Homeworld 3 review: Splendid space strategy

After years of development, Blackbird Interactive and Gearbox Publishing are finally ready to launch the next chapter of the Homeworld series. Was it worth the wait?

Image via Gearbox Publishing

The fans of the Homeworld series have been waiting a long time for Homeworld 3 to finally come out. It’s been quite the road to this release, including crowdfunding campaigns, multiple delays, and changes in publishing ownership. So, was the wait for this game worth it? I would have to wholeheartedly say yes. Homeworld 3 is a beautiful campaign through the depths of space and its wildest frontiers, featuring refined 3D strategy, co-op and PVP multiplayer modes, and a narrative that adds compelling layers to the S’Jet and Hiigaran storylines.

Analyze the Anomaly

Coming into the start of Homeworld 3, players take on command of the Hiigaran faction once again. The first games saw this race breaking away from exile on a desert planet and developing a cutting-edge interstellar “Mothership” to command a fleet and take back their homeworld (hence the title). Setting up this game, the previous commander and navigator, Karan S’Jet, and her fleet were suddenly lost to the void when exploring an anomaly. Said anomaly has been distorting hyperspace and ravaging various parts of the galaxy. Unfortunately, with Karan gone, it falls to her protégé Imogen S’Jet to take command of a new Mothership - the Khar Kushan - and attempt to pick up where Karan left off before the galaxy rips itself apart.

Homeworld 3 does a great job of getting players up to speed with a sort of “Previously On” video, so you shouldn’t feel too lost about what’s happening. Moreover, the current story with Imogen not only trying to accomplish her mission for the sake of the Hiigaran people, but also trying to find out what happened to her mentor is a compelling one. Isaac, her Intel Officer, is also a great character, taking lead and command of whatever Imogen can’t do herself with the power of the Khar Kushan. With Imogen’s body tethered physically and mentally into the Mothership’s controls, Isaac acts as her support, - eyes, ears, and even emotional - making their dynamic ever evolving and meaningful throughout the fully-voiced campaign.

The Khar Kushan launching for the first time in Homeworld 3
Source: Gearbox Publishing

And what a campaign it is. Homeworld 3’s levels are gorgeous and more ambitious than anything in the series so far. This game’s battlefields often feature massive stretches of large-scale space stations, outposts, and wreckage, and on one occasion, an active asteroid field. All of that is to emphasize its upgrade to persistent ballistics and cover. When weapons are fired through space, you can actually see their ordinance flying until it hits something. What that means strategically is that if you maneuver your fleets behind wreckage, they can dodge enemy fire. It makes all of the objects in Homeworld 3’s many battlefields more than just interesting scenery. Using cover to protect your fleet isn’t just encouraged, it’s demanded in a lot of scenarios if you want to get out with the Khar Kushan and its resources intact.

The levels in Homeworld 3 are gorgeous. From open nebulas to derelict hyperspace jump gates to wrecked space fortresses overseen by the gleam of a nearby star, a lot of Homeworld 3’s visuals are breathtaking. On my GeForce RTX 3070 Ti with 16GBs of RAM, it performed smoothly without much in the way of noticeable hitches or hiccups. Simply put, this is one of the most beautiful real-time strategy games I’ve ever played. The only caveat I have for that is that early on, there was an instance where I was able to complete two main objectives simultaneously and it would soft lock the game in an interim cutscene. I subverted that by simply spacing out my moves to not complete objectives at the same time, but it was something I had to be cautious of from then on.

Control the space

Combat control and execution as players recon a station in Homeworld 3
Source: Gearbox Publishing

The Homeworld series is no stranger to in-depth 3D combat, but Homeworld 3 has truly upped the game in a variety of ways without making it too unwieldy or being overambitious. Players will still control much of the action from the Khar Kushan Mothership, which acts as your flying base of operations. Lose the Khar Kushan and it’s game over, no matter what. It also produces the combat, recon, and support units that act as your executive arm on the battlefield.

You can produce fleets of frigates, strike craft, cruisers, and the like, group them up how you want, set them into formations that make best use of their composition, and even decide on whether they act aggressively, passively, and neutral regarding nearby threats. You can also set groups of ships to escort high-value targets like the Khar Kushan or the resource controllers that collect valuable materials for you to build more ships and upgrade them.

That’s all standard (but appreciated) fare returning to the Homeworld series. Where Homeworld 3 starts to set itself apart is in the upgrades to ballistics and the use of cover in the battlefields. With ballistics now having a distinct presence of their own in Homeworld 3’s space combat, formations and cover matter so much more. Wall or Claw formations will allow your ships to concentrate firepower on targets, but it will leave them open to easy return fire. Meanwhile, a Delta formation allows them to better dodge enemy fire and maneuver around attacks. Add a variety of units to the equation and Homeworld 3 is as fun as ever to figure out what fleet compositions, formations, and strategies suit your playstyle.

Homeworld 3 space combat between fleets and a carrier

Source: Gearbox Publishing

Meanwhile, every battlefield generally has a wide variety of hazards and obstacles to navigate around. For instance, in one mission set around controlling certain points to activate a hyperspace gate, there are mounted turrets around the control points. Moving directly to the control points in open space would result in a scrapped team of strike craft very quickly. However, the massive structures to which many of the control points and turrets are attached have long tunnels running through them. These allow you to pilot a squad safely around enemies undetected and even perform ambushes from the openings that lead back to the battlefield.

These kind of options are plentiful throughout Homeworld 3. It’s not just doing it as part of a mission sometimes. You can always use terrain to gain an advantage on your foes, protect the Mothership, formulate a sneak attack, and dodge the weapons of particularly bristling capital ships. Just bear in mind that your enemies can do the same.

Controls are another place I applaud Homeworld 3. This game isn’t easy to handle, but it is about as easy and intuitive as I think a strategy game of this complexity can be. It’s easy to arrange and group units into squads, as well as navigating your view around space, and there are even hotkeys to take your view right back to your most important units, such as the Mothership. Though much of Homeworld 3’s controls are reworked for new audiences and ease of use, classic controls are also an option for veterans familiar with the series.

A squad of recon ships navigating a tunnel of a massive space structure in Homeworld 3
Source: Gearbox Publishing

As good as the controls were, I would say there were some mild frustrations in Homeworld 3’s operation. There seemed to be some issues with the orbiting function. When you select a unit, you should be able to orbit your view around it, but I found it would often de-select the unit or simply move the camera away from the unit when I tried it. There’s also a time pause feature in single-player that allows you to stop the action and plan your next moves. The issue with this one was that sometimes if I tried to issue orders while the time was paused, my units would be iffy about executing them. It was simply easier to pause, select my units, and then unpause to issue their orders.

Even so, Homeworld 3 doesn’t end with the main campaign. There are multiple online and offline multiplayer modes to explore, including the rogue-like co-op War Games. I loved War Games when Blackbird introduced it to me in a preview build and everything I said about it then still stands now. You and several other players each control a Mothership-like carrier to execute coordinated and randomized missions across a variety of battlefields. The maps may be similar, but their objectives change every time, making you think on your feet. As you level up, you unlock new options such as different fleet compositions. It adds fantastic post-game value to the overall package and is joined by a more traditional PVP option in which you can go head to head with other players, though on that front, there are only two factions to play and I wish it had a bit more variety to work with in comparison to what War Games offers.

Fly headlong into the unknown

Imogen S'Jet in Homeworld 3
Source: Gearbox Publishing

Homeworld 3 is magnificent. It truly does more than just check all the boxes to try to make longtime fans happy. It's one of the most refined, visually stunning, and strategically diverse real-time strategy games I’ve played in a very long time. The use of battlefield scenery as cover from the ballistics of space weaponry are incredible, and it results in a never ending supply of bristling battles with bullets, missiles, lasers, and other ordinance flying in every direction. More than that, it’s also a meaningful addition to the series lore, giving us another great story fans will want to follow to the end.

When the dust settles, there are several multiplayer options to explore and War Games is a solid gold winner that looks like it will continue to grow over time. I had only a few gripes, but Homeworld 3 plays incredible from top to bottom, and I think whether you’re a fan of the series that’s been waiting for this or a newcomer that just likes good strategy, everyone who takes control of the Khar Kushan is in for an absolute feast of stellar strategy gameplay.

This review is based on an early PC version supplied by the publisher. Homeworld 3 launches on PC on May 13, 2024.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Homeworld 3
  • Fantastic new campaign with the Hiigarans & S'Jets
  • Breathtaking levels and battlefields
  • Ballistics updates make cover & defensive strategy matter
  • Wide variety of units and compositions to explore
  • War Games is a great roguelike mode
  • Controls are very intuitive and easy to learn
  • Certain control functions can be iffy
  • PVP options are a little slim
  • Occasional glitches in story progress
From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 10, 2024 11:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Homeworld 3 review: Splendid space strategy

    • reply
      May 10, 2024 4:27 PM

      A new Homeworld game, and it's here. I was not aware of this or expecting it. Sweet!

    • reply
      May 10, 2024 5:32 PM

      Oh my. I will have to look into this

    • reply
      May 10, 2024 8:52 PM

      I'm impressed how well it's launched and they fixed a lot of the issues the demo had with the buggy interface and other balancing issues.

      The campaign so far is cool and I was impressed how well they transitioned the cutscenes to the game. That's how you hide a loading screen people!

    • reply
      May 10, 2024 9:38 PM

      Fuck, I wanna play this but I have no time right now. :(

    • reply
      May 10, 2024 10:35 PM

      Woot. It's been so long. The demo controls were jacked but good to hear they've fixed that

    • reply
      May 10, 2024 11:18 PM

      Great writeup. Looking forward to trying this.

    • reply
      May 11, 2024 4:09 AM

      Holy shit I was not expecting this to be out so soon. I've already got Mario wonder and animal well on the go, and I haven't touched dead island 2 in 2 weeks......ahhhh

    • reply
      May 11, 2024 4:35 AM

      Hmm so I don't want to read any spoilers, I never played a Homeworld game, is this just a typical RTS in terms of mechanics or does it have more depth / strategy?

      Like where is it on a scale from StarCraft to Stellaris?

      • reply
        May 12, 2024 10:51 AM

        Terrain matters, which might be the first time I could say that about a space combat RTS. When it’s normal strike craft vs strike craft, it’s okay to brute force it, but against things like mission frigates, maneuvering your groups around space debris will actually allow the debris to eat some of the missiles and save your squad some losses.

        In short, cover matters and it boosts the strategic possibilities in the game as a whole.

    • reply
      May 11, 2024 4:54 AM

      I am curious how the controls have changed since the shitty demo.

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