Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader offers a rewarding roleplaying experience set in the grimdark far future of Games Workshop's storied sci-fi universe — something fans have been screaming for forever. Developer OwlCat Games has learned plenty of tricks from its Pathfinder series, and while still a little rough around the edges, largely succeeds in crafting a fitting tribute worthy of the God-Emperor of Mankind.
Rogue Trader casts players in the titular role of a Rogue Trader, a hereditary, semi-divine authority granted to an individual, who then has the right to go out and conquer star systems in the name of the Emperor and govern in his name. This necessitates amassing wealth, establishing trade networks, and controlling subject populations. It's the sci-fi equivalent of privateering and makes for a rich roleplaying setting, with players encouraged to make decisions according to their chosen philosophy.
A classic isometric CRPG in many ways, Rogue Trader maintains convoluted genre conventions but does make some concessions for new players. This means a statistically deep, content-rich gameplay experience that pushes back and demands focus. That's doubly the case if you plan on playing Core difficulty, positioned as the set of parameters that best emulate the setting (and required to unlock certain Trophies, as it happens). For our money, OwlCat Games is the CRPG studio best poised to take advantage of Baldur's Gate 3's breakout success, but players coming from that game should expect a much scrappier experience with a steeper learning curve.
Graphically, Rogue Trader looks great on PS5, with the uber-gothic 40K aesthetic brought to life in expansive environments and through detailed weaponry and equipment. Character models leave little to be desired, and, unfortunately, OwlCat decided to reuse cosmetics options like hairstyles from its previous game, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, which recycled those of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. It's not a deal breaker, but it is disappointing, and players who take pride in creating their characters might find the current limitations restrictive.
Thankfully, in terms of gameplay mechanics, Rogue Trader is an engaging game with plenty of room for building variety and combat that continues to escalate. When creating a character, you can select from the game's four base classes and progress to more advanced ones, picking up skills to aid exploration, dialogue, trade, and combat along the way.
Players must manage the gear and progression of their companions to overcome the odds against them. Five characters can accompany the Lord Captain (the title of your player character) on away missions, and this entourage needs to be well-rounded enough to handle anything they encounter, from mechanical faults to hostile Xenos races. There is a sizeable roster of companion characters, each with personality, playstyle, and philosophical preferences, with enough variety to accommodate your custom lead.
Between the hardline Imperialis, altruistic Benevolentia, or sadistic Hereticus philosophies, you're rewarded with perks and gameplay options for sticking to a creed while remaining faithful to the famously bleak setting. This is a universe in which any weakness is punished, and a moment of hesitation can have far-reaching consequences. For example, Imperialis means following the laws of the land to the letter, burning heretics, killing mutants, and purging anything (or anyone) the Imperium has deemed unclean; not your usual "good guy" fare. Conversely, taking the ostensibly kinder Benovolentia option might mean letting the corruption of Chaos spread, infecting entire worlds, necessitating planet-killing measures like Exterminatus.
Combat is where players will spend the vast majority of their time, and it's a competent turn-based tactical affair, if a tad slow (but you can speed things up). Governed by action and movement points, characters can use melee, ranged, and psychic abilities to dominate the battlefield, with advanced classes allowing access to more exotic options. Rogue Trader includes exciting set pieces and boss encounters, and factors like friendly fire and bullet penetrations need to be accounted for. OwlCat manages the delicate balancing act of 40K combat, where futuristic firearms contend with fantastic equipment like chainswords and power fists, making combat at any range both necessary and impactful.
In terms of writing, we enjoyed what OwlCat has managed to achieve, but then we were already lifelong fans of the schlocky sci-fi setting. Your mileage may vary regarding Warhammer, but Rogue Trader tells a compelling story that will see the player character rise to startling heights and uncover a sprawling mystery, expected to overcome extreme opposition and turn a profit all the while. There is a surprising amount of voiced dialogue from companion characters, but most interactions are delivered through text reams. A leisurely playthrough will likely take you over 50 hours, with the potential for more if you're deeply invested.
However, we did have some fairly consistent performance issues on PS5 throughout, with dropped frames in populated areas and more significant combat encounters. We didn't find much relief in the game's settings, as graphical options seem geared towards PC. Rather than having the simple performance and graphic settings console players have come to expect, Rogue Trader offers various FSR upscaling tweaks, which didn't fix our frame rate (even on the performance setting), but did succeed in reducing the resolution. Worse, a few bugs prevented progression, such as the next quest marker not triggering after clearing a room and being unable to leave. These are the types of things likely to be fixed post-launch, but did negatively impact our experience nonetheless.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is a CRPG worthy of its grimdark sci-fi setting, offering players engaging tactical turn-based combat and an immersive adventure. It lacks polish, and we encountered some frustrating bugs, but deep class customisation and an exploration of the setting like nothing before means there's plenty to recommend for fans who are willing to take the plunge.