No doubt Blackbird Interactive will be going out of its way to make Homeworld 3 bigger and better than its prequels. I have my fingers crossed that one of the things it’ll be dialing up to 11 is ship size, giving us massive super battlecruisers that dwarf their opposition.
Before I go any further, I should clarify that I’m not referring to Homeworld 3’s single-player mode. It looks very much as if the game will see you on the run, Battlestar Galactica-style, and I’m absolutely on board with that. Maybe that last mission will see you craft some kind of super weapon, but letting you churn those out every mission could rob the tale of its tension. Instead, it’s the multiplayer and skirmish mode in Homeworld 3 where, with no narrative to undermine, gigantic vessels could really give the game a kick in the spacesuit pants.
Why? Is it just so I can cackle as Homeworld 3’s equivalent of a Super Star Destroyer crushes my foes? To hear other players curse and weep as half of their fleet is vaporized in one blast? Admittedly, that’s part of it, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s all Total Annihilation’s fault.
Released in 1997, Total Annihilation seems — initially — like a Command & Conquer clone. There are two warring factions, each with their own subtly different units. There’s resource-gathering, unit building, and so on — the sort of strategy shenanigans that Homeworld took into space.
But what made it so special was that, if you played your cards right, you could really lean into the long game. The multiplayer and skirmish maps were likewise much larger, allowing for battles to rage for hours. That’s where the super units came in, were you so inclined. Both sides had a long-range artillery weapon that, while ridiculously resource-hungry to fire, could rain hell half a map away. Even now, I can remember grinning maniacally as, with only a vague suspicion of where the enemy base was, I fired salvo after salvo into the map’s unknown zone.
Then, the Total Annihilation expansion pack, The Core Contingency, took things to the next level. It introduced the Krogoth, which resembled the secret love child of Mechagodzilla and the game’s own Commander unit. It required a massive gantry to produce and another ludicrous amount of resources. But when it lumbered out into the battlefield, decimating unit after unit, it was glorious, especially when unleashed on a human player.
That experience from Total Annihilation is in part why I want Homeworld 3 to deliver massive super ships, bigger than the battle cruisers that figured into previous games. Sure, Homeworld 1 and 2’s motherships may look intimidating, but they’re not all that powerful.
Now, picture being able to build a mini-Death Star, sporting some kind of railgun, that can blast your enemy’s fleet from the other side of the zone. Just imagine the swear words your enemy will utter when their ships suddenly start exploding. Or alternatively, imagine how incensed you’ll be when they do the same to you.
Of course, one might wonder if that wouldn’t just turn multiplayer / skirmish in Homeworld 3 into an arms race: The first person who can craft a Super-Duper Battlecruiser wins? In the case of Total Annihilation, it’s true that players who didn’t think strategically could find themselves losing quite badly. But the real genius of Total Annihilation’s mega units was the way they played on participants’ hunger to have the biggest weapons (and yes, Freud would have a field day with that one). I’ve not mentioned the times my drive to fast-track the Krogoth led me to neglect my own defenses, so the enemy units all but walked right in.
Also, while a lot of units fell easily to the Krogoth, it could be destroyed by a single shot from the enemy Commander’s own gun. As the Total Annihilation Wiki points out, “its cost can be more effectively used on normal infantry and vehicles.” And as awesome as it is to behold, the right combination of vehicles can take it down in minutes.
As for the long-ranged weapons, while you were laughing yourself silly at all the damage you were doing, (You could use a scout unit to paint a target.) the enemy could sneak a cloaked unit in and blow up your energy generators. Suddenly, that row of “Big Berthas” would be sitting there doing nothing.
That’s why Homeworld 3 needs to up its battlecruiser game, without waiting for some mod-maker to deliver on the sorts of monstrosities Total Annihilation offered. It’s not just that giant ships are awesome, that you have to be playing the long game to build them, or because using them to crush an opponent is a joy. They’re also a real gamble and an open invitation for people to choke on their own hubris, especially since Homeworld has bombers that can target sub-systems. So, like the aforementioned Big Berthas, your ship could be out of action, very quickly.
But hey, it never stopped Emperor Palpatine, and it shouldn’t stop Homeworld 3.