It’s 1:20 a.m., I need to be getting to bed, so why not take a couple of hours to write a wall of text?
Among this community there is a massive amount of contention as to which Homeworld Game is superior between HW1 and HW2. HW2 players see HW1 as a clunky game far enhanced by nostalgia, while HW1 players see HW2 as a simplification of what was the best gameplay found in any RTS ever.
But the issue is, at its heart, much deeper than simply saying that HW2 was dumbed down or that HW1 was clunky. The games followed radically different design philosophies that permeated throughout the respective gameplay, balance, and maps, all of which contribute to why one game was so much greater than the other.
HW1 was, very clearly, built from the ground up to be full of depth greater than any other RTS out there. Formations and tactics greatly increased the skill ceiling by allowing a small amount of micro to greatly increase the effectiveness of a fighting force. Kamikaze and ramming made strategic maneuvering all the more important and gave any force in the game more options to deal with the enemy. None of these came in the form of a traditional blizzard style ability, although the game did have a few such things, but were universally applied to every ship in the fleet, although it may not be obvious at first. For example, although a destroyer couldn’t receive the kamikaze order any veteran player would know that this was an option that it could take at any moment.
HW2, on the other hand, put an emphasis on simplification and on seeing the “epic” rather than distracting yourself with micro of strike-craft squadrons that you hand-crafted yourself. Formations were simplified into a set of 3 (Of which only one was really ever useful) strike-groups used to position your fleet’s assets in a way that maximized survivability. Tactics were replaced by the 3 behavior groups standard to contemporary RTS games. Gone was kamikaze, gone were the hidden quirks of each ship like the probe scuttle, replaced by something straight-forward where few ships had hidden features and the skill ceiling had been lowered. This lack of mechanical depth is often presented as the reason that HW1 is better than HW2, but the divide extends far below mechanical differences.
The balancing system of each game is founded on entirely different principles. HW1 used a complex system of soft and hard counters to create its balance, with a wonderful result. Corvettes were useful throughout and could trade favorably with many different types of ships but were vulnerable to assault frigates, although they could overcome them. Bombers were excellent vs frigates but got pulverized vs missile destroyers. A squadron of frigates could with some difficulty take down a heavy cruiser as long as they had proper support frigate support and no ship class was overwhelmingly inferior to another. HW2, on the other hand, relies on a system of timings and nukes beat dynamite beat rock system of more or less hard counters to form its balance. Battlecruisers, while counterable, could only be defeated with great difficulty and games tended to revolve around them. Fighters gradually lost importance as the match went on and large capital ship battles where frigates were little other than cannon fodder were the norm. This loss of progression based strategic depth served to make the gameplay more sterile; each game tended to feel more like the next with little variance. This is, however, not solely due to the balance, but also due to the arenas on which the encounters happen.
Map design is something that is focused on less when comparing the two games, but is still an area of major differences between the two. HW1 maps are dynamic. Asteroids contain small amounts of RUs, so the game revolves around nomadic movement, carefully guarding your collectors and preventing enemy raids from being successful. These characteristics allow games like this to happen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu2N1apNANA HW2, on the other hand, had large concentrations of resources spread in clumps around the map. Defense was over a small patch and expansion was to other small clusters. The result of this is a game where raiding is much harder, turtling in a corner and teching more viable, where strike-craft lose their importance as raiding doesn’t happen. The sort of gameplay difference between the two caused by maps may be likened to the difference in the role of raiding in total annihilation compared to StarCraft, albeit in a situation where your workers are much tougher and putting a dent in your opponents economy harder.
I hope this post has helped explain why many of us consider HW1 to be a better game than HW2 and I apologize for how incoherent this post may sound, it’s 3 a.m. at the time of finishing this post so needless to say that’s probably expected at this point.