Published on December 12th, 2023 | by Branden Zavaleta
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Review (PS5)
Summary: An epic, twisted CRPG that scratches that Baldur’s Gate 3 itch, but is held back by a few bugs.
An epic in progress
The Warhammer 40k universe is expansive and intricate. There have been hundreds of games taking place in it. Games where you fight off hoards of Xenos, or battle your way through a hive city, but few scratch the surface of Warhammer’s exntensive worldbuilding. An epic CRPG is perhaps the only genre that could hope to encompasses more than a few planets, but it’s a big job and a small studio like Owlcat– who has about a quarter of the employees that Baldur’s Gate 3’s Larian Studios has– will have to cut some corners to create anything exciting. In this case, Rogue Trader has limited voice acting, limited character portraits, and a top down view that keeps you at an impersonal distance. It means that the characters and relationships have far less impact and immersion than the bright star that is Baldur’s Gate 3. But if you can forgive that, you’ll find Rogue Trader to be a grand adventure across dead worlds, space hulks, and realms of twisted warp corruption.
If you’re not familiar with the job of a Rogue Trader, you may think it’s like being a space pirate or smuggler, but it’s far more prestigious than that. You’re the ruler of a space dynasty, controlling not just a ship of hundreds of thousands, but planets too. You’re not just some schmuck seeking to make a name for yourself. You save entire planets from cultist uprisings, recover holy relics lost to the vast expanses of space, and collect a retinue of illustrious followers. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual CRPG formula, and making decisions on the treatment of your peons, and your political allies make for some uniquely stimulating choices and outcomes.
Stimulating is the key word for Rogue Trader. Becuase while it does feature some romance, and some lovable characters, the game’s limited scope keeps you at a distance from really bonding with your crew. Pair this with long loading screens, the occasional crash, and some rare but painful bugs– like blaring sounds getting caught on repeat, or objects missing their textures– and the game can feel like a work in progress. It’s not an uncommon thing to see in today’s games industry, and thankfully, Owlcat seems committed to working on the game into the future (and it’s got a good track record with some incredible leaps made during early access).
But I would be remiss to mention only the bugs, when there are some excellent quality of life changes too. For example, skill checks are automatically made by the team member with the highest relevant skill, and lootable bodies are grouped together so you can just search one body, not ten. Small changes like this add up quickly when the game is a hundred hours long, and with a few more updates the Rogue Trader could be very special. It’s a game that has the potential to not just be a great Warhammer CRPG, but among the best CRPGs in years.
Impressively, Rogue Trader has almost the same scale as Starfield, and even more impressive is where it outshines it. Rogue Trader‘s turn-based battles are complex yet manageable strategic challenges– think XCOM: Enemy Unknown or Midnight Suns– and the choices you make have ramifications far into the game. Choosing to save refugees may infect your ship’s crew, cause a planet to fall into the malevolent grips of The Archenemy, and make a companion question your allegiance. And being the head of a dynasty, there are many of these juicy choices (just as there are smaller, funner choices too).
So if you’re a Baldur’s Gate 3 fan hankering for another expansive CRPG adventure, your first glance may put you off Rogue Trader. But if you temper your expectations, and give it some time to grow on you, you’ll find a lot to love. And if you’re a Warhammer 40k fan hoping for some grim dark adventuring among the stars, you’ll love it all the more.