From the tense traditional turn-based tactical battles of Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf to the furious real-time, first-person shooter offerings seen in Necromunda: Hired Gun and even the gleefully violent, darkly funny, side-scrolling platforming blasting of Shootas, Blood & Teef, it’s fair to posit that the almost endless sprawl of the Warhammer 40,000 setting has meant that we’ve had a truly broad selection of video game adaptations. For the longest time however, it felt that while each of those games managed to commendably realise certain pockets of the Warhammer 40,000 setting, none of them really managed to capture the sweep and scope of it in a way that truly triggers the imagination.
Looking to end that streak is Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, a CRPG take on the setting of the same name which invites players to plunge into the depths of its grim universe with all of the dense character and narrative driven trappings that an entry into that genre would naturally possess. Happily, I can also tell you that Rogue Trader is absolutely successful in its towering ambitions, even if it could do with a Phalanx-sized dollop of polish right out of the gate.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader PS5 Review
A Clunky Though Endlessly Engrossing CRPG That Warhammer 40K Has Long Needed
Of course, developer Owlcat Games are no strangers to the CRPG genre, having previous released the similarly great Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous just last year, it’s clear that this is very much their wheelhouse and Rogue Trader feels like a culmination of their expertise in the genre. For the uninitiated, Rogue Trader presents itself as a cross between the Warhammer 40,000 setting and the more recent GOTY calibre CRPG effort Baldur’s Gate 3, which is to say that many of the functional gameplay elements of Larian’s magnum opus have been replicated here to various degrees. From the non-linear narrative progression to the tactical combat and emphasis on exploration, if you’ve played Baldur’s Gate 3 (or indeed any other recent or semi-recent CRPG), you’ll have a fair idea about what to expect from Rogue Trader.
Rogue Trader begins auspiciously, permitting players to indulge themselves in an broadly scoped character creator through which everything from their gender, name and class, alongside finer work on their appearance and origin story can be easily realised. That said, if you don’t want to spend the time creating your own character from scratch, you can just select one of the premade characters instead. Once you’re happy with your character (much like Baldur’s Gate 3 you only need to generate a single character as the other members of your eventual group are pre-written NPCs), you’re thrust into the world of Rogue Trader and we’re pretty much off to the races as Owlcat Games wastes no time in throwing you into the deep end.
As the titular Rogue Trader you are an esteemed Lord Captain that serves at the highest levels of the Imperium. Not only are you tasked with facilitating trade and prosperity through the unexplored sectors of the universe, but so too are you the commander of a Voidship and the many thousands strong crew that help to operate it. In addition to such duties, the weight and respect commanded by your station means that in the depths of the largely unexplored and cutthroat Koronus Expanse, you’ll find yourself interceding on behalf of other factions, groups and individuals – either siding with the Imperium of Man or the vast array of enemies that are arraigned against it.
In simple gameplay terms, Rogue Trader is viewed from an elevated third-person perspective from which you’ll navigate the environment, talk to NPCs, engage in combat, scoop up loot and everything else that you might expect from a CRPG such as this. Making your way around the environment is a straightforward affair. You can either choose to move your group freely with the analogue stick, or you can use a distinctly old-school point and click approach to get you where you need to go.
Another handy element embedded into the traversal systems of Rogue Trader is the ability to link and unlink single characters from the rest of your group. This proves especially useful when trying to defuse hidden traps since, more often than not, when a trap is detected and the game automatically pauses, unpausing can result in the rest of your group just blindly charging into said trap and taking unnecessary damage as a result. By unlinking a single character and leaving the rest of the group behind, you can carefully disarm these traps before linking back up with your companions and proceeding as a group.
Combat meanwhile unfolds in turn-based fashion, albeit with a couple of wrinkles to the formula. First off, battles kick off exactly where they are triggered. This means that when the battle begins, you aren’t whisked off to some generic battleground somewhere, but rather you have to face down your adversaries in the environment as you’re traversing through it – making you mentally process key tactical elements such as chokepoints, cover and more besides in a way that you wouldn’t normally be able to do otherwise. Another element in which Rogue Trader’s combat differs somewhat from other turn-based battlers, is in how it allows you to position your units within the immediate area just before the battle begins (so long as you don’t get ambushed). Again, this provides another tactical layer to the proceedings that forces you to be much more smart about these battles play out, rather than just rushing in and getting blasted into meaty chunks.
As to the mechanics of the combat itself, Rogue Trader will acquit itself well to anyone who has played either the Warhammer 40K tabletop game or the XCOM games, while newcomers are almost painstakingly explained every aspect of the equipment, skills, movement and attack command system – ensuring a deep understanding so long as you’re willing to put the time in. That said, I would also strongly advocate for playing Rogue Trader on a lower difficulty level. This is because even in the earlier, seemingly less challenging encounters, the CPU controlled enemy forces can often prove to be brutally efficient at cutting off your group and isolating single heroes, making combat feel like more of an uphill struggle than it perhaps needs to be. Of course, your mileage will vary – but for those players just looking to experience Rogue Trader’s mammoth story, a lower difficulty setting is certainly the way to go.
Arguably the crux of the Rogue Trader experience though – and this is something that it holds in common with our CRPG efforts – is the notion of broad player choice and agency. From the class that you choose to the skills that you have, the companions that you recruit and the decisions that you make, Rogue Trader provides ample creative latitude for players to shape the overarching story and everything embedded within it to their whims. Encompassing an epic adventure writ large across the stars of Warhammer’s 40,000 setting, Rogue Trader succeeds in this regard because it isn’t just simply massive and gives the impression that you’re on a truly epic odyssey, but so too are the various characters (and their subsequent plights) compellingly written too.
Certainly, the canvas of the Warhammer 40K universe lends itself well to all manner of esoteric and eccentric characters and Rogue Trader takes full advantage of this, allowing the player to meet all manner of unusual individual such as borderline insane psykers, multiple personality tech priests, stoic warriors, stuffy noblemen and absolutely everything and everyone in-between. Nobody is one-dimensional and everyone has some sort of quirk to their nature which belies their appearance. It’s refreshing and almost unexpected for a setting that, on the surface at least to the uninitiated, largely prides itself on straightforward tactical violence rather than making a consistent attempt at deeper storytelling (though I grant you that the numerous novels and the tabletop game have done a decent enough job of this).
And again, Rogue Trader’s sweeping non-linear ambitions figure directly into your actions with all of these characters. Since everything from the dialogue choices that you make to the various skills, abilities and origin stories that you might open up unique pathways and outcomes to those interactions that could be inaccessible depending on how you’re playing through the game, Rogue Trader not only does a great job of making you feel like your choices matter (and they often do on a galactic scale that you might not initially appreciate), but so too does it also provide Owlcat Games latest effort with potentially hundreds of hours of extra replay value to boot. It’s also worth mentioning that the dialogue system has an in-built glossary that can be called up at any time, allowing players to gain succinct insights on the key terms of Rogue Trader’s jargon. It’s certainly a helpful feature for newcomers to the Warhammer 40,000 setting and I’m happy it’s there.
Speaking of the dialogue, it also helps that your belief in Rogue Trader’s sprawling narrative is deftly underscored with verve by the tremendous voice acting that gives life to its sizable cast of characters. Running a gamut of colourful and very different heroes and villains, Rogue Trader’s voice performances are passionate, believable and really do a grand job on selling the player on the dense and well-written personalities that defines each character. Further on the topic of sound, Rogue Trader’s soundtrack is also appropriately dramatic too, neatly replicating the epic bombast of the gargantuan Warhammer 40,000 setting for your earholes and keenly ramping up the orchestral fervour when the battles kick off. It’s great stuff and really manages to fire you up each and every time you and your group throw down with the enemy.
When you’re not making landfall on the various planets, abandoned outposts and ships that litter the Koronus Expanse, you’ll be taking control of your Voidship which not only provides Rogue Trader with its central hub area, but also enables both travel and trade through the aforementioned intergalactic realm. Neatly dovetailing into its title, Rogue Trader also has you, somewhat unsurprisingly, indulging in a whole lot of trading between clients and colonies. By using a layered reputation and profit system, not only can trading with various partners provide access to higher end equipment, but so too does it allow you to bolster your standing with various factions and unlock unique missions and tasks as a result. It’s a nice little addition to the primary CRPG mechanics which serve as the bedrock for Rogue Trader, that’s for sure, not to mention one that provides some welcome variety to the proceedings as well.
Another neat thing about the Voidship is that as you travel from place to place, you’ll very often come across dynamic events where, as the Lord Captain of a ship containing thousands of crew, you have to deal with everything from potential mutinies, to smuggled heretical relics, labour disagreements and so much more besides. Brilliantly, these dynamic events also have a bearing on the moral compass of your character too, with your responses to these events not only providing precious XP in order for you to level up and expand your skill trees, but also in how your response amplifies your standing in each of Rogue Trader’s three main moral standings, you can gain unique boons and bonuses depending on the direction that you wish to take your character. The scope of character customisation and player agency in Rogue Trader is simply staggering and frequently daunting to say the least.
While Rogue Trader is an extravagant CRPG with sweep and scope to spare, it’s also true that the technical side of things doesn’t quite match up with its heady genre ambitions – at least on PlayStation 5 anyway. For a start, the visuals though acceptable for the most part and apt at portraying the various locales of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, also encompass relatively low detail character models that are twinned with some awkward looking animations. Worse still is the fact that not only are the visual assets oddly low res (regardless of the FSR settings you use to claw back framerate), but there is also a substantial amount of animation judder too, which makes the visual presentation of Rogue Trader sadly underwhelm.
Throw in some chunky loading times and a handful of bugs and it’s clear that Rogue Trader could very much do with a whole heap of more polish, as I’ve alluded to at the top of this review. And yet despite all of those rogue edges, Rogue Trader still proves utterly engrossing and irresistible thanks to its mountain-sized cosmic adventure that is filled with engaging combat, thoroughly interesting characters and satisfying storylines.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is the sort of game that the Warhammer 40K setting has long needed. A disgustingly massive, social calendar swallowing CRPG offering, Rogue Trader’s numerous presentation issues aren’t enough to distract from its galaxy-spanning odyssey into Games Workshop’s most famous and beloved setting.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is out now on PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.