I was super excited back in 2014 when Gearbox announced Homeworld: Remastered Collection. I put in countless hours of in Homeworld and Homeworld 2 back when they released. It took me a while to get used to the third dimension in terms of having that extra axis in which to maneuver my ships. Once I got the system down, I loved it and at the time preferred Homeworld over any RTS options on the market. When I played Homeworld: Remastered Collection I found myself once again having to learn to master the third axis. Unfortunately I didn’t get time to master it this time around, but I still had a fondness for it. When Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak got announced late last year–technically 2013 if you consider it’s original name, Hardware: Shipbreakers–I was excited but also worried. “A ground based Homeworld?,” I asked. “A Homeworld that doesn’t take place in space, and has no third axis? It can’t be Homeworld!”. I can admit when I’m wrong, and thankfully…I was very, very wrong.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is certainly Homeworld, but it’s also something of it’s own. The game is a prequel to the original Homeworld games set 106 years prior to the original on the desert planet of Kharak. Kharak is dying, with the desert sands growing to encompass the entire planet. A satellite in orbit detected a peculiar object known as the ‘Jaraci Object’, which is believed to have the answers (and perhaps solutions) to saving a dying world. The Coalition of Northern Kiithid–typically referred to as ‘Coalition’ throughout the game–sent out an expedition force to investigate the object, but disappeared; four years ago. The game focuses on the second expedition led by the Coalition’s chief science officer, Rachel S’jet, as she sets out to investigate the object and potentially find the lost original expedition.
There is something about the campaign in Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let you put it down, almost like reading a well-written mystery sci-fi book. In my first session with the game, I played for almost five hours straight–through seven of the campaign’s 13 missions–and only put it on pause so I could get some fresh air and get some much needed food. There are parts of the campaign that may come off as cliche or nothing new, but the story’s little twists and turns were enough to keep me wondering what was going to happen. It’s always interesting playing a prequel since you know the eventual outcome of the game world, but even with such knowledge Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak continued to surprise and fascinate me.
Alongside the campaign, the game features a Skirmish mode to play against the AI as well as a multiplayer mode that allows 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 play. The multiplayer has a matchmaking system for both ranked and nonranked play, as well as the option to create or join custom games which features a lobby similar to other games in the genre like Starcraft and Warcraft. All of the ranked modes (1v1,2v2,3v3) featured a leaderboard that can be viewed by clicking a button at the top of the multiplayer lobby. Each mode features four leagues to climb the ladder’s as well as little badges to indicate how many games you’ve won.
At it’s core, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak focuses on more macro-focused battles with little to no necessity for micro. You have a mobile base–a badass mobile aircraft carrier–and maneuver around the maps collecting resources and constructing units at your carrier. Aside from some turret placements, there are no structures to build in these savage deserts. In fact, even resources are gathered by vehicular miners (salvager’s) and dropped off at either your carrier or another constructed vehicle, the support cruiser. You then have the option to build an array of land and air based crafts each with their own speciality and weakness. There are two playable factions in the game; the Coalition and the Gaalsien. Each have similar units in terms of functionality, but with different visual representations and some slight differences between each unit.
On the ground, a few of your buildable vehicles include: light attack vehicles, long-range artillery ‘Railgun’s’, armored assault vehicles, and the more advanced vehicles called cruisers. Cruisers can be assault cruisers, support cruisers, artillery cruises, or battlecruisers. Each cruiser is a tankier more productive vehicle that can often change the course of battle on its own.
A big focus of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is the aircrafts. The ‘Coalition’ faction can build strike fighters which excel at throwing out focused ground damage, bombers which deal massive small are of effect damage, and gunships which are fast attacking maneuverable craft that excel at taking our groups of ground units.
While the core gameplay is the same, the campaign has some smaller differences in terms of gameplay in comparison to the skirmish and multiplayer modes. Throughout the campaign, as you progress, you will unlock more units to build and more technologies to enhance your carrier and units such as armor advancements, weapon damage increases, and more. In skirmish and multiplayer however, you have a set research tree that you can spend resources to progress through, unlocking specific units, upgrades, and capabilities as you research them.
Graphically, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is simply amazing looking. I’m not sure what to classify the art style as but it is a nice hybrid mix of detailed realistic art and handrawn “artsy” effects. Despite the game being science fiction in nature, the world and unit’s seemed real. A mobile ground-based aircraft carrier didn’t seem odd; it genuinely seemed like a way of life for the militant factions of Kharak. The combat animations are second to none, as well. One of the coolest things in the game is shooting down an aircraft and watching it slam into the desert sands below–full fire trail behind it the entire way–and tumbling through the stands before coming to a standstill at its final resting place. With the realistic art and physics I went as far as to tell myself this is similar to how I pictured the battle of Jakku taking place in Star Wars.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a genuine breath of fresh air for the RTS genre. Just when it appeared that the genre was on it’s way to dying out with Starcraft 2 wrapping up its trilogy and few announcements of new RTS IP’s in recent years, Deserts of Kharak showed me that the genre is not only here to stay, but still has the ability to surprised and engage me more than I thought would ever be possible for a long-lasting genre. I think I can honestly say that if Homeworld becomes the new standard for RTS, I’m very excited for the future.
If you are looking for one of the most fun RTS ever, with a great campaign and fun-to-learn but challenging-to-master multiplayer, you owe it to yourself to pick up Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. The game is available on Steam for $49.99 and owners of Homeworld: Remastered Collection can get 25% off their purchase automatically.