It’s no surprise that I consider Homeworld one of the best games of all time, as I’ve posted about it multiple times already over the past few years. But what makes it so goddamn amazing? Everything. Everything is the answer to that question.
For what it’s worth, this post is based on the original version of Homeworld, not the remastered edition. However, the graphics are from Homeworld:Remastered. Why? Because they look better, that’s why.
I also consider this somewhat of a spiritual successor to my original post about homeworld made a few years ago. I’d give that a read if you haven’t yet. That’s right, I like Homeworld so much I write about it every few years to remind people of how amazing it is. But the Remastered version came out, so it felt apropos to write a new version.
Let’s get technical for a moment: Homeworld is a 3D RTS set in space, with persistent units and resourcing between missions.
Got it? Good. Because there’s a lot more to it than just the bland categorization. Homeworld allows you to build a persistent fleet over a span of over a dozen missions, which becomes a core gameplay element when resources are scarce and every ship counts. When you have to balance building a frigate or a few fighters, suddenly the game becomes much more than just slamming disposable units against each other. That frigate you captured in mission 2? It’ll stick with you until the end, or until you are forced to send it on a desperate run to save your resourcing units.
The missions aren’t just some bland “oh gee there are some bad dudes over here. Kill them. KILL THEM” instead you get pitted against very different factions. The Imperials are all about overwhelming force. The pirates have tough corvettes and battle-hardened carriers. And the garden dwellers? Well, they’ll overwhelm you with fighters. Most missions have a catch that requires you to plan around, but they don’t become forced and trite as the Starcraft II catches often do. They flow naturally from your foes, and that’s a big distinction.
Your units, well, they’re wonderful. The balance is perfect: your fighters will distract and harass larger units, while your corvettes will maneuver in for the kill. Frigates provide the backbone of your fleet while your larger destroyers give you the big guns necessary to take down the very largest of opponents. Each ship (and class of ships!) have weaknesses and strengths, and Homeworld is masterful at letting you balance your fleet exactly to your gameplay style.
Battle gameplay is purposeful. There are few chances for one-shot kills. Damage is meted out over minutes, and it evolves into a situation that you can control at a pace that allows strategic decisions rather than encouraging frantic clicking.
RTS with a Purpose
Homeworld is a game with purpose. As your ships slowly lumber towards their next encounter, you’ll have time to reflect on your storyline. Perhaps what makes Homeworld unique is not that the gameplay is amazingly good, but that you become invested in the story of the exiles fighting their way across the galaxy to reclaim their Home. Each step along the way seems inevitable, yet you never feel like it’s a chore.
The ships are the story. But they represent the hopes and dreams of your people.
I wrote a lot of papers in college listening to the Homeworld soundtrack. It’s award winning, and for a good reason. From the heart wrenching chorale rendition of Adagio for Strings, to the vaguely middle-eastern strains of the Imperial Battle motif, the music provides the right tension at the right time. When navigating through a irradiated solar system from a nearby star, the music provides a brooding backdrop as a constant reminder of the danger that lurks just beyond the protective dust fields.
Story and Manual
The Homeworld manual is one of my most cherished objects. A lot of love and care went into crafting the backstory and ship designs, and the manual is a detailed story of the protagonists, their background, and their history. The manual turns an otherwise good game into an excellent one through the smart use of backstory that so many games ignore. The Mothership is the core of your existence, but through the manual you learn that it has taken all of the resources of your planet to construct it on a journey home. For over 80 years, it was the only satellite the planet had ever known, and were the literal embodiment of the purpose of a civilization.
Remastering, Cataclysm, and Homeworld 2
There’s a remastered version of Homeworld out. It looks very pretty, but the gameplay is fairly atrocious. Delicately-crafted balances honed in the original game were hammered into an improved Homeworld 2 engine to create a game that is optically amazing yet with hollow mechanics. I’d encourage you to purchase the remastered version, only because it includes the original version of Homeworld designed to work on modern Windows.
Homeworld: Cataclysm is a very worthy followup to Homeworld, and plays as a 3D Horror RTS set in space. It has some interesting ship ideas, cleans up pain points in the original Homeworld, and has lots of fun mechanics. Although it hasn’t been remastered and sometimes dislikes Windows 7, Cataclysm is a fine choice if you can get your hands on it.
There’s also Homeworld 2, which is pretty okay. It ain’t bad, but ain’t great either.