Homeworld is a certain kind of royalty when it comes to the real-time strategy gaming genre. It’s built up a very passionate community over the years of players that have followed along fervently with the story of the S’Jets as they led the Hiigaran people to salvation through a deadly galaxy with no love for them. After decades of good games, Blackbird Interactive and Gearbox Publishing are closing in on the launch of the next big journey, Homeworld 3. While there’s still much to do, I was recently invited to take part in a limited demo of the game. Between missions in the demo and conversation with Blackbird devs, I came away feeling like the utmost care is being given to making Homeworld 3 the best that longtime fans have ever seen while bringing something innovative that all strategy fans can enjoy.
A new generation of S’Jet
For the uninitiated, Homeworld has always been a game of pilgrimage. In the far past, the main human race, the Hiigarans, lost their home to a hostile alien race which forced them to inhabit a deadly desert planet. Millenia later, much of the Homeworld story has been about the efforts of Karan S’Jet and the Hiigaran people trying to escape to space and make it back home to their original home planet by way of a supermassive spaceship known as the Mothership. They were then forced to defend their reclaimed homeland against another galactic threat and, in doing so, discovered a vast network of hyperspace gates connecting vast stretches of the galaxy.
Homeworld 3 picks up a short while after Homeworld 2 left off. Karan opened the way through the hyperspace network, but disappeared soon after. With this, Karan’s successor, Imogen S’Jet, and many of the Hiigaran people reboard the Mothership and leave their planet to search for Karan and unravel the mysteries of the hyperspace network. One of the largest undertakings for the team has been continuing to carry on the S’Jet and Hiigaran narrative with utmost care. Lead Designer Rory McGuire told me it was the feedback of the fans that guided the team’s reverence to this ongoing story.
Homeworld 3 is about more than just preserving legacy. It’s also innovating in a way that both evolves Homeworld and fits it perfectly. The game has always operated on foundation where 3D combat and tactics played a huge part in success. That’s even more the case in Homeworld 3. During my play session, I played missions where I was attempting to secure special resources from a derelict and broken massive space station. It was among the wreckage that raiders attempted to attack my fleet. With combat underway, I scrambled interceptor fighter ships to fight back. However, the enemy raiders had fortified missile frigates that could make quick work of my fighters in an upfront fight.
That’s when I noticed a port hole in the space station wreckage with an opening underneath the frigates. With this knowledge, I sent one group of fighters head-on to go at the frigates while I sent a second squadron through the port hole of the station. While the first squadron kept the frigates’ attention, the second squadron came out from under them in a perfect ambush. My squadrons also made use of the broken and destroyed debris of the station to provide cover against the missiles the frigates kept firing.
Homeworld 3 is built from the ground up to allow both the player and enemies to take advantage of the 3D terrain in these vast galactic battlefields. It both utilizes a longtime favorite gameplay factor of the franchise and pushes it forward with sensible evolution as Associate Game Director Kat Neale shared with me.
And indeed, for what I could see, the maps in Homeworld 3 are incredible. The aforementioned derelict space station not only featured a huge array of technology that was broken and splintered, but I could also move the camera to see inside it. There were pockets inside the wreckage full of spaceports, hangars, and other exposed inner station facilities that were all incredibly detailed in addition to the sheer vast landscape they provide to the map when viewed from distance. Simply put, in my short time with Homeworld 3, the game was looking and feeling breathtakingly gorgeous and smartly strategic in ways I haven’t seen a real-time strategy game accomplish before.
Following the trail left behind
Homeworld 3 has been a long time in the making. It was not only fantastic to see the game get love at Gamescom Opening Night Live 2022, but it’s also just amazing to have been able to play even a small piece of it. The reverence and innovation on display in this demo was very noticeable, and it’s something that the team wants fans to see and feel wholeheartedly.
“The key thing for me is to give fans the Homeworld that they’ve been waiting for in the last 20 years, as well as a Homeworld that they’ll be surprised and delighted by,” McGuire told me. “I think a lot of that is expressed through what we’ve built with the terrain system and the strategic gameplay that comes with that… I hope it feels fresh, unusual, and surprising, in a good way.”
“When it comes to the original Homeworld experience it’s really about this incredible universe that feels super immersive and emotionally charged as the player progresses and learns alongside the Hiigaran people,” Neale added. “We want to capture that again and take it even further. This game is all about the concept of progress, and not just progress for progress’ sake… Everything we do from the gameplay to the story to the visual fidelity, we’re looking to supercharge that space and pull on the heartstrings of everyone playing to make them really feel it.”
With a release window set for the first half of 2023, Blackbird Interactive still has a lot of time to pursue those goals, but if this demo was any indication of what will come of that journey, then the future is bright for Homeworld 3.
These impressions are based on an early PC build of the game supplied by the publisher, as well as an accompanying interview. Homeworld 3 is slated to release on PC sometime in the first half of 2023.