Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Review | MOUSE n JOYPAD


(Fleet Command): No one’s left
Everything’s gone!
Kharak is burning!

(Fleet Intelligence): Kharak is being consumed by a firestorm. The Scaffold has been destroyed. All orbital facilities destroyed. Significant debris ring in low Kharak orbit.

(Fleet Intelligence): Receiving no communications form anywhere in the system… Not even beacons.

This is how Kharak ends, in fire and death, it is the event that launched one of the best RTS games that has ever been released: Homeworld. The fate of Kharak was sealed from the third mission in the very first game, it ends in fire, but that isn’t the whole story. Set before the events of Homeworld, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak takes us back to the moment the world changed. In this prequel we set forth on the mission to scout, analyse and reclaim an anomaly that has been discovered in enemy territory in the Deserts of Kharak.


Sandstorms are an ever present threat!

Anyone who has played the original two games (or Gearbox’s remastering last year) will know what has been found in the deep desert was information and technology that would lead the people to unite, create a generational Mothership and set the stage for the burning of Kharak. Knowing that the world is ultimately doomed, done little to diminish the excitement I felt as I booted up the game.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has taken the fundamental gameplay from Homeworld 2 but there are significant changes to the game. The biggest of these changes being this: this Homeworld game is set on the planet itself. Gone are the 3D space environments and instead we have endless sand dunes, mountains and the elements themselves.

In place of a Mothership we have a Carrier, a massive ground vehicle that crawls along the sand in search of the anomaly. The fundamentals are the same, the Carrier acts as your base of operations, it builds units and can be used to research upgrades. Many of the units seem like direct parallels from its space faring precursors, from light attack units ranging all the way to powerful vehicles of carnage, only this time they mostly drive to combat rather than fly through a vacuum. I’m fine with this decision as I am of the thinking – “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”.


Combat is tactical yet frantic.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has kept some aspects of the 3D combat of the original. Unit’s line of sight is effected by the topography of each map, put simply: if there is something in the way (sand dune, wreckage etc.) then your units won’t be able to fire at enemies behind it. Terrain also offers some tactical advantages. If you are able to hold the high ground then units will do more damage to enemies on a lower elevation than themselves. It is a nice tip of the cap to the original game’s system but has been implemented in a much more important way. Instead of using a 3D map to ambush enemies, The Deserts of Kharak demand that you use them to survive. It’s a fantastic move by Blackbird Interactive and I can honestly say, trying to hold a ridge against an outrageous number of enemy troops was one of the most satisfying moments I have experienced in the RTS genre.

Most of the units have unique abilities that need to be used when battling the foe, fast attack vehicles have a speed boost that is ideal for withdrawing from an overwhelming fight, or hauling ass to protect another unit. Abilities like Smoke screen will break enemy line of site and are a godsend when attacking a fortified position. These abilities really shake up the standard Homeworld gameplay and the title is stronger for it. There is a real sense of tactical awareness that you need to harness to be successful but at times it can seem overwhelming when dozens of units are in an all-out brawl.


Beautiful artwork helps build a story that we already know the ending of.

Blackbird Interactive have put a lot of effort into making the story of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. Ultimately, we know the fate of the endeavour, we know how the story ends, but I still enjoyed playing this original tale of exploration, desperation and beating outlandish odds. The artwork in the cutscenes has a fantastic anime feel to it, while the technical execution may leave something to be desired, I really liked the overall tone of the visuals. In-game graphics are certainly passable but lack some of the finer details of other strategy games. It is to be expected when fighting huge battles over a large map so I can look past it.

The environments are suitably barren but have a beauty to them. I smiled as I saw plumes of sand and dust as my armoured convoy opened up across the dunes and environmental factors such as sandstorms and tornadoes add an extra threat to a game that is already punishingly difficult. I have to admit that I love the voice acting in the game too, there is regularly radio chatter in the background as you play, much of it is inconsequential (like one of my comms officers passing on a message about reactor parameters) but it adds so much immersion that I was completely drawn in. I got to the point when I looked up from my screen and saw the wall of my office rather than the inside of the Carrier before I remembered it was a game.

Homeworld: Desert of Kharak falls into the same pitfalls as its predecessors. At the beginning of each level, you start with the same troops and resources you finished the previous mission with. This approach does make the game feel like a continuous mission but it also means that if you have a bad run, it can make following missions incredibly difficult to overcome. Resources are finite, meaning if you mine everything on the map, there is nothing else. I had to restart a couple of times after I lost most of my units in battle with no resources to make more. It can be frustrating and more to the point, it can end the game before it even begins. The Homeworld series has always been ball bustlingly difficult and Desert of Kharak is no different.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is an excellent instalment in the franchise and earns its place in the series. Challenging gameplay, a nice art style and immersive gameplay combine to make Deserts of Kharak, not only a good RTS in its own right, but a great origin story to what I consider, one of the best RTS games of all time.