Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is an audacious love letter to Games Workshop’s dystopian sci-fi setting, offering a bleak yet compelling portrait of the iconic universe. However, engaging combat and gripping decision points are let down by abundant bugs and a mechanical depth that can be off-putting at times.
Deep and satisfying combat that’ll please genre veterans
Plenty of tough decisions and role-playing opportunities
Memorable and engaging companion characters
More bugs than a Tyranid Hive Fleet
Combat systems can be intimidating
Why you can trust TechRadar
Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC
Release date: December 7, 2023
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader’s ambitious sci-fi odyssey artfully captures the overwhelming scale and dread at the heart of Game’s Workshop’s satirical dystopia. The role-playing game’s (RPG) writing manages to find shades of grey in a galaxy full of horrible people doing horrible things. However, developer Owlcat Games doesn’t offer a completely finished product. Bugs and glitches dog Rogue Trader, making for an incomplete experience that’s not yet reached its full potential.
Rogue Trader is a ‘computer role-playing game’ (CRPG) reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate 3 or Owlcat’s own excellent fantasy offering Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. You click on your party members and tell them to go places, talk to people, and fight things; advancing numerous plots and often finding yourself having to make difficult decisions with no right answers.
Given the setting's three decades of real-world history, getting into a Warhammer 40,000 game might seem like an intimidating prospect. However, Owlcat provides an accessible on-ramp for players that introduces key concepts quickly without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. After creating your character, complete with a customizable appearance and backstory, the game opens on a voidship - one of Warhammer 40,000’s kilometer-long starships. Throughout the prologue, you’re met with dialogue that surreptitiously tells you, the player, all about the tyrannical, theocratic Imperium that you represent and the venerated God-Emperor that rules it.
Eventually, you find yourself to be the captain’s last surviving heir, making you a fully licensed space privateer: a Rogue Trader, with your own companions and voidship to boot. Your goal: rediscover lost worlds and re-map the stars. Here, the adventure opens up, offering an experience that could be described as open-world for its breadth and emphasis on exploration. However, once you leave the prologue, the game’s greatest weakness reveals itself: namely an abundance of bugs.
Enter the hive
The further into the game you go, the more bugs rear their heads. As you enter into more combat encounters, you’ll start to notice animation glitches such as characters awkwardly shuffling out of cover and firing without aiming their guns. You’ll see sprinting enemies glued to the spot. In what was supposed to be a particularly dramatic moment, I encountered my entire bridge crew T-posing which, while hilarious, undercut the emotional weight of the scene substantially.
During my thirty hours with the game, I often found myself needing to reload saves as characters would get stuck. Cutscenes occasionally wouldn’t play properly either, requiring me to skip through them. In combat, vital tooltips sometimes won’t appear, too, forcing you to guestimate your way through battles.
These issues are prevalent enough that no play session will be unmarred by glitches. Rogue Trader’s enjoyable combat, storytelling, and sense of scale are often overshadowed by this jankiness.
This is a shame because the game’s mechanics are generally very competently put together - a fact that’s especially true for Rogue Trader’s battle system.
As you might expect from a setting with ‘war’ in the title, you often find yourself embroiled in combat throughout Rogue Trader. When this happens, the world becomes a grid, and the game’s turn-based mechanics take over, operating like a novel combination of XCOM and Baldur’s Gate 3. You move to cover and take shots at the enemy, informed beforehand of your chances of hitting and potential damage output. Your close-combat characters will burst out into the open, striking foes with heroic melee attacks. Diverse skills ranging from charismatic yelling to literal space magic spice things up a great deal, too.
At the end of chapter one, you fight a Chaos Space Marine - a towering power armored super soldier dedicated to the Dark Gods and hell-bent on using its giant gun to turn you into a fine red mist. A meaty and challenging boss fight, the Space Marine towered above us, requiring skill and wiles to counter effectively. The encounter was also underscored by a blood-pumping metal-inspired audio - fantastic stuff.
Given the tabletop RPG roots of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, based as it is on Fantasy Flight Games’ pen-and-paper game by the same name, you’d be right to expect deep combat. The game is bursting with abilities for your characters to learn and ways to modify them to get more bang for your buck. Each character has access to dozens of features whenever they level up. These usually allow you to tweak existing abilities, allowing your buffs to add temporary hitpoints or increasing the range of your charge attacks. It may seem small, but these little changes add up, offering wildly different potential builds.
This dazzling degree of customizability has the potential to be off-puttingly complex, however. Those looking for accessible combat mechanics may find themselves in the wilderness, here.
The game also includes a ‘Momentum’ mechanic which adds a pendulous ebb and flow to battles. Do lots of damage and your Momentum gauge fills, giving you access to powerful ultimate abilities such as a powerful single shot or a deadly frenzy. Take damage and be outflanked, however, and you’ll lose Momentum, so you'll need to stay vigilant. This is a strong addition, giving battles a back-and-forth that almost makes them self-contained stories of their own.
Lasers and feelings
A rich ensemble of characters joins your adventures throughout the game, acting as your officers, advisors, and most trusted crew members. All of them represent different factions from the sprawling setting. Abelard, your right-hand man, represents the steady, traditionalist hand of the Imperial Navy while the rakish Jae Heydari represents the sector’s criminal underbelly. However, these characters are far more than just factional mouthpieces.
Take Sister Argenta. Scratch the surface of this zealous battle monk and you’ll find an anxious soul, haunted by a failed quest to find a holy relic. Conversely, Interrogator Heirix von Calox may be a representative of the Imperium’s secret police, but he often proves himself charming and surprisingly practical. The man does horrible things, but he’s also interesting to share a drink with. They’re not the deepest characters you’ll ever encounter in an RPG, but they make for a compelling roster of companions, whose opinions on the game’s many moral dilemmas make for some spicey dialogue.
You’ll also find yourself having to manage your trade empire, too. The trade system feels thin at times, eschewing typical currency mechanics for a ‘Profit Factor’ system which roughly amounts to you throwing junk at a faction until they give you free stuff. That said, the decisions you have to make as ruler are as immersive as they are taxing. Do you side with a local zealot for expediency, or challenge his rule and risk instability? How hard do you squeeze the worker populations of your worlds? You may find yourself making monstrous decisions in Rogue Trader, but they will almost always be thought-provoking. I often found myself having to pause with a fresh cup of tea to mull over major decision points.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader presents a vast galaxy you can get lost in. Unfortunately, the glitches and bugs on display speak to a game launch that seems premature. Though Rogue Trader’s storytelling and systems are thoroughly enjoyable in isolation, the shadow cast by these issues makes the game a hard sell.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader has solid accessibility options for folks with colorblindness, allowing you to adjust the game’s palate easily from the menu with sliders for Protanopia, Deuteranopia, and Tritanopia. Subtitle text size can also be adjusted, which is a plus. The difficulty level is also highly customizable, allowing you to calibrate elements of the game experience to your liking such as enemy damage output and skill check difficulty.
How we reviewed
I played over 30 hours of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, engaging with as many of the game’s systems as possible. I spent a great deal of time with the combat system, as well as the space-combat mini-game and the trade and empire management mechanics. I also tested all of the game’s combat classes.
I am an RPG specialist, having played thousands of hours of them throughout my life. I am also very experienced with the Warhammer 40,000 setting, having run six full-length tabletop RPG campaigns in the setting. All of this experience was vital when approaching the game for review.
Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.