Video games Workshop retail employees have a tough job, from low pay to constant unreasonable targets from higher administration, so it’s with all of the love and respect that I inform you concerning the animated lad that my 14-year-old mates and I used to make enjoyable of for liberal use of the phrase “If a Area Marine walked in right here proper now…” It was at all times accompanied by wildly enthusiastic gesticulation meant to convey absolutely the unit-tude of stated Area Marines (8 ft tall in Warhammer 40,000’s lore). I deliver 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 fact.
And what a legend it’s. 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 need to maintain their readers hooked. To be clear, 40K is a captivating, enjoyable, inventive, huge, and infrequently extraordinarily intelligent setting. But it surely’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 folks as they’re; romanticism, folks as they wish 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 within 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 among the many highest virtues — a literal “cult of tradition”. Bizarre people dwell in cramped “Hives,” toiling away till dying, at which level they’re repurposed as tasty, nutritious “corpse starch.” The Imperial Guard, humanity’s most quite a few army power, is finest recognized for using the Zapp Brannigan maneuver, i.e., throwing limitless our bodies at an issue till it types itself out. As such, particular person human life is lower than nugatory. Terra’s extra elite army are the Area Marines. As 2000 AD’s Choose Dredd is to regulation enforcement, so are the Area Marines to the idea of the Ubermensch — a grimly satirical warning concerning 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 fluctuate wildly in taste, however a unifying thread is that nice science fiction is nearly insatiably curious. 40K completely shines when it mocks the staunch anti-curiosity of its human protagonists. However as the corporate has step by step 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 on the timeline of 40K, and the way it moved from satire to one thing nearly resembling celebration, places it like this: “Because the setting grew extra mainstream, Area Marines’ [portrayal] as noble warrior monks grew to become increasingly outstanding, leading to a world the place these abused, illiberal, mass-murdering baby troopers are solely ever portrayed from the Imperium’s standpoint,” and, within the overwhelming majority of official art work, “as real heroes.” Even the official web site categorizes nonhuman armies as “the Xenos risk.” Look a little bit nearer, and it’s simple to see the inherent satire in photographs of Primarch Roboute Guilliman with a Christ-like halo of sunshine shining from the background. However except you already know what you’re searching for, these things seems suspiciously just like the very propaganda that it’s making enjoyable of.
This isn’t to say, in fact, that modern-day Video games Workshop has lost its sense of satire, and most definitely not its humorousness. As we’ve seen time and time once more within the video games trade, shareholders misunderstanding or simply straight-up not valuing the inventive course of is a depressingly prevailing theme — it’s simple for nuance to get crushed beneath the pursuit of simple 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 change into mandatory. However that’s the place video video games just like the current, wonderful CRPG Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Dealer are available. It’d be a large anticlimax to finish a recreation of 40K with a dialog earlier than it even begins, however because the setting is allowed to unfold its wings in a brand new style, a few of that traditional satire begins to flourish once more.
40K is, above all else, ridiculous, and Rogue Dealer has enjoyable with it with out dropping any of the campy grindhouse stuff that grimdark excels at. Characters communicate in wealthy, baroque prose, without delay excellently written and nearly indecipherable to anybody not already indoctrinated into their weird spiritual neo-feudalism. You don’t even have to depart your individual ship to come across dehumanizing class construction, and every of your erstwhile associates is comically nefarious sufficient to be the principle villain in some other setting. In Baldur’s Gate 3, for instance, the evil path requires a deliberate, lengthy try to stray into monstrous territory. Right here, you’ll be able to have a number of crew members executed within the first few hours with out breaking character.
Rogue Dealer isn’t even the primary recreation to drag this off just lately. Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, regardless of a rocky launch, is shaping up as a wonderful 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 by accident super-glued your eyes shut constructing fashions to overlook them, with traces like “A small thoughts is a tidy thoughts,” “Blessed are the illiberal,” and “Responsibility is significant, understanding just isn’t.” 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 essentially the most full model of 40K than the tabletop recreation itself.