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Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader’s co-op campaign is super flexible

The true Writ of Trade was the friends we made along the way

A ring of cultists forms around a singular leader, with a flaming eye insignia scrawled on the floor, in the world of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. Image: Owlcat Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is a game about one of the most powerful groups of people in the far future of the 42nd millennium: the titular Rogue Traders. But every good Rogue Trader is backed up by a crew of allies, ranging from close confidants to powerful goons. Along with a sprawling single-player campaign, the upcoming CRPG from Owlcat Games offers a drop-in, drop-out co-op mode that allows you to bring your friends along for a ride through the Koronus Expanse. Polygon played through a preview session of Rogue Trader’s co-op campaign with Owlcat Games, and we tackled a dungeon full of dangerous machine cultists together.

Co-op play prioritizes flexibility; I can have friends join me on my campaign at any time, just by choosing the co-op mode, generating a code to share, and loading a save. What’s more, my companions can keep the save after our run, allowing them to advance on their own if they so choose. Rogue Trader is a massive game, and the co-op system seems to focus on allowing players to join up with friends at any point over maintaining a consistent role-playing campaign for each participant.

Combat will be familiar for fans of similar games like Wasteland 3 or Baldur’s Gate 3. Characters have limited movement and actions they can take each turn. Some of them have support skills and can buff or heal allies. Others are all about creative ways to murder heretics. The Rogue Trader can be a highly customizable and variable character, and their companions are all able to flex between various weapons and talents as well.

A massive transhuman cyborg, part of the Adeptus Mechanicus in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, rears up on his mechanical spider legs. He is surrounded by lesser, more humanoid members of the Machine Cult. Image: Owlcat Games

The fiction of Rogue Trader also means that the pool of companions is much wilder and more variable than in other 40K games; it includes two Aeldari, a Space Marine and Sister of Battle who follow your orders. The Imperium of Man is a place where the smallest of infractions can get you burnt at the stake. In a game like Darktide, the wildest guy you’ll see is the big, friendly abhuman Ogryn. A Rogue Trader, by contrast, can pull off constant acts of heresy that would get a normal person executed; they can opt to tell a Space Marine what to do, have a couple of space elves as their crew, or use powerful alien weaponry because it has a good kick to it.

Rogue Trader also has a wide selection of party members. There are some fun options, like an ardent Sister of Battle, or a crafty Tech Priest of the Adeptus Mechanicum. The Rogue Trader can’t bring all of them on every mission, and having certain companions unlocks new conversation options. For instance, the Tech Priest will have a lot to offer when it comes to dealing with the Imperium’s technical systems.

A Sister of Battle unleashes a gout of fire from her flamer in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader Image: Owlcat Games

In co-op, players can divide up control of the characters. In a duo run, two players might divvy up the six characters down the middle, with each controlling three of them. If you bring a whole crew of friends, each person can control one of the six. It’s a fun way to experience the game’s gauntlet of combat options — and you will find yourself ensnared in plenty of fights, since there are no pacifists in 40K.

Because the Rogue Trader player character is so important to the plot, whichever player in the co-op session controls the Rogue Trader essentially gets control over the story. Other players are along for the ride; they can highlight certain options but not choose them.

Overall, the co-op campaign in Rogue Trader seems to be less of a narrative commitment and more of an arena in which you and your pals can team up to dungeon crawl through the Koronus Expanse. The sheer flexibility the system offers is intriguing; I can see myself checking out alternate paths from my campaign by joining in on a buddy’s session, or sounding the horn and seeing if I can rustle up friends to tackle a particularly tough boss fight. The world of Warhammer 40K is wild, and I’m excited to have a new avenue through which I can introduce friends to this big, weird world.

The next level of puzzles.

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