Video games Workshop retail employees have a tough job, from low pay to constant unreasonable targets from higher administration, so it’s with all the love and respect that I inform you about the animated lad that my 14-year-old mates and I used to make enjoyable of for liberal use of the phrase “If a Space Marine walked in here right now…” It was at all times accompanied by wildly enthusiastic gesticulation meant to convey the absolute unit-tude of stated Area Marines (8 toes tall in Warhammer 40,000’s lore). I convey this up as a result of it completely sums up the thorny problem behind advertising and marketing these yoked stormtroopers: Area Marines are very costly for one thing so small, forcing Video games Workshop to make the legend of those tiny plastic troopers tower over the actuality.
And what a legend it is. The Horus Heresy e book sequence presently consists of over 60 fats paperbacks value of lore. There’s far an excessive amount of nuance to unpack right here, however it’s honest to say that when writers spend that lengthy exploring one thing, they should take it fairly severely, particularly in the event that they wish to preserve their readers hooked. To be clear, 40K is an interesting, enjoyable, inventive, huge, and infrequently extraordinarily intelligent setting. Nevertheless it’s additionally — at least as recently as 2021, according to its parent company — explicitly, deliberately satirizing the very faction that the overwhelming majority of its lore appears so fascinated with. “Satire is people as they are; romanticism, people as they would like to be,” wrote the novelist Daybreak Powell. As 40K grows and grows, it’s changing into tougher to disclaim that the portrayal of the Imperium is not less than considerably aspirational.
A fast primer: Humanity’s overwhelming presence in the 40K setting takes the form of the Imperium of Man, the place staunch xenophobia, senseless zealotry, and outright hostility towards social or technological progress are amongst the highest virtues — a literal “cult of tradition”. Unusual people stay in cramped “Hives,” toiling away till demise, at which level they’re repurposed as tasty, nutritious “corpse starch.” The Imperial Guard, humanity’s most quite a few navy power, is greatest recognized for using the Zapp Brannigan maneuver, i.e., throwing limitless our bodies at an issue till it kinds itself out. As such, particular person human life is lower than nugatory. Terra’s extra elite navy are the Area Marines. As 2000 AD’s Choose Dredd is to legislation enforcement, so are the Area Marines to the idea of the Ubermensch — a grimly satirical warning about the pursuit of perceived bodily perfection and supreme power.
Of the 36 playable factions in 40K, round half (17) are of the Imperium in some capability, with an extra 9 being their direct foil in Chaos, leaving simply 10 to separate between the a number of nonhuman species that populate this mind-bogglingly large universe. Sci-fi can range wildly in taste, however a unifying thread is that nice science fiction is virtually insatiably curious. 40K completely shines when it mocks the staunch anti-curiosity of its human protagonists. However as the firm has steadily grown to worth gross sales over creative intent, that lack of curiosity too usually appears to be adopted by Video games Workshop itself.
This fantastic look at the timeline of 40K, and the way it moved from satire to one thing virtually resembling celebration, places it like this: “As the setting grew more mainstream, Space Marines’ [portrayal] as noble warrior monks became more and more prominent, resulting in a world where these abused, intolerant, mass-murdering child soldiers are only ever portrayed from the Imperium’s point of view,” and, in the overwhelming majority of official art work, “as genuine heroes.” Even the official web site categorizes nonhuman armies as “the Xenos threat.” Look a bit nearer, and it’s straightforward to see the inherent satire in photos of Primarch Roboute Guilliman with a Christ-like halo of sunshine shining from the background. However except you understand what you’re wanting for, these things appears suspiciously like the very propaganda that it’s making enjoyable of.
This isn’t to say, after all, that modern-day Video games Workshop has misplaced its sense of satire, and most actually not its humorousness. As we’ve seen time and time once more in the video games business, shareholders misunderstanding or simply straight-up not valuing the inventive course of is a depressingly prevailing theme — it’s straightforward for nuance to get crushed below the pursuit of straightforward profitability. The rule of cool sells plastic, not tough themes. Plus, 40K is a wargame. In a setting that requires fixed battle, factions that suppose in absolutes turn out to be needed. However that’s the place video video games like the current, glorious CRPG Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader are available in. It’d be an enormous anticlimax to finish a sport of 40K with a dialog earlier than it even begins, however as the setting is allowed to unfold its wings in a brand new style, a few of that basic satire begins to flourish once more.
40K is, above all else, ridiculous, and Rogue Trader has enjoyable with it with out shedding any of the campy grindhouse stuff that grimdark excels at. Characters converse in wealthy, baroque prose, without delay excellently written and virtually indecipherable to anybody not already indoctrinated into their weird non secular neo-feudalism. You don’t even have to depart your personal ship to come across dehumanizing class construction, and every of your erstwhile associates is comically nefarious sufficient to be the major villain in some other setting. In Baldur’s Gate 3, for instance, the evil path requires a deliberate, lengthy try and stray into monstrous territory. Right here, you possibly can have a number of crew members executed in the first few hours with out breaking character.
Rogue Trader isn’t even the first sport to drag this off not too long ago. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, regardless of a rocky launch, is shaping up as a superb successor to the Vermintide sequence, and portrays the horrific satire of existence in 40K’s horrendous hive cities masterfully. Loading display quotes are such pointed satire you’d should have unintentionally super-glued your eyes shut constructing fashions to overlook them, with strains like “A small mind is a tidy mind,” “Blessed are the intolerant,” and “Duty is vital, understanding is not.” It appeared just a few brief years in the past that the glut of Warhammer video games felt like a punchline. Now, the scope and breadth these video games supply are beginning to really feel like a greater medium to painting the most full model of 40K than the tabletop sport itself.