It’s about time we got a Warhammer 40K RPG – let’s hope Rogue Trader lives up to its potential

A Warhammer 40K RPG is finally here, as Owlcat Games has revealed Rogue Trader.

Announced during the Warhammer Skulls showcase event, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is billed as a classic roleplaying game with turn-based combat. It’ll be the first fully-fledged Warhammer 40K CRPG, and will be making its way to PC and consoles. Specific platforms and an expected launch window haven’t yet been announced, but you can watch the reveal trailer below.

Developed by Owlcat Games – the studio behind the well-received Pathfinder CRPGs – Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader looks to draw heavily from the roleplaying video games of the ‘90s. Placed in the titular role, you’ll oversee your own interstellar merchant empire and scout the fringes of the uncharted Koronus Expanse under the auspices of the godlike Emperor of Man. 

In typical RPG form, your decisions will influence the fate of the star system, and you’ll be joined by a party of companions. Ardent 40K fans will recognize most of them from the tabletop miniatures wargame, including an Aeldari Ranger, a Sister of Battle and, of course, a Space Marine. Judging from the single piece of artwork released so far, the latter looks to be a member of the Viking-esque Space Wolves.

“The grim darkness of the 41st millennium is a harsh place of unbound evil, untold sacrifices and large-scale threats and challenges that perfectly transitions into an exciting roleplaying narrative that allows an exceptional freedom of in-game choice for the player,” said Owlcat Games head Oleg Shpilchevsky in a press release. 

“We endeavor to bring to the game everything that fans of the RPG genre love and expect: fateful decisions, non-linear stories, strong and diverse companion cast together with addictive and complex gaming systems to master.”

A long time coming

Given the popularity of the Warhammer 40K franchise, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Games Workshop’s grimdark futuristic setting to receive a CRPG adaptation. The miniature-maker certainly hasn’t kept the license close to its chest, greenlighting a swathe of Warhammer strategy games, shooters, and mobile titles over the last decade. Their quality has varied, and RPGs have consistently been absent.

It’s a strange omission. The dense lore and ready-made world-building of the Warhammer 40K mythos provide fertile ground for digital roleplaying. Its history stretches across millennia, spanning interstellar conflicts, personal betrayals, and political intrigues that have been well-documented in a litany of novels, comics, and expanded source material. The universe has its famed champions and beloved characters, alongside heaps of unknown grunts and unsung heroes that offer a malleable base for narrative expansion.

The world itself is a network of varied hyper-industrial planets and decaying star systems. Hives – dense, caste-based cities that house millions of people in rusting megastructures – sit next to manufacturing Forge Worlds. Debaucherous Pleasure Worlds, enjoyed by the Imperium’s nobility, lie across from huge Agri-worlds dedicated to producing enough food for the thousands of soldiers and slaves put to work under the Emperor’s ever-advancing war machine.

Owlcat Games has plentiful source material to play with, in other words, and Rogue Trader puts the studio in a prime position to explore it. By placing the player as a mercantile explorer charting the frontier of the Imperium of Man, the developer has set up the perfect narrative opportunity to do what CRPGs have always excelled at: taking the player on a journey through varied environments while meeting all manner of companions and enemies along the way.

Even the announcement trailer, although brief, gives us a tantalizing glimpse at the game’s scope. Tropical ruins, bustling Imperial planets, and floating Necron strongholds are a far cry from the drab industrial battlegrounds that so often appear in Warhammer 40K games. Rogue Trader looks to not only be setting itself apart in terms of its genre, but in its perspective of the grimdark universe.

Tabletop roots

A sniper in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader

(Image credit: Owlcat Games)

The dearth of Warhammer RPGs is stranger still when you consider the origin of many early CRPGs. Classics of the computer roleplaying genre sprung directly from Dungeons & Dragons, often translating the tabletop RPG’s ruleset to the PC wholesale. Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale weren’t so much adaptations of D&D as they were (attempted) direct recreations of the tabletop game for a digital, single-player environment.

It’s surprising, then, that Warhammer didn’t follow a similar route. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has let fans explore the low fantasy universe through pen-and-paper roleplaying since the late ‘80s. Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay, meanwhile, brought the grimdark universe to the modern tabletop in 2008. While Games Workshop has been licensing Warhammer video games since the late ‘90s, it somehow never saw fit to hand the RPG rulesets it had already developed to video game studios. If it had taken a leaf out of D&D’s book, we’d have seen a lot more CRPGs based around power-armored fascists by now. Oh, what could have been.

A lot to live up to

A player standing in front of a chest in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader

(Image credit: Owlcat Games)

Rogue Trader certainly won't be lacking an audience. Fans of the tabletop game and general RPG obsessives alike have been craving a Warhammer 40K RPG for years. That puts Owlcat in an unenviable position: tasked with delivering a dream game while meeting the expectations of critical fans.

If you’re desperate to see for yourself whether Rogue Trader looks more like a finely-bolted Leman Russ or a shambling Ork Trukk, you can support the game during its early access period. Fans who buy the Founder’s Packs from the Owlcat Games website will gain access to the alpha and beta versions of Rogue Trader, alongside a set of exclusive in-game items. We can expect to hear more details of the game in the coming months. 

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