The Homeworld franchise is one of the greatest and most atmospheric strategy video game series of all time. Chronicling the exodus of an entire civilisation across a distant galaxy, it tells the story of that civilisation’s fall, rise and triumph against overwhelming odds. The series has slowly unfolded over twenty years, with a fifth title now in the works, for release in 2022.
The Homeworld saga began on 28 September, 1999 with the release of Homeworld, the first game by the Canadian developers at Relic Entertainment. The first space-based, fully 3D real-time strategy game, it was a huge success. It was followed by a stand-alone expansion, Homeworld: Cataclysm (2000) from Barking Dog Studios, and then a full sequel from the original development team, Homeworld 2 (2003). Due to rights complications and Relic being bought by a different publisher, THQ (and later Sega), the Homeworld series was seemingly abandoned.
In 2010 several ex-veterans of Relic set up a new company, Blackbird Interactive, and began development on Hardware: Shipbreakers, a “spiritual prequel” to Homeworld focusing on ground combat. In 2015 THQ collapsed and the Homeworld IP rights were picked up by Gearbox Software. They contacted Blackbird with two aims, the first being an ambitious next-generation remaster of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, the second being converting Hardware into a proper prequel to the original game. This resulted in Homeworld Remastered (2015) and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (2016), both reasonably successful. In August 2019, Gearbox and Blackbird confirmed they were now working on a full, proper new game in the series: Homeworld 3, due for release in late 2022.
The Homeworld saga begins on the desert planet of Kharak, located near the outermost fringes of its galaxy. A race of humanoids known as the Kushan dwell on Kharak. Divided into extended family/clan groups known as kiith, the Kushan people developed high technology but at the cost of depleting their hot planet’s resources. Kharak was only barely habitable and it was becoming clear that it was effectively dying, dooming the Kushan people to extinction (and causing scientific confusion as the planet did not appear capable of allowing intelligent life to develop in the first place). One hope was that the Kushan people might be able to colonise space. This caused a religious schism, with hardline followers of the god Sajuuk pointing to an ancient, religious proscription against travelling into the void on the pain of armageddon.
During a routine sensor sweep of the planet, a satellite launched into space by the technologically advanced Northern Coalition (a cluster of kiith living in more clement conditions closer to the northern polar seas) detected an anomaly in the Great Banded Desert, a huge metallic object buried under the sand. Further attempts to study the anomaly from space were thwarted by weather conditions, so the Alliance dispatched an advanced land-carrier, the Kapisi to investigate. This meant violating the territory of Kiith Gaalsien, a powerful nomadic tribe and the most fervent followers of Sajuuk. They also had access to sophisticated technology, despite lacking the resources of the Coalition. A military confrontation turned into a long-running battle. Finally, the Kapisi and her crew defeated the Gaalsien and reached the “primary anomaly,” discovering it to be a vast spacecraft. Investigation of the wreck, dubbed the Khar-Toba, confirmed it was a generation ship which had carried the distant ancestors of the kiith from…somewhere else. On a plinth hidden deep inside the ship was discovered an object dubbed the Guidestone, a galactic map pointing to a star and planet named Hiigara: the homeworld. More startling was the discovery of a technological artefact that defied understanding, a Hyperspace Core which could tear open holes in the fabric of reality and allow ships to cross thousands of light-years in the blink of an eye.
With Kharak’s resources running low, all efforts were thrown into the construction of a huge starship, the Mothership, which would guide some 600,000 colonists and settlers back to the Homeworld and establish a beachhead for a larger-scale evacuation. Once the Mothership was completed, the Hyperspace Core was installed and activated. The Mothership made a test jump to the fringes of the Kharak system. During the Mothership’s absence, an alien fleet of unknown origin attacked and destroyed Kharak with a weapon that set fire to the planet’s atmosphere, incinerating it. Hundreds of millions of people were killed. The returning Mothership was able to complete the evacuation of the cryo-frozen colonists and then began its long, desperate flight across the galaxy.
During the course of this journey, the Kushan made contact with the Bentusi, the most powerful race in the galaxy and guardians of the galactic trade routes. The Bentusi informed the Kushan that their ancient ancestors had commanded a vast galactic empire, but had fallen to tyranny and despotism. The Taiidan had ovethrown the Hiigarans and nearly destroyed them, but a late call for mercy had seen them exile the survivors to Kharak some 3,000 years earlier. The activation of the Hyperspace Core alerted the nearest Taiidan garrison, which destroyed Kharak in retaliation. The Kushan Mothership gained great support from the other races of the Galactic Council, especially as the Taiidan Empire had become even more brutal, corrupt and genocidal than the Hiigarans ever had been before. In a final battle over Hiigara itself, the Mothership and its fleet, augmented by defectors from the Taiidan military, obliterated the flagship of the Emperor and collapsed the Empire. The Kushan reoccupied Hiigara and a new, democratic Taiidan Republic arose from the ashes of the Empire.
Fifteen years later, a powerful, extragalactic threat was unwittingly unleashed by Kiith Somtaaw. This alien threat, a cybernetic force known as “the Beast,” caused tremendous damage and loss of life until an alliance of Hiigaran, Bentusi and Taiidan forces was able to destroy it once and for all.
One hundred years after the Beast War, a new conflict erupted. Makaan, warlord of the Vaygr, united the Vaygr clans into a single fleet and declared himself the Sajuuk-Khar, the prophecised leader who would unite the Three Great Hyperspace Cores. Makaan had found the Third Core abandoned in the far reaches of the galaxy. The Hiigarans possessed the Second. The First was in the possession of the Bentusi. To secure the Second Core, Makaan invaded Hiigaran space. However, forewarned of the threat, the Hiigarans had built a new, more powerful Mothership, the Pride of Hiigara, and transferred the Second Core to it. With the Hiigaran system under siege, the Pride of Hiigara led a fleet in crossing the galaxy in search of help. The Bentusi eventually gave the First Core to the Pride, after which they seized the Third Core from Makaan’s fleet in open battle. This allowed them to retrieve Sajuuk, now revealed to be an ancient, powerful starship created (at least) tens of thousands of years earlier by the enigmatic Progenitors. The Sajuuk destroyed the Vaygr forces besieging Hiigara, securing the planet once and for all.
After the victory, the Sajuuk and the unified power of the Three Cores was able to open the Eye of Aarran, a powerful hyperspace portal leading to a vast network of gates. These gates opened up the galaxy to all races, allowing them to trade and travel much faster than ever before and beginning a new golden age of peace and discovery.
Or so it was hoped…
Mapping the Homeworld Saga
The Homeworld Saga takes place in the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51a, located approximately 23 million light-years from Earth. It is unknown what time period the Saga takes place in, or if it has any connection at all to our galaxy; some fans theorise the Progenitors may be humans from Earth in the far future, or that our descendants colonise the galaxy, hence the human-like appearance of the Hiigaran, Taiidan and Vaygr peoples.
Maps of the original Mothership’s journey across the galaxy are featured heavily in the original game. Rough maps and working materials were used in the development of Homeworld 2 and made public by Relic many years later, allowing other locations to be pinned down.
In 2019, as part of the Fig Campaign for the development of Homeworld 3, Blackbird and Gearbox released a canonical map (albeit light on details) of the Homeworld galaxy.
A NASA stock image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (reversed to match the maps in the games) was used to provide the base image.
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