Homeworld: Vast Reaches Review

Real-time strategy games are among my favourite genres. They are also dramatically underserved in VR. Despite notable PCVR iterations of the genre like the outstanding Brass Tactics or the “quite good” Air Mech Command, not to mention the amazing MOBA-infused offers like Glassbreakers and Final Assault, standalone has seen very little in the genre.

There are indeed several competitors for The Quest. Titles like Eternal Starlight, Battlegroup VR, or Gods of Gravity each have their own merits, but in general, they all appeared to be overshadowed. Therefore, when a new game in this genre is announced, especially one from a popular pancake chain, I pay close attention.

Join me on a journey, dear viewer, into the dark emptiness, and let’s find out if Farbridge developers have delivered what we truly deserve or if we’ll be left adrift among the stars without purpose.

Mother is My Ship

For those familiar with the source material, Vast Reaches slots neatly into the period between the events of the first two Homeworld games. In this instalment, you are tasked with leading a fleet during a crucial time after the Kushan reclaim their Homeworld.

With the guidance of the original protagonist and control over the traditional headquarters, you embark on a mission to protect yourself from a deceitful group of merchants trying to steal your hypercore. The story is effectively conveyed through scripted scenes and conversations within the game, connecting the two primary games and introducing an additional level of danger.

Harvesting The Void

Homeworld: Vast Reaches, similar to other real-time strategy games, involves commanding a diverse range of units, each possessing their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of strategy. Additionally, as anticipated, you will have to focus your mental efforts on gathering resources, specifically by harvesting asteroids, although the purpose of this remains unclear.

There is no base building or upgrade pathway to manage, so there is limited depth on offer compared to more traditional RTS games. Vast Reaches simply gives players a set of prescribed skirmishes to complete within a specific resource limit (be it time or otherwise). Once the objective is completed, you move on to the next.

Homeworld: Vast Reaches | Review 64

This aspect of resource management serves as a guiding framework for each mission, initially providing a sense of reassurance but eventually leading to a frustratingly linear experience. Every level starts with enough resources to progress to the next section, where a similar number of asteroids are made available. However, I often had to replay a level not because my fleet was defeated but because I mistakenly expended all my resources on assault units, leaving insufficient funds to purchase the required crafts for completing the objective.

Looking back after completing the game, it is clear that a design flaw significantly diminishes any motivation to replay, even though it was only a minor annoyance during the initial playthrough.

Command & Conquer

What Vast Reaches excels at is giving you authority over the fleet. The controls are simple and instinctive, allowing you to smoothly navigate your ships through intense space battles. Players have the ability to organize units into battlegroups and give them commands to move together. It is effortless to transfer ships from one group to another for reinforcement or to introduce a different ship type that could alter the outcome of a fight.

Raising your hand lets you choose the battle group you want to lead. Then, moving your hand through the air or pointing at a target will send them to the designated location. Vast Reaches successfully overcomes the difficult task of controlling multiple troops in a VR real-time strategy (RTS) game with limited button options, which is a commendable achievement.

Similarly, moving through space uses the control conceits that have become standard for tabletop games of this ilk. A combination of gestures and the grab buttons to scale, rotate, and move through the world works as expected, capitalizing on techniques perfected in games such as Demeo.

As you continue playing the game, you will unlock more advanced ships for your fleet. Certain ships possess special attacks that require manual activation and have a cooldown. I thoroughly enjoyed these gameplay mechanics, especially when they were introduced later on.

The gameplay ceased to be merely a matter of paper-scissors-rock style unit selection, and suddenly switching between battlegroups to activate ion blast, defence shields, and deploy engineering craft to repair damaged frigates became an engaging cognitive dance. Balancing the requirements of 5 battlegroups while micro-managing their specific tactical advantages was a truly excellent experience, and it made me pine deeply for more iterations of this genre.

Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the game came to an end due to its short duration. The campaign finished shortly after the gameplay became complex enough to be satisfying. There are no additional options such as a skirmish mode or ship upgrades, and the only option available is to replay at a higher difficulty level. Homeworld: Vast Reaches went from a game with great potential for growth to a disappointing experience.

E=MT Space

Homeworld Vast Reaches, like many other space-themed RTS games, faces a common issue in its graphics and sound. The playable environments suffer from a lack of visual and auditory appeal, as they consist mostly of a vast, empty void. Although there are occasional glimpses of planets or swirling gases in the distance, the actual gameplay takes place in empty space against a cosmic backdrop.

Although the ships in the game are intricately designed, the vast scale of commanding your fleet means you rarely get to see them up close. The perspective from which you strategize minimizes the importance of the detailed ships, instead reducing them to small dots in a dull and empty area. This disconnect between gameplay and the physical world hinders the overall experience by making it challenging to make strategic decisions that feel relevant. The Mixed Reality mode does little to enhance the game, as it only changes the backdrop to your real environment, making it harder to locate and manage your ships.

The voice acting in the missions is well done and helps to give the vastness of space some personality and connection. However, like the graphics, it is hindered by the nature of the game itself. Although there are plenty of exciting sound effects, they are not able to fully create a sense of gripping tension that truly immerses the player.

Insufficient Resources

Homeworld: Vast Reaches does a wonderful job of demonstrating how satisfying a polished and well-thought-out RTS game could be in VR. With excellent controls that immerse the player into the challenge of simultaneously managing a fleet and micro-managing a battlegroup, Farbridge has displayed a lot of potential. Sadly, an undercooked resource system, short campaign and lack of options mean that Vast Reaches falls short of living up to what it could have been.

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