Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a real-time strategy prequel to the classic Homeworld games. The original Homeworld and its sequel were 360-degree space strategy titles, and while Deserts of Kharak starkly contrasts this by being a ground-based strategy game, it still combines strong strategy elements that should be familiar and intuitive to those who have played the first Homeworld game or its sequel. Deserts of Kharak takes place on the titular war-torn desert planet a century prior to the first Homeworld, where you set off on your land carrier to uncover a mysterious object that could change the tide of the war.
The first Homeworld game’s introduction sequence referred to an item being found 100 years prior, and it is this game’s events that it was referring. If you can’t tell, this means that there are oodles of references across Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak that would be missed unless the player had experience with the first two iterations of the series. This doesn’t mean that this entry is incomprehensible without knowledge of the first two Homeworld games, but there are plenty of meaningful references that wouldn’t be understood otherwise.
The campaign for Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak isn’t exactly the most phenomenal ever, but it does expand the Homeworld universe nicely by extrapolating on the ancient technology that enabled civilization to return to space for the first couple games. The voice acting performance for each character is top-notch, be it the in mission radio chatter or during the cutscenes. The campaign is engaging, as far as the narrative is concerned, with repeated expansion on Homeworld canon.
RTS titles live and die by their combat or interactions, and Deserts of Kharak definitely lives up to the best in the genre. There’s still a strong importance on maintaining vertical advantage; units with the high ground deal additional damage and have better lines of sight. Railguns may have difficulty firing through sand dunes since they fire in a straight line, but artillery on a heightened location can easily destroy approaching enemy units. Terrain is an important tool to take advantage of, and proper unit placement can turn a losing situation into a winning one with ease.
During the campaign, you may sometimes be faced with the decision to simply complete your objectives and move on to the next mission, or delay finishing a mission to spend more time collecting resources on the current map. Units and Resources persist from one mission to the next which means a particularly troublesome encounter may potentially endanger a story mission further down the line. This creates a sense of urgency while playing through the campaign of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak; there’s constant pressure coming from enemy units due to the constricted resources. It’s also important to consider protecting valuable units from one mission to the next, as the veteran system from the first couple games makes a return, giving various benefits to units that continue to survive throughout the game.
Combat is fast, and having proper control over your unit’s movement is paramount to succeed in Deserts of Kharak. Taking place on a planet’s surface doesn’t harm the three-dimensional combat seen in the prior Homeworld games at all. With the emphasis on vertical combat, terrain, and positioning, there’s a lot to keep in mind while making your way through the campaign or taking on opponents in the game’s skirmish mode. The multiplayer component of the game comes with two 2 player maps, two 4 player maps, and one 6 player map that you can enjoy in skirmish mode, or partake in competitive ranked play.
The layout of most multiplayer matches is the same seen in many other RTS games: A portion of each map is sectioned off into home base areas for each player, which is where most of the resources are found. The central areas of each map will typically be the locations in which the match objectives, relics that must be collected by the players, can be found. The player who can use their Baserunner to collect five of these artifacts is declared the winner or, alternatively, players can destroy the mobile carriers to rout their foes for victory.
As far as graphics are concerned, Deserts of Kharak looks gorgeous. The game, expectedly, has a large amount of brown coloration in its sandy, desolate environments. The textures and visual effects are all excellent for the genre, with units creating trails and clouds of sand behind them as they traverse the sand dunes of Kharak. The music is superb, which is something a fan of the series would expect from an entry in the Homeworld series- this is largely due to Paul Ruskay returning to provide the musical score. The soundtrack is dynamic, changing its flow as the player becomes involved in combat and traversal of the sand dunes. Weaponry is accompanied by immensely satisfying sound effects, such as bass-filled, powerful explosions or the impressive sounds of railgun fire cutting a swath through the opposing force.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is not exactly the most difficult real time strategy game on the market. For some wishing for a hardcore experience, this may be slightly disappointing since the enemy AI is easy enough for newcomers to approach the game with a variety of (inefficient) strategies, with no real higher difficulties for those who have a background in RTS titles. An easy example to cite would be how the AI nigh constantly allows defenseless units, such as anti-air, to get destroyed by your attacking force despite the fact that they could have been easily moved to safety.
Overall, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is an excellent real time strategy game, hearkening back to familiar titles such as Command and Conquer or Starcraft. This edition of Homeworld has an extremely engaging and rewarding single player campaign, as well as an active online component for challenging gameplay against other human beings. While the game may be a little easy for seasoned RTS veterans because of simplistic enemy AI, the skirmish modes, online connectivity, and great overall package, there’s still plenty to enjoy. Those who strongly enjoy real time strategy games would greatly this prequel to Homeworld, while those who are newcomers to the genre could do a lot worse than Deserts of Kharak for to pop their RTS cherry.