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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader review: bugs can’t fully spoil a CRPG dream come true

A giant machine stands in an arena in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader
MSRP $40.00
“Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader delivers a dream CRPG for Warhammer fans if you can get past its bugs.”
Pros
  • Stellar atmosphere
  • Unique companion characters
  • Robust customization
  • Multiple locations to explore
Cons
  • Alignment system isn’t fully fleshed out
  • Plodding space battles
  • Very buggy

In the grim darkness of the far future, there are only bugs … and I’m not just talking about Vespids. These bugs are the kinds that would make even the most devout Adeptus Mechanicus Tech-Priest yell at the Omnissiah in frustration. we’re talking broken skill trees, crashes that set me back an hour, and the occasional ambush from invincible enemies. I could end my Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader review on that note and you’d probably think that the game isn’t worth your time. Yet after nearly 90 hours, I’m still enjoying my long, dark journey through the darkness.

How can a game with so many issues keep me engaged for such a long time? That’s a testament to Owlcat Games, the studio behind top-notch CRPGs like Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. Its latest release, the massive Rogue Trader, takes the developer’s genre expertise and puts it into a Warhammer game filled with sharp storytelling, tense tactical battles, and rich character customization. It’s a dream project for both Warhammer fans and someone like me, who’s spent 215 hours digging into Wrath of the Righteous.

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader’s setting and narrative evoke that typical Warhammer flair, which is perfect for someone who’s mesmerized by the tabletop series’ deep lore. That combines with strong tactical gameplay that gets better once you’ve created the perfect squad. It’s just that there’s a whole lot of game in its 100-hour runtime, and that leaves a lot of room for bugs in an ambitious strategy game.

Welcome to the 41st millennium

If you’ve never delved into the tabletop series, Warhammer 40,ooo is set in the 41st millennium, a time when the Imperium of Man controls millions of worlds across the galaxy. However, the Imperium itself is beset on all sides by countless threats, such as xenos (i.e., aliens), Chaos cultists (i.e., worshippers of dark gods), and traitorous rebels. Rogue Trader builds on that premise as players embody the new head of the noble von Valancius house. Now a captain of a voidship and authorized to conduct trade with the xenos, players set off on a course to the Koronus Expanse to unravel the mystery of their kinsman’s death.

The initial missions are very much apropos for a Warhammer game. Along the way, I was introduced to a few companions, such as devout Battle Sister Argenta, Sanctioned Psyker Idira, Adeptus Mechanicus Tech-Priest Pasqal, and later, an Aeldari (i.e., space elf) named Yrliet. Some party members are even romanceable.

But here’s the fun kicker: everyone hates each other.

The Imperium’s soldiers march to greet the Rogue Trader during a ceremony in Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader.
Owlcat Games

You might think that the Imperium of Man is the “good” faction; in reality, it’s a fascist, genocidal regime, one that demands strict adherence to its dogma and the eradication of all those that show even the slightest hint of disobedience. This mantra also extends to its citizens and, by default, the xenos races/factions in the galaxy.

I chuckled whenever Argenta and Idira, alongside Inquisitor Heinrix, chatted about how to get rid of party members in a convenient manner. The hostilities are entertainingly magnified once Yrliet and Marazhai, a Drukhari (i.e., space dark elf), joined the group. I also had a smile on my face when Ulfar, a Space Marine of the Space Wolves legion, broke into song worthy of a skald of yore. That was followed by him threatening to kill everyone in the room.

Rogue Trader is the quintessential CRPG experience for those who love the lore.

Apart from those playful character dynamics where you lead a disparate band, plenty of tidbits from the sprawling story kept me immersed throughout — from Aeldari calling my character a mon-keigh and shouting the names of gods like Khaine or Isha to Adeptus Mechanicus NPCs speaking in binaric. One memorable battle had me exploring a mini-dungeon where everyone goaded me to leave immediately because something was very wrong, only for Genestealers to start emerging from hidden compartments. And yes, I laughed out loud when a commissar foe straight up shot his own allies during his turn (and not by accident either). Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention appearances from Nurgle zombies, Tzeentchian daemons, and even more Drukhari.

In a way, Rogue Trader is the quintessential CRPG experience for those who love the lore. It’s a treat for longtime fans, filled to the brim with moments to make you say, “Whoa! I understood that reference!” It’s clear that Rogue Trader was lovingly crafted by designers who are experts in the setting.

The line between fanatical and heretical

A pillar of CRPGs is the concept of choice-versus-consequence, where certain decisions lead to a particular outcome. Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader has a lot of these, categorized by three convictions: Dogmatic, Heretical, and Iconoclast. That core gameplay system isn’t fully fleshed out, though.

A character passes a skill check in Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader.
Owlcat Games

Apart from additional points that grant buffs and perks — or simply a means of avoiding the deaths of characters — most dialogue responses are clearcut, with little to no ambiguity. For instance, some Heretical choices seem as though I was straight up trolling or killing for the sake of killing. Dogmatic choices are the other side of the same coin, where a rigid doctrine causes you to execute others, including companions. It doesn’t make for a great role-playing experience, as many outcomes wind up feeling too obvious. That’s why I preferred the Iconoclast options, which are more in line with a pragmatic approach.

I can draw a comparison to Owlcat’s Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, which relied on a traditional alignment system (i.e., Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil). The choices in Wrath felt more nuanced and impactful compared to Rogue Trader’s, given that you also unlocked new classes and not just passive perks.

Rogue Trader’s archetype system (i.e., classes and skills), meanwhile, is extremely robust, though it’s also so unapologetically made for enthusiasts that I can’t help but feel it’ll turn away newcomers. Mind you, even though I’ve been a huge fan of Warhammer, my enjoyment mostly comes from books/audiobooks, stories from codices, and video games — I don’t play the tabletop at all. In short: I prefer fluff over crunch.

Rogue Trader isn’t terribly streamlined or approachable …

Character creation and leveling left my brain discombobulated. There are home worlds with their own perks, origins with their own core skills, four starting classes, six advanced classes, and one ultimate class. Each class, including advanced ones, have a select few skills that you can choose. On top of that, there are hundreds of talents, with a ridiculous number of potential combinations, many of which have very technical descriptions. And don’t forget attributes or skills required for checks (i.e., Awareness, Persuasion, and Tech-Use). Oh, and the Navigator and Psyker characters also have their own unique options. I kid you not, but the game showed over 40 talent options when I first leveled up and I suddenly felt the onset of a migraine. It’s certainly a lot to manage.

Compared to other great CRPGs, from Wasteland 3 to Baldur’s Gate 3, Rogue Trader isn’t terribly streamlined or approachable. It takes a lot of learning, though once I understood some of the basics, I was able to fine-tune my characters to the point that I was racking up kills in the Daring difficulty. I considered that a triumph when, just hours prior, I was sitting with my mouth agape, trying to compute a dozen bonuses.

One shot, one kill

Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader features deep turn-based tactics combat. Your six-person squad and the enemy team take turns duking it out, moving across tiles and attacking when possible. There are a lot of possibilities owing to the aforementioned robust archetype system. For instance, I was able to create a setup where my character and a companion, Cassia, both granted additional turns and action points to teammates. I had Cassia group up enemies so that my damage-per-second (DPS) characters, Argenta and Yrliet, peppered them with a hail of bullets while also refreshing their own actions. Meanwhile, my tank, Abelard, waded into the thick of the fray to soak most of the damage. The sixth person was either Pasqal (a Mechanicus Tech-Priest who was great for passing skill checks) or Ulfar (because who doesn’t want to have a hulking Space Marine just bulldozing everyone?).

Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader gives you so many options to truly min-max your characters. Those who are into theory-crafting builds and testing each unit’s capabilities in combat will likely be impressed once you see the wealth of choices that are available (oh, and Cassia is overpowered. Let’s leave it at that).

A Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader screen shows character customization.
Owlcat Games

As for hostile forces, the aforementioned races appear as NPCs or enemies. You’ll see everything includi human criminals, Chaos cultists, Chaos Space Marines and daemonic minions of the Chaos Gods to Aeldari farseers, Drukhari haemonculi, Sslyth guards, Genestealers, Dark Mechanicum contraptions, and a few surprises. Oftentimes, encounters have dozens of enemies, encapsulating the “last stand/against all odds” theme so commonly highlighted in the lore. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader is a treat for long-ime fans.

There’s a whole lot to do outside of battles. The moment you leave your first planet, you’ll navigate a galactic map filled with dozens of worlds in the Koronus Expanse. Some systems have planets with resources. Others have worlds that can become colonies, which you need to manage by way of projects (these just appear as panel choices). There are factions that act as traders so you can acquire more goods, too. Factor in tons of dungeons and points of interest to explore and there’s a lot to do in space.

Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader gives you so many options to truly min-max your characters.

Battles naturally net you more loot, and there’s a lot of that too: chainswords, power swords, thunder hammers, lasguns, bolters, and splinter rifles, various armors and accessories. I was overwhelmed at first until I found the right tools for each of my characters. In addition to that, the inventory system is more akin to Wasteland 3 or other CRPGs in that you can loot almost everything within close proximity, though it’s difficult to discern between rare treasures and absolute junk due to a lack of unique icons.

There are voidship battles, too, which take place on a grid-like area in space. That system comes with its own upgrades and skills, giving players even more to do. Unfortunately, the battles themselves aren’t too exciting due to plodding pacing. The slow speed of firefights became glaring once I was facing no fewer than five ships with multiple fighters and torpedoes — all of which had to finish their long turns.

This Machine Spirit’s bugs

While there’s a lot to love in a whole galaxy of activities, Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader is woefully littered with bugs. Some are fairly minor, such as planet resource icons not appearing properly or the camera panning so uncontrollably that you could barely see characters talking. Some abilities appear as unusable even though they can still be cast, and a few items show up as unequippable even if I have the requirements. Loading saves in the middle of combat could sometimes lead to issues, too.

Other problems, however, are more egregious. In one instance, my game crashed after exiting a dungeon. I reloaded, and it crashed again. My only recourse was to reload a save from an hour prior to run through the entire dungeon once more. In other cases, there were panels or menus I couldn’t close unless I reloaded my save. Similarly, there were sidequests and contracts that couldn’t be completed in spite of meeting the requirements.

With its current litany of issues, it’s bound to cause a lot of frustrations.

As for builds and talents themselves, there are companions who I’m still unable to “respec” as of the time of this writing, all because the system thinks they have certain skills already unlocked even though they don’t. Trying to proceed would mean giving up crucial perks. Some talents also don’t work at all. There are even skill checks that could have anywhere from a zero to 5% success rate in spite of all the points I’ve allocated.

Furthermore, there are some ambush battles that can occur randomly while exploring the Koronus Expanse. One encounter I experienced had new party members that just stood idle. I had to keep reloading every time just to avoid that type of battle completely. Another one featured enemy mobs that were completely impervious to damage. I spent an hour trying to win that engagement thinking that there must’ve been a mechanic that I forgot about, only to realize that the mobs were plainly bugged.

A Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader player’s team is stuck in a battle against cultists that keep healing no matter what.
Owlcat Games

On top of those issues, character models look blocky and outdated, while animations feel wooden. Performance, overall, was suitably decent as I have an Nvidia RTX 3080, Intel 10900K, and 32GB of RAM, but I noticed significant frame rate drops once there were numerous special effects on-screen. It’s an enormous game, but that comes with some noticeable technical flaws.

I can ultimately forgive those issues, though, because Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader left me marveling at the sheer scale and scope of its campaign. Owlcat Games has crafted a title that’s a cut above other Warhammer tie-ins available now. It has a rich narrative that’s filled to the brim with references, and a keen attention to detail that’s a testament to the grandness of the 40K universe. Battles are tough, but they often reward me for experimenting with various classes and builds. It’s just going to need some polish over time to remove some unwanted friction from an incredibly long RPG. With its current litany of issues, it’s bound to cause a lot of frustrations. If Owlcat Games can fix those issues swiftly, you’ll be looking at one of the best Warhammer games ever released. Period.

Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader was tested on PC. The code was provided by the publisher.

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Jason Rodriguez
Jason Rodriguez is a freelance reviewer and guides writer from the Philippines. It’s a country in Southeast Asia, where…
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