Formations & Tactics

A school of Kushan Corvettes whittle away a Taiidan Missile Destroyer
We're working in outer space here. There aren't any obstacles to speak off and definitely no choke points. Its as purely 3D as strategy gaming can get. While many maps and games still tend to sit on a flat disk, there has been some effort to design that extra dimension into gameplay. Homeworld's shipping has weaknesses from different angles. If you can, attack enemy fleets from above or better, from below - ship armour is less resistant to damage from these angles. Unarmed vessels, like Resource Collectors, suffer almost double damage when attacked from the rear. These weaknesses should encourage players to work more in three dimensions, rather than just slug each over the head as though still on the ground.

Formations are the primary means of organising your fleet. Formations are good because you can issue orders to a large number of ships all at once, and tailor each group of ships with a formation that suits them and the situation they're in. Formations can also be bad because they can sometimes restrict your force's capacity to attack and defend itself efficiently if you use the wrong formation and tactics at the wrong time and place.

Ships in a formation behave as one giant "metaship" where all the members of the formation move and attack as one. Formations can focus fire extremely well and they can adopt defensive or offensive configurations that enhance the abilities of the ships within them. But the bigger the formation, the more cumbersome it becomes. Really big formations can actually be dangerous to individuals, especially smaller and nimble strikecraft who become "locked" into place, less able to evade enemy fire because the entire formation is spending most of its time wombling about slowly rather than dispersing into small flights that can fly off in all directions at high speed. Smaller formations can save you manoeuvring time, although they won't have the striking power of a big formation.

A common tactic in many netgames is to bring a small wall of Light Corvettes guarded by a couple of Support Frigates into an early skirmish. Enemy fighters are hard pressed damaging the Corvettes who are constantly being repaired. This combination can be very hard to field early in a game if you're not ready for it or not furiously building a more advanced counter-strike.

This is especially true of the capital ships, whose formations tend to be widely spaced. Their movement and turning speeds are sluggish at the best of times. Formations travel at the speed of the slowest ship. Some online Homeworld strategy pages actually recommend that you don't put capital craft in any kind of formation, leaving each one to flying independently. Keeping them disorganised also allows big ships to bunch closer together taking up less space and letting them to collectively focus on a single target sooner. However, watch out for friendly fire! Ion beams can rake across friendly ships, causing as much damage to yourself as the enemy.

At first glance, large formations make organising fighters and corvettes simpler. Its probably best to split your snub ships into lots of smaller squadrons, but still group them under the one numbered selection. The separate formations will still be preserved, and they can chase down different targets more effectively than a big one alone. There's no point wasting the firepower of a hundred ships against a small fighter. If there's a lot of moving targets than a mass of small formations works really well. The main problem with this approach is that there's a lot of micromanagement required arranging everybody before the big fight. And, unfortunately, all that organisation is completely lost when your pilots dock and refuel, forcing your to redo it by hand afterwards.

Formations and tactics suit different ship classes in different situations. When setting formations for different types of ships in the same selection, you'll find unarmed or valuable ships placed centrally, with the others surrounding it. The pilot AI's in Homeworld are generally adequate for most situations. They can shoot at more than one target at once, so in effect, using formations in Homeworld gives you both the perks of "focus fire" and and wiping out multiple targets all at once.

No formation
Broad Formation
When ships are first manufactured or docked and relaunched, they are not assigned to any formation. Each ship flies as as true individual. This does have some perks, and some online players seem to prefer it. Or more likely - in the thick of things online they simply haven't got themselves organised enough to sort out their fleets! When assigned a destination, ships with no formation all converge to the same single point, bunching up and seriously focusing some fire in a single direction this way. Micromanagement, as you might imagine, is a bit easier since you've surrendered all the formation commands and organisation. Capital ships can sometimes be a bit easier to manage this way. The other serious drawback is friendly fire: a tangled group of ships tend to shoot themselves in the rear a lot - which is why you use formations in the first place!

However, once you have assigned a formation to your group, you can't un-formation it unless all the ships are ordered to redock, or individually selected and assigned their very own formation.

Broad and Delta
Broad Formation
Delta formation
About the only uses for these formations are to organise your ships or have some nice flybys! Broad formation is commonly used with your big Capital craft, and generally large numbers of ships in a long chorus line aren't that useful. Strikecraft and Corvettes will adopt Delta formation from Support Frigates after they've refueled. Ships that have refueled from a Mothership or Carrier will line up in Military Parade Formation in long lines, sorted into different classes. The wedge shaped delta formation has been traditionally used in warfare to pierce the sides of large formations. With the bigger ships you may want to try this. Strikecraft are usually grouped in X's and Claws, while Capital ships are often organised into walls. You would use Broad and Delta with small numbers of Capital craft.
X and Claw
X formation
Claw formations envelope their target
Probably the most effective formations for Fighters and Corvettes when they attack. X formation is simply a giant X; it's the Strikecraft equivalent of the Wall formation; packing ships into a small area to concentrate firepower but still giving them plenty of space to manoeuvre and shoot.

Claw formation is an X with the arms of the X swept forward in three dimensional space. Targets are "enveloped" by the attackers, a little bit like a high speed Sphere formation. This is easily the most commonly used formation for Strikecraft in Homeworld. It gives armchair admirals a nice combination of concentrated firepower and a high degree of mobility.

Both these formations are highly mobile; Strikecraft and Corvettes in X or Claw formation are constantly on the move. Strikecraft will run passes across their targets, picking several at a time until there are none left; Corvettes will slowly circle around the target, maintaining a constant barrage. If you opt for the micromanagement of small wings of Strikecraft, then formation becomes largely secondary to tactics. The advantages you get with different formations becomes minor with only half a dozen members or so.


Wall formation
Think of this either as an artillery line in space or a useful way to organise small groups of bigger ships. Wall formations are primarily designed to unleash a vast amount of concentrated firepower in a specific direction. As a result they're often used with Capital ships or Heavy Corvettes, since these slower moving ship classes can concentrate on just shooting stuff rather than wasting time getting into position. Since there aren't any ships in Homeworld with really long ranges, walls have to move into the action most of the time. Some players set they're walled ships to Evasive and hand-pick their targets. Ships set to Aggressive tend to get distracted by whatever attacks them - not a desirable situation in a slow moving wall.

A wall with only less than half a dozen members in it those is fairly concentrated, and a convenient way to group a few ships together.

There's also a limit to just how big a wall can be before it starts becoming too cumbersome; capital ships in particular have a habit of becoming widely space when in position. Walls with many ships can get so big that ships on the periphery are simply out of firing range for much of the time and the formation will start meandering as vessels try to get into range.

Wall formations can be devastating, but things can get muddled very quickly if the formation suddenly gets flanked and has to suddenly move around and defend itself. Initiative can be quickly lost and leave many ships disadvantaged as they find themselves blocked by their fellows beside them, or worse, getting hit by friendly fire traveling lengthwise along the wall. Like any heavy position, it will need escorts, defenders and due vigilance.


Sphere formation
Ships arrange themselves into a ball. When they stop moving, their all orientate themselves to face outwards. This is a defensive posture that can fire in all directions, while the guarded host is protected in a cloud of ships. When used in attack, the formation envelopes the target and faces inwards, all ships blazing away non-stop. Its fantastic for continuous firepower applied to a single target, but the Sphere formation, unless moving from one location to another or guarding a mobile target, is essentially a static formation. If the target isn't moving, then all the attacking ships are sitting ducks once in position, especially strikecraft. Any enemy guns in the vicinity will cut your attackers to shreds in next to no time. Use this defensively guarding a mobile host, or wield it only against a vulnerable target. Set the defending formation's tactics to Aggressive to get the most out of it.
Military Parade
This is the default configuration for anything that has emerged from a Mothership or Carrier's dock. You can set it without ordering ships to dock by selecting your ships and the Mothership or Carriers concerned and pressing F10. The ships will return to base and park in their allotted slot. In Cataclysm, Military Parade has been given its own key, F12.


Tactics in Homeworld switch your vessels from either defensive, foolishly aggressive, or somewhere in between.

Power is taken away from weapons and shifted to engines. Ships travel a bit faster, ducking and weaving to avoid damage. Fuel consumption rises slightly. Formations are dispersed as ships split up into pairs, ducking and weaving to make it harder for the enemy to hit them. Achieving goals will take a bit longer, but the enemy will have to do a bit more work. Evasive works best for strikecraft and corvettes. Capital ships set to Evasive won't automatically challenge everything that hassles them. This lets you direct them on specific targets in a battle with them becoming sidetracked by feints or hard to hit enemy scouts.

For unarmed ships, like Resource Collectors or Repair Corvettes, they will stop what they're doing the instant they are fired upon and try to take evasive action. This can be bad for you, since a single pissy scout can effectively stop a harvester harvesting just by annoying it, or Salvage Corvettes will run away at the first sign of trouble and basically let the ship they were hijacking to escape.

Neutral This is the default that all ships are manufactured in. They'll take a little evasive action when attacking enemies, and will automatically take potshots at anything that strays into range, but won't pursue them. Ships generally hold position, do what they're told and take shots at whatever hassles them. If you can't think of anything else for them to do, leave your ships on this setting.

Power is switched to weapons at the expense of engines. Ships attack anything and blast away, unconcerned for individual safety. Formations are stuck to, no matter what, while the attackers become less manoeuvrable and more vulnerable to defensive fire. Capital ships set to Aggressive will snap at anything, which means they'll all turn around and engage the nearest target that strays into view instead of carrying out their original orders. Aggressive is good for any defensive craft guarding an unarmed vessel, and initial attack runs. Some expert players flick between different tactics settings when micromanaging ships in battle. Unarmed vessels, such as repairers or Salvage Corvettes, will persist with their orders with suicidal zeal.

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Last polished Sun, Mar 22 2005 by Lindsay Fleay.
Cosmetic update Wed, Nov 1 2006 by Lindsay Fleay.