While I never was much good at strategy games, that never stopped me from playing any that I came across. Starcraft and Command & Conquer were tremendously attractive and cathartic experiences back in the day, even when I was getting trounced by a bog-standard AI. On the odd occasion, I’d eke out a few victories, but in general, strategy was quite intimidating and especially in Relic Entertainment’s debut, Homeworld.
Homeworld is the story of an epic journey across the stars, a quest to find one’s true home, and all the pathos, joy, pitfalls and triumphs that come with such a saga. But even more, it’s a strategy title that flipped the table on genre convention. The vast majority of the celebrated Real-time Strategy titles of the day were fought largely on the ground surface with all the air units hovering on a plane, which was a fixed height above the ground. Homeworld, on the other hand, utilised the third dimension completely — a 360-degree awareness wasn’t enough any more, you couldn’t just ‘watch your six’ and rest easy, because hostile units could come at you from anywhere. It represented the next step in strategy, a whole new level of tactical warfare and was amazingly well designed enough so that you could become competent with the game’s basic mechanics pretty quickly.
Missions in the game have knock-on effects, and your surviving fleet is carried over to the next mission. So unlike the practice of ‘rubber-banding’ in many modern games, where the game dynamically adjusts its difficulty to adapt to the player’s skill level, Homeworld goes the other way and actually punishes poor performances by making later missions even tougher.
However, as is often the case with ambitious projects, the game never received the spotlight it deserved. Relic went on to mine a rich vein of Warhammer 40,000 with their Dawn of War games, and Homeworld was relegated to the history books.
Now that may change in the near future, what with nostalgia being a precious commodity in the age of crowdfunding. In the past few years, we’ve seen several beloved franchises roused from slumber and pushed out onto the stage once more, and now it’s Homeworld’s turn at the rose tints.
First off, an outfit called Blackbird Interactive with former Relic veterans, was making a strategy title called Hardware: Shipbreakers, with a lot of aesthetic nods to Homeworld. After forming an acquaintance with Gearbox Software, the current owners of the Homeworld IP, they got the licence to call it Homeworld: Shipbreakers, and make it an official part of the canon. So far, it looks like a prequel to the original games, and covers a lot of the ground battles that occurred before the iconic mothership from the original was constructed and launched.
However, if terra firma isn’t your cuppa, Gearbox themselves have another card up their sleeves. The Homeworld Remastered Collection is a thing they’ve been working on that’s coming at the end of February, which gives the two main Homeworld games a chance for improvements for in-game visuals and cinematics down to re-recording the dialogue with the original cast members in higher quality.
Gearbox has been known to be a bit hit-or-miss, with plonkers like Duke Nukem Forever and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and nightmares like Aliens: Colonial Marines on their resume. Let’s hope the straightforward nature of this project can keep things simple and bring Homeworld back home to a new generation of gamers.