Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader Alpha Impressions

Owlcat Games' Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader, officially announced this past June, will be the first "pure" cRPG ever created in the well-known Games Workshop universe. The Alpha version of the game became available just a few weeks ago, and, naturally, everything in this early version is prone to change between now and the final release day, but some fundamental elements stand out and will logically remain more or less constant until the end. And, based on those fundamentals, I'd say that at first glance, Rogue Trader brings to mind a mix of Fallout/Wasteland 3 and Mass Effect. But let's take it from the top.

Rogue Trader character sheet
Predictably, the Alpha doesn't offer full character creation capabilities - indicative of this is that we can't even set a name beyond the default "Rogue Trader". Note also the placeholder icons on many abilities and traits.

The Alpha's content begins after the prologue of the full game, when the protagonist Rogue Trader (an agent in the service of the God-Emperor of Mankind, with a fairly free role and authority to explore, trade and establish colonies in His name) receives the Warrant that authorizes him to carry out his mission in the dangerous and largely unexplored star sector of the Koronus Expanse. This early version does offer access to a fairly generous section of the game: exploring and locating resources and activities in about 1/3 of the (quite huge, at first glance) overall map of the Koronus Expanse, progressing through the main storyline thread corresponding to Chapter 2 of the final game, increasing Reputation with the 4 (for now, at least) factions of the world, increasing the Profit Factor (essentially something like a monetary unit corresponding to the wealth of our trading dynasty and with which we make most transactions) and several other secondary activities and aspects of gameplay.

Rogue Trader Alpha dialogue
The dialogues provide options for all RP tastes, from a full-blown fanatic supporter of the Emperor to a more... "ethically relaxed" Rogue Trader who has no qualms in dealing with the forces of Chaos.

The Fallout factor that I pointed out corresponds, of course, to the turn-based combat (and exclusively turn-based, unlike the company's previous projects that focused primarily on Real-Time-With-Pause), but mainly to the very dark humor that pervades the writing. Someone who identifies the 40k universe as exclusively "grimdark" might feel that the existence of such humor is somewhat out of place, but the truth is that it fits the style of the original Rogue Trader rulebook, which was considerably "lighter" and more sarcastic than later additions to the universe. And it goes without saying that that "humor" in this case doesn't mean characters just sitting around telling jokes amongst themselves or throwing silly one liners or something like that - the humour is more subtle, and is mostly found in the hyperbolic elements that permeate the 40k universe: when, for example, the protagonist is in conversation with a person who exhibits clear heretical tendencies, and the option "[Immediately execute the heretic]" is offered in the dialogue... well you cannot but laugh. And then you'll obviously execute him because he IS a heretic after all.

Rogue Trader Space Combat
The game also features turn-based space combat sequences.

Then we have the Mass Effect factor, which of course refers to the field of stellar exploration. Indeed, the way we move from system to system and scan for points of interest on the planets within each system, seems taken straight out of Mass Effect 2 or 3. Obviously, a key difference is the existence of the Warp, which is a separate gameplay mechanic in itself increasing the difficulty of moving from system to system.

I have the impression that this mechanism will be connected to some sort of "ship management" system similar to such aspects seen in previous Owlcat games, but this hasn't been implemented in Alpha yet so we can't know for sure. However, based on the nature of warp random events that occur during exploration, logic suggests that there will be at least something like stats for the population and morale of our Voidship, stats that will be affected by the success or failure of our voyages and which in turn will affect the gameplay in some way.

Rogue Trader Koronus Expanse map
It is also possible to plot new routes from system to system, regardless of the distance. But in principle, the star map can't help but feel similar to Mass Effect.

Other systems that are currently missing but are to be implemented by the final release include character alignment (which will logically relate to the "God-Emperor vs Ruinous Powers" conflict), the ability to customize the colonies we establish in the Koronus Expanse, the modification of our Voidship's armament with the corresponding effects on performance in space combat, the expansion of the reputation system and its various consequences. Apart, obviously, from the more extensive customization of our character, but also areas such as character models, the addition of more extensive voice-acting, skill/traits icons or even the UI design. Of course, the developers have mentioned that pretty much everything is still open, with even fundamental areas of the game undergoing possible, mild or extensive modifications and redesigns until the final release.

Rogue Trader Chaos Marine
Things got serious...

I have some objections and reservations in my almost 30 hours of game time so far, mainly in the space combat area but also when it comes to how grand the world actually feels in-game - for example, when you keep reading that the Voidship is inhabited by "thousands of thousands of crew" but you see at most 30 or so NPCs roaming the bridge, some part of the universe's "grandiose atmosphere" seems a bit lacking. But that doesn't negate the general first conclusion that Rogue Trader seems to be a real playground for fans of the 40k universe. Familiar factions, races and ideologies, familiar technology, familiar conflicts, with the ability to participate ourselves and have a decisive influence on developments within a genuine 40k story.

Rogue Trader does not yet have an official release date. However, based on Owlcat's history, logic says it will be released 1 to 1 and a half years after its announcement, so towards the end of 2023, with a more extensive Beta version becoming available somewhere in between. Until then... the Emperor Protects.

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Κώστας Καλλιανιώτης

Archaeologist/Historian, RPG Player, Motörhead fan, Consumer of Mutton.

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