Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Relic Games
Release Date: September 16, 2003
Buy 'HOMEWORLD 2': PC
It’s been a long time coming but Relic is back, fresh off their cross-species RTS stint on Impossible Creatures, with the sequel to the most critically acclaimed space-bound strategy game ever. Homeworld 2 manages to capture that same indefinable magic that the original busted at the seams with while substantially upping the ante in terms of playability, graphics, and overall immersion. Fans of the original game will undoubtedly find a lot to like in Homeworld 2 and its increased focus on user friendliness should wrangle a few fresh faces as well. But while Homeworld 2 is by all means an excellent space faring adventure of epic proportions it’s hard to overlook the fact that it is eerily similar to its predecessor in nearly every way.
Homeworld 2’s storyline is much the same as it was in the original, though it is also just as intriguing and deep. You’ll control a mammoth self-sufficient mothership called the Pride of Hiigara and attempt to ward off an imperial race known as the Vaygr, who are hell-bent on destroying the Pride of Hiigara and occupying their land. An ancient prophecy revolving around three hyperspace cores that have recently been uncovered permeates the proceedings and gives the plot a newfound sense of intrigue and mystery. Each of the game’s 15 chapters advances the story one revelation at a time while keeping the pace of the game neatly consistent and interesting.
In keeping with the original game’s deep and strategic gameplay, Homeworld 2 changes little in terms of control, and that’s mostly a good thing. Your mothership will serve as an efficient base of operations and its many functions are powered by resource units (or RU’s) that can be harvested from nearby asteroids by assigning resource collectors. In addition to accumulating RU’s you’ll also need to contend with fleet management, making sure you have adequate defensive and offensive units to live through inevitable enemy ambushes. A wide assortment of ships can be created and you can easily assign different behaviors to each one such as passive, defensive (default), and aggressive. You can also arrange your fleets into different tactical formations, which, when used in conjunction with different behaviors results in an array of different tactical outcomes.
Even further customization is possible by researching different enhancements for your ships. Various aspects of each ship class can be upgraded and you’ll find that this scalability is highly conducive to keeping even your lowly defenders and bombers useful throughout the duration of the game. Like Homeworld, creating new ships is simply a matter of clicking on your mothership and queuing up the desired units. But unlike the original, most ship classes are produced in groups of three or five. There also seems to be a more pronounced attention to balance in different ship classes this time around, which is apparent by the inclusion an effective counter method for nearly every ship that gets thrown your way. Not only is this heightened balance useful for single-player campaign missions but it also makes the multiplayer skirmishes a lot more interesting as well.
The smaller ships in the game are all more than capable of dealing with most enemy threats and are also surprisingly resilient when under heavy enemy fire or against overwhelming odds. But you’ll inevitably need to pull out the big guns, such as heavy artillery frigates, on occasion to deal with bigger more threatening opponents. While pitting the slow but deadly contraptions against equally devastating opponents is a good way of staying alive, you’ll find that most victories will be due to sustained enemy damage from fleets of smaller ships that are immensely more agile than frigates. At any given time during most of the latter missions in the game many things that require your attention will be happening at the same time, so wisely rationing out your focus is sometimes annoyingly necessary. But once you’ve lost a mission a couple times the choreography of a mission’s evolution becomes quite clear, allowing you to easily succeed, eventually.
The user interface in Homeworld 2 is noticeably improved over the last game, not that Homeworld didn’t feature an innovative and intuitive control system, but part two improves even further what the original started. Nearly every action in the game, from switching between an up-close and zoomed-out perspective, to assigning behavioral patterns or formations, to queuing up new unit creations, can be executed with either the keyboard or mouse, allowing the player to decide which method works best as per their preference. You can assign a group of units to number keys for easy management simply by selecting the desired group, holding ctrl and the number you want them assigned to. Zooming is accomplished with the mouse wheel and rotating your perspective is a matter of holding the right mouse button and sliding the mouse in any direction. Basically, controlling hundreds of units while micromanaging numerous gameplay aspects have never been easier. The quick and easy tutorial goes over everything you’ll need to know in a straightforward and understandable way, much like the original Homeworld did.
Visually, Homeworld 2 is a great looking game that, while requiring a pretty beefy setup, manages to convey an unfathomable amount of on-screen action. Zooming out will give you a good idea of everything that’s going on as every unit or environmental object is depicted via small but legible representations, and zooming in close on a battle gives way to ultra detailed, well-textured, fluidly animated, goodness that is undeniably impressive. In fact, watching a frenzied battle between dozens upon dozens of ships, all of which act and react independently and realistically, makes neglecting your duties the easiest thing you’ll ever not do. Like Homeworld, part two features lots of pre-rendered CGI work between missions to push the story forward, and while in-game cinematics would have more than got the job done, the black-and-white cut-scenes stay true to the heritage of the series.
The audio presentation is also a work of pure brilliance. The musical orchestrations feature plenty of atmospheric, dynamic tracks that fall in line perfectly with the on-screen action. As if watching a high-budget sci-fi film, the music dances from one scene to another with aplomb, acting almost like a character unto itself with how it magically adapts to the ever-changing circumstances. The sound effects, which are manifest mainly through the overwhelming sounds of combat, are also spot-on. The level of zoom from which you are watching the action unfold plays a direct role in just how detailed the sound effects will be: get up close and personal to a skirmish and be prepared for a buffet of different aural emissions. The voice acting is nearly flawless. Every action you execute will be confirmed through different voice quips – most of which were recorded multiple times so as to give an impressive level of realistic immersion – and the dialogue featured throughout each mission is delivered with a professional level of believability.
Overall, Homeworld 2 is one of the most refreshing and original strategy games out there, and the beautifully rendered scenery and wonderfully orchestrated sounds gives the game an additional adrenaline boost. But as impressive, epic, immersive, and detailed as Homeworld 2 is, it is still only an evolutionary step forward over its predecessor. But since the original game was so ahead of its time, Homeworld 2’s somewhat negligible level of evolution can be easily forgiven. Suffice to say that if you liked Homeworld you’ll fall in love with part two, and since the interface and aesthetics have been improved, fans of the RTS genre in general should also have a great time with it.
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