You never know how a cow catches a hare. When former employees of Relic Entertaiment founded a new studio called Blackbird Interactive in 2007, they were eager to create a new Homeworld. More than fifteen years, a bankruptcy and a number of takeovers later, that wish has finally come true.
That’s how it is: the rights of the strategy game were still with the original publisher THQ, but THQ did not want to participate in a new part. When that company went bankrupt in late 2012, the rights to most of the games were sold. Homeworld ended up in the possession of Gearbox Interactive. That company saw something in a collaboration with the new Blackbird and so Homeworld 3 could go ahead. Ironically, Gearbox was recently taken over by Embracer Group, the party that also owns the THQ brand name since the bankruptcy. The circle is round.
Old ideas finally implemented
Fortunately, as players, we don’t have to stretch that far back. Homeworld 3 takes place far after its predecessors. Therefore, it is not necessary to play those relics from the past first. At the time of the third part, the universe is very prosperous thanks to the discovery of ancient hyperspace gates. Trade is rampant and there is a strong drive to expand. At the edge of the universe, however, a mysterious plague with the unoriginal name The Anomaly awakens. This anomaly is rapidly spreading throughout the universe and entire galaxies are going black. So it’s all hands on deck to find out what’s going on and do the anomaly can be stopped.
So the story sounds like a fresh new start, but according to director Lance Mueller, many ideas for Homeworld 3 arose during the development of Homeworld 2, twenty years ago. However, many of these plans were too ambitious for the hardware available at the time. As an example, he mentions how meteorite fields used to be visible only in the distance, as a kind of flat decor. Now the celestial bodies are in the playable environment. That’s not just a cosmetic difference, because you can use these meteorites, for example, to run for cover and sneak up on the enemy undetected.
In fact, taking cover behind objects has become a fundamental part of Homeworld 3. Mueller compares it to the battle in the Pacific during World War II, where agile planes and cumbersome ships had to work together in harmony. This collaboration is immediately apparent in two missions that we play.
To rule is to look into the future
In the first mission, we investigate a stalled space station. Like many strategy games, Homeworld 3 has a ‘fog of war’. You can see the entire environment, but no enemy units. By sending out probes you increase your field of view and you can somewhat map where the enemy is. Meanwhile, we’re slowly building a fleet of various battleships so that we’re ready for the inevitable battle. This tactic works flawlessly: thanks to the probes we see the movements of the enemy in good time, and thanks to our numerical superiority we make short work of the attack.
Once your units have the enemy in their sights, you don’t really need to interfere. Units are smart enough to target enemies in a logical way. That gives us the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the space dogfights. We see the enemy’s ships turn into huge balls of fire one by one.
These battles are a lot of fun to study closely. Partly because Homeworld 3 is very detailed and its Dune-esque aesthetic sparks the imagination, but even more so because of what the creator calls “true ballistics.” Units fire individually detectable missiles, which only cause damage if they actually hit. So you are not looking at the virtual presentation of some data tables, but at lively space battles that are therefore exciting to follow closely.
Know your enemy
In the second mission, the emphasis is even more on playing virtual hide-and-seek. While trying to get a giant hyperspace portal working, we are attacked several times. The first time, the enemy manages to surprise us by suddenly appearing from a floating wreck and striking. They even force our fleet to take cover behind the large mothership. The mothership is stronger and can fend off the attack for a little longer, but of course it is not the intention that the ship takes a lot of damage.
However, we won’t be fooled a second time, and will focus our fresh units on another opening that the enemy might use for the next attack. Not much later, the enemy does indeed show up and we reduce the entire attack fleet to space debris in no time.
Then we use this tactic against them. We use gigantic exhaust ports that run the entire length of the wreck as a kind of tunnel under the enemy. Then we attack synchronously from three different sides. We won’t come out completely unscathed against the enemy’s strong missile frigates, but we will win.
Quarrel with the mouse
Surprisingly, most of the resistance doesn’t come from the enemy, but from the controls. Blackbird Interactive employees who see us struggling and sighing frankly admit that the controls are anything but optimal. The problem is navigating in three-dimensional space. Without a ‘flat’ surface, a wrong mouse click unintentionally sends your units deep into space, and with a careless selection from the wrong angle you also grab support units that are frantically mining resources in the background.
To deal with that problem of depth, a combination of left and right mouse clicks is used. That difference, however, is anything but intuitive. Since the developer himself firmly acknowledges this problem, we are hopeful that some adjustments will be made. Blackbird Interactive still has some time to think about the controls, as Homeworld 3 is expected sometime in the first half of 2023.
Homeworld 3 will be released exclusively on PC in 2023.