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Homeworld 3 Review

RTS royalty comes home

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Playing Homeworld 3 brought back some cherished memories for me. As the music swelled and I watched my gigantic mothership preparing to enter hyperspace for the first time, accompanied by radio chatter from dozens of tiny support ships buzzing around it, I was reminded of playing the original Homeworld for the first time in 2000 or 2001. As an RTS devotee, I was struck by the ways the game shrugged off established genre conventions back then; base building was out, 3D battles were in. But for all its mechanical innovations, it was Homeworld's sombre story about a woman merging with a giant mothership to lead her people across the galaxy to their ancestral home that made the deepest impression on me.

Homeworld 3

It's now been more than twenty years since the last mainline entry in the series, and the fond, fuzzy memories of people like me means that reviving the series was always going to be a daunting task. The ground-based spin off Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, and the revival of the first two games in the form of Homeworld Remastered Collection, were both excellent but neither was a substitute for a proper sequel. Now that it is finally here, I can report that Homeworld 3 is an engaging space RTS with spectacular 3D battles, but in some respects it struggles to escape the long shadow cast by the first two games.

The story campaign picks up about 100 years after the events of Homeworld 2. The Hiigaran people have enjoyed a golden age thanks to a vast network of hyperspace gates, but lately the gates have been disrupted by a mysterious threat known as 'The Anomaly'. Karan S'Jet, the woman who successfully led her people home in the first game, was dispatched to investigate, only to disappear without a trace. Now, Karen's protégé, Imogen S'Jet, is sent with a new mothership to investigate the Anomaly and find Karan.

It's a story painted on a bigger canvas than ever before—in a cutscene, one of the main characters reminds us that the fate of the galaxy is at stake, dammit!—yet it lacks the emotional heft of the original. In that first entry, the Kushan/Hiigarans were fleeing genocide, and the game did a great job making you feel that you were just a couple of lousy strategic decisions away from annihilation. In Homeworld 3, your units rollover between missions just as they did in the earlier games, but this mechanic no longer ties into the story as well as it once did. Levels contain abundant resources, more than you'll usually manage to harvest before moving on, and ships (especially fighters) are fragile and easily replaced. There's no veterancy system, so there's not much incentive to preserve your forces or see them as anything more than numbers. The radio chatter between your ships does a good job of humanising the people piloting and populating your fleet, but the gameplay fails to support this illusion.

The long cutscenes between missions provide some nice eye candy, and the moody musical score creates an atmosphere of wonder and intrigue. But the story isn't helped by the appearance of the main villain, a cartoonish character with a penchant for shouting like a grumpy toddler. The final result is an entertaining but predictable slice of space opera that relies a bit too much on familiar go-save-the-galaxy-kiddo clichés.

Homeworld 3

Story aside, there are plenty of exciting moments within the campaign, many of which are centred around the new megastructures that fill most levels. As well as being visually impressive, the megastructures provide new tactical options. They can be used for cover against enemy fire, turrets can be placed on them, and some contain tunnels through which you can send your ships to get the jump on the enemy.

Many levels encourage you to make maximum use of the megastructures to create choke points or circumvent enemy defences. As in its predecessors, there's no base building in Homeworld 3 and resource collection is kept as simple as possible. This means your focus is on moving your forces around the map to meet threats as they arise. Most missions boil down to controlling specific locations, or destroying key enemy ships or structures. If the action were taking place on a 2D plane, it might feel rather simplistic, but in 3D your spatial awareness is constantly challenged.

Speaking of which, the camera controls take a bit of getting used to. There's an optional legacy control scheme that works by anchoring the camera on specific ships or ship formations, and a modern control scheme (which I used), which allows you to use the WASD keys to move the camera around, while retaining the option to anchor the camera if you so choose. To be honest, I spent the first few levels fighting with the camera and the controls, frequently sending my forces in the wrong direction. The presence of megastructures added to my woes: I found myself accidentally panning the camera inside them, which was a jarring experience. But I remember having similar trouble getting to grips with the original games, and I don't necessarily blame the control scheme for this. There's something fundamentally tricky about trying to click on a location in a notionally 3D space using a mouse that skims across the 2D plane of a computer screen. Just like back then, after a few hours I got more comfortable wrangling the camera, and the effort is worth the payoff of being able to order units around in 3D. The game gives you some help in this regard in the form of the sensors manager, a returning feature which allows you to press the spacebar to zoom out and view the entire level from afar, with ships represented by coloured icons.

Likewise, the UI has a lot of moving parts and seemed daunting at first, but after a few hours I was impressed by how many different options the developers had given me without cluttering up the screen too much. I liked, for example, that you can easily call up a list of your entire fleet divided by ship type, allowing you to select all ships of a specific type with one click, then make that list disappear so it doesn't block your view of the action.

And what spectacular action it is. I don't think I'll ever tire of watching swarms of fighters, frigates, and capital ships duke it out against a backdrop of stars and hulking space structures. The ship models look crisp, with a mixture of sleek and sexy vessels alongside more boxy, industrial designs. The combination of chunky bullets spit out by fighters and the sparkling silver beams generated by ion frigates and capital ships make for a thrilling light show whenever fleets clash. A more committed commander than me would probably spend all their time with the camera zoomed way out, carefully monitoring the big picture, but I often tightly focussed my view on a specific vessel as it charged towards the enemy or darted across the surface of a megastructure, drinking in the action from close up.

Homeworld 3

There is a variety of objectives throughout levels, from destroying fixed enemy positions (which are often grafted onto the megastructures) to dodging asteroids or protecting your mothership until it reaches a specific location. For example, there's a level where you need to navigate through a creaking sheet of space ice while hiding the bulk of your forces in a nebula that clings to the bottom of the level like fog. In another, you're tasked with creating a kill zone around a hyperspace gate using turrets and mines. These encounters are fun but tightly scripted affairs, with enemy forces appearing in waves from specific spawn locations, which sometimes made me feel like I was being led by the nose rather than being encouraged to stretch my strategic wings. I'd have liked a few levels in which the AI played by the same rules as me - sallying out from a central mothership, competing for resources, fighting for control of the map.

As I rolled the credits on the campaign, it occurred to me that I hadn't needed to use all that much strategy to make it through on normal difficulty. I'd done the basics—split my forces into control groups, tried to choose the right type of units to deal with what the enemy had, protected my mothership and resource harvesters. Now and then I executed a satisfying flanking attack (flanking damage is a thing, in case you were wondering), but simply bulldozing the enemy with a big ball of units was often a viable approach. With no unit veterancy and no ability to target subsystems on capital ships (which was a feature of Homeworld 2), combat has an oddly weightless quality to it—a fun firework display lacking substance. I'd have loved to have seen the power system return from Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, which allowed you to shunt power around your mothership to feed different systems, turning it into a tank, a glass cannon, a fast-moving base, or whatever. It's hard to put my finger on, but the more I played the more I felt the game needed more strategic depth to be truly satisfying.

I sense that the developers may have intended for the campaign to be an easy, breezy experience, a chance to get to grips with the controls and enjoy the story, before diving into the new roguelike mode called War Games. You can play this mode solo, or in co-op with two wingmen. You begin with a small starter fleet centred around a carrier, which is smaller than a mothership and thus unable to build capital ships, and attempt to complete three missions with simple objectives like capturing objects or destroying an enemy carrier. Enemies will spawn at regular intervals with increasing numbers, pressuring you to complete your tasks quickly. As you play, you'll get to choose artefacts which typically add buffs and penalties to specific ships, incentivising you to assign them a specific role within your fleet. For example, the 'berserker' series of artefacts turn your assault frigates into fast frontline damage-dealers, while the alternative 'warden' upgrades make them better at sniping enemies from afar.

Homeworld 3

It's a great idea, but it badly needs more variety in its levels and mission objectives. I've found myself constantly repeating the same maps and objectives over and over during my six hours with War Games. I've unlocked several new starter fleets and new artefacts, but so far they haven't mixed things up enough for my liking. I should acknowledge that I still haven't maxed out the upgrade tree, and there are several new starter fleets I've yet to unlock, but the three fleets I've played with so far feel overly similar, relying on fighters, corvettes, and frigates only—no capital ships—with stingy population caps on all my ships.

I can't help but notice that there's a season pass for sale that seems mostly focussed on adding new elements to War Games, such as new playable factions and new artefacts. Given that War Games currently feels like a good idea starved of content, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that content has been held back from this mode so it can be sold piecemeal. There are also some free updates planned, but this still leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

War Games is clearly designed with co-op multiplayer in mind, and I played several rounds with human teammates without experiencing any noteworthy connectivity or technical hitches. Teaming up with two other players adds a welcome sense of scale to this mode, which can otherwise feel a bit limited, with low pop caps and no capital ships. Competitive 1v1, free-for-all, and team skirmishes are also available, although I found it more difficult to find human opponents in these modes. There's also the option to skirmish against the AI.

All told, I've enjoyed my time with Homeworld 3, but it's hard to give it a ringing endorsement. The graphics are sharp, the megastructures filling most levels are impressive and increase your tactical options, and the combat can be exhilarating. The story strikes a few wrong notes, but it's still an enjoyable tale with enough familiar series traits to keep an old fan like me happy. There are some neat strategic options, especially when you take advantage of the z axis to attack the enemy from above or below, but the more I played the more I felt something was missing. Without unit veterency, targetable subsystems, or some other tactical wrinkle, combat too often devolves into building big balls of units and sending them to swarm the enemy.

But here's the thing: smashing fleets together is still good, dumb fun. The campaign was enjoyable enough that I'm seriously considering replaying it on hard, just to force myself to wring every drop of strategic goodness out of it. War Games mode feels unfinished though—a good idea lacking the depth and variety needed to sustain an addictive RTS-roguelike hybrid. I'm curious to see how the game evolves with future updates, but as it stands Homeworld 3 is a fun but at times unsatisfying homecoming for this beloved sci-fi series.

Our ratings for Homeworld 3 on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
88
Alien sunrises, pin-sharp starships, majestic megastructures... Homeworld 3 is a treat for the eyeballs, especially for sci-fi fans.
Gameplay
73
Crashing fleets of starships together in 3D is a good time, but combat could benefit from more tactical options.
Single Player
68
The story campaign is enjoyable, although it lacks the sophistication of earlier games in the series. Skirmish and War Games modes can both be played solo against the AI, meaning there's plenty of single player content to enjoy.
Multiplayer
68
You can test your skills against human opponents in skirmish matches, or team up to play War Games, the roguelike mode. It's just a shame War Games feels undercooked in its current state.
Performance
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: Intel Core i5-13500H
GPU: Nvidia RTX 4060 8 GB GDDR6
RAM: 16GB DDR4
OS: Windows 11 Home
PC Specs

82
I had a smooth experience, with occasional frame rate dips during big battles.
Overall
74
Although not quite the triumphant homecoming fans hoped for, Homeworld 3 is still a sleek and at times spectacular space RTS.
Comments
Homeworld 3
Homeworld 3 box art Platform:
PC
Our Review of Homeworld 3
74%
Good
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Homeworld 3 is ranked #963 out of 1988 total reviewed games. It is ranked #15 out of 42 games reviewed in 2024.
962. My Friend Pedro
Switch
963. Homeworld 3
964. Halo Infinite
Xbox Series X
Related Games
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Platform: PC
Released: January 2016
Developer: Blackbird Interactive
Screenshots

Homeworld 3
10 images added 21 days ago
Videos
Homeworld 3 - Debut Trailer
Posted: Aug 30, 2019 18:33
Homeworld 3 - Gameplay First Look Tra...
Posted: Dec 9, 2021 20:59
Homeworld 3 - Kesura Oasis Gameplay T...
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