Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Alpha Hands-On – Charting the Koronus Expanse

Francesco De Meo
Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is ripe for stories to tell, and many video game developers have taken advantage of the rich setting created by Games Workshop for their popular board game to create some great titles. Surprisingly enough, there haven't been a lot of role-playing games based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and the ones released don't seem to delve too deep into the universe's massive lore. This, however, is set to change in the future, as Owlcat Games, the studio behind Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, is working on one that will combine the vast Warhammer 40,000 lore with the masterful writing and storytelling the studio is known for.

While Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is far from release, Owlcat Games is offering players a chance to try out the game via the Digital Pack and check out for themselves if the studio is ready for such a huge undertaking. Having tried out the alpha myself, I'd say it definitely does, although this early version of the game isn't exactly accessible.

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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader stars a player-created Rogue Trader that travels to the Koronus Expanse, a region of unexplored space at the edge of the Imperium of Man, to do what Rogue Traders usually do: expand the borders of the Imperium. At the start of the alpha, players can pick between a few select backstories that determine the Rogue Trader's starting set of stats and skills. This simplified character creation system is only in place for the alpha, as a full character creation system will be implemented in the future.

After generating the Rogue Trader, the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader throws players right into the action at the start of Chapter 2. Theodora Von Valancious' ship has been damaged in a previous encounter, and the noble Rogue Trader has died during the assault, and it is up to her successor, the player, to reach Footfall, a void station in the asteroid belt and one of the main trade hubs in the Koronus Expanse, to repair the ship and resume the expedition. With the six companions that have already joined the Rogue Trader, they land at the trading hub to discover that the political and social climate are quite complicated, and it will be the Rogue Trader's choices that will further shape the lives of those living on the trade hub.

Right from the start, it is clear how Owlcat Games is going all-in when it comes to the setting and story. Those with limited knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe may feel confused by the barrage of terms that are thrown at them right from the beginning of the adventure, but those who live and breathe Warhammer 40,000 will definitely be happy to see such an accurate representation of the universe. Despite still being in alpha, the game does a very good job at providing information on important terms and concepts, information that is readily available by hovering over certain terms with the mouse cursor in true cRPG fashion. Choices will obviously play a very big role in the game, and while those in the alpha have minor consequences, they make the player feel like an active part of the world.

Unsurprisingly enough for a cRPG, the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader alpha doesn't do a great job at introducing newcomers to its ground combat system, as it doesn't provide a whole lot of information on its mechanics and the many skills that the available characters have at their disposal. Still, it is undeniably an extremely solid turn-based combat system that combines some of the best elements of similar systems seen in other games with some interesting new mechanics. While the cover system has been seen in plenty of other games, the division between Action Point and Movement Point and the Momentum system are something new that sets Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader apart from other games. The Momentum System is particularly interesting, as it not only allows the varied unit types available in the alpha to use the aforementioned huge number of skills but also lets players unleash two ultimate special abilities, Heroic Acts, available only with high Momentum, and Desperate Measures, available only with low Momentum. The latter is especially interesting, as the Desperate Measures abilities also come with some drawbacks that make using them quite risky.

Ground, turn-based tactical combat is only one-half of the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader combat experience, as the game also features space combat, which makes a lot of sense considering the setting and the space exploration premise. Fighting enemies in space requires players to maneuver their ship properly to be able to use the many weapons available and take advantage of the void ship's shields and even directly control torpedoes. Abilities are also available during space battles, and they change depending on the officers on board, so good preparation is just as important as moment-to-moment tactical decisions.

Space combat isn't the only mechanic that makes Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader feel like a proper Warhammer 40,000 role-playing game, as the Rogue Trader can explore space, gain control of space colonies or reconquer those lost to enemies. These colonies have different development levels and provide the resources needed to start new projects or complete specific orders. While these features may significantly change later, as confirmed by Owlcat Games, they show how the developer is definitely using the Warhammer 40,000 setting in the best possible way.

While still early in development, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader shows great potential. Creating a compelling yet unique role-playing game set in the world created by Games Workshop is no easy thing to achieve, but Owlcat Games is already proving to be up to the challenge. If the game feels this good to play at this stage, it will be very interesting to see how good it will be when its final release launches in the future.

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader launches on PC on a yet-to-be-confirmed release date.

Alpha code provided by the publisher.

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