It’s a common trope in role-playing games for the protagonist to have a party that follows them around, bolsters their skills in combat, and provides different perspectives on the world. Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is no exception; as the titular Rogue Trader I can take a retinue with me wherever I go. This can include a rare, trusted few, or I could go hog wild and recruit smugglers, criminals, dangerous psykers, and mysterious xenos.
What makes this experience so delightful is that all of my party members share two things in common: They suck, and they all hate each other. I feel like a bus driver carting around a bunch of terrible students who are all slap-fighting in the back seat, except instead of being students, all of these people are incredibly deadly and blessed with high-caliber weaponry and brain powers.
It’s a delightful contrast to Baldur’s Gate 3, which has a cast of well-rounded and fully realized companion characters who slowly become more sympathetic over the course of the game. You start off as a bunch of hostile strangers, but you eventually become a proper adventuring party that stands shoulder-to-shoulder against the apocalypse. Sure, every Baldur’s Gate 3 companion has their own issues, and there are a couple of instances where they’re at each other’s throats, but deep down they all have the potential to have a heart of gold.
In Rogue Trader, everyone starts out as an asshole, and then undergoes trauma that makes them even worse. Let’s start with my Senechal and the party’s MVP, Abelard. As a Senechal, Abelard is meant to help me out, run certain parts of my voidship, and herald my arrival. There’s just one problem. Abelard? More like, Enable Hard. This guy never says no, and if I bring him with me everywhere I go, he’ll do my bidding without question. If I think a guy’s looking too proud and I decide the best way to humble him is removing his kneecaps, Abelard will ensure I don’t have to dirty my hands. Very practical, but not very moral.
Then there’s Argenta, a Sister of Battle. This religious warrior wants to murder half of the other people on the ship in the service of the God-Emperor. If Argenta was in charge, jaywalking would be a crime punishable by death via fire. There were multiple times during the campaign when I had to actively prevent her from putting a bolter shell in the middle of another party member’s face.
Heinrix van Calox, an agent of the Inquisition, isn’t much better. He’s super-mad any time I pal around with xenos — something about heresy in the face of human supremacy, I don’t know, I tune out — and he’s also pretty cool with casual murder. I can actually go to him at any point in the campaign and ask for him to disappear specific party members, and he’ll happily do so overnight.
It says a lot that the most moral and respectable members of my crew are the rogues — Jae and Idira are a smuggler and a psyker respectively, and both of them have shady dealings on the side. Despite their shortcomings, they’re among the best at dealing with interpersonal conflict. Cassia, the ship’s Navigator, is also pretty chill… when she’s not casually suggesting I remove the vocal cords from my crewmates so they don’t bother her so much.
Finally, there’s Marazhai, the Drukhari I recruited in Commorragh. It took a little bit of finangling to get him in my party, which makes sense, because it’s extremely contrived that I would want to recruit him in the first place. Marazhai is an antagonistic space elf who feeds off the torment of living beings, and he is a major antagonist in the early acts of the game. Still, I went out of my way to not only recruit him, but also romance him, because I was curious to see how the game threads the needle of having such a dangerous companion on the player’s side.
As it turns out, the way Marazhai’s romance plays out is extremely horny. Before long, he’s praising my Rogue Trader for being an obedient pet, and I have the option to give him hunting grounds aboard my voidship. Every once in a while, he goes around murdering innocent crew members. Everyone gives me a big side-eye for enabling it, but look, in the bleak galaxy of Warhammer 40K, I deserve a little treat. These party members are terrible, and the events of the campaign largely just make them worse — and that’s what makes them fascinating.