Homeworld 3 review – battle beyond the stars

Homeworld 3 screenshot
Homeworld 3 screenshot
Homeworld 3 – it can be a beautiful game sometimes (Gearbox Publishing)

One of the most beloved RTS franchises celebrates its 25th anniversary with a brand new sequel and some controversial new ideas.

The one upside to companies’ newfound obsession with established franchises and intellectual properties is that while it means endless sequels for anything remotely successful, it could also lead to the resurrection of more niche titles that previously seemed unlikely to return . We don’t think the Homeworld series of space-based real-time strategy games has ever been very successful and yet here we are again on the franchise’s 25th anniversary with another one.

The games and their developers have a complicated history, but the original came out in 1999, at the end of the golden age of PC-only real-time strategy. Unlike most others, it wasn’t a Command & Conquer clone, but not only did it come out just as the genre was going out of fashion, but its 2003 sequel was one of the last to be published under the Sierra name, before they were published. bought by Vivendi, which in turn merged into Activision Blizzard.

At that time, developer Relic Entertainment and the rights to the series were acquired by THQ, who subsequently went bankrupt and Sega eventually bought Relic (who recently left Sega to become independent). At that time, Borderlands maker Gearbox bought the rights to Homeworld and put new developer Blackbird Interactive, which is staffed by many ex-Relic veterans, to work on creating a remaster collection, the spin-off Deserts Of Kharak, and now finally Homeworld 3. .

That’s a very complicated backstory for a series that most people have probably never heard of, but the original concept for Homeworld is a lot easier to understand. It’s basically Battlestar Galactica in all but name, as you’re put in charge of a fleet of gigantic starships as they attempt to rediscover their ancestral home. At the start of the game your range of ships is severely limited, but by gathering resources from asteroids and destroyed enemies you can create new vessels, from fast fighters to larger capital ships.

That relatively simple concept quickly became overcomplicated with an increasingly impenetrable plot and while Homeworld 3 tries to hit many of the same plot beats, there are far too many low-quality cutscenes, filled with uninteresting storytelling and sci-fi melodrama, making the story feel like a whole. job.

Fortunately, the gameplay is considerably more interesting, despite some notable changes from the originals. The problem with Homeworld is that since everything takes place in space, the action is entirely in 3D, and navigating in three dimensions – especially when there is no up or down – is difficult and not something that modern video games usually demand of their players .

YouTube poster

To make things less disorienting, all of Homeworld 3’s missions feature some sort of terrain that goes beyond just empty space. Whether it’s colossal space stations or moon-sized chunks of ice, Homeworld 3’s backgrounds are generally less abstract than those of its predecessors. Trying something new should always be encouraged, but not having one of the main missions in space feels like going too far, especially as much of the superstructure starts to ruin the illusion of scale and the sense of ordering around giant spaceships.

However, the introduction of terrain does lead to some excellent mission design, as you set up blockades, build and deploy remote gun turrets, take out enemy factories, and use floating debris for cover. It’s reminiscent of the glory days of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter series, and other great space combat simulators like FreeSpace, which used 3D space and their sci-fi settings to create gameplay experiences that would be impossible in other games .

All the ship designs are great too, with most vessels having unique abilities, such as bombers that can turn themselves invisible or cruisers that can disable their weapons to boost those of everyone around them.

However, far too many of the ships seem to be made of paper, like those ridiculous Resistance bombers at the beginning of The Last Jedi. Even the largest spaceships can take surprisingly little damage, which also ruins the feeling of being in charge of a mighty space armada.

At times it also feels like the game is being a little too helpful with the controls, with the ability to select multiple enemies at once meaning the AI ​​makes most of the moment-to-moment decisions in terms of who attacks what. You could simply choose not to, but knowing that option is there is very tempting.

Ironically, that’s by far the most compelling use of AI in the game, as pathfinding is terrible and you’re forced to constantly create manual waypoints to get everyone where you want them. The opponent AI is also very robotic; Homeworld 3 gives you a lot of freedom in approaching each mission, but the way the AI ​​responds seems heavily scripted, which ruins the sense of achievement when you outsmart it.

Another downside is that the game almost never gives you the option to clean up at the end of the battle, so if you’ve only beaten a mission by the skin of your teeth, you suddenly have to going to mine like crazy. one, otherwise you have no chance to complete it. That doesn’t make any sense, because in story terms there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t just hang around and soak up the spoils of your victory.

We’re sure Homeworld 3 didn’t have a very big budget and with that in mind it’s easier to forgive some of its shortcomings, although the fact that there are only 13 missions in the story campaign is definitely a disappointment. However, there are plenty of alternative modes, including skirmishes where you can set up space battles without any terrain, if you want.

YouTube poster

There’s also the new roguelike War Games mode, where you start with a random ship loadout and try to unlock more abilities while picking up artifacts that grant buffs. It’s a fine idea, but given the inflexible enemy AI it can all seem a bit rote – although it’s more fun in co-op.

Homeworld 3 is at the same time a worthy sequel, a good real-time strategy game and a mild disappointment. It’s full of hiccups and unnecessary errors, yet the strength of the central concept and the quality of the mission design shine through. We have no idea if another installment of the series will ever appear – we’re still shocked that it exists – but we hope the armada never comes home.


Homeworld 3 review summary

In brief: A flawed sequel, it undermines some of the greatest joys of the original games, but this is still a uniquely enjoyable real-time strategy, with plenty of interesting new ideas.

Pros: Still the best strategy-based space combat in gaming and the new focus on terrain adds an interesting twist, even if it’s a bit overused.

Cons: Not enough missions and the stories are terrible. Weak enemy AI and the control system are still very easy to get confused with. The sudden ending of missions causes frustration.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PC
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Developer: Blackbird Interactive
Release date: May 13, 2024
Age rating: 7

Takes from Homeworld 3, a real-time strategy video game developed by Blackbird Interactive and published by Gearbox Software.  The game was released on May 13, 2024.
Homeworld 3 – They’re Heading to the Medical Frigate (Gearbox Publishing)

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