Unveiling Skirmish Mode, going deeper on War Games, and reminiscing about the journey thus far.
The journey to Homeworld 3’s March 8th launch is one over 20 years in the making. It started with a simple idea: Let’s take the cinematic space combat of Homeworld 1 and set it amid majestic superstructures that transform empty space into topographically-rich battlefields teeming with opportunities to ambush, retreat, defend, and deceive. Though that idea proved too technologically complex to realize in Homeworld 2, it also was too badass for us to leave it behind.
Now here we are. Homeworld 3 launches in just under three months. Three months! The end of this incredible journey is in sight. We couldn’t be more excited (and humbled, hopeful, nervous — there’s a lot of emotions swirling around us these days).
This month has been packed with big Homeworld 3 news. A few weeks ago, Homeworld 3 was revealed to be the 8th most anticipated launch of 2024 at the PC Gaming Show: Most Wanted. Then we debuted an extra special mini-documentary all about the making of Homeworld 3 and the journey to this moment. Good things come in threes, right?
In this Dev Update, we’re going to explore how War Games’ roguelike systems are creating a game mode we hope you’ll play for a positively disgusting number of hours. Then — for those of you who would rather shoot at your friends — we’re going to rip the tarp off of Skirmish mode and talk specifics. Lastly, we have a special message from Lead Producer Iain Myers-Smith and Game Director Lance Mueller are taking a moment to reflect on the journey to this moment. Iain and Lance also braved BBI’s spooky attic and found the game development equivalent of a baby book so we could look at how much our little Homeworld 3 has grown over the years.
War Games: Keeping You On Your Toes
I think Lance put it best when he said Homeworld 3 is built using the rule of thirds. One third is the Homeworld you know and love. One third is better — technical innovations, graphics, and accessibility features that bring Homeworld into the modern era. And one third is something entirely new. Something like War Games.
War Games blends RTS games and roguelikes to create something entirely new. Either alone or with two friends, you brave a series of randomized combat encounters and outfit your armadas with game-breakingly powerful upgrades to turn the tides against relentless enemy assaults. Like any good roguelike, our hope is that the seemingly endless permutations of upgrades, fleet compositions, objectives, and bosses results in an experience that keeps you and your friends saying “One more run?”.
But how do we achieve that exactly? Well, let me tell you about Artifacts.
Artifacts are the big experience-defining system of War Games. If you’ve played other roguelikes, you might know these as boons, relics, or auras. Whatever you call them, they have one purpose: break the rules of the game you’re playing in spectacular ways. In War Games, an Artifact might result in something small — like giving your strikecraft some bonus speed. Or it might be something that turns your whole combat strategy on its head as your slow, tanky Assault Frigates transform into destructive close-quarter bruisers you send screaming into the enemy frontline.
Artifacts are, mostly, grouped into what I called Patterns and Upgrades. If Homeworld 3 were a fantasy RPG, then:
- A Pattern is like your ship’s class — it describes what that ship can do and where its strengths and weaknesses are. Applying a Pattern to a ship can radically change its capabilities, like turning those aforementioned Assault Frigates into deadly frontline brawlers with the Berserker Pattern.
- Upgrades then let you specialize that Pattern (or class). Instead of being a total overhaul, Upgrades zero in on a specific characteristic and enhance or tweak it. You might enhance a ship’s speed or range, or give it a special ability, for example.
Patterns are also mutually exclusive. You can’t pick two for the same ship. Once your Assault Frigates are Berserkers, you’ll need to wait for your next run before you can make them Wardens. Most Artifacts have one or more benefits and a penalty. Extra damage output and speed at the cost of taking more damage — or firing slower.
Once you apply a Pattern to a ship, though, your mad-scientist experiments are just getting started. Each Pattern unlocks associated and unique Upgrades that let you further customize your ships. Upgrades take the tactical niche of the Pattern and extend it, multiply it, tweak it, refine it.
For Berserkers, you might choose an Upgrade that reduces their damage but gives them passive self-repair, vastly increasing their durability in a fight. Or maybe you think playing it safe is for suckers and opt to choose an Upgrade where they take more damage but also deal more damage? Sure, you might sacrifice a lot more than you would otherwise, but at least your Support Frigates won’t be bored. And, hey, a pyrrhic victory is still a victory.
Berserkers are just one of over 30 Patterns that will be available at launch. Each one represents a tactical table flip on Homeworld’s meta. Consider the Ranger Pattern for your Recon strikecraft that increases their vision and weapon range. This Pattern is all about out-ranging your opponents, seeing them before they see you. It’s quietly one of the more powerful options for a build. One of its Upgrades, Ranger – Precision, takes all your vision bonuses and adds them to the damage output of the unit, making them very effective and very inexpensive glass cannons.
Each Pattern has three associated Upgrades, and many Upgrades can be taken multiple times. They stack, too. No diminishing returns trying to keep you in check. If you find a powerful strategy, we want you to leverage it. Go nuts. Break the game.
So far we’ve zeroed in on the impact of just one Pattern. All of this theorycrafting gets exponentially more fascinating once you start applying multiple Patterns to different ship classes. One of the first pairings that a lot of our playtesters found was combining the Ranger Pattern, for Recon ships with massive vision, and the Sniper Pattern for the Ion Cannon Frigate. The Sniper Pattern all but disables the vision of the Ion Cannon Frigate, but in exchange massively extends its weapon range. It becomes a sniper in need of dedicated spotters. This kind of synergy is ridiculously fun in co-op. You and a friend coordinating spotting and sniping in perfect unison, all in the spirit of jolly cooperation. Check out this stream by SpiffingBrit to see a strategy like this in action.
A number of Artifacts are able to drop by default. Others are unlocked by earning Profile Experience Points, which are awarded for killing ships, keeping yours alive, completing objectives, and more. Finally, there are some Artifacts restricted by Challenges — little achievement-like tasks you’ll have to go out of your way to complete. Since War Games is a cooperative experience, nothing asks you to play suboptimally or in a way that should frustrate your friends (“Hey, bud, mind explaining why you have 40 Resource Harvesters?”). Challenges instead nudge you to step beyond your comfort zone, like trying different starting fleets. They range in complexity and difficulty, from the simple “Kill X enemy ships in War Games” to completing specific objectives to simply winning runs.
Artifacts aren’t the only variables you contend with in War Games, however. Each run you embark on will task you with surviving three consecutive missions. These are chosen from a small pool of levels, and, adding even more variability, each mission pulls from a pool of objectives that you have to complete.
Not only will you need to account for the terrain of each level your missions are based in, but you’ll also have to adapt your strategies to the objectives you’re given. If you need to hold out at a given position, Artifacts that increase movement speed are going to be less desirable than those that increase weapon range or durability. But be careful when locking yourself into a specific niche. If your next objective is to ambush some enemies transporting high value goods, that extra mobility will sure be helpful.
The hope is that once you start to sink your teeth into War Games, you’re going to be delighted by just how much the experience changes with each run. What strategies worked one time might not be so favorable the next time. You’ll always have to make impactful decisions and manage the risk and reward of your fleet compositions. Throw in a few friends, and the experience deepens in new ways as you specialize your fleets and coordinate to cover each other’s weaknesses.
As you play War Games and develop strong strategies and learn which tactics are most appropriate given the objective, you’ll naturally win more and more. That growing sense of mastery is one of the big emotional goals we want you to experience. But, at the same time, we also don’t want War Games to become boring. So we’ve been cooking up something special since we showcased the mode last summer: Our modular difficulty system.
This is a purely optional feature aimed at those who want more spice in their War Games. Before embarking on a run, you can set the difficulty to one of 10 different tiers. Each tier adds a unique modifier that’ll change the game up in some unfavorable (but exciting) ways. The kicker is that higher difficulty tiers also include the lower-tier modifiers. If you just want a pinch of spice, you might select Difficulty Tier 1, which results in larger waves of enemies to contend with throughout your run.
Climb the tiers, and those modifiers start to stack up in some grueling ways. One reduces the quantity of RUs in the engagement zone, making every loss sting just a little bit more. Another adds a second objective to a specific mission, doubling the work needed to achieve victory (and the likelihood you won’t). As you push yourself into higher difficulties, the pressure will slowly increase until you’re taking on missions that only The Demigods of RTS Games will be able to conquer.
It won’t ever be mandatory to engage with the difficulty system. You won’t need to worry about missing out on certain Artifacts, Fleets, or levels — all of that is unlockable regardless of what difficulty you play on. There will be some aesthetic rewards, though, like special profile pictures that’ll signal your mastery of War Games. This new difficulty mode gives you the option of adding some hot sauce to this tactical burrito — how hot is entirely up to you. If you win five runs of War Games in a row, maybe try the next difficulty up. It just might add a little more spice — one more thing to consider when choosing Artifacts or your approach to an objective. Another complication to encounter, adapt, and overcome.
Skirmish Mode: Unveiled
While War Games offers an innovative and fresh way to play Homeworld, there’s also nothing quite like the thrill of clashing against a human opponent — or a good old fashioned comp stomp. Skirmish Mode has been a staple of Homeworld since the very beginning, so there was never any doubt that we’d want to include it in Homeworld 3
For the uninitiated, Skirmish Mode is where you can go head to head against friends, strangers, and the computer in classic deathmatch-style brawls. In Homeworld 3, Skirmish Mode supports up to a max of six players and you can set teams freely. Engage in a chaotic free-for-all, square off in 2v2v2 or 3v3 — or go with some other permutation like 4v2 or 5v1. You can also substitute in computer players with differing difficulty levels or adjust settings like how many resources players start with or whether the game ends when your mothership is destroyed.
All of this is supported by matchmaking, which has filters to help you find the exact type of Skirmish you’re looking for along with geographic filters to control what regions you’re playing in.
When Homeworld 3 launches, we’re going to have eight skirmish maps available to fight in — each one a unique battlefield with its own terrain and layout that you’ll learn to exploit as your fleets clash with opposing teams. But, thanks to our partnership with Mod.io, you’ll soon have dozens (if not many more) Skirmish maps to choose from thanks to our brilliant community of modders.
Regardless of what platform you’re playing on, the in-game Mod.io browser will let you seamlessly download custom, player-made Skirmish maps anyone can make using the Unreal Editor. If you’ve never modded before, we’ll also provide some light documentation that’ll teach you how to make your own Skirmish maps. While we won’t officially support any mods beyond Skirmish maps, intrepid modders are welcome to use the Unreal Editor to experiment and dig even deeper.
One final reason you may want to venture into Skirmish mode is because it’s also where you can play as the other major faction in Homeworld 3: The Incarnate. We’ve been tight-lipped about this enigmatic armada because of their role in Homeworld 3’s story, but what I will say is that Incarnate fleets present a unique departure from the strategies and strengths of the Hiigaran navy. You’ve heard of strength in numbers, right? Well, Incarnate flip that philosophy around with an emphasis on Corvettes that can dish — and take — a beating. There’s plenty of fun nuances to discover with Incarnate ships, like Resource Collectors with a special ability that’ll make them useful in a fight.
Captain on deck
Hey everyone, Iain here.
As someone whose job is so often focused on planning for the future, it’s easy to forget to stop and take a look at how far you’ve come. It’s been over four years since we first announced Homeworld 3 — and longer still since we actually decided to make it. To say it’s been a unique road we’ve walked is an understatement.
It’s rare (and maybe even unheard of) to announce a game before even beginning pre-production and involve the community from day one. But, for us, it was always the obvious choice. The reality is, while Gearbox and Blackbird Interactive have worked tirelessly to be good shepherds to this series, Homeworld doesn’t endure because of us. It lives because of you.
You who carve Hiigaran crests in your Halloween pumpkins. Or get Homeworld tattoos. Or write us letters waxing nostalgic about the first time you booted Homeworld 1 up, unaware of how a humble strategy game would leave an indelible mark upon your life. Who cheered and rallied behind us when we endeavored to make Deserts of Kharak and, now, Homeworld 3. Homeworld lives because each of you, in your own way, has carried the memories of this series forward.
Thousands of you shared your thoughts and feelings with us throughout this journey. Sharing what Homeworld means to you, what defines it as a game experience, and where you wanted to see Homeworld 3 go. We have taken that all to heart and crafted what we hope will be your best Homeworld experience to date. A game that will evoke the same emotions that made the original Homeworld such a timeless treasure. And now, after years of toiling, the moment is quickly approaching where you’ll get to judge that for yourself.
When we announced Homeworld 3 was beginning development at PAX West 2019, we were overwhelmed by the response. We read all the articles, social media comments, and emails we could. We laughed at just how many of you responded with one simple phrase: “Shut up and take my money!”
Well, now it’s time for me to shut up.
Pre-order the Fleet Command Edition to play 72 hours early!