Using “magic” in the Warhammer 40,000 universe is an incredibly risky business. A psyker (see: cosmic wizard) must draw his strength from the Warp, a volatile dimension inhabited by demons and chaotic gods. Thus, every spell, no matter how trivial or powerful, comes with the possibility of injury, insanity, demonic possession, or death. In Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, the upcoming RPG from Owlcat Games, you’ll have to weigh that risk every time you decide to gut an enemy with your mind.
The perils of the warp, the system that determines whether your head will explode or you will live to see the next day, is one of Alexander Gusev’s favorite mechanics from 2009’s Rogue Trader, a tabletop RPG set in the dark, bleak future of the 41st Millennium. He and other members of the Owlcat development team have been playing the game for years, so being able to turn this pen and paper hobby into a video game was something of a dream come true. But one golden step at Games Workshop later, and that dream became a reality; Gusev is now the creative director of the very first role-playing video game, Warhammer 40k.
“We have made more sandbox RPGs than most [other developers]”, says Gusev, referring to the incredibly open games of the Pathfinder studio. You had your own kingdom. You traveled, studied the map, learned something about this unknown place, the Stolen Lands. And it constantly reminded me of what parties do in Rogue Trader.”
In most Warhammer 40k video games, you take part in humanity’s millennial quest to wipe out every other race in the galaxy (there are no good guys here, sorry). But Rogue Traders, with their luxurious spaceships and impeccable taste in fashion, are not your battle-hungry Space Marines. “Rogue Traders are different from many of the other factions in Warhammer’s Imperium in that you can also interact with xenos. [aliens] in ways other than simple murder,” explains Gusev.
The Rogue Trader’s mission to explore, trade, and broker deals in regions outside of Imperial space means they are free to see the unfamiliar side of the universe. “Perhaps this is the best [subject] in a Warhammer 40k setting to approach it from a CRPG perspective,” says Gusev. “It gives us the ability to give you powerful enemies and do really epic stuff without going completely away from the role-playing part and completely into combat. It also allows us to show the world and show how normal people live there and show what the peaceful parts of the Imperium look like.”
The Rogue Trader’s freedom to negotiate and even recruit aliens means that tensions within your team will inevitably escalate. Your protagonist will be surrounded by characters who can only be called religious fanatics, and everyone has their own understanding of how to serve the God-Emperor of Mankind. For many, saying a simple “hello” to someone who is not of your species is considered heresy to the highest degree. And so it seems that part of the task of the Rogue Trader will be to manage the conflicting points of view of your group.
“Of course, there are moments of conflict in our game,” Gusev teases. “There are certain times when you can just let one character kill another. For example, an Adepta Sororitas character would be uncomfortable around unauthorized psykers.
If you want to see those sparks fly, you can…simply recruit both an Adepta Sororitas (warrior nun) and an unauthorized psyker into your retinue. Other recruitable companions include the Seneschal (your right-hand man of the Imperial Navy), Magos of the Adeptus Mechanicus (cyborg engineer), Inquisition Investigator, Navigator and, of course, a Space Marine from the Space Wolves tribal order. .
“We were looking for characters that would show the universe from different perspectives,” Gusev says of the choice of Owlcat companions. While all of the above characters hail from the Imperium, they each have very different cultures and conflicting beliefs. Of course, the real oddity will be Aeldari Ranger, a space elf from an empire much older than mankind, who will no doubt be looked upon with suspicion by their bunkmates.
Resolving disputes between your quarreling team will be just one of the many choices in Rogue Trader. Gusev promises a fully branching narrative: “There will be significant differences depending on the choices you make in different parts of the game,” he assures me. “Some of the decisions you make in the first half of the game can make a big difference in later parts of the game.”
“We’re still making a classic companion-focused RPG,” says Gusev, so Owlcat fans can be sure Pathfinder’s values will find their way into the 41st Millennium. “You can change these characters. They will have personal quests, they will have their own epilogues. Some of them will not be very happy with the choice you are about to make. And you can – by the way you interact with them, by the way you have dialogues with them, how you react to their interruptions in some dialogues and so on – you can change their fate.
While a Rogue Trader can grab your team’s attention, their personal stories are only part of a bigger picture. As revealed in the trailer, the story will feature some of Warhammer 40k’s most famous factions, including Chaos, Eldar, Drukhari, and Necrons. Where Warhammer stories usually take two or three factions and throw them into battle, Rogue Trader is set to explore multiple fronts.
“Here we have an advantage because our games are quite long, so the stories are not short,” explains Gusev. “These enemies are not presented as deus ex machina. We have time to present them properly and connect with the story.”
At a minimum, you can expect a great variety of enemies, and then with a collection of enemies lovingly translated from their plastic miniature forms to digital models. You can then blast them to pieces in turn-based combat, which is a new venture for Owlcat (Pathfinder used a paused real-time game). “We chose turn-based mode because we wanted to focus more on combat encounters, as well as on each individual character and their actions,” says Gusev.
This brings us back to the Perils of the Warp. While Gusev refrains from explaining how Owlcat adapted the rules of the game for Rogue Trader’s combat system, it’s clear that your unauthorized psyker has the potential to burn out his brain if you’re not careful. But Gusev promises that many artifacts from the arsenal of 40 thousand will be presented, corrected and blessed by the God-Machine. “We will have melee and ranged weapons. It’s not exactly common in many turn-based games, but it’s very common in Warhammer to have a bolt pistol and a sword at the same time.” Hopefully this will lead to an interesting blurring of the lines between ranged and melee combat.
At the moment, there is no word on when we can expect Rogue Trader to be released, but Owlcat has a series of beta testing milestones already planned, which can be accessed by purchasing the Founder’s Pack. I am personally very keen to get down to business as soon as possible, as there is simply nothing like Rogue Trader in the vast library of Warhammer video games currently available.
Such character-led storytelling is indeed only available through the Black Library; A colossal collection of Games Workshop novels. And even then, most of them are war stories in which legions of Space Marines unload munitions onto cargo ships for alien forces. Seeing a party based adventure that an RPG tells is a rarity in the 41st Millennium and I’m fascinated by what Owlcat does with the freedom Rogue Trader provides.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader – Trailer Screenshots
Matt Purslow is the news and articles editor for IGN in the UK.
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