Homeworld 3 is for spaceship strategy sickos

A wide shot of a relatively small spaceship approaching a massive docking bay, backlit by orange light
Image: Blackbird Interactive/Gearbox Publishing

And if you’re one of those people, welcome

One of the biggest draws of the science fiction genre is that it gives us access to big spaceships. There’s other stuff, too, about imagining alternate futures and pasts or thinking about new forms of life, but there’s an awful lot of big spaceships, and if you’re like me you think those big spaceships are cool. Homeworld 3 is fundamentally a strategy game about really, really big spaceships and the cultures that pilot them. You are more than likely in or out based on that premise alone.

These spaceships are the central organizing principles of the games. The first told the tale of an oppressed people and their journey from a desert planet to their original homeworld, and the second was about dealing with a threat to that world in the form of a technological warlord. Homeworld 3 continues the story of the Hiigaran people, who face a new threat: something out in space is killing inhabited worlds, wiping out billions of people. The galactic empire is crumbling at the might of this faceless threat. Someone has to stop it.

The game puts the player in the combined shoes of Imogen S’jet, who is neurally welded to a massive spaceship, and Isaac Paktu, a military commander. They are sent out beyond the known realms to find the threat, and they do it in their large space boats.

Multiple spaceships fly past a massive metal scaffolding towards an equally massive circular docking bay
Image: Blackbird Interactive/Gearbox Publishing

I’m belaboring the ships because, look, they’re cool. Homeworld 3 puts a lot into scale and detail. Each mission takes place in these massive maps with huge, cyclopean structures around them, and you perform whatever task is in front of you by navigating that terrain and (generally) blowing up your enemy. The scale is so large that things move slowly. The pace of the game is generally glacial.

At the same time, you have this capacity to zoom in very far to see the actual action that’s occurring. You can watch your corvettes swing past an enemy destroyer in immaculate detail, following up with torpedoes from a flanking ship that you pulled up behind the unsuspecting enemy. This zooming back and forth between scales sets off the science-fiction fan siren song. It’s like watching Star Wars but with the capacity to control everything — I am the one that brings the Imperial Star Destroyer to bear on these ragtag rebels this time.

This is the fundamental thrill of the game, and if you are not on board with it, nothing else is going to get you there — not the story, nor the roguelike “War Games” mode, nor the multiplayer. Homeworld 3 is truly a strategy game in that you manage an army from the ground up. You choose the ships, you make the army composition, you pick the routes they take to the enemy, and you need to micromanage their actions. Ship combat is no joke. Vessels take more or less damage based on what they’re fighting, and their vulnerability to those enemies is often centered on their exact positioning. Homeworld 3 assumes that you find it an interesting and engaging challenge to line up your ship formations, execute an attack in detail, and then sweep up the survivors. It assumes that you are willing to do that at a fairly slow speed, with a high level of detail.

Multiple spaceships engaging in galactic warfare, firing red and blue bullets at one another; one ship on the right-hand side of the screen has been hit and is in the process of exploding
Image: Blackbird Interactive/Gearbox Publishing

I have a high tolerance for strategy game nonsense. I am even willing to engage with said nonsense in a fully 3D arena (which is not nothing — camera navigation is tricky in Homeworld 3, and there were a few times where I just could not click on something or select it due to camera goofery). The level of detail that Homeworld 3 asked me to keep up with was fairly high, and sometimes would strain my interest. Once I understand the solution to a problem in a game, and I understand how the execution is accomplished, I have very little patience for friction getting in my way. This game gave me quite a few moments where I had the critical mass of ships required to end a mission, yet they were all the way across the map from my enemy. Cue the long travel time to get there. Your enjoyment of this may vary.

The responsiveness of a given system matters a lot, and Homeworld 3 has a lot of moving parts. Like in most strategy games, you direct your units in specific ways, but you also need to rely on their AI to navigate some of the beat-by-beat action. Smaller craft need to maneuver, larger craft need to hide behind obstacles, and every ship needs to have just enough independence so that it is not obliterated while you’re fixated across the map fighting another battle. At times, the AI in this game felt really capable and able to do all of those things appropriately. Then there were other times when my ships seemed to stop dead, making big, fat targets for my enemies. Homeworld 3 is complex enough, and detailed enough, that I was never quite sure if it was my fault or a problem with the game, and in these moments I would end up needing to do a full rundown of possible causes. Were my ships set on a passive mode? Did I not click on the enemy, but instead just hit the move command? Were they rallied, or perhaps set to defend another craft? The granularity of the game makes it feel like I’m a real space commander. But being a space commander is tough, and at times it was a pretty heavy cognitive load.

The real strengths of Homeworld 3 are in its consistency and, again, its focus on ships. The game’s story is beautifully animated in long, awesome “big science-fiction concept” cutscenes and told through extensive voiceover in-game. It is ultimately a story that will be familiar to space opera fans. One lone ship out among the stars needs to find an enemy and defeat them. The enemy is more like us than we are willing to admit. Fighting is the only way to end it. Space battles occur. There’s nothing much shocking here, but the Homeworld franchise’s commitment to depicting the logistics of hyperspace travel is compelling. Protagonist Imogen S’jet is neurologically bound to the ship she navigates, and it creates great storytelling opportunities in cutscenes as well as in-mission — she verbally mourns when resource craft die, for example.

Several spaceships careen between asteroids, mid-battle, torpedoes visibly flying. One of the ships on the bottom right is in the midst of exploding
Image: Blackbird Interactive/Gearbox Publishing

It is difficult to be an advocate for or a hater of Homeworld 3. It is a unique game, with a long-running story, and there are people who are really anticipating it. I experienced it as a really engaging strategy game for the seven or so hours that it took me to play the campaign and another few that I spent tinkering around with the other game modes. If you do not have prior investments in these games, or you are not purely electrified by the wargame pace of space ship combat, Homeworld 3 might be a hard sell. The idea that games are “for their fans” is a silly one, and that phrase is used too often, but I really felt that way while playing it — for some people out there, this is apex gaming. For me, it is a solid experience.

This is not a ringing endorsement, and that’s only because I think Homeworld 3 is an acquired taste. I am not sure that the random strategy game player, not to mention just a random human who enjoys games, would be willing to get over some of the rougher points of the game. It is as polished and friendly as a game like this can be, but I think that it can only meet you so far. At the end of the day, Homeworld 3 sells a fantasy of being a genius fused into the machinery of a spaceship who has constant vision and perspective on a vast, 3D battlefield. The game depicts this as perfectly as any game can, and turns it into nail-biting, if plodding, gameplay opportunities.

You’ll have to take that however you want. If you are reading this and thinking Wow, how have I never heard of this franchise? It sounds awesome! you are in luck. You have found your new calling. I am personally now interested in going back to the Homeworld Remastered Collection to get some more of this gameplay attached to a pretty good plot. And if you’re with me, congrats. We’re Homeworlders now.

Homeworld 3 will be released May 13 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Blackbird Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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