Good Old Reviews
Battling the Bentusi and the Value of Death in RTS Games

Stew Shearer | 21 Mar 2015 09:00
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Warning: Spoilers dead ahead

Towards the end of Homeworld: Cataclysm you play through a mission that's short but intensely memorable. The crew of the Kuun-Laan and its fleet have just discovered a weapon that could help them stop the game's antagonist, the Beast. Unable to get it working properly however, they seek out the Bentusi. An ancient race of ship-bound immortals, their technical prowess might be the key to defeating the Beast before it spreads out of control.

They soon discover, however, that the usually benevolent Bentusi are in no mood to help. Being especially vulnerable to the Beast's infection powers, the Bentusi have built a powerful jump gate with the intention of fleeing the galaxy and abandoning the younger races to their fate. Hoping to stall them, the Kuun-Laan destroys the gate and begs the Bentusi for their assistance. Enraged, the Bentusi instead launch an attack, charging the player's ships with an overwhelming force that you have absolutely no hope of beating.

And that's where things get interesting.

Knowing that the war will be lost without the Bentusi's help, the Kuun-Laan refuses to retreat. The player, in turn, is forced to play through a losing battle where the only thing your ships can do is to fight until they die. Even your strongest units won't be able to do more than scratch the Bentusi's paint job and, as the battle proceeds, more and more of their ships appear, turning the already tall odds into impossible ones. As this happens, the commander of the Kuun-Laan rages against the Bentusi, delivering what's probably my favorite single sequence of dialogue from any game I've ever played:

"You are killing us! You and your precious stories! Who will remember the crew of that ship? Or are flicker lives not worth remembering... Look around, look what you've done to our fleet. All because we dared to get in your way! Look at yourselves- the Aloof and Mighty Bentusi! Slaughtering the people who asked for your help. You're worse than the Beast. At least the Beast doesn't pretend to be righteous!"

Setting aside that this is just a bad ass speech that's delivered brilliantly, what I love about this is the fact that it actually treats the destruction of your ships like it's a big deal. It might sound silly to some, but one of the things that's often rubbed me the wrong way about real-time strategy games is how nonchalant they are about death. Just think, for a moment, about all of the RTS's you've played in your life and how many soldiers, zerglings, starships and (insert cannon fodder) you've sacrificed in your various quests for glory. There were individual levels in Command & Conquer 64 (my first RTS) where I'd march hundreds of soldiers to their doom without so much as a second thought.

In comparison, I adore how the Homeworld series contrasts with that mindset. Rather than having you to start from scratch with each new level, your forces carry over from mission to mission. In other words, if you're playing the story campaign, hitting your foes with the equivalent of zerg rush is a strategy that, in the long run, is ultimately kind of wasteful. It's more valuable to take care of your ships, play to their strengths and keep them alive so they can fight another day.

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