Rogue Trader’s post-launch patches paved the way for Void Shadows

At launch, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader was a tricky game to recommend, even though it’s a lovingly crafted adaptation of the Koronus Expanse, building off lore that I love from the tabletop RPGs. The initial conflict pulled me into the story, and I stuck around to help my companions achieve their goals. But there was an opaque leveling system that required constant math homework, there were bugs in the latter half of the game, and it had some awkward, fiddly bits. Luckily, developer Owlcat Games has continued to work on Rogue Trader, patching it regularly. Now, with the game’s first expansion within sight, I’m thrilled to see what the story looks like with extra layers of long-term polish.

Rogue Trader is both big and dense; it’s so complex that even Owlcat lost track of all the various interlocking scenarios. “There were some sequences and scenes that were performing in a way we didn’t expect. It was an almost scientific discovery to understand how things would work or not work together in combination,” said Anatoly Shestov, executive producer on Rogue Trader.

Having players go through the campaign provided much more data to Owlcat than internal playtests. Since the game’s original release, Owlcat has released 10 patches, fixing thousands of issues and implementing quality-of-life updates, and tweaks to UI art, difficulty, boss design, character progression, narrative issues, and more. This process paved the road toward the game’s first expansion: Void Shadows. According to Shestov, Void Shadows is inspired by mechanics that the team wanted to tackle for launch, but ultimately had to put on the back burner.

The bridge of the Rogue Trader’s voidship, a massive space vessel in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. It’s made of gothic architecture, with eerie green lighting and heavy brass framing for the equipment and screens. Image: Owlcat Games

“The ship itself, we wanted to open it up to more points of view. We wanted to tell different stories about the people who live there, the difficult choices happening there,” said Shestov. “We found this compelling story about things that were happening previously and right now throughout the story with your crew.” This is an aspect that’s lightly present in the main game; at one point, my Lord Captain descended down into the bowels of her voidship in order to deal with an upstart union negotiation.

Void Shadows includes a new companion and potential love interest, Kibellah, a Death Cult Assassin. The assassins are a relatively deep cut in Warhammer 40K lore. Everyone on the player character’s crew is a misfit in one way or another — except Abelard, my beloved right hand and steadfast seneschal — but Death Cult Assassins are deeply ritualistic killers who are unleashed against the enemies of the God-Emperor after mental conditioning, gene-crafting, and elite training. Kibellah joins the rest of the crew, allowing for new squad configurations.

As for the new enemy, players will be tasked with uncovering and defeating a Genestealer Cult infestation on their vessel. These massive warships have full cities worth of crew aboard, and Genestealers love to slip into these situations where they can slowly overtake more and more of the population until they can finally begin a revolution and summon their dark alien masters to consume the assembled people and their habitat.

“One staple of our development ideology is that we never try to do some medium things that will be good for 100% of the audience,” said Shestov. “To try to be edgy, we try to pick some pointy elements that will poke someone and hook them as deeply as a good story.”

According to Shestov, expanding the voidship will be very distinct from the base narrative’s settlements. As the story advances, the Rogue Trader — the player character — claims more of their dynasty’s worlds. These worlds fall under the Rogue Trader’s authority, and the player can return to upgrade them and provide instructions to the regents who rule in their place during the events of the main campaign. The Void Shadows-specific additions will be more of a narrative chapter, focusing on exploring the ship and meeting those who live within.

A fight breaks out in Void Shadows, the first expansion for the Rogue Trader CRPG, with the Death Cult Assassin attacking a Genestealer Cultist. Image: Owlcat Games

This includes more officers, who may have advice for the Rogue Trader, and new environments to explore. With a bit of hard work, players can even boost their voidship’s space battle power, adding a massive hangar. There will be about 15 hours of new content integrated into the main campaign. All of this makes for a good excuse to return to Rogue Trader and enjoy the fruits of all those previous patches that paved the way for this new content. Similarly to Baldur’s Gate 3, multiple runs of Rogue Trader are recommended in order to see all the wrinkles of each companion’s story and to try out different decisions in the main narrative.

Void Shadows is set to be released on Sept. 24. A second expansion, Lex Imperialis, is planned for later in the year. According to Shestov, Owlcat will remain working on Rogue Trader for at least a year after the launch of Void Shadows. There’s plenty of life left in the Lord Captain’s travels, and I’m curious to see how it all unfolds.