Homeworld 3 review: A majestic space odyssey that falls short of being stellar

Homeworld 3 shows some of same innovative spirit as its predecessors
Blackbird Interactive / Gearbox Publishing

Emerging from a sea of crystalized ice like a shark breaking through the ocean’s surface to sink its teeth into unsuspecting prey, my battlegroups surprise the Incarnate defenders and take out a sensor post surveilling the crevasse in this massive ice shelf. With another domino having fallen, the main group around the mothership can advance further without being detected. In the face of an overwhelming Incarnate presence in the area, such pinpoint attacks and secrecy have been necessary to slowly creep towards our goal.

Oddly, this mission reminded me of one from the Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader on GameCube, where you had to remain hidden in a canyon while taking out imperial sensors – obviously, the version presented in the Homeworld 3 campaign is magnitudes greater in scale. We’re talking about a crevasse that can hide an entire fleet here. Scale is something Blackbird Interactive has hit the mark on with its new space RTS: Though starfighters and corvettes are difficult to discern from one another at a glance, ship types like frigates, destroyers, cruisers, carriers, and – of course – motherships differ considerably and appropriately in size.

But it goes further than ships: What’s truly stunning about Homeworld 3 are its environments: a giant ice shelf, hulking progenitor structures that make even a mothership seem tiny, and raging asteroid fields are only some of the set pieces the game has to offer. Though calling them that is underselling them a little. Other space RTS games have such environments and may even contain some in-game interactions with them – greats of the field like Star Wars: Empire at War, Sins of a Solar Empire, or Battlefleet Gothic: Armada will damage your ships over time when they’re flying through asteroids or weaken their shields in an ion storm. But they’re bound to a 2D plane, which limits what they can do with those elements.

Homeworld 3 screenshot showing a vast stellar ice shelf.
Homeworld 3 offers some spectacular visual set pieces. / Blackbird Interactive / Gearbox Publishing

Homeworld, famously, is the series using the full three dimensions our puny human brains can comprehend and Homeworld 3 is showing the same pioneering spirit as its predecessors by expanding this legacy. If Han Solo can hide the Millennium Falcon inside an asteroid, why should we not be able to hide a squadron of starfighters inside a giant progenitor structure or an entire fleet inside a sea of crystalized ice? Homeworld 3’s use of terrain is one of its greatest strengths – you can use asteroids and giant wrecks as cover, hiding key ships from sensors or long-range attacks, and even place defensive turrets on such surfaces to fortify a crucial position. Adding mine-laying ships to the equation gives you a wonderful amount of tactical tools to play with, feeling like a real space admiral that’s using every advantage possible.

Homeworld 3’s campaign supports this idea by allowing you to use the full breadth of these tools thanks to its strong mission variety – we’ve come a very long way since the days in which RTS campaigns basically were just glorified skirmish matches against the AI. Blackbird will have you pursue different objectives each time, slowly adding to your arsenal of ships and upgrades. One of the campaign missions will have you mount a suicidal attack on an enemy base using ships you’ve captured in a previous mission, another doesn’t involve fighting at all and instead has you safely navigate an asteroid storm caused by the destruction of an entire planet – again, scale is very important here. Even your frigates won’t withstand the impact of one of these space rocks, becoming a part of the wreckage field if you’re not careful.

Though you don’t necessarily have to have played previous Homeworld games to enjoy what’s presented in Homeworld 3, it’s highly recommended you do so (or catch up on the basics) – the narrative will check a lot more boxes if you have some background knowledge about the setting and its characters instead of going in blindly. A lot of love for the universe has obviously gone into this story and its presentation with lots of solid cinematics and scripted in-game shots driving the story forward – maybe a few too many. We didn’t need that many repetitions of Imogen activating the hyperdrive, for example.

Homeworld 3 screenshot showing a fleet flying into an ambush.
Homeworld 3's use of terrain in the campaign is immensely satisfying. / Blackbird Interactive / Gearbox Publishing

Homeworld 3 doesn’t tell a story with massive twists that will have you fall from your seat, but it’s another epic space odyssey combining Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars vibes. Your fleet’s the star of the show, a persistent force that grows from mission to mission – and retains the scars of any losses incurred. Though you’re no longer the sole struggling survivors of your race, the feeling of racing against time, being an underdog, and strapping together a fighting force from whatever you can pick up along the way is still strong with Homeworld 3, staying true to the series. There is no better feeling than salvaging the wrecks from a battle for some extra income.

Though we’ll get back to salvaging in a moment, I’d like to shout out the music and visuals, which are both excellent – it’s not a soundtrack that will steal the spotlight, often just subtly playing in the background, but when it flares up in those special moments it’s truly something. Again, some major Battlestar Galactica and Dunes vibes are being served here. Homeworld 3 is a title that looks phenomenal, zoomed in or zoomed out: the detailed ship models, the lighting, the ammunition being fired, the way ships dodge between the slowly rotating wreckages of previous battles – eye candy.

Blackbird did well with approachability, too: Alongside the classic control scheme from previous games, a modern control scheme is included that makes navigating the 3D space quite smooth – you can even mix and match features of both schemes in the settings. It’s recommended you play the tutorial, which is now a lot more comprehensive than a previous version I tested. Being a RTS, you’ll play most of the game from a relatively zoomed out POV, but there are cool camera options to follow individual ships in the action as well – perfect for immersing yourself in your fleet’s heroic deeds. A simplified sensor view helps you keep a cool head during a mission as well, allowing you to survey the battlefield in one go, while a pause function greatly enhances the campaign experience, giving you some breathing room.

Homeworld 3 screenshot showing a damaged ship flying through wreckage.
Homeworld 3 is a beautiful game and recent camera changes help players experience that a lot easier. / Blackbird Interactive / Gearbox Publishing

A lot of quality-of-life features are present that make managing your fleet easier, such as the fact that ships produced from your mothership of carriers will automatically fly along with them if they are currently on the move, so you don’t have to worry about picking up your scattered ships from everywhere. When you add new ships to an existing control group, they’ll automatically join that unit and participate in whatever mission the group has – though Blackbird didn’t really take this far enough: It’d be great if those ships could also adopt the same formation and stance as the existing control group. At the moment, you have to manually re-pick the formation and stance you want the group to have after adding new ships to it.

Controls bring us back to salvaging – as streamlined and solid as Blackbird made them, they remain a little fiddly: Your resource controllers sometimes don’t recognize salvageable targets even though the game clearly marks them as such and you need to zoom out and go at it at strange angles to finally make a wreck clickable. Likewise, targeting the right enemies from a tight formation is very difficult from afar and you really have to zoom in to give the exact orders you want to give – which is all fine in the campaign, since you can pause at any time to do that. Multiplayer is a different story – dealing with control issues like that while being stressed out from enemy ships being all over your fleet is not optimal. I’ve also encountered a bug that caused targeting enemy ships to become impossible, only allowing me to move ships, which forced me to tap out and reload.

Homeworld 3’s ship roster leaves very little to be desired: From swarms of fast interceptors over multipurpose corvettes to hard-hitting battlecruisers and specialized frigates, space admirals will have their fill of unit types. Designing battle groups with different purposes and using them in the right moment is really enjoyable and will make the greatest difference between victory and defeat – though mechanics aren’t wholly irrelevant (there are some active unit abilities and any RTS worth its salt will reward multitasking), strategy and positioning are the kings of the battlefield in Homeworld 3. Again, the way the 3D space is used here is truly phenomenal – the way the ships form up in different shapes, how that influences the way they engage and how they maneuver in combat. You have all the epicness of a Star Wars battle with that more grounded sci-fi flair of The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica.

Homeworld 3 screenshot showing several ship types in parade formation.
Homeworld 3 offers good ship variety, allowing you to build many different fleet compositions. / Blackbird Interactive / Gearbox Publishing

Aside from the campaign, Homeworld 3 comes with a classic multiplayer skirmish mode as well as what Blackbird hopes will be the flagship going forward – a co-op mode called War Games.

Up to three players can team up to go through a succession of randomized missions together, which are spiced up by roguelike modifiers to boost your fleet’s capabilities. StarCraft 2’s co-op mode has shown the immense potential of such a mode for RTS games and Homeworld 3’s interpretation is a good one – War Games is fun. You unlock different starting fleets over time, which all come with their own set of artifacts (the random modifiers) that can be chosen at various points during a run.

However, it gets a little too repetitive quickly, as the mission and map variety currently isn’t that high. It doesn’t help that War Games cuts away some of the coolest aspects of the game – the stuff I praised above. If you were hoping to employ more of those ambush and defense tactics you could use in the campaign, you’re mistaken. War Games is a mode that floods you with enemies from all sides pretty much from the start, giving you no room to breathe or set up any kind of fortified positions. The objectives keep you on the move as much as the enemy waves and the need to collect resources from all over – they are sparse to begin with and since foes keep streaming in from everywhere, you need to keep your resource collectors protected with a significant part of your fleet. Though Blackbird buffed the HP of ships across the board, many of them still feel a little too vulnerable, leading to staggering losses. Combined with the sparse amount of resources available, this can make War Games a very tough and sometimes frustrating challenge.

At the moment, most runs in War Games feel pretty samey, which is a bit of a shame since the campaign has so many mission templates and cool set pieces that could spice things up. Blackbird’s long term strategy for Homeworld 3 revolves around supporting War Games, so one can hope that lack of variety is merely temporary – but that doesn’t change the state at release. Overall, I enjoyed the campaign a good deal more than this major aspect of the game.

Homeworld 3 certainly is a bit of a departure from earlier games of the series and fans shouldn’t expect to find Homeworld 2 Remastered 2.0 here. Prominent elements like destructible modules on larger ships are missing entirely and the visual identity of many ships and the UI has changed.

Homeworld 3’s campaign is a majestic space odyssey showcasing some of the innovative spirit of its predecessors and its presentation is stunning. Though its co-op elements are founded on a good idea, the War Games mode feels like it cuts away some of the best aspects of the game in the rush to be a portion-sized multiplayer experience for the modern age. It’s an enjoyable space RTS before being a strong Homeworld title.

Score: 7/10

Version tested: PC


Published
Marco Wutz

MARCO WUTZ

Marco Wutz is a writer from Parkstetten, Germany. He has a degree in Ancient History and a particular love for real-time and turn-based strategy games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, Total War, Age of Wonders, Crusader Kings, and Civilization as well as a soft spot for Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. He began covering StarCraft 2 as a writer in 2011 for the largest German community around the game and hosted a live tournament on a stage at gamescom 2014 before he went on to work for Bonjwa, one of the country's biggest Twitch channels. He branched out to write in English in 2015 by joining tl.net, the global center of the StarCraft scene run by Team Liquid, which was nominated as the Best Coverage Website of the Year at the Esports Industry Awards in 2017. He worked as a translator on The Crusader Stands Watch, a biography in memory of Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka, and provided live coverage of many StarCraft 2 events on the social channels of tl.net as well as DreamHack, the world's largest gaming festival. From there, he transitioned into writing about the games industry in general after his graduation, joining GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage for media partners across the globe, in 2021. He has also written for NGL.ONE, kicker, ComputerBild, USA Today's ForTheWin, The Sun, Men's Journal, and Parade. Email: marco.wutz@glhf.gg