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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Is Giving Me Strong OG Fallout Vibes

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, the first classic-style PC RPG set in Games Workshop’s iconic sci-fi universe, is available starting Wednesday. Developers at Owlcat Games (Pathfinder: Kingmaker) have provided rabid fans who have already pre-ordered the game with an early alpha, and it has quite a bit of content to play with.

But this is not a mere technical demonstration. Owlcat has done its best, delivering a double whammy of quality original storytelling and delicious isometric ultraviolence. It’s still too early to get excited about a game with no release date, but fans of 40K and the original Fall You’ll want to keep this one on your radar.

In 40K lore, a “rogue trader” is a swashbuckling trader who operates on the fringes of the human empire. But don’t expect to don the mantle of a feisty sailor fending off gangs of marauding space pirates. Instead, you are a member of the nobility, with a ship the size of a small city and thousands of underlings to do your bidding. Your personal entourage is a band of highly-skilled, eccentric humanoid warriors, and your goal is to blaze a path of glory and enterprise through a dangerous galaxy.

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How dangerous? In the first hour I spent playing the game I experienced total slaughter, my band of six heavily armed combatants reduced to smoking heaps of meat on a dusty floor. And that was just a low level matchup against some street thugs.

Reloading, I went back to my save game determined to make it out alive. What I found was an intricate array of synergistic character abilities, not unlike something you’d find in a boutique Japanese RPG. It seems like every character in the party has a role, even if sometimes he just hides behind a box and buffs characters with the biggest guns.

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And the weapons themselves behave as you would expect. Bolter rounds explode with a satisfying thud, sometimes knocking opponents back and knocking them back. Flamethrowers sweep across the battlefield, setting enemies on fire. Friendly fire is a big concern, and making sure all your troops have clear defenses and open fields of fire is key to your survival.

A male Rogue Trader sits down for dinner with the lord of Footfall.  Options include threats and offers of pleas, running the gamut.

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This early alpha shows evidence that Owlcat Games isn’t afraid to let players take the narrative reins and steer the story in the direction of their choosing.
Image: Polygon via Owlcat Games

By the end of an hour, I had two snipers taking down targets at range, two melee-focused characters covering my right flank, while a highly polished space nun came out of cover to mow down half a dozen thugs each round. . Meanwhile, my own rogue trader was scouring the map looking for the gang leader. It was an extremely satisfying tactical experience, with features and graphics that rivaled recent hits in the genre, such as wasteland 3.

In addition to his mastery of combat, this alpha shows that Owlcat intimately understands the quirky narrative approach to the setting. rogue trader it is replete with voluminous treatises slowly and irrevocably revealing a version of humanity poisoned by its own dogma. It’s a compelling read, going along well even alongside Games Workshop’s own Black Library novels. It’s a lot of text, to be sure, but even though I would have preferred full voice acting, I’m not sure the writers would have had as much leeway to expand and embellish the narrative in the same way if they were paying the actors. The copy is strong, especially considering that this game is made by an Eastern European team based in Cypress.

There are many features that I have yet to test, namely space combat and the trading system, but what I have seen has impressed me. This little taste of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader It left me wanting more, and that’s not something I’ve been able to say about many alphas I’ve played so far this year.

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