Homeworld 3 Featured Image
Image: Blackbird Interactive

Homeworld 3 review – Drifting in space

Far from home.

While the last game in the Homeworld franchise was released in 2016 in the form of Deserts of Kharak, the critically acclaimed series has not seen a main entry since the release of Homeworld 2 — back in 2003. I was nine years old back then. Those years went by in an instant for me, but the same can’t be said for avid Homeworld fans who have anxiously waited to hear what’s next for the Hiigarans and find out what exactly happened with the disappearance of the legendary Karan S’Jet.

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Well, that brings us to Homeworld 3. This is the first time I’ve played a Homeworld game. Regional unavailability of the physical game at the time limited my early RTS experience to that of Age of Empires and Warcraft 3. So, for me, picking up Homeworld 3 seemed familiar and alien at the same time.

Familiar because Homeworld 3, while requiring some learning and lore study, ultimately is a very well-crafted game that streamlines the experience of building your fleet in a way that even new RTS players can understand. This exists to the benefit of the game itself, given that while learning the basics of spaceship building and resource collection is indeed easily grasped, you cannot say the same thing about the strategy needed when engaging the enemy. That requires much more trial and error. The same goes for traversing three-dimensional space, which can get confusing for players accustomed to flat terrain. And all with camera controls that will work against you rather than for you.

All in all, while Homeworld 3 is a great return for a 25-year-old franchise. While needing some refinement, it presents the ambition and scope of the original games in a way that new players to the franchise can easily digest. However, I can’t say that it will suffice for the diehard Homeworld fans who are expecting a continuation of what Relic Entertainment accomplished back in the day. Here is our review of Homeworld 3.

The S’Jet Myth

Campaign modes in modern gaming oftentimes take a secondary role or are completely left out of the picture due to an overreliance on online PvP. Homeworld 3 features a good, compelling story that will not only help answer some of the questions regarding the whereabouts of Karan S´Jet, but also serve as a great introduction to the Homeworld universe as a whole.

I won’t spoil the story since I know it is a big deal for hardcore fans, but I will say that the strongest aspect of the campaign mode has nothing to do with the story at all. It’s in how the campaign seamlessly lets players learn the rules and mechanics of Homeworld 3 intuitively, though actual gameplay. By completing the different missions, you will constantly be introduced to new combat strategies, terrain advantages, and unit capabilities in a way that feels organic and not overly saturated. You will start from the basics to putting what you’ve learned into practice without feeling like you’re reading an instruction manual.

Homeworld 2 Imogen
Image: Blackbird Interactive

With that said, while I did enjoy the quality of the cutscenes and the story, I think the story will sometimes fall into some twists and dialogue choices that are borderline cliché. I wouldn’t say that the story is lackluster or anything close to that, but I think that crafting a game with your faction already being in control of the universe needed some more complex and articulated story design other than “somehow, Palpatine returned” to create a meaningful conflict.

Yet again, I might be failing to grasp the magnitude and importance of the series lore and story due to this being my first experience with the Homeworld franchise. But you cannot artificially manufacture stakes and expect players to engage with a story’s overreliance on twists that are, themselves, not the goal, but simply a storytelling tool. But I would leave you be the judge of that.

The vacuum of space

It is no secret that the Homeworld 3 demo did not leave players with a great aftertaste. The controls, pathfinding, camera controls, and the inability to rebind keys were a huge deal for players who might have given up on the game. In my experience, the game felt good and didn’t set off any alarms in my head. Keybinds are not fully customizable and units can be selected with the selection boxes with accuracy – which was a huge deal back in the demo.

What I do enjoy is how the terrain is used in Homeworld 3. Using asteroids, wreckages, and other bigger space elements allows players to turn a space battle from a certain defeat to a total victory. The verticality enabled by the z-axis helps with that, preventing your units from being spotted and shot by the enemy in open areas and allowing them to sway into action with as minimum risk as required.

Homeworld 3 Megalith
Image: Blackbird Interactive

However, the camera controls were a great hassle to get used to. It isn’t the worst experience in the world, and being able to see the whole combat field from any angle possible was amazing, but finding said angle and moving toward the action without using shortcuts was an entire learning curve in itself. This will probably end up posing a significant problem for new players coming from other RTS games since the Z-axis, while a great concept, is problematic given how it is treated. This makes fine-tuning and experimenting with the different control schemes a must.

What helped me with this was how simple the game presented its core mechanics such as building ships, engaging in combat, and resource management. I wouldn’t say it is overly simplified because you do need to keep strategy in mind and not go into combat guns blazing without a plan in mind, but it works great for players such as me who are new to the franchise.

Homeworld 3 Fight
Image: Blackbird Interactive

However, this can also be a double-edged sword because past Homeworld games presented more complex systems like individual ship parts targeting or a more complex array of ship abilities that Homeworld 3 lacks, something that Homeworld veterans will find disappointing. Pathfinding can feel weird, as ships stumble into structures from time to time without penalty whatsoever. Moving vertically can become a nightmare. While this will strengthen the necessity of strategic positioning, I think it could still use some refinement – compared to what players saw in the demo, this isn’t as big a deal as it was before.

A civil war

I am a sucker for a good roguelike, so the idea of combining said genre with RTS sounded intriguing, to say the least. So, when I hopped on, I was surprised in many ways by what I found. You will have to thrive and survive through various encounters in which you will be tasked with completing objectives such as clearing enemy presence, collecting resources, claiming territory, etc.

Now, since it is a brand-new game experience to get used to, I expected to face a challenging mode that would see me getting destroyed – like any other roguelike, to be honest. But after a few runs, I couldn’t help but notice that the difficulty of the mode relied more on unfair balance rather than your skill. Ship damage increase was a point of criticism from the demo and, unfortunately, War Games brings the issue to a whole new level.

Homeworld 3 Space Jump
Image: Blackbird Interactive

This will likely end up with the player disregarding strategy in favor of spamming the various build buttons in hopes of surviving the enemy hoards that are more than capable of destroying your Carrier. Not only that, but I still find that the number of objectives per round is less than ideal, making you wander through space without a thrill other than being hunted by the enemy.

While I do think the sheer number of Artifacts (modifiers that will give your fleet some bonuses) is great, they tend to have way too many negative effects, to the point where they feel more punitive than helpful. The idea of picking up upgrades in a roguelike is to feel like you are becoming stronger by the minute, but to suffer from constant nerfing thanks to the Artifacts ended up with me not wanting to pick any.

Looks over substance

While space is mostly empty and barren, I cannot say the same thing about how the game looks. Homeworld 3 is a beautiful game, and I found myself many times in awe of what I was seeing on the screen. The ships look amazing, and to see them navigate the cosmos and fight the enemy was incredibly satisfying and a feast of eye candy I didn’t know I needed in my life.

Not only that, but your ships take damage and it is clearly shown with their hulls becoming more and more busted after every encounter. Moreover, the sheer size of the ships, the objects floating in space, and the megaliths make this quite an adventure to witness, with the camera focusing on your spaceships becoming a must if you want to experience Homeworld 3.

Homeworld 3 Fleet
Image: Blackbird Interactive

However, the UI in-game does feel intrusive at times, making me click the backspace key to clear everything on screen and just see the magnificence of space without the need to see every health bar or objective being highlighted for me. The same applies to the menus which, in comparison to how the game looks, appear as an afterthought with its looks resembling more of a mobile game than a game of this scope and scale.

Overall, the game looks incredible. But it is quite the statement to say that the best aspect of the game is how it looks and not how it plays, right?

Conclusions

Homeworld 3 is not a game for everyone. The RTS genre is far from its glory days, with bigger franchises struggling to leave a dent in an industry overly relying on microtransactions, seasonal content, and shutting down studios for not delivering economically. In said landscape, it is weird to see a game of this type thriving by being unique and not adapting practices that can be more damaging than beneficial.

I ask myself this question: why would a game belonging to a franchise as loved as Homeworld need a roadmap focused exclusively on a mode – War Games – that has received so much criticism and not on delivering more campaign content, which is what Homeworld players want? I get the idea of innovation, but if something isn’t broken, then don’t attempt to fix it. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of paying to play the game earlier than regular players, so that’s another thing that doesn’t make sense to me.

Homewolrd 3 Space Travel
Image: Blackbird Interactive

While enjoyable, Homeworld 3 feels like a diluted version of the original Homeworld games. I don’t believe this riddle is unsolvable, and if Blackbird wants to honor the legacy of the franchise, then perhaps they should shift their efforts to crafting a solid game that combines strategy, storytelling, and stunning visuals rather than milking a cow that might be already dead.

To say that the current state of the game is a good starting point sounds more like a criticism rather than praise given that Homeworld 3 is now fully released. Ultimately, I did have fun with the game and I bet you will too, so maybe my problem with the game is everything that surrounds it and how it was handled. Unfortunately, that is translated in-game, but you shouldn’t discard it from the get-go. After all, seeing an RTS pop out in today’s gaming selection is a great albeit great sight that I wish was complemented with a matching quality that justifies it.

6.5
Homeworld 3
Homeworld 3 might not be what veterans may expect from the franchise, and while enjoyable, it does come with several caveats that undermine the impact and legacy of the original game.

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Author
Alejandro Josan
A musician with a heart of a gamer, Alejandro's life has always been accompanied by adventures on Nintendo platformers, countless hours of fantasy RPGs and several third-party FPSs. Currently, he is studying Game Design and Development and Creative Writing, preparing for a long career in the video game industry.