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Homeworld 3

Homeworld 3 Preview: We become a War Games master

Space is cold, but the wars are intense and on a galactic scale.

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Homeworld 3 is just around the corner, and with that being the case a "War Games" demo has recently been made available as part of the latest Steam Next Fest. It's a mode that combines team-based RTS and is inspired by roguelike games. Although it's only a small part of the game, it includes a full tutorial, which makes us look forward to what "extensive campaign mode" means.

The demo is limited to just four maps, and you're dependent on fellow players, who in my experience are not always equally skilled. You can also choose to play with friends, and whatever you achieve in the demo version carries over to the full game. That's a huge motivator for me.

The game is published by Gearbox and developed by Blackbird Interactive. The last game I remember from them is Hardspace: Shipbreaker, but Homeworld is arguably their primary series. It originally started with a game developed by Relic Entertainment back in 1999 and published by Sierra Studios, which in my childhood guaranteed quality entertainment. Blackbird's last game was a prequel to the original game, just to add to the confusion. Homeworld 3, however, makes everything more chronological and takes place after all the other games. No more wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Much to my surprise, the design director, score creator and lead writer (Marin Cirulis) is the same as in the original game, and it's pretty crazy to think about the level of continuity that this, in theory at least, provides.

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Homeworld 3

Some might complain that the game, despite being pretty, doesn't utilise the full modern graphical potential of using Unreal Engine 4 instead of the new version UE5 - but it's less than a year old, and computer games on this scale just take time to make. The game has been delayed several times now, so we're hoping that this time we can stick to the 13th of May. That said, and this is with the caveat that the full game is significantly different, the game is not as demanding as otherwise indicated. I was constantly running at over 100 fps with an RTX 4080 in 4K, and that's despite the fact that there are quite a few moving elements on screen at once, everything can zoom in and out, and the camera can even fly through objects (asteroids, for example), and zoom into built-up hallways. It's hugely overwhelming in a visual sense the first few times.

The game itself, in the very limited mode, is really quite simple. In an advanced sci-fi setting that is at its height but has begun to decline, you must gather resources, build a battle-ready fleet, research new and better units and survive against attacking enemies. The key here is scale. You have 60 aircraft at your disposal, not units with X number of units in each as you're often used to, but 60 individual units, and that's just at the start. Being in space and moving between massive asteroid belts, gigantic spacecraft graveyards and being able to use the surrounding terrain to hide behind in true Star Wars style is pretty impressive, as are the light, shadow and dust effects that occur.

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To make things a little easier, there's only one resource to keep an eye on, and collecting it is, if not fully automated, then close to it. If you've played a lot of C&C, you'll recognise the logic and approach, and that's probably a good idea, because the military part requires your full attention. Granted, moving in three dimensions is just very different from what you're used to, and it takes some practice. In addition, after being impressed by the scale, detail and light-based reflections, realising that there is a huge difference in the physics of weapon types, you also realise that using terrain is essential to survive and take the enemy by surprise. There's quite a lot of micromanagement involved, and here comes my only criticism on top of an otherwise good tutorial, and that is that "cancel move" and free camera controls are both tied to the right mouse button by default, and that just causes a lot of problems in critical situations - which you only realise after a few games.

But would I play this now, when the campaign is really unknown? Yes, I actually would. I really hope that Blackbird maintains that upcoming DLC is geared towards co-op, so you can enjoy single player without ever buying extra content, while co-op has the added benefit of really making you feel like you're one of many fleet commanders trying to preserve civilisation.

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