’s interface, that is a good thing. It can lag at times, although as a beta I expect that to improve.

Combat is turn-based in Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader, and offers players many different ways to destroy their enemies. As systems go, I’ve had a blast in battles so far, and in true Warhammer fashion, people die in brutal, destructive ways. There’s nothing more satisfying than unleashing my chain sword attacks on multiple enemies at once, while my squishier gunmen use cover to shield themselves and snipe them from afar. Just with my initial set of characters I had the options of guns, blades and deadly lightning strikes to handle my encounters. What I enjoyed was that friendly fire is realistic. Imagine my surprise the first time when my lighting strike hit my characters as well as toasting my opponents!

Careful positioning is key to survival here. On the base difficulty, I found fights fairly well-balanced. I feel powerful, but my enemies are powerful as well, especially in the boss fights. With five classes and a trove of abilities and skills to pick from, there’s more to uncover than I can in just one go. It will be best to wait until I have the full game before I make a full review of these classes, as balancing game mechanics is an ever-evolving process.

Issues and Considerations

As with games in active development, there are issues to explore. I won’t judge the performance right now as work does need to be done for full release. That is the point of having betas in the first place — as it is the best way to get active player feedback and act on it. From this early build, even mid-tier computers should be able to run Rogue Trader reasonably well. Even on my GTX 1060 laptop, I found performance decent even on high settings. However, I ran into frequent frame drops especially during combat and cutscenes, when characters were at their most active. Animations bugged out occasionally, and NPCs had to catch up by going Sonic speed when it glitched out. I did not crash once, which was a pleasant surprise. The lack of voice acting was a disappointment, but this should be present in the release build.

Performance is probably Owlcat’s greatest challenge for Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader. Their previous Pathfinder games suffered significant issues with performance and bugs, especially Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s launch. Enormous games like this where there are so many options for players tend to break, but during a time when AAA titles launch in a broken state left and right, the tolerance for bugs is at an all-time low. Balancing the dozens of game mechanics and content dumps is going to be interesting, so I’m interested to see how the late game plays out.

Conclusion

Only time will tell, but so far, my experience of Rogue Trader’s beta state is fairly positive. Warhammer needs more RPGs — the world is too fascinating not to have them. The world and lore are rich in Rogue Trader, and I’m enjoying the turn-based combat system. It is difficult to make combat systems in RPGs that don’t feel repetitive, and Rogue Trader is winning me over in that regard. I wish I had more time to play around with the beta’s mechanics before writing this up, but this is what early impressions are for. While performance is a mild concern, I have faith that most of these issues will be ironed out for the full launch.

We haven’t seen a CRPG like this set in the 40K universe, and if anyone can pull it off, it is Owlcat Games. As of now, Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader has no set release date, but it should be on track for a release this year.

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Michael Baker

Michael Baker

Michael Baker has played video games for as long as he can remember. If you asked him how many games he owns, the answer he’ll give you is ‘probably too many.’ Alongside his passion for storytelling and worldbuilding, Michael is an avid history buff and cartographer, bringing his fantasy world and others from the mind onto paper reality. He has also worked on several role-playing games from the Spellforce 3 franchise as a writer, QA tester and narrative designer.