The twisted, hopelessly pessimistic universe of Warhammer 40k is impossibly large. Carefully spelled out in over 300 tie-novels and codexes, it's full of way more vibrant and bizarre details than you might expect if your only exposure to it has been through the lens of a seven-foot-tall Space Marine. There's a daemon planet that's actually a really large obese man in the fetal position and an ork warlord once accidentally travelled back in time and decided to kill his past self just so he could have a second copy of his favorite gun.
It's these kinds of fascinating details that are often left out of dozens games set in the Warhammer 40k universe. What's more frustrating, though, is how flippant Games Workshop tends to be with licensing its world to seemingly any developer that asks for it, leading to a catalog of Warhammer 40k games that are for more "meh" than it deserves.
That's why we decided to have some fun dreaming up what our perfect Warhammer 40k games would be, and which developers we'd love to see make them. Whether it's a dead-serious, big-budget RPG or a goofy ork kart racer, these are some of the 40k games we wished actually existed.
The Night Lords meets Ghost of Tsushima
Dream Dev: Suckerpunch, but only if it won't be a console exclusive
Steven: I'm having a bit of a come to Jesus moment with Warhammer 40k right now because, aside from dabbling in some of the videogames, I've never really tried to understand the universe or its lore. That changed recently when I decided to read Lord of the Night by Simon Spurrier. Holy hell, 40k is fucking awesome. Now I'm completely hooked.
While reading that book, I've also been playing Ghost of Tsushima on PS4 and it's impossible to ignore how perfect these two ideas are for each other. Imagine an open-world action RPG where you play a lone Night Lord stranded behind enemy lines. Aside from a few tenuous allies, you're solely tasked with purging the Imperium forces from a city, so you do what Night Lords do best: you slaughter, desecrate, and terrify the popular into subjugation.
Like Ghost of Tsushima, there'd be an element of stealth, but as you unlock more gear and abilities, you could take on entire regiments single-handedly: decapitating, disemboweling, and dismembering legions of soldiers. There could be some kind of system that rewards you for particularly unwholesome acts of violence, which could inflict terror in your opponents and cause them to try and flee (just like in Ghost of Tsushima but taken to a far extreme). And there's even room for a cool system similar to 2017's Prey, where you could beseech aid from the Chaos Lords, earning extra special powers that might also have some negative effect on the story (or you abilities). I love the idea of that kind of tension between giving into Chaos or retaining some semblance of your sanity.
Look, the more I write, the more this idea feels perfect. I think the only potential issue is that, to really do justice to the Night Lords, this theoretical game would probably be the subject of endless Fox News reports about the horrifying violence in videogames. There's a scene in Lord of the Night where the Night Lord Zso Sahaal crucifies a cardinal and broadcasts it on public TV, which definitely would stir controversy. Imagine that scene as a mini-game, like a twisted version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
Reigns, but you're The Emperor of Mankind
Dream Dev: Nerial
Evan: The Blood Angels need a new Dreadnaught. The Adeptus Mechanicus has invented a new chainsword—should we test it on some Eldar? Bureaucrats want you to levy taxes on a newly compliant planet. Rememberancers on Cadia Prime discovered an ancient vault—should it be opened? Just another Monday for The Emperor.
40k desperately needs a self-aware, lighthearted-but-authentic exploration of its vast, weird universe. Flippantly swiping right on decisions that determine the fates of millions of souls across the cosmos is exactly the kind of hyper-reductive treatment I want.
Dream Dev: Firaxis
Robin: You play an Inquisitor, sending your teams of Acolytes around the galaxy to put down heresy in all its forms. I think XCOM’s turn-based strategy, permadeath, and oppressive atmosphere would suit the setting perfectly, and it’d allow for an even weirder and more colourful range of soldiers and equipment. The cults and aliens arrayed against you could work to build corruption levels on various planets, and by investigating their schemes and taking them on in combat you can wipe them clean. Allow corruption to rise too high, and your superiors have no choice but to blow up that world, weakening the Imperium’s grip on the sector. Now that’s some stakes!
A narrative RPG about a Rogue Trader
Dream Dev: BioWare if you traveled back in time to when they made Mass Effect 2
Jody: It bums me out we've had so many 40k games and never had a narrative-led RPG, you know? The kind with dialogue choices and character development and all that jazz. I'd be happy with a story-focused RPG about any faction and archetype to be honest, but a Rogue Trader would be perfect.
Rogue Traders are flamboyant space conquistadors who captain voidships the size of cities with a design ethos that can be summed up as, "What if the Catholic Church was a gun?" As a Rogue Trader you'd have a bridge crew of party members, including psykers, missionaries, diplomats, assassins, and technicians with hundreds of cyborg servitors, many of them executed prisoners whose bodies have been machined-up and pressed into zombie robot service. Grim!
The Imperium is an awful place to live, but with a Warrant of Trade you'd be free to ignore its worst excesses and, for instance, talk to aliens without being declared a heretic. You'd be an extravagant space privateer re-establishing contact with human worlds lost for so long they've developed independent cultures and physiologies, cutting trade deals with space elf pirates, and carving your name across the stars with a chainsword.
Back in the early days of 40k these extravagant spaceship captains on the edge of the Imperium were almost as important as Space Marines—the first edition of the wargame was even called Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader—but they've been sidelined since. They deserve a turn back at the front.
Destiny does Space Marines
Dream Dev: Bungie, Obviously
Tim: Look, I know I'm predictable to the point of absolute tedium, but the heart wants what it wants. And I want a vast, shared world looter shooter. Destiny's multiple planetary approach would be perfect for capturing the flavour and breadth of the Imperium. (Too many 40k games zero in on one locale, I guess due to budget constraints, which is why I'm pitching something resolutely AAA in scope.) Rather than having the Titan, Hunter and Warlock classes, in my game there would be three major factions to choose from—let's say Eldar, Orks and Space Marines for argument's sake. They'd share an overlapping weapons system but obviously have bespoke abilities and a giant loot pool. Imagine exotic weapons like a Harlequin-crafted Needler, a Grey Knight power sword, or an Officio Assassinorum sniper rifle. I would lap that shit up.
Destiny's 'space magic' abilities would also easily translate to 40K's psychic powers.
I guess the fundamental problem is that, these days, big studios want to own the IP, so the Warhammer license tends to sit with mid-sized developers. But before I shuffle into the Emperor's embrace I want to play at least one full fat, mega budget 40K shooter. And if I can't have an open world live game, I'll happily settle for a tightly-scripted Respawn one. Think Titanfall 2's opulent set pieces played out by the Adeptus Astartes' finest. Oh and I'm not done. How about Disco Elysium, but you're an Inquisitor investigating a Chaos cult on some teeming Emperor-forsaken Hive World? Or maybe an Adeptus Mechanicus Titan battle sim done by the MechWarrior team. Or Spelunky but you're a single Gretchin exploring an Ork Kill Kroozer. Or… [At this point Tim is led sadly away to do real work].
Grimdark Survival Horror
Dream Dev: Whoever can make it happen without Steam Early Access.
Robin: One of the side-effects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe being so absurdly deadly and awful is that in the right hands it’s a fantastic setting for horror. I’d love a really oppressive survival horror 40k game. The possibilities are endless, really - just drop a normal person in pretty much any of its horrible situations. A lone Arbiter trapped in the underhive with a Genestealer Cult stalking him through the tunnels. An Imperial deserter trying to get off-world before the hellish warzone he’s trapped in gets virus bombed into oblivion. A Navigator trying to survive on a ship breached by daemons during a warp jump. I think there’s loads of potential to seeing things from a smaller, more vulnerable point of view.
An ork racing game
Dream Dev: EQ-Games/Pixel Dash Studios, who made Road Redemption
Jody: 40K's orks have a rarely tapped psychic potential, and one of the ways it manifests is by making anything they believe hard enough come true. One of the things they believe real hard is "red ones go faster", which is why ork vehicles painted red actually are quicker, even though they're held together with dry snot and gaffa tape.
Games Workshop has made a couple of tabletop games about ork vehicle combat/racing called Gorkamorka and Speed Freeks, either of which would make good inspiration. Ripcord started work on a Gorkamorka videogame for Dreamcast and Windows at one point, as this CG trailer shows, but it was never finished. Just give me any variation on Road Rash or Carmageddon or Burnout where I get to hoon around in ork cars like a green Mad Max and I'd be happy.