Summary: "For there was a great cry from the heavens, as even the angels could not bear witness to the unimaginable suck of the Homeworld 2 singleplayer campaign, made all the more atrocious by comparison with how great the multiplayer and skirmish modes are. Ye heavens, smite down the Relic level designers with all thine wrath!" Say that prayer ten times every night, and maybe there will be justice at least once for gamers.
Editorís Note: We seem to be having a recurring problem with HyperSnap capturing the Windows mouse cursor instead of the in-game one. Please disregard this problem, and accept our apologies.
There is no other explanation for the state of Homeworld 2. No one can argue that skirmish and multiplayer work great, that the campaign has an interesting storyline thatís delivered in measured, powerful doses that will keep you hooked. The technical aspects, such as graphics, cutscenes, sound and music, are beyond reproach. All these come together to form what must be the most beautiful frame for the worst mission design in history.
Itís not just that Homeworld 2 is absurdly difficult and offers no way to tone that difficulty down. Itís a game that is clearly aimed at the hardcore audience that bought the original, which wasnít exactly the easiest game in the world. Sure, the developer might actually be able to sell HW2 to more than the fans of the original if theyíd insisted on a difficulty slider, but thatíd be common sense. Common sense is missing throughout Homeworld 2.
If you ever stop to actually think about what happens in most missions, youíre going to laugh. Spoiler Warning! Take mission 9, for example. It starts off reasonably enough, but then the scripted repairs on the key ship on your fleet will require a shipyard. As per mission script, the shipyard will hyperspace in. Why wasnít it with you all along? No clue. Why was it risking itself by (presumably) being alone in the middle of nowhere yet close enough to get to you in one jump? No idea.
But those are mere plot details. What will really fry your noodle later is how come a very deadly squadron of enemy destroyers and missile frigates appears right behind your shipyard. They werenít there before. They couldnít have known your shipyard was coming or gathered an appropriate strike force in time (unless they could intercept and decrypt your communication so completely that your war should be lost by default.) So why are they there? Just to make things more difficult. That your own fleet is in a life-and-death struggle on the other side of the Mothership is of course, also no coincidence.
Unfortunately, if you lose the shipyard, the mission is over. Not because itís scripted to be over, mind you, but because the ship youíre repairing attaches itself to the Mothership and wonít detach when you build a new shipyard. Fortunately, bugs are quite rare in Homeworld 2, and this is the only game-stopper we encountered.
SIDEBAR: Donít play Homeworld 2 for relaxation or stress relief. If youíre feeling too calm, too at peace, too relaxed and desire a certain angry edge, then fire it up.
Make things difficult
Any and all enjoyment of the challenge of beating Homeworld 2ís campaign goes away the moment a player realizes that this is a game thatís difficult for the sake of being difficult. The mission design isnít creative or interesting, actually challenging, and the events perpetrated by the level designers certainly donít make sense. Not counting the final mission (which is predictably bland and illogical in its own way), there are only two kinds of Ďchallengeí in Homeworld 2.
Most of the time the player will simply spend time fighting off endless waves of enemy craft, as the Mothership is stuck in some location or another for some superficial reason. Occasionally, Relic will mix it up with objective-based missions which happen to send your fleet at various targets, and the enemy will launch a ďsurpriseĒ attack against the Mothership or whatever you happen to be protecting. Tedium, thy name is Homeworld.
There are other questionable design decisions that harm Homeworld 2. As with the original, the playerís fleet carries over from mission to mission. However, in an attempt to speed the game up, after the last objective is achieved the game will automatically collect all resources and hyperspace out. This would be fine, except that itís absolutely vital to have as large a fleet as possible at the start of nearly every mission. So you may find yourself barely finishing the final objective in mission 9 and start mission 10 with three ships.
HW2 has a great auto-save system as objectives are passed, but it really helps to save before completing the final objective, so you can build the Ďproperí fleet to counter whatís coming. For example, I left mission 8 with a large number of torpedo and ion frigates, but mission 9 is nigh-on impossible without a plethora of flak frigates. The solution? Certainly not try and make do with the original fleet, or even scrapping the original one and building flak frigates Ė that takes too long. Rather, go back to the last mission 8 save, build the correct fleet for mission 9, and then re-start mission 9. This is idiotic, tedious, ludicrously unfair to the gamer and utterly typical of the Relic mission designers.
Missions are more puzzles than anything with HW2. Few can be done in one try; the most difficult ones can take five or six or more attempts. As the designers pull their oh-so-clever surprises, the player learns to station his forces to counter the surprise. Not only does this destroy immersion in the game by forcing gamers to learn the exact type and location of enemy ships to counter, it breeds an unfortunate cynicism about Homeworld 2 itself.
Thatís unfortunate, because underneath the arrogant design, hides a good game.
SIDEBAR: I loved Homeworld: Cataclysm for its singleplayer. Homeworld 2 is such a disappointment in comparison, I want to cry.
Homeworld 2 has the exact same style as the original, so youíd be forgiven if, upon looking at the screenshots, you thought it was the same engine. Once seen in motion however, thereís absolutely no denying what a fantastically beautiful game this is. Combined with the good sound effects and positively stellar (pardon the pun) musical score, itís easy to understand Homeworld 2ís immersive ability.
The interface has received an overhaul as well. The changes are subtle but useful, and while the camera controls can still be clunky Ė notably the artificial limits on zooming out Ė itís not enough to be a problem for dedicated or experienced gamers. The best improvements lie in managing the fleet, as strike groups now allow groups of mixed vessels to move at the same speed and attack as one.
Ship AI is good but requires too much micromanagement at times. Notably, ships are prone to disobey orders and target the wrong vessels. Flak frigates have a disturbing fetish for attacking corvette-class ships when there are perfectly good bombers and interceptors to attack. Itís not that flak frigates are ineffective against corvettes, theyíre just less effective than torpedo frigates. Ships also seem likely to forget a movement command, in order to defend themselves or even engage an enemy. This doesnít seem to happen all the time, so perhaps itís a bug or simply a Ďfuzzy logicí design that doesnít really work out for the best. In the end, however, a Homeworld 2 fleet is far more capable without human supervision than it would be in the original.
Skirmish and multi
Skirmish and multiplayer mode are utter gems. Rather than feeling like a collection of manipulative puzzles, here the game actually gives the feeling of real space fleet action. Skirmish mode even features a difficulty level.
There are no expansions and the construction craft Ė carriers, shipyards and the Mothership Ė all move very slowly. Expansions are more like mobile resource harvesting operations than permanent bases, and canít be used to re-construct your fleet. Destroying your opponentís economy with a sneak attack is viable, but does little good if his fleet overwhelms yours and destroys your Mothership. It takes some getting used to, but eventually a measure of caution is learned and the player will scout, feint, test the enemy and avoid direct fleet combat until he feels confident of victory. Until then, there are rushes, harassment strikes and expansions to worry about. All in all, itís a very thoughtful RTS. Assuming you donít run into one of those crazy hardcore Homeworld fans who will hand you your ass on a silver platter (with a cherry on top) in five minutes, itís even enjoyable!
SIDEBAR: The Headstones, a rather popular Canadian band, called it quits recently.
Not so much a pro as an acknowledgement of improvement. Or perhaps weíre just better with past experience.
Itís good, real good. As good as or better than the original, and thatís saying a lot. Combined with the graphics and music, it can really hook you. Itís about the only reason why anyone would play the singleplayer campaign past mission four.
From the very beginning, the first mission, itís obvious that Homeworld 2 has stayed loyal to hardcore HW fans and not changed a thing.
Those looking for changes to the Homeworld formula are going to be sorely disappointed. If you didnít like the first, donít expect anything different from the second.
SIDEBAR: I would really like to sucker punch the level designers and give THEM a little bit of ĎOh I bet you didnít see THAT coming!í surprise attack.
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Enemy fleet ahead, Captain! Intelligence reports that itís led by the sick, twisted Relic level designers Ė a true scourge upon the galaxy! Shall we Sound Off! in the news comments and let them have it?
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