i agree that cataclysm is the *real* homeworld 2, and that 2's story is absolutely horrid (although 2's great modding community saved the game and gave it a lasting legacy), but i'd argue that saying that 1 is a fluke is just being contrarian for the sake of being so
HW2's gameplay is fine. Modders did indeed a great job out of it. More correctly, the basics are decent despite being less experimental than HW1, even if the implementation was clumsy and often broken (the difficulty autobalancing was borderline retarded and there were legit mistakes in the unit stats, causing some categories to be useless at release, for example frigates). The writing being utter dogshit - and being far worse if you bothered like me to hunt down the game guide that explained the horrible "backstory" full of senseless retcons - I could have explained as difficulties caused by the terrible development.
However, it has been years. DoK has been out, a further proof of lack of talent. HW1 had a lot of great setpieces and avoided explaining too much. As usual, you filled in the blanks, the lack of detail gave you more depth. HW2 started the Karan s'jet fetishism - anyone cared for Fleet Command in HW1? It's simply because it's a woman or something? The tragedy was for an entire people, and I'm still puzzled why the fuck they felt the need to make her an immortal special snowflake. In Cataclysm she gets disconnected and the Mothership is a orbital construction facility cranking out ships for the fledging new nation, simple and reasonable. Forced mysticism and forced melodrama for characters I don't care about rarely work.
Cata has problems and its plot is B-movie tier (I still love it). It managed find to ape HW1 telling a smaller, more cynical story, and the character work is better than in HW2 despite the characters being entire races (The Bentusi as the arrogant and scared precursors, the Empire remnants as desperate, the Beast as the Beast and the Somtaaw as the protagonist out of its depth that grows in time). Simple, functional, with horror trappings. No melodrama, no mysticism, no CHOSEN ONES. I'd say it's the opposite of a chosen one story, it's a bunch of miners and engineers taking the lid off a Great Evil and building a fuckhuge cannon to kill it while the Professionals mostly fail.
Cataclysm isn't a Homeworld game.
This is being contrarian.