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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Beta Impressions

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is a cRPG by Owlcat Games, the first of its kind in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. I have played a number of Warhammer 40K games recently with turn-based strategy Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters and co-op shooter Darktide. Now I have been playing the closed beta thanks to Dead Good Media and Rogue Trader takes me back to my gaming roots with an isometric view, character and party development, rich lore and dialogue with choices that matter.

In Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, you will traverse incredible distances in your giant voidship, traveling between a multitude of systems across the Koronus Expanse, a barely charted and incredibly perilous area of space. Despite being considered a backwater of the Imperium, this region encompasses an enormous stretch of the void filled with prodigious opportunities for profit and exploration.

Rogue Traders never travel alone. Gather your retinue that might include holy warriors, twisted psykers and perfidious xenos. All of them are ready to follow you into the darkness between the stars. They will offer you counsel, aid you in battle, and allow you to gather ever more power. In return, you can guide them through their personal journeys, changing their destinies forever.

There is a lot of reading which I personally appreciated as I don’t know much about Warhammer 40,000 lore. Even after playing games like the Dawn of War series, Mechanicus, Chaos Gate and Darktide, the lore goes way over my head, but I still enjoy the heck out of playing these games. It shows that the lore is there for those that dive in and appreciate it, and the gameplay can still be enjoyed for what it is. The same is the case in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader where it has an awesome mix of depth of a great narrative driven crpg, interesting characters and environments to explore, and strategic Xcom-style turn-based combat.

There are two difficulties, normal and core, but you can slide different aspects to cutomise the difficulty to suit your playstyle. Character customisation is fantastic. There are three ‘pregen’ characters you can choose from, or you can create a custom character. The pregens are Hecata (Marksman), Darrius (Adept) and Bahardor (Fighter). Each has different backgrounds and abilities, and the tooltips for everything are very well detailed. Right clicking a tooltip expands into the game’s encyclopedia which has an insane amount of detail. It’s something I will be reading more in depth at release.

Ordinarily I would just choose a preset character that has stats and skills that I like to learn the game that way. This time though I felt that I wanted to play a ranged character, but I also wanted to see what customisation was like. I was surprised at the sheer volume of options for you to build your character the way you want. There are options for incredibly detailed portraits and your avatar’s appearance using sliders, then choose your homeworld and origin. The origin decision is important as it has skill modifiers.

There were other option headers for triumph and darkest hour, but they had not been implemented yet for this beta. Finally, you chose your doctrine which is your class and starting statistics. I was reliant on the helpful tooltips to tell me what skills like ballistic, awareness, coercion and a heap of others meant, and then spent my points. Looking at my video recording, I spent 7 minutes on creating my character and I easily could have spent double that but this is a beta and my progress will be wiped.

Once in-game we are given an isometric view and the nostalgia instantly flooded in of playing all the old school rpgs like Baldur’s Gate and the early Fallout games. The level of detail in the environment was amazing and this is just the beginning. Conversations are quite wordy, but the writing is of such high quality that it was engaging. Some words are bolded and hovering the mouse over these gives us a little bit of lore explanation, and again we can right click the tooltip to go in depth in the encyclopedia.

After a lot of dialogue introducing the setting and key characters, we click to move through the level, click-drag to select everyone in the party and use WSAD to swivel the camera. It feels very natural and smooth, with only a couple of graphics hitches and I only had one crash to desktop, which can be expected in a beta. Eventually I got to some combat and this is Xcom-style turn-based tactics with grid movement. Each character has some action points they can use to move (green) and attack (yellow). Interestingly, moving diagonally costs more action points, so you’ll want to plan your moves carefully.

Each weapon has a basic attack, and each class has specific skills depending on your creation choices. As you add more characters to your party, the combat really diversifies where you can perform some devastating attacks when planned correctly. There was Abelard who is a fighter that has some devastating hits with his sword, lopping off limbs and insta-gibbing others. Then I met Idira, a pysker with a lightning ability that shocked my own team as I didn’t realise there is friendly fire.

One great thing I like about combat is being able to test a movement and an action without committing to them. It’s one thing to put your mouse over an enemy and see what damage you will do but range and obstacles could skew the stats. In Rogue Trader, we can click once to see our movement path, then click a skill to see it’s effect from that position, like flanking. If I use this character to flank that baddie, it will open up this other baddie to be attacked from a better angle by another character. It gave me more flexibility to plan each party member’s attacks for maximum efficiency.

The graphics of explosions and effects are great, and the sounds of the guns are impressive making combat scenarios immersive. Looting items after a fight is a reward for your efforts with more guns, armour and other useful items. Aside from the traditional RPG inventory for your character and class members, there’s a special type of inventory called cargo which represents the storage vaults of your voidship. You can’t directly sell items to a vendor but can sell cargo containers. Any cargo filled to 100% can be sold to a vendor of the appropriate faction for reputation points. These can be used later for buying better items and gear.

I had a look at my clock, and I had been playing for two hours without even realising it. When a game immerses you that much that you don’t notice time passing, you know you are playing something great. This closed beta covers the prologue and up to act 3 of the campaign. There are space missions that I haven’t played yet but am looking forward to checking out next. Overall, I am very impressed with what I have played of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader so far and I am very much looking forward to the game’s release.

This closed beta review utilised a key provided by Dead Good Media and Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is coming soon to Steam and GOG.


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