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Homeworld 3

Homeworld 3

Blackbird Interactive's ambitious strategy game is here, but does it manage to honour its beloved predecessors while making meaningful strides forward?

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It feels good to assume the role of leader of a space fleet again. The last time was with the quality update of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, which together made up the Homeworld Remastered Collection. But that was in 2015, which feels like an eternity ago. The 1999 original set many new standards in the genre. Being able to move troops in all three dimensions of space was amazing for its time, and the focus on a cinematic well-told story was unusual then. During the late 1990s, the industry was still experimenting with storytelling.

The closest thing I can think of to Homeworld nowadays is Dune. In the visuals, beautiful views are mixed with detailed spacecraft and ancient buildings in the cosmos, with the old permeating the new and together with the music it creates a very unique world. Homeworld 3 is no exception, it's grand, it takes its time and engulfs you in its engaging setup.

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It's a direct sequel to its predecessors and Homeworld: Deserts Of Kharak, which takes place before the entire trilogy. If you haven't tried any of the predecessors, there is a summary of the story, however, I think that you miss a lot if you jump into this right away. The names, places, events and much more give context and meaning to what we get to experience in the third game, and the remastered versions hold up very well even today.

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In terms of gameplay, it works similarly to all previous titles. You have a large mothership that you build factories and upgrades in to then produce starships. You can use it to attack and defend but you need to be careful as you must not lose this centrepiece on the board because then you lose opportunities to manage to win, something we've seen before in other strategy games like Supreme Commander. It also allows you to focus more on the battles, as you don't have to constantly think about location, lack of space and other things. I like the slightly slower pace that takes advantage of the ability to travel in all directions, and a new element is that you can hide ships behind scrap or asteroids, to get the jump on enemies. In the campaign, some of the new features are used to help you overcome the missions. Homeworld 3 allows you to be strategically more creative than in any previous game in the series, something I considered a weakness in the predecessors.

Homeworld 3
Homeworld 3Homeworld 3

The campaign takes place 100 years after the last game. Karan S'jet, one of the protagonists of the second game has disappeared, and at the same time, the vast network of the "Hyperspace Gate Network" has stopped working around the galaxy, a problem that spreads to more portals and halts galactic trade. The scale of the conflict we face in this title is considerably more extensive than in previous installations. You get to follow the process and integration of a new navigator Imogen S'jet into a brand new mothership. This character is a relative of Karan from Homeworld 2 and together with Isaac Paktu also called Intel (an intelligence officer on board) you try to find the causes of the problems with your crew.

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The story leaves more of an impression if you played the predecessors. It feels like Homeworld 3 is a love letter to the series. With the help of summary videos, you can jump right in if you have forgotten, or have never encountered the series before, but on the other hand, the narration is fast-paced and there are many references to previous games, so it's better to have actually experienced them yourself. The premise of the adventure means that you will need to survive a series of missions, all of which are hand-crafted with a lot of storytelling in focus. The variety is great, one moment you're trying to build up your forces and fight, the next you're defending something important. One of my favourite missions involved getting through a storm of meteorites and asteroids. To pull it off you need to have a sense of timing, take advantage of the opportunity to take cover behind larger objects and plan a route forward. I didn't encounter any enemies during the mission, it just offered a lot of space rocks to avoid and a lot of excitement.

The environments are much more important in your strategic and tactical planning that it takes the gameplay to new heights (both metaphorically and literally). Narrative-wise, it's more about dialogue between characters for better and for worse. The story reminds me a bit of Battlestar Galactica in that you are being hunted for a long time and don't know why.

There is also a co-op mode that is completely new to the series. You can play it alone or with up to three friends. Here, the aim is to complete missions, try to survive and build your fleet in increasingly difficult situations, where waves of enemies are thrown at you, and where you can choose when you advance to the next area. To make it more fun, it is designed to be played with others against the computer. It's a working concept where you rank up and unlock stronger fleets, with a fleet containing a certain number of starship categories and specialising in something in particular. A higher rank means you can unlock and play as other specialised units, where all variants come with pros and cons and are varied in price.

The third and final game mode is regular honest skirmishes against the computer or other players. In this mode, all your tools are unlocked and you need a good knowledge of how your faction works. At start there are two sides Hiigaran Fleet, as the slightly more defensive and robust option, and Incarnate Fleet, which is slightly more offensive and aggressive. Each starship category has its own weaknesses and strengths, and it's very much a matter of the rock, paper, scissors model we are used to. However, just like in Company of Heroes, the spaceships have areas with more and less protection, and using this, the environments, and ambushes can open up advanced strategic opportunities.

Homeworld 3Homeworld 3
Homeworld 3Homeworld 3

How much of the map you see often determines how battles end. Reconnaissance, manoeuvres, formations, attack vectors, and movement are as important as attacking with superior forces, and it's clear that the combat system is a big upgrade over its predecessors. It's really deep and the user interface helps me put everything in groups and find what I need. You can pause, as is common in other RTS games, and given how much real-time control you have, it's a welcome addition to the campaign and other solo play. You also have a classic map view where you can see where your vision reaches, resources are located, and enemies will be found. This is why it's mainly in the multiplayer mode that many of my criticisms are found.

With only six maps available and two factions, it feels lacking for content for those who don't want to play by themselves. The game levels are all well made with a lot more detail than in previous titles but that doesn't solve the problem at hand. I hope Blackbird Interactive invests in adding more content both in terms of levels and factions to offset this. Sure, the options for customising the matches are there and help, but you'll probably be disappointed initially if it's this aspect of the title you crave the most. I've never really got into the Homeworld multiplayer scene, but the single matches I have experienced have been entertaining.

The tech and performance has improved since I tested the demo. Everything loads lightning fast and there are no obvious bugs. The visuals are impressive with stunning lighting, and intricate details like bullet holes and burn marks that remain on your ship throughout the campaign, reminiscent of the system of how the cloak wears in Arkham City and Arkham Knight over the course of the story. It's a small but clever trick to remind the player of past battles. A minor criticism from me is that enemies and resources can be a bit difficult to select due to the scale of the game. That being said, the voice acting is superb, the music is, as usual, absolutely fantastic to listen to, and the ambient music and all the sounds are well incorporated.

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It's clear as day that Blackbird Interactive has a love for the brand. Everything both sounds and looks as you would hope it would, and the overall whole is a step forward from the original in a good way. I appreciate how much more complex it all is without losing its identity and shattering the status quo. Homeworld 3 is a respectful sequel to two of my favourite games of all-time, and if you like the series, you will probably appreciate this too. However, I have to flag that the multiplayer mode with its classic skirmishes has limited content, but with a really entertaining campaign, a thrilling roguelike mode, and a fantastic general quality, I'm more than satisfied.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
Great complexity. Beautiful. Fantastic music. Good continuation of a great story.
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Too few playable fractions. Too few levels in the multiplayer mode.
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Homeworld 3

REVIEW. Written by Patrik Severin

Blackbird Interactive's ambitious strategy game is here, but does it manage to honour its beloved predecessors while making meaningful strides forward?



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