Founded in 2016, Owlcat Games is dedicated to bringing incredible tabletop roleplaying game experiences into the digital realm. Beginning with Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, the game studio now embarks into the grim dark future of the 41st millennium with Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.
Based on the tabletop RPG by Fantasy Flight Games, and set in the weird, oppressive world of Games Workshop's classic tabletop miniature game Warhammer 40,000, we got a chance to see the game in action at a preview event in Manhattan and spoke to a few members of the team.
What Is Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader?
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader bills itself as the first classic cRPG set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The game is set in the Koronus Expanse, a seldom-explored, dangerous region of space.
As a Rogue Trader -- an adventuring explorer who's equal parts conquistador and spacefaring merchant -- you traverse the Koronus Expanse in a huge voidship, making deals, uncovering secrets, and narrowly escaping danger from the mutagenic, evil power of Chaos and dangerous Xenos alien species.
I sat down with Nikita Putilin, Director of Public Relations at Owlcat Games, and Alexander Mishulin, Creative Director at Owlcat Games, as they ran me through an encounter taking place about 80 hours into the game. "We are following the secrets of our predecessor, a previous Rogue Trader," explains Mishulin, "and we find this remote world."
it all started with several guys in our team that were playing Rogue Trader, Dark Heresy, and everything in between on the tabletop for several years
Looking for one of our downed ships, in the encounter I saw in our preview we crashed upon some Necron ruins (in layman terms, the Necrons are, essentially, ancient Egyptian-style robotic zombie aliens). The scene opens with our crew exploring this planet, including a former Imperial officer, a psyker, a member of the machine-worshipping Adeptus Mechanicus, a criminal, and -- to my surprise -- a previously unannounced Drukhari (or dark elf).
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Interview - Combat Complexity
The gameplay for Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is presented in your classic cRPG isometric view, but the graphics, especially those of the detailed environments you traverse, are lushly detailed and full of life (and death). The gameplay involves lots of scrambling for cover, but there are also very strong melee characters at your disposal, so it didn't really feel like an XCOM-style duck-and-shoot game at all.
Playing through an encounter at 80 hours it is clear to see how many options there are for players. Each character in your party has a variety of actions and abilities, so many abilities also stack on top of each other. Clicking through powers, attacks, and special moves, I saw characters buff the team, use movement to sneak in extra damage, position themselves to find their opponents' weak spots (positioning, as you'd expect, is huge in this game), and take calculated risks that didn't always pay off.
The ramp-up to all these abilities, like in all good cRPG's, eases you into the chaos. "You start with just one ability," says Mishulin, "and when you start with your first doctrine (a sort of special ability) it's just a charge move. The next ability you can get is Endure, which makes you tankier. After that, you have a choice between five abilities for the first ten to fifteen hours... and there are also talents that adapt to that, give you special perks that work with these abilities."
Even as Mishulin scrolled through the layers and layers of abilities our 80-hour characters sported, it was easy to see where they started. How each character came into our crew with limited, manageable powers, and how those powers naturally progress while still leaving room for customization.
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Interview - Exploring A Dark Future
But combat is just one side of the Rogue Trader experience. After we successfully defeated our Necron enemies, we were free to explore the area. In doing so, we learned some secret lore about the Necrons, picked up a bit of loot, and found a crashed ship we'd been looking for. "There's one loot that we miss here because our awareness check is bad," says Mishulin. "I know it's bad because on other playthroughs of this encounter, we succeed in the check."
In other words, just like a classic Tabletop RPG, the points you put into non-combat skills can be just as important as those that directly contribute to your damage output. If you don't pass invisible awareness, lore, and other roleplay-centric checks all happening in the background, you simply miss out on those aspects in-game!
You'll be going against Aeldari, Drukhari, Necrons, and Chaos.
And the gameplay doesn't end when you clear out all the Xenos on a battle map. "You have your own spaceship," says Mishulin, "it will be customizable, you'll be going against Aeldari, Drukhari, Necrons, and Chaos. And because you're a Rogue Trader you'll also be finding new routes, colonizing some of them, and restoring and enhancing your trading empire."
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Interview - Player Choice
As you'd hope in any good cRPG, player choice is a huge element of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. As Mishulin explains, "we are really focused on player choices and consequences. It's part of the way we represent narrative to the players. You have a lot of options to roleplay, options that have consequences that will come back to you through the storyline."
And those decisions that you make can change your characters in more ways than one. "It's not an alignment," Mishulin highlights, "it's like - if you do something close to Heresy or to Chaos, you can become tainted. And eventually, get some abilities out of that. And eventually still, be able to equip some items that are only for tainted people."
But it's not all tentacled Chaos horror and sacrilegious Heresy. "There's also a benevolence when, against all odds in the dark future of Warhammer, you're trying to help other people," says Mishulin. "And people start loving you and this gives you some power as well. Or you can go the full-blown doctrine way, as a loyal imperium member and this helps against Chaos and demons."
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Interview - Built With Love
As we closed out our conversation, I asked Mishulin how the team first came up with the concept for this game. Were they fans of the franchise? "From an IP perspective," Mishulin responds, "I have to say, it all started with several guys in our team that were playing Rogue Trader, Dark Heresy, and everything in between on the tabletop for several years, they had several campaigns."
This is coming from really hardcore fans of Warhammer
As love of all things Warhammer tabletop RPG grew within the Owlcat Games team, they began to dream about what it would be like to create a Rogue Trader cRPG. "And so we made a pitch about how the team envisioned a Rogue Trader game," says Mishulin. "We had this passionate team, and we pitched to Games Workshop, because we knew what we wanted to do and how the game would work, how it would all progress. So this is coming from really hardcore fans of Warhammer."