In the decaying husk of an ancient monolith, I formed my defensive line: painstakingly setting up turrets, frigates, and fighters in formations. The Mothership had to be protected at all costs. But, somehow, I’d missed a single hole in the ancient iron, a hole that the enemy fleet took advantage of, leaving me to scramble defenses at my now-exposed Mothership in the middle of repairs. Homeworld has never been better.

It’s been 21 years since the release of Homeworld 2. That’s a long amount of time in any regard, but in the world of video games, it might as well be a century with how fast technology and innovation move. While Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak filled the gap in 2016, the first two games are generally regarded as some of the finest real-time strategy games ever created, especially with their moody and ambitious themes. Homeworld 3 carries on that legacy to near-perfection, crafting an impeccable campaign that stands among the genre’s best, bolstered by a unique multiplayer experience that brings something fresh. It’s been a long time coming, but Homeworld 3 is everything you could want from a modern take on the series, with just a few growing pains.

Looking Back, But Moving Forward

Homeworld 3 directly follows up on the events of the first two games, set 100 years after Karan S’Jet (the navigator of the first two games) put down the hostile invasion of the Vaygr. The Hiigarans have flourished once again, but when a new threat called “The Anomaly” starts darkening entire star systems, it’s up to Karan’s descendant, Imogen S’Jet, to put the pieces together, using a new prototype mothership, the Khar-Saajuk.

Campaign is the heart and soul of Homeworld 3, and it’s clear that Blackbird Interactive really wanted to bring back a dynamic RTS campaign with rich storytelling. Luckily, they’ve almost entirely succeeded on that front. The main story is split into fourteen different missions, interspersed with gorgeous CG cutscenes that help flesh out the plot. What’s really crucial, however, is how the narrative of Homeworld 3 is delivered.

This is a grand intergalactic tale told through the filter of a complex relationship between two characters, Imogen and the captain of the Khar-Saajuk, Isaac. Despite the cataclysmic events happening Homeworld 3’s narrative feels surprisingly personal and grounded, weaving in themes of what it means to leave a legacy and the burden of expectation. Its themes are surprisingly meta, considering Blackbird itself is taking on the mantle of such a seminal series.

At the same time, a lot of the storytelling in Homeworld 3 is deliberately understated and cryptic, meant to reinforce the kind of ethereal metaphysical atmosphere of the game at large, just like the first two Homeworlds. That’s another front the game massively succeeds in – the campaign truly feels like a journey.

A Sound Strategy

Before we dive into narrative design, it’s important to talk about the nuts and bolts of Homeworld 3, its controls and gameplay. For anyone who hasn’t played the first two games, Homeworld 3 is a bit different than your typical RTS. There’s no base building. Your focus is entirely on building units and conducting research using your Mothership and additional Carriers you can construct. On top of that, you aren’t controlling units on a flat 2D plane, but rather a three-dimensional space forcing you to wrap your head around height. The additional twist for Homeworld 3 is a new cover system that lets your ships use floating debris to minimize damage, or launch surprise attacks. Cover is an additional wrinkle that really opens up a surprising wealth of new options for strategy, letting you implement hit-and-run tactics with your fighters, if you really manage them correctly.

To help ease in players, Blackbird has created a brand new “modern” control scheme, making its complex controls easier to understand. With this scheme, you can click specific objects to have units move there, rather than having to factor in height and depth of movement. Anyone who wants a more traditional experience can opt for the “classic” control scheme, but I honestly found that the new one did a good job of making Homeworld 3 feel more like a modern strategy game.

There’s undoubtedly a bit of a learning curve as you absorb how objects work in space, how to group your units, various formations for fighters, and stances that make units aggressive or passive. Homeworld 3 has a lot to grapple with, but if you can push through and learn its systems, boy does the game reward you.

A big part of this comes down to its tremendous mission design. Homeworld 3 made me reminisce on some of my favorite RTS games of all time: Age of Mythology, Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, and Company of Heroes. All of these have one thing in common: highly dynamic missions that force you to adapt and strategize.

Homeworld 3 fits that to a tee, with each mission challenging you in a new way. One has you navigating through a deadly field of asteroids, using your smaller ships to protect the slow-moving Mothership. Another has you stealthing into an enemy base and hitting them with a guerilla attack to blow up production bays, forcing you to use what units you have with no reinforcements when they die. Then another makes you dock your Mothership for repairs, switching the emphasis to turret placements and defenses to stop hordes of enemies from destroying your base. Just like past games, your fleet forces and upgrades stay persistent throughout the entire campaign, meaning each and every tactical choice you make matters.

The campaign of Homeworld 3 is nothing short of enthralling, constantly keeping you engaged through its cryptic storytelling and varied gameplay. It easily sits among the best that the RTS genre has ever seen. Of course, another vital part of this is the visuals of Homeworld 3, constantly throwing eye-popping galactic vistas your way, elevated by ethereal orchestral music. That sense of variety between missions is kept consistent with visuals, taking you from the glowing embers of a dying star to the frigid plains of hulking ice sheets. The visual smorgasbord is astounding on every level, and Homeworld 3 consistently runs like a dream for me, with only minor slowdowns in even the most hectic of space battles.

Rogue’s Gallery

While the campaign is absolutely the focus of Homeworld 3, there are two other major modes that add longevity to multiplayer options. The first is your average Skirmish mode that lets you take on other players, and while this mode isn’t anything exceptionally different, it’s a solid multiplayer offering that feels standard for the genre these days.

The bigger focus is on War Games, a new mode that adds roguelike elements into the mission structure of Homeworld, and ends up being a surprising blast to play. You can take on War Games both solo and in co-op, and have a selection of ten different difficulty modifiers to alter the experience. These are things like increasing enemy numbers or reducing the amount of available resources.

Each player starts with a single fleet and can collect relics to add permanent boosts to their own forces. Some of these boosts are pure positives while others have some drawbacks, so you must weigh your options. For instance, one relic might boost the attack power of your Interceptor fighters, but lower their health and range.

These choices genuinely feel like they have weight, as you’re already dealing with limited resources and options. War Games consist of a string of missions with primary and secondary objectives, and just like the campaign, your forces stay persistent.

But the roguelike elements in the mode really add a unique flavor that makes War Games feel integrally different, with more strategizing needed. It’s especially a blast when you’re playing in co-op, coordinating different fleet builds between multiple players. Maybe someone wants to take the role of support, building frigates that can heal and buff, while another acts as the offensive spear. There are already so many options at your fingertips in Homeworld 3, but layering on those roguelike elements makes things even more stressful, in a good way. There’s already a lot on offer in the base game, but I’m extremely interested to see how War Games might grow and change with Blackbird’s roadmap.

It’s genuinely hard for me to think of any more ways Homeworld 3 could have honored the legacy of the franchise. Its campaign is an astounding success that builds on narrative threads from two decades ago. The gameplay and controls feel fittingly modern but still unique. War Games brings a fresh take and something new to the RTS genre at large.

Simply put, Homeworld 3 is one of the most entrancing experiences I’ve had with a strategy game in years, and proof that the single-player RTS still has an important role to fill.


Homeworld 3 launches for PC on May 13.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.

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