The original Homeworld was what I considered to be a breakthrough in the RTS world. No other game, even today, has matched the quality of the original Homeworld’s three-dimensional game play, much less space combat.
In Homeworld 2, you play the race of the Hiigarans. You are up against an alien race, the Vaygr, hell bent on destroying you in an attempt to capture your hyperdrive core. Your mission is simple enough: attain the other two cores for yourself before the Vaygr can get them. Along the way, you will fight awesome battles against the Vaygr and other newly introduced “races”. The storyline is well written and narrated during and in between missions.
If you haven’t already guessed it, the basic premise of HW2 is that of a real-time strategy game. Your primary goal is to defend your home base (read: Mothership) while deploying collectors to gather enough resources to build and maintain your forces. Enhancements can be added to each unit via your research menu as the game progresses. You are notified when new research options have been made available.
Units or ships can be set for different behavior patterns: Passive, defensive, and aggressive. Also, just like the previous HW, you can set your ships to assume different patterns or formations. Combinations of behavior settings and patterns make for different formations. Each formation is designed in its own way to be more effective against certain other units and become important later in the game when it becomes crucial to saving as many resources as possible. The simple approach of overwhelming the enemy with sheer numbers might not be sufficient in your quest to complete your objectives.
Balance has been achieved among the different ships. In HW and HW: Cataclysm, some units could overpower just about any enemy force if you had enough of them. In HW2, no one ship, despite its upgrades, can do the job necessary for conquering your objectives. A combination of different classes of ships becomes absolutely necessary for success.
A key difference between HW2 and its predecessors is fighter production. Smaller ships, namely scouts, gunships, and corvettes, are built in squadrons. This becomes helpful when using capital ship killing fighters since they tend to get blown up rather quickly when facing large opposing forces. Larger ships like frigates, destroyers, and battleships, found later in the game, become terrible weapons of destruction but will require support fighters to protect them to have any hope of success.
You will find a big factor in HW2 is your ability to multi-task. Many missions have you splitting up and controlling your forces while just trying to survive. The battles are quite intense and if you are fast enough on the production, will require you to send wave after wave of reinforcements into the melee. If you find your mothership under attack, get those forces back quickly, because the speed at which the mothership travels is negligible and she will be destroyed if a large enough enemy force is on top of her.
One of the more troublesome aspects I had with HW2 was my inability to complete certain missions within a reasonable amount of time. The first couple of levels are easy enough, taking no longer than an hour to complete, however, you will quickly discover that more time and thought will be needed for strategizing a way to complete more advanced levels. Being a “seasoned” gamer and a veteran of the HW series, I was quite surprised when one particular level took me about 2 days of almost mouse-breaking frustration to complete. Since there is no skill level selector when you start the game, be prepared to work long and hard to beat the more advanced levels.
Given the nature of the linear storyline, attempting to replay a mission/level comes with the gift of foresight. However, while this might make it easier for you to foresee what the enemy is going to do and enable you to move units to the appropriate areas for a counter strike, the real trick still comes in actually defeating those units with appropriate counter units of your own. They didn’t make this one easy folks.
The splendor of new visuals offered by Homeworld 2 is simply breathtaking. While much of the game remains the same in regards to its predecessors, a fantastic job was done in taking advantage of today’s technology in graphics. After you get done wiping the drool off your chin from all the cool explosions, you might want to concentrate on that fleet of battleships heading your way. The backdrop of deep space in each mission is both unique and contains three-dimensional eye candy that you would expect from a HW title.
The sounds accompanied with HW2 are outstanding. Explosions are accompanied with the bass you would expect from such large explosions but dull enough to be realistic for space combat considering there is no sound in space. Weapons fire and engine noise are both clear and realistic.
As with its predecessors, HW2 offers an easy to use mouse and console system. You can modify your HUD size and adjust it as you see fit. Most commands are offered via “hotkeys” for those who just like to move the mouse for unit selection and tap keys for formation/behavior controls. I found it to be very fluid, however, the casual gamer might find themselves working a little harder to memorize keys, formations, etc.
Selecting units and groups of units is easily accomplished by holding down the ctrl key and surrounding your units with the mouse box. The shift key allows for three-dimensional vertical movement.
A tactical display is given to you in the middle of the bottom part of the screen showing all units including enemy units (if they are within scan range).
There are quite a few “hidden” features in the interface too. One of which was a toggle to bring up ship and research build queues on the fly. I found this to be informational, but definitely not necessary to the success of the mission.
Ah multiplayer. What is a game without the multiplayer aspect? I found multiplayer to be a lot like the single player game with a few exceptions. In Skirmish or MP mode, you are given not only your mothership to build from, but a carrier as well. Carriers are capable of almost all of the same research and unit builds that your mothership can handle with a few exceptions. Unfortunately, while the carrier has more speed and can be used as a “mobile” base, once it is set on upon by the enemy, without sufficient forces to protect it, it will go down in a fiery death.
Multiplayer mode is offered in few variations. The biggest choice you have is setting up teams on larger maps or going one on one against a buddy. Also worthy of note is the ability to play against computer players as well. If you plan to take on a computer foe, be prepared to spend some time with it. My first battle with the computer took about an hour to complete.
Those who played through the previous Homeworld will respect HW2’s tough game play and enhanced graphics and interface. The storyline is compelling, believable, and worth the intensely frustrating battles you will assuredly have throughout the complex game play. I would recommend this to previous HW players, however, a word of caution goes to those not familiar with this genre: the learning curve and frustration of not being able to beat a particular level may make a casual gamer quit and feel that they have wasted hard earned cash on a game they cannot beat.
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