Relic brought us a truly individual slice of real time strategy gaming sci-fi action when they unfurled Homeworld, originally. They managed to create a unique and compelling story to go with the flashy visuals and pretty slick GUI. Now the wheel of gaming has turned once more and Homeworld 2 was released recently - but the question that people have been asking is - is it a worthy sequel?
Essentially HW2 remains the same as the first game in regards to the gameplay, it has a radically improved GUI and feels a whole lot slicker than the first, a few things have been altered and the introduction of 'Strike Groups' makes the formation of impressive Battle Fleets even easier now. Unit management as a whole is pretty simple and it doesn't stray too far from the original game, but everything has been tightened up, giving orders and moving around the truly 3d space is a joy - once you get used to it.
The player gets to control a large mothership and from this behemoth can be built a variety of vessels, while the small resource gathering units mine the asteroids and keep you supplied with the blood of progress, the RU (Resource Unit). In addition to units, the mothership can now produce modules (these can be targeted as sub-systems in battle) that can soup up the base or provide extra features. Longer range scanners and other things.
The bottom line with the gameplay is that Relic have not changed the basics of the game, they have improved the handling and made unit management much better.
It's Relic and I'm glad to say that the story in HW2 is just as immersive as the first one, picking up once more as the enemy wreaks havoc across the peaceful lives of the galaxies inhabitants. The quality of the cut scenes in this game are ten times better than the first and it shows that Relic have been learning a few tricks from the Cinema trade as they use a mix of the cut-scenes from CGI and ingame graphics to great effect. Karen S'jet is back and must lead the mothership once more against the evil Vagyr who will stop at nothing to claim what they desire. And I have to admit, being a bit of a story buff; this one's a pretty good story with some nice turns and twists.
Models/Animations and Design
What can I say except that this is slick, the whole game is slick and Relic know their stuff when it comes to making exciting and sometimes odd spaceship units. They have stuck to their guns and kept a lot of the ship models the same, adding new ones and larger impressive looking battleships. There are a few surprises there as well, but I'm not going to even detail those, they wouldn't be a surprise then would they?
The models are suitably detailed and they have a number of animated working parts, the usual sci-fi fare, scanners and the like. Rotating gun turrets on the larger ships, there's not really much more that can be said, but if you like detail - then HW2 has indeed got those tiny features.
Graphics and Textures
It has to be said that Homeworld was an eye-bleeding-ly nice game, it raised the graphics bar for many titles and spawned several would-be crown-stealers, and now Homeworld 2 brings a richer and brighter level of graphical detail to the board. We see a welcome return to the coloured trails left by the starships and due to an increased unit limit combined with some more fancy AI, the whole effect is like looking at a living, breathing, deadly display of pyrotechnical wonder. HW2's textures are likewise sharp and provide an excellent level of detail to the represented craft.
Space itself is created with the use of 2d backdrops and three-dimensional objects; the whole thing works nicely and keeps the frame-rates constant even when a huge battle takes place. It's quite something to see the exchanges of fire; missiles and beams of death flying backwards and forwards, tiny explosions bursting forth like flowers. It's the stuff that made Babylon 5 so great for me on the TV.
HW2 is a game that does not disappoint on the good old eye candy front.
Relic have tightened up the AI from the last game and it's considerably improved, ships engage each other, retreating if they take too much damage, the computer opponents test your defences and utilise their strategic knowledge to the best effect. There are still some glitches and bugs in the code, but Relic have promised a patch and already there are at least two good mods out there that have been done to alter the dynamics of fighter and cap-ship combat, I tried these and in a separate mention kudos to the creator(s) of the dynamic fighter and cap-ship mods. But out of the box, the AI is adequate enough for what it needs to do. The greatest challenge is always playing against a human opponent. And Homeworld 2 has been improved with the Multiplayer element as well, allowing a mix of human and AI teams to go head to head in a variety of game modes.
So there you have it, it's similar to the first game but that's not a bad thing, it's also got some nice new features and the engine has been overhauled, given an oil change and a good thorough polish - with the addition of the recently released development tools, Relic has now opened the game up to the longevity of the modders, who are the life and soul of any good game - other developers should take note.
If your game isn't mod-able, it's going to take a miracle to keep it on the HD's of today's gamers.
If you liked Homeworld then you should like the sequel, the story is excellent and the game is pretty well polished already. People will always see unit balancing issues and Relic is committed to fixing every bug that is found. If you didn't play the first game then go out and get it, then get the sequel and play them one after the other, it's a great feeling to watch that story unfold and see the action hot up.