I wish people would stop the nonsense with trying to put a qualifier before "wrong" or "false", it is logical nonsense - "wrong" and "false" are categorical statements, not subject to degree. I know they are commonly used in a different way, but mostly that is for the subtle rhetoric effect to take away an argument before you are trying to make it, so as you have not deconstruct your partner's entire opinion and reaffirm every point that is agreeable. While it is a timesaver in conversation, when you have the time there is clearly no reason to use it.
and it's script and story telling was one of them
This is objectively wrong.
At the sentence-by-sentence level writing can be objectively analyzed. At that level, Cataclysm Fleet Command and Fleet Intelligence are, bluntly, better than those of HW1 and HW2.
HW2 is full of confused quasi-mysticism, explaining slightly too little to accomplish any of its storytelling objectives. (Witness the Soban storyline for an example.) It tries to sit on both stools of a deeper and more rich story and the minimalist take of the original, and instead falls on its ass between them.
HW1 uses its minimalism to great effect as part of its overarching theme of being the last survivors in an unknown galaxy. You are told little because there is little to say; little is known, and it would take thousands of words to try and convey something like the burning of Kharak anyways. Fleet Command and Fleet Intelligence are just barely holding it all together in several sense, their terse commentary reflecting that. It's not they're bad characters or badly written; they're excellent characters written superbly and crisply. But they're also somewhat distant because of it.
Cataclysm's writing is less starkly minimalist and more emotional than HW1, the characters a little messier, the result a little less clean. And it should be. These are not hand-picked people chosen to lead the central, pivotal effort of several decades of their species' existence as Karan S'Jet and the original Fleet Intelligence were; they're running a mining ship for a relatively minor Kiith. They may rise to the occasion, but they show their roots in doing so. It's not that they're better written, both games are equally well-done in the execution of their choices; it's just that the choices that went into them made for more interesting and more accessible characters, easier for a player to invest in.
Before I go on, I would like to ask you to please provide the categories of your objective analysis of the writing, as I will provide those of my analysis below. It is hard to argue with an "objective analysis" if you don't know what is being analyzied and how.
I never said that HW or HW2 had good story telling. I pointed out the HW:C had major flaws which IMO don't make it worthy of high praise. I think you were twisting my argument here.
I was not limiting my opinion about the story telling to the delivery of the lines and the speaking characters; which would be unfair if I did, consideirng I only experienced HW:C in the german localisation whose quality is the lower ranges of "Fair". None of the Homeworld games have great story telling (the series is praiseworthy for other things, esspecially HW), but that is not the fault of their designers alone: The entire RTS genre has a problem with story telling for several reasons... (which is is not an excuse either but we get to that later)
Fistly, there is the problem that RTS single player campaigns are almost exclusively build from mission which have their own "dramaturgy" given by the flow of gameplay - aggressive early game, conservative mid-game and quick end-game. If it sounds a little familiar than it should, since you can match it with the pattern of a 5-act-drama (Exposition, Building Tension, Rising Tension, Climax Tension and Resolution, Epilogue) pretty closely (Clearing an operational base to the furtherst extend possible, building an economy to build forces, conserve forces to increase numbers, push, win)*. This gives individual missions an episodic fell, leaving the downtime in between with the task to connect these pieces into a coherent structure
and to justify why you are doing the same loop over and over again with slight progression.
All of the Homeworld Games conform to this pattern IMO.
*This is of course not true for all RTS games 1-for-1, esspecially games that omit base construction and a gradually increasion ressource progression (e.g. the original Ground Control) can work quite differently.
Secondly, there is the injection of stakes
into the gameplay. Nothing drives a narrative likes stakes, as they inject the things that are happening with importance - it is also the big pitfall for any narration, as the stakes not only have to matter internally, they also have to translate to the audience, in other words captivating them. Stakes usually come from the fluff of a game but do not have to (e.g. the Command and Conquer: Red Alert-Series wholeharldy embraced it's B-movie heart from installment 2 on, driving the narrative with the simple "I just have to see how far they are willing to take this").
The injection of the stakes is not the only problem with stakes in narrative, the second one is build-up and the thrid is resolution. Both are inseperable because they are closely related - if you want to know why StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm's story sucked, one of the main problems is that is spend much time with building up the conflict with the antagonist Aamon but only resolved the conflict with Mensk (that they got to that in Legacy of the Void is not excuse but another problem on its own).
Thridly, and this were RTS Games are at their weakest, is providing a relatable POV
. Most games of the genre don't really bother, and let the view from the "Feldherrnhügel" be just that - far, detached and utterly technical. There are exceptions to the rule, but many of those "cheat" for lack of a better word: e.g. Warcraft III manages quite expertly but it does so by using it's heroic fantasy genre as said "cheat" (if it is a work already of genre that has many of the heroic individual-tropes build in essentially, you can't really be credited for making Heroes your driving force in the first place - but it doesn't take away from the excellence in using them either).
In part this can also be forgive, because unlike e.g. RPGs you don't usually carry a persisent character through a RTS that is not your principal source of exposition (Hero units that are there for one mission and gone the next are a different and more complex thing, esspecially if they have a greater story presence, like say C&C: RA 2's Yuri). This is perhaps for better in the light that even if you have persistent army, disposability is part of the RTS units.
Now in relation to the orignal Homeworld:
1. Homeworld starts out strong when it comes to connecting it's missions together meaningfully: The Launch of the Mothership (beginning of mission 1) and "Kharak is buring" (beginning of mission 3) are strong and emotionally charged moments which do well to both set the stage and introduce a need for urgency (on the qualitiy of these individual scenes later, when I talk about visuals), but after that the story soon becomes disconnected from the story events: after the defeating the fleet that destroyed Kharak, which gives you new-found sense of ability, the story immideatly takes an ex-machina turn with the out-of-mission reveal of imperal power which is then never re-affirmed in game play until much, much later. Worse still as the Story begins to close with the appraoch to Hiigara, the ammount of sudden "we need to put a mission/obstacle" here again peaks, from the sudden mission with the weaponized asteroid to the Eye of Sauron-esque cutscene that translates to the disabling of the Mothership for the first minutes of the final mission.
I can see how this might have looked good on paper, but there are gaps in the execution. I can think of a few elements which would have worked better (for academic purposes, e.g. instead of the following up the destruction of first imperial fleet with ex-machina reveal of imperial battlestations, a more organic reveal of the Empire's power, such another battlefleet jumping in at the end of mission).
2. Again Homeworld's first act is strong when it comes to Stakes: You are the last survivors trying to re-claim what by right should be yours from an oppressive power. Homeworld's story puts very much emphasis on the "re-claiming what is rightfully ours" side of what it starts with - a fine choice for a game whose gameplay revolves around military command. However with quietly dropping the "last survivors" angle for anything but the defeat condition of gameplay, it also wastes the prime opportunity for investing the player into the struggle beyond "mission accomplished".
Taking a little time to futher develop the culture of Kharak in-game would have been a great way to both carry the sorrowful mood of "Kharak is burning" on, also transforming the journey to Hiigara from just another military campaign to a truely righteous crusade. (That such an feat is possible shows the alternate history-RTS World in Conflict,
which injects its "what if the Cold War turned into a shooting war?"-story with glimpses at the humanity of the principal characters by having you to listen in oon their calls to their loved ones, which then become more than just the source of your exposition and orders - and in turn giving you a new perspective as to why you should be winning this mission other than just beating the challange)
3. Homeworld has 3 principal characters: Karen S'Jet, the Intelligence Guy Mk I (both combined in the Mothership) and the Emperor (operating mostly by proxy); the Bentusi and the Rebel Captain could be argued for the lists as well but in grand scheme they don't have much agency in terms to the events of the plot. None of which are established as the POV or made relatable at any point. Case in point, Karen S'Jet starts with her martyrdom to become in essence the Mothership and ends with her less-than-metaphorical release from the Mothership; in between she has no arc to speak of - she is just there and expositions. The Intelligence Guy seeming only exists to make sure the presence of Karen S'Jet doesn't become overpowering in the exposition department. As far as the Emperor goes, he isn't even acknowledged as the driving force behind the Empire until more than two thirds into the game, before that the Empire just seemed mechanical with next to no driving force; and even afterwards there isn't much there - not even the acknowledgement that Empire peaked and became saturated with conquest of Hiigara in ages past (which by-the-by could work as a motivator).
Now, Homeworld II:
1. Homeworld II is acutally more structually sound than it's predecessor. There are almost no ex-machina moments, and those that exist at least a reason to belong where they are (the Movers and the Keepers are a suprise but when you consider it, of course there had to be obstacles on the path to Sajuuk otherwise Makaan would have found it already. The Bentusi act to give you a leg up against the head start Makaan has), with one captial letters big exception: the sudden "Makaan is dead, conflict resolved. Here are the Planet Killers"-moment in the finale -- appearntly Relic didn't find it kathartic enough to use Sajuuk to blast a giant Vagyr Fleet to bits for the victory lap (I admit that wouldn't be very compelling gameplay even for the victory lap) or they were thinking the story had enough urgency as is, and so did not to enter the threat of the Planet Killers earlier.
2. When it comes to the Stakes and the Tension driving the plot, this is the point were Homeworld II crumbles into dust. It is not that the "millennia-long game of telephone" turing repair instructions into religion into "the path to conquering the galaxy", is bad in it's own right (no one gives the original Mass Effect crap for doing nearly the same thing but better executed). But we are missing a lot of the key points required for understanding in the game itself: Is the Sajuukian religion universal to the galaxy?* How did Makaan find out that "god" was really a space ship? Why is he the first one to figure it out? Why does he want it to have Sajuuk? (universal power is nice but usually you want it for *something*) Why are the Bentusi so invested in Hiigarans' success?
Seeing it as a whole, I can see that Relic were trying to inject the plot with a lot of urgency - it is in essence a race against Makaan - but without some of these essentials resolved (and because the Karen S'Jet-Makkan-dualism, see below, into works in retrospect), it just doesn't take.
*There could be a point made that (esspecially in the light of the Deserts of Kharak-trailers) that the title of Sajuuk-kar belongs to the intitulatio of the Taiidan Emperor, and that way made it through the turn of history into myth made it a religious icon to the Kushan on Kharak - but that's OT for now
3. Homeworld II has four prinicpal characters: Karen S'Jet, Intelligence Guy Mk III, Bentus and Makaan. Again, none of these characters are establishes as point of view but take turns as expositional devices. Intelligence Guy is once more so utterly featureless that you can't even comment on his intelligence, and supporting character Captain Soban feels more like an extension of him than a character in his own right. Bentus is hampered as a character by being shrouded in deliberate mystery. Karen S'Jet and Makaan appear at one point to have been intended to be directy anagonistic foils of each other but that is only realized in the into (Karen S'Jet "lead her people across the stars", "the Taiidan have risen under the leadership of the Vagyr warrior-lord, Makaan") and in the epilogue (were we are to sit and celebrate the golden "Age of S'Jet" instead of the dark 'age of Makaan' that was implied in the intro).
Let's close with Homeworld: Cataclysm
1. When it comes to structure Homeworld: Cataclysm is frontloaded with a long exposition, not to it's detrement but it takes about a quater of the way through the campaign to get to the main hook.* But once the exposition is through fails to remain consistent about it's stakes (see below) right into the Finale, which appears to be sudden case of "all gameplay mechanics we didn't use yet". The exception to that rule is that they pull off the internal Kushan divide very well and manage to resolve it very well.
*I realize that I am not the best person to critize exposition, considering it is my primary failing when writing my own stories.
2. As I said before the inner-Kushan struggle is executed well, the stakes and tension - although not of primary concern to the campaign besides set-dressing - are well introduced and resolve in a meaningful way, as the other Kiith go from being "meh" to "yay" about the Somtaaw as a fighting force.
The big problem when it comes to the stakes and tension however is the Beast as main antagonist. It is not that I am opposed to the idea of "infectious space zombies with a hive mind" (as long as it is not an excuse to cheap out of AI programming) nor that I can't swallow my disbelive at the primate of gameplay, but the Beast capabilites are ill-definined and lack a consistant logic which make a potentially tense situation confusing: Initially the Beast takes over the lower decks of your command ship rapidly and seems to be able to spread to entire fleets with no problem, but by the end there still a capable defense standing to acknowledge the Somtaaw's profiency. In between the Beast also betrays the capability to intercept and infect a Kushan relief force, but taking your command ship's sister or the Imperial Taiidan research base seems beyond it. Now there is the point that the Beast on the Mothership has only animal level intelligence and/or another objective with repairing the Patient Zero-ship and that it willingly cooperated with the Taiidan (which raises the question if these are all mutually exclusive)... and this were I can't even muster a comment because it is so ... all over the place.
Add to that, that the confronation with the Beast Mothership is anticlimactic to say the least - the Mothership, if you excuse the turn of phrase, is flesh-of-the-flesh of your command ship, so it being an equal challange should be a given - instead you blast its support ship away with the Siege Cannon and mop up from a position of strength - makes you doubt the credibility of the Beast as a threat, even if by the time that confrontation comes around, you are supposed to be fully prepared (a credible threat would have been more able to adapt and anticipate, even if that meant AI cheating in the gameplay).
Last but not least, there is the Finale with the fight against the Patient Zero-ship which is requires you to turn the gameplay progression back on it's head - suddenly corvettes and fighters are viable again, after the powerful frigates and infection-immune capital ship have pushed them away. Considering the gameplay progression arc usually is supposed to be linked to the tension arc (you get the better gear/ships/guns the closer you get the final confrontation which then is going to require only the best of you, resulting in the resolution of the high tension conflict), it was weird - not experimentally weird (which is good) but rather do-for-doing-sake weird.
3. Cataclysm has a varied tableu of characters (did I mention that one of its good points is how it diversified the universe?), however none of them is exactly deep for the want of space. Only the Command Ship and Intelligence Guy Mk II are there for the long run but how they relate to the player in terms of POV is inconsitent - while the other Homeworld games opted for the detachment, Cataclysm in one cutscene puts you right beside them or in their perspective (it is not clear) once but then returns to a detached persepective for the next. Problematic is as well that none of the Characters, save for Intelligence Guy Mk II, have more than one destinctive feature and only serve as single points of exposition. Intelligence Guy Mk II may be the show-stopper as he actually gets to have attitudes towards what is on display but without a consistent relation to him, his opinions do not develop credibility.
That is only the writing side; the visual storytelling portion I want to skip for now, because I am exhausted and have other things to do today as well.
Suffice it to say, that Cataclysm has the better visual story-telling when it comes to the Command Ship: It is framed better in cutscenes in-engine and overall adapts better to being framed (if only that it not vertical in design - vertical objects are always difficult to frame with a horizontal shot esspecially if all other objects around don't have the same verticallity), if only it had a gameplay effect to back that up. Both Homeworld and Homeworld II don't do much with the Mothership which is sad, considering how integral it is the story (well at least in Homeworld).
Homeworld II however clearly has learnt some lessons from where Homeworld went wrong and is capable in the presentation of everything but the Pride of Hiigara.
It's certainly a carrier