Along with our group-selected 2015 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as one of the best.
Homeworld and Homeworld 2 are as smart, ambitious and beautiful as they were at launch. This year Gearbox devoted refreshed and re-released both games as the Homeworld Remastered bundle, digitally preserving a series that might otherwise have dwindled in eBay listings.
Homeworld was Relic’s debut, but contains trace elements that would come to define their vision for the RTS, as expressed in Dawn of War and Company of Heroes. The vital mineral resources that power your fleet are strewn across each map’s central regions, encouraging conflict along battle lines rather than flashpoints—a trend later replicated by mid-map capture points in CoH and DoW. Your base, ordinarily a stationary collection of buildings, is a graceful mobile flotilla. Your factories can go wherever you like, but if you send one gliding into a fight without defensive ships you could suffer a terrible blow.
The result is light years away from the Dune 2/StarCraft RTS conventions of the time. There are few games like it still—a serene wargame set to a mournful orchestral score. When a battleship catches fire, tilts and blows, there’s a sense of great loss, as though a noble cool-looking whale has exploded—a whale that made smaller whales that shoot lasers on command. The pace is achingly slow at first, but that contributes to Homeworld’s sense of scale. You’re micromanaging a fleet across vast distances. It gives you plenty of time to admire your vessels and their lovely glowing engine trails.
The campaigns are excellent, too, both sweeping space operas illustrated with surprisingly affecting animated interludes. The voice work is flat and a little robotic, but it all adds to the powerful feeling of loneliness. The premise is similar to Battlestar Galactica, but Homeworld isn’t a straightforward militaristic survival fantasy. For the majesty of your capital ship, you’re a tiny mote of life in a vast universe that could pinch you out in a second. Your scrabble from mission to mission, desperately trying to preserve your forces and turn your fortunes around.
It has a few problems. Missions can ambush you with new objectives but changing tack on a strategy is as tough as organising a U-turn for a fleet of city-sized vessel ought to be. A few too many missions demand foresight earned through trial and error, and there’s a fiddly layer of micromanagement that takes some getting used to. Certain classes of craft are good at taking down other classes, but you’re also instructing tiny fighter squadrons and even boarding ships to harry large vessels. All the while you have to manage build queues and secure a plentiful stream of resources. It’s tough, but engrossing.
It could get tougher still. Homeworld has long attracted modders interested in turning the game into a more detailed simulation of space combat. The Homeworld 2 Complex mod was the most successful. Back in January 2015, it sounded like Complex 10 is in development for Homeworld Remastered. Meanwhile Blackbird continue to work on Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, a prequel RTS set on the dusty planet Kharak. We may never see Homeworld 3, but I’m glad the series lives on. Some series are just too good to die.