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Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Review

Looking back at Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak many years after the release of this prequel to the Homeworld series. Is it still a great RTS?
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Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak was recently on the Steam Winter Sale so I finally picked it up, several years after release, because I noticed many top RTS articles had it prominently featured and I absolutely loved the Homeworld series. Deserts of Kharak was an interesting experience because it removed the Z axis from the original Homeworld series and placed the game flat on the ground, but kept the generally same gameplay.

If you’ve played Homeworld before, then I’d say get it when it’s on sale or even when it’s not, because it’s more of the same but different enough that you’re not drowning in a formulaic experience. Persistence exists, so resources gathered are kept map to map along with units and their promotions. Units have an almost Atlus / Shin Megami Tensei vibe to how they play against each other’s weakness. Armored vehicles take strike vehicles out, but strike vehicles take railguns out. Capital ships are great at the end game to spam for victory.

Baserunners let you setup perimeters, which can exist map to map. In one map you have to setup some sensors, but in the next you still play on the same map with the sensors and turrets laid out in the same spot. It’s a nice mix of units that are slowly added in the campaign map to map as the story needs them.

The gameplay is fantastic, the mix of units, the capital ship being not only mobile, but limited in where it can drive is fantastic. It’s slow, heavy and extremely powerful once the upgrades come but protecting it is often the primary objective of each map and the “objectives’ come second.

The game is also hard, even on easy, because the counters to enemies are so strong and resources fixed (they don’t replenish map to map), you can definitely get to a point where you’re just not going to have enough. Thankfully you can restart any map with the default setup for that point in the game. You can also unearth artifacts, which upgrades your carrier to do more things.

The bad part is that, for a game released only about two years ago, the graphics are dated even for that time period. I found a lot of artifacts even with heavy anti-aliasing and the textures sometimes just didn’t work. Cutscenes are apathetic to the events, a mix of anime styled in the “Guild Wars 2” aesthetic slides with some shaky bits followed by in-game rendered cutscenes, which you can’t skip. That just frustrated me, as much as I loved the story, I also often just wanted to get back to fighting and let them hash it out while I was playing.

Speaking of the story, it’s rather solid. It sort of doesn’t have any Homeworld characters in it. Rachel S’jet is only implied to be the ancestor of Karan S’jet, which is the human as a ship’s brain in Homeworld. This is because it’s about 110ish years or so from the actual launch of Mothership. It is nice though that some cutscenes and imagery follow the introduction of the original Homeworld, launched in 1999.

Should you get the game? Think about what you like the most. Do you like Homeworld? Yes. Do you like RTS games? Consider that this has persistent armies from map to map and vehicles that work pretty much like fire vs. water and ice vs. heat. Otherwise, it might be worth skipping, just in the sense that it’s very short (I beat it in about eight hours) and the multiplayer, which I didn’t test, is likely going to take awhile to find a game.

What are your thoughts? Share below so that others can learn from your experience.


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