seriously, wall of text
The best part of Cataclysm in the manual. It's awesome because it's one of the few parts actually tying Cataclysm to the parts of HW1 that couldn't have come from generic SF setting #684 (unlike either Taiidan faction or Cata's version of the Bentusi). Remove that and change some names, and they have very little in common. HW2, on the other hand, is far more linked to HW1, not in terms of immediate story, but in terms of atmosphere and themes.
HW2, to me, is not a story about finding the holy grail, it's about culturally primitive people who think they're looking for the holy grail because they can't help but project their religion onto things they can't understand. We're destined to win this war because God is on our side, and he's left us these hints so that we may find the weapons he has left for us. After all, who but God could create these weapons? And who but God could leave such formidable guardians to protect them?
That's why HW2 is more related to HW1. It has the same atmosphere, but more than that, it's thematically closer. When the Exiles left Kharak, they were culturally where we were in the 1500s, and I don't think the Burning of Kharak was particularly beneficial to their cultural development. And that's what HW2 could have been about.
If it had been up to me, HW2 would have been a retelling of the story of the Arab Invasions in which the Taiidan Empire is the Byzantine Empire, the Republic is Sassanid Persia, the Vaygr are the Arabs, and the Hiigarans are the Franks (not culturally, just geopolitically), and it would have been about the player taking on the role of Charles Martel. It could and should have been a story about what happens when culturally-primitive people get their hands on weapon of mass destruction. But it wasn't, because Sierra/Vivendi decided they didn't like Dustwars but didn't feel like giving Relic enough time to make something genuinely good. But I hope Gearbox can do the series justice if/when they make HW3.
No, it's not a perfect interpretation, because HW2 is flawed as all hell. But I'd rather have a flawed game that actually tries something like this or leaves room for interpretation than one that plays it safe the whole way and leaves us with nothing but cliches the moment the manual is closed. Cataclysm is a more polished game, no doubt about it, and in a vacuum, it's probably the better one. But it has far less potential, and beyond the manual, far less relevance to what I think Homeworld is about.
Cataclysm's story is definitely more polished, but that just makes its failings more obvious. Again, the manual is excellent, but the best part of Cataclysm's story (from a Homeworld perspective) is mission 1, because it's the only one that is directly related to the manual and HW1.
I hate the Beast. They're incredibly one dimensional, I dislike SF's obsession with biological ships, and visually they look like someone spilled strawberry jam or bolognese sauce all over the ships. Narratively, they're like the post-Borg Queen Borg. They could have been a scary, faceless enemy, but no, they made the same mistake the makers of Star Trek First Contact did: they made them a character and had them talk smack to us, which made them into cartoons or Bond villains. And then they did the same thing with the Taiidan. And then they gave us all this fancy gimmick tech to us, the miners, which no one else has access to. The Somtaaw are Kiith Mary Sue. They're special, they do all the special things, have all the special tech, and all who oppose them are either evil or short-sighted.
Speaking of Star Trek, I can't help but feel Cataclysm got too much of it's inspiration from there, and Homeworld was always a setting I felt was more mythology and religion-based than that. 2003 BSG and Dune more than Star Trek.
And not story-related, but Cataclysm ships are absolutely hideous, and I can't stand the "oh it's ok because they're all adapted civillian ships modified in a hurry" justification. A good design doesn't need additional fiction to justify it. If a ship is a militarized civilian ship, then that's something that should come across with nothing but the visuals. The Millenium Falcon is a great design because it has character. Just looking at it tells you a lot about what kind of ship it is and what its owner does.
Somtaaw ships do none of this. The Deacon would be no better or worse a design if you said it was made by an interstellar empire with vast resources and ample time. It would be no better or worse a design if you said that, in-universe, it's the most efficient and effective warship ever. It's a failure because visually, it tells you nothing. The Carrier is in the same boat. The Dreadnought is equally ugly, but it's a far, far better design because you can tell they were trying to do something with it; namely, evoke Bentusi ships. It's still terrible, but not as terrible.
It's not just that they could be better. The Taiidan Heavy Cruiser is one of my favorite HW1 ships and it could still be better. It's that I have a hard time imagining how they could be worse.
Another example: the Borg Cube is a really, really ugly ship, but it's actually a brilliant ship design because it manages to say so much in its brutal simplicity. It has character. The first time I saw it in Q Who, I wanted to know wtf it was and who built it.
I misspoke before. Somtaaw ships don't fail because they're ugly. I've seen uglier ships which I've liked a lot more. You could come up with a dozen wildly different reasons for why Somtaaw ships look as they do. They're blank slates. And that's why they fail. Because they're utterly lacking in character and personality. Because a picture says a thousand words, but Somtaaw ships manage to say nothing at all.
They're godawful ship designs and additional polygons wouldn't make them any better, which is why I don't see the point in making Cata RM). HW2 beats Cataclysm hands down on ship designs.
Also, HW2 never created the gameplay and visual atrocity that was energy cannons. It baffles me how people can complain about HW2 RNG hit system but forgive homing, 100% hit flying christmas ornaments.