The only real disappointment I had with Homeworld 2 was with the missions themselves.
The original Homeworld game looked wonderful, right up my alley, but I just didn't ever get around to playing it. Now, Homeworld 2 has landed on my desk, and I played it as a totally fresh product. So, anyone looking for comparisons to the original will have to look elsewhere. Conversely, anyone out there who also didn't get around to playing the original can rest assured that Homeworld 2 works just fine as an entry point into the series and is, in fact, one of the best games I've played this year.
Reading the early descriptions of the original Homeworld, I didn't think the developers could pull it off. I've played enough turn-based strategy games that had struggled with 3D space to be very skeptical that a real-time strategy game could pull it off. Well, a handful of Game of the Year awards later, I figured I was wrong. And, if Homeworld 2 is any indication, I definitely was.
The mechanism for selecting a unit or group of units is identical to that used in most 2D games. To select one unit, you simply click on it. To select multiple units, you hold down a mouse button and pull back to draw a box around the units and select anything in the box. The game basically gives the player a 2D selection interface and calculates the 3D aspects invisibly, and everything works smoothly and intuitively. Of course, after selecting a unit or group of units, it is a matter of a simple keystroke to assign them to a specific number key, making selecting them in the future even easier.
Having selected the units, giving them orders is as simple as clicking the area that you want them to move to or the unit(s) you want them to attack. I can't say enough about how efficient and intuitive the interface is. I played through the tutorial once and really never had to consult the manual about how to do anything.
Like most RTS's, Homeworld 2 also forces (allows?) players to gather resources to build units or upgrade existing units. Little here is really new and certainly nothing is complicated. In the single-player missions, what to build is fairly well determined by the scenario, with just a little room for clever decisions. In multi-player, there are hundred (likely thousands) of possible ways to build and develop so as to win a battle. At first, I felt the technology trees were a little too cluttered and complex, but by the time I had completed four or five missions, everything made sense.
The only real disappointment I had with Homeworld 2 was with the missions themselves. It wasn't that they weren't fun or challenging, for they were both. It was simply that I had seen them all before in countless other RTS's. My real fear is that maybe the well has run dry on straight-forward RTS missions. Gather resources, defend a convoy, retrieve an artifact, attack a base-station, etc. I hope someone proves me wrong and that there are many unexplored mission structures, but I'm not holding my breath.
Despite the dry, familiar mission objectives, the actual gameplay of Homeworld 2 is smooth and joyous. Combat, especially, works well, and the number of different attack vessels at the player's disposal allow for lots of interesting decisions from mission to mission. I'm on record as favoring turn-based strategy over real-time strategy because I think the pressure of real-time games takes the focus off the strategy, but from playing Homeworld 2, I can certainly see the appeal of real-time tactics.
The graphics and sound of Homeworld 2 are polished and effective, though, again, nothing spectacular. So much attention has been given to the lighting and particle effects and so little attention to the textures (which are solid, but uninspiring) that the game actually has the graphical tone of a PlayStation 2 game. UN-spectacular objects blow up spectacularly, which is probably exactly what the design team was after.
I had a good time with Homeworld 2 -- good enough that I plan on borrowing a copy of Homeworld from a friend whenever I get some free time. And, yes, I know the fourth-quarter flood of games is on the way, but I always was an optimist.