RPS Advent Calender 2023! Each day reveals a new favourite game from this year, leading up to our GOTY. Check the main calendar post to see the full list.
Doors for the door God! Calendars for the calendar throne!
Ready to take to the stars in the name of the God-Emperor? It’s the first fully-fledged Warhammer CRPG – Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.
Jeremy: When my wife and I made the decision to move to the UK earlier this year, we both began looking forward to spending more time with family, seeing the sights around London, and in my case…finally getting into Warhammer. (For those interested, I put Warhammer on my list of “great British culture to consume,” right alongside Judge Dredd and Red Dwarf.)
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always known bits and pieces regarding Warhammer, since I dabble heavily in the tabletop RPG space and wargaming is only a few steps down the hall. But while I’ve got PDFs of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Wrath & Glory on my computer, I’ve never run them. Nor have I had the chance to fully embrace the fanaticism that comes with painting a bunch of overpriced space marines or delving into the billions of Black Library books that seem to encapsulate every genre under the sun. Honestly, if we’re to break things down even further, I’m more drawn to The Old World and all of its mohawk dwarves instead of the solarscapes of space facism that you get with 40k. But there’s no denying that for better or for worse, Warhammer’s futuristic variant is clearly the more popular side of Games Workshop’s plastic crack empire – and sometimes all it takes to alter one’s biases is a good CRPG.
Owlcat’s Rogue Trader does just that. I’m still in the early hours, since the final version of the game just became playable only a few days ago and I never had time to touch the beta. But as Edwin said in our impressed review-in-progress, this is an RPG that feels genuinely epic, from the choral echoes accompanying its title screen to the fact that all of my noble’s abilities revolve around buffing, ordering, and occasionally sacrificing all of the other meat shields on the battlefield that solely exist to keep her out of harm’s way. (It’s always easy to choose your origin in a game like this when your skills boast stellar names like “You. Serve. Me.”)
Rogue Trader – which technically bears the subtitle of the very first edition of the 40k wargame – also serves as a great crashcourse in all of the nuances of a galaxy ruled by grimdark, and even though modern Warhammer’s moved far from the Thatcher-era satire that birthed it, there’s still something innately amusing to me about a setting where everyone’s obsessed with colonising in the name of the Imperium. And I do love how rolling up your character exposes you to an alignment chart divided up into the elegant extremes of “DOGMATIC,” “HERETICAL,” and “ICONOCLAST.”
I’d also like to note that Owlcat keeps getting better with every gargantuan 150 hour CRPG that they push out. I played Pathfinder: Kingmaker for a stunning two years on and off (despite the fact that the game was buggy as heck and clearly designed by min/maxers), and I’m still playing Pathfinder: Wrath Of The Righteous, which cleaned Owlcat’s penchant for jankiness up significantly. The level of polish present in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader continues this ascent to the top, and while I’m still too low level to determine if Owlcat’s love for min/maxing has continued with a new system, at the very least the amount of game-breaking combat loops here is less than what came before. Speaking of combat, it’s a joy to finally experience a true turn-based system in an Owlcat game. The Kingmaker mod that became an actual turn-based mode in Wrath of the Righteous was fine, but those games were full of trash mobs and clearly not designed for tabletop combat. Rogue Trader is, and the combat is good – thank you very much, God-Emperor!
I’ve never played the 2009 Rogue Trader tabletop RPG that powers Owlcat’s game, and it’s far more likely that I’ll finally crack open those Wrath & Glory PDFs before I do. But just as Kingmaker gave me the chance to really get down and dirty with the Pathfinder 1e ruleset, Rogue Trader delivers with the joy of indoctrinating me not only in an out-of-print tabletop system by Fantasy Flight, but to the Warhammer universe in general. I look forward to playing more and seeing how far into heresy my character falls. Oh, and if I know how my mind works, there’s a high probability that I’ll be painting my own legions of space marines come the new year. Hurrah for embracing high culture.