Wot I Think – Homeworld: Deserts Of Kharak

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak [official site] is a prequel to the legendary Homeworld space real-time strategy games, but this time – heresy! – set on land, as the Kushan race battle angry clans to reclaim ancient technologies found on the sandy planet they currently call home. While some of its developers (including studio boss and former Relic art lead Rob Cunningham) worked on the original games, this first began life as the unrelated ‘Hardware: Shipbreakers’, before morphing into the free to play multiplayer ‘Homeworld: Shipbreakers’ and then finally to the traditionally-sold, singleplayer and multiplayer package it is now. Deserts of Kharak has some bloody big boots to fill – can it possibly manage it?

Note: This piece primarily focuses on the solo campaign, as there wasn’t much multiplayer to be had pre-release.

I do admire the wanton self-destructiveness of taking one of the most quintessential space games then removing space from it. As well as being mischievous, hopefully it also speaks to a determination to only take Homeworld to space again once they’re sure they can do it absolutely right. Deserts of Kharak, you see, is a landlubbing prequel to Relic’s much-loved Homeworld series, starring giant sandcrawlers and assorted buggies, tanks and jets as they battle across the titular, entirely arid planet. It manages to be more Homeworldy than one might have suspected, as well as evoking fond memories of Dune II and the sudden realisation that someone really should make a Mad Max RTS.

It’s UI, soundtrack and craft design which primarily make a game mostly about tanks fighting in the desert feel most like Homeworld, but Kharak also shares a certain sense of scale and refreshingly slow pacing with its great ancestor. There are several flies in its gently undulating ointment, but the unhurried, almost dreamlike speed of its action is what I most like about it – a welcome change of pace, a break with current RTS tradition to become ever-more frantic.

This is not to say that Kharak doesn’t become extremely tense and involved, but rather that you’re not going to be punched into the ground if you’ve not been all go, all the time. However, despite its unhurried stride, it’s pretty big on the keyboard shortcuts and the use of a Supreme Commander-style tactical map, plus you will find yourself fighting the awkward camera controls on a regular basis, so don’t expect an easy ride even if it’s not making you all panicky and sweaty moment-to-moment.

Going back to commonalities with Homeworld, I think in this case its pretty but abstracted UI – all icy blue geometric shapes for the build actions – works against Kharak. It made some sense for the inherent unfamiliarity of various different spaceship classes, but scout buggies and tanks and fighter planes are well-worn terrain, and I’d really rather be clicking a little aeroplane icon than going “um, so were they the diamond or the parallelogram?”

Some UI aspects also look pretty fuzzy if you’re playing above 1080p, and while clearly that’s not an issue for most people, it all goes into the pot – my overall sense is that interface clarity and presentation has been sacrified in favour of clawing back more Homeworldiness. I spent more time than I’d like playing on the well-implemented tactical map, partly because the big-picture was simply more practical on what are often very large levels, but mostly because the main-game camera wasn’t what it could be.

Add in unskippable cutscenes (of which there are a great many, before, during and after missions), sporadically malfunctioning unit AI and a few glitches (for instance, I had to restart a mission because the game camera got itself locked into cutscene mode), a limited number of maps and a total dependence on sandy environments, and what’s otherwise a pretty and thoughtful strategy game does occasionally fall into frustration or even tedium.

Kharak’s absolutely on the side of the angels despite this. While what it’s doing is fairly routine for strategy game, how it feels is not. It might not quite have the visual impact of its forefather, but it does a solid job of making its desert planet feel large, lost and lonely, and its hovering, oddly-angled units eschew conventional tankiness in favour of spaceshipy design cues from the original games. The Carriers, your mobile headquarters, are a joy – giant, mobile runways or docking bays, in some ways scaled down versions of Homeworld motherships, but at the same time even more bizarro-industrial. They play a more active role than the motherships too – rolling deathwagons as much as bases.

And, without wanting to give away too much plot, spaceships of a sort do make an appearance, provoking the same Chris Fossish techno-joy of the original games. While the between-mission cutscenes are a mixed bag of concept art and rotoscope-esque pseudo-animation, the in-engine ones make dramatic use of the crafts and their desolate environment, aided by the same judicious use of cinematic camera angles and cuts as the original Homeworlds were renonwed for. The vast majority of screenshots in this piece come from those scenes, because grabbing shots of them was irresistible. If nothing else, Deserts of Kharak is a strong riposte to the idea that a sci-fi RTS can only be beautiful if it’s in space.

The stand-out element, however, is the sound design. Over long years, we’ve miserably adjusted to the idea that all you can do with unit chatter is have each guy say something funny or militaryesque when you click on them, but Kharak casually rewrites the rules. Either by selecting units or by just hanging around and listening, you’ll hear the units talk amongst themselves. Select a unit and while sometimes they’ll just give an ‘acknowledged’, other times a more involved, context-sensitive reaction to whatever you’ve ordered them to do. An endangered unit might thank you for sending in air support. A ship which has spotted incoming enemies will tell you what type of craft they are. Idle units will chatter amongst themselves at length about faults and tactics.

As well as successfully giving you a general sense of what’s going via audio alone, it sounds natural and responsive, rather than mechanical and repetitive – all adding to that sense that this is a large and well-oiled military machine, not just some cute little guys who popped out of a magic factory. Kharak might not otherwise be a landmark moment for the genre, but its unit audio does set new standards. It’s going to be so disappointing to play a strategy game filled with tinned quips after this.

It’s a very pleasant thing to have on one’s screen and speakers then, but despite its aesthetic successes Kharak’s greatest shortcoming is that the experience becomes over-familiar mid-way through the campaign. That the maps all look so similar isn’t really the cause of this (especially if I’m arguing that Kharak brings back fond Dune II memories), and in any case they do wring some surprising visual variety from the setting, but rather that it’s so often about long, glacial treks through sandy valleys, sporadically facing off against the same handful of enemy types and micro-managing the collection of arbitrarily-located resources. The rock-paper-scissors unit balancing works well and leads to some dramatic skirmishes, the skies peppered with glorious vapour trails of elegantly deadly missiles, but there’s a lot of rinse and repeat here.

There are some novel units and clearly a lot of effort has been made to bless each singleplayer mission its own structure with its own tactical twists, but sitting back from it after a couple of days of play, I do feel that, moment-to-moment, Kharak feels pretty much the same. While, for me, that moment is a far more thoughtful and more aesthetically-pleasing one to that offered by most in its genre, I did sometimes feel as though I was grinding through the levels, waiting for some pay-off that never quite came. It’s a smallish game on a large stage, basically, and while by and large it gets away with it, sometimes you can tell how stretched it is.

I particularly wish it had more character to it beyond the craft designs: its sands evoke Dune but it doesn’t pursue the strangeness or the deadliness, while some of its vehicles and camera angles seem to come from the Mad Max playbook but aren’t paired with any of the raucousness. The characters in the cutscenes are few and short on personality; it might not have the posturing of Starcraft II but it does share its lore-trumps-all sensibility.

There’s a very solid core here though – this is not the quickfire cash-in or licensed-after-the-fact awkwardness it could have been, given its origins. It really does feel like a Homeworld game, despite the transition from a galactic scale to a terrestrial one. I fear the relative lack of variety handicaps its potential to be a multiplayer hit and thus enjoy the sort of lifespan that the Homeworlds did/do, but as a singleplayer offering it’s substantial and satisfying, so long as you can put up with some AI wobbles and a certain amount of going through the motions. As for its part in Homeworld lore, well, there’s a lot for fans to pick over/yell about, but if you’re into spaceships-as-mythology you should get something out of it.

In terms of being an RTS you can play even if you’ve never been anywhere near a Homeworld, yep, it is. Some of the major cutscenes won’t mean as much, but then again they’re so dry that I’m not sure they’d connect even were they about a brand new universe, and in any case you don’t need any of that to justify or explain war machines fighting in the desert, which is what this game really is. And it’s damn good at it.

Deserts of Kharak does manage to be standalone as well as prequel to an old series, and if you’re tired of the twitchy frenzy which grips so many latter-day RTSes, Kharak is a smart and beautiful destination whether or not you still dream of Hiigara. It might be set on land, but by recent RTS standards it’s nonetheless reaching for the stars.

Homeworld: Deserts Of Kharak is out now for Windows via Steam and Humble.

109 Comments

  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I very much enjoy this game, but I have difficulty with the shipbreaking theme.
    “Here’s an ancient starship that carried our ancestors here from the stars! Imagine what we can learn from it about who we were, who we are, and where we are going! Science! Technology! Art! Culture! History! Oh well, I’ve set the demolition charges so we can melt it down to build tanks.”

    • transientmind says:

      Sadly not without real-world precedent.

      • transientmind says:

        (The mercenary attitude towards cultural and historical artifacts, that is. Not so much spaceships. I know the US is rumoured to be hard-up, but I doubt Area 51 is a black-market spaceship pawn shop.)

      • Carlos Danger says:

        Huh? Down deep the derp hole we go.

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          Grizzly says:

          It’s not that derpy: There’s a reason why you can find egyptian artifacts in british museums. Treasure hunting was often the primary motivation for archaeologists.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Yeah, but it’s not like anyone used the Rosetta stone for catapult ammo, or melted the Sutton Hoo hoard to make rifle pins.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            However it IS very much as if all of Europe participated in the wilful dismantling of significant historical and cultural landmarks to build their own homes and settlements. Roman towns, castles and quite possibly plenty of pre-historic stone monuments have been cannibalised for construction materials in the past quite prolifically.

          • Llewyn says:

            Indeed. It’s only in the last 150 years that it’s become accepted that perhaps this is something we might not do, and only in the last 100 that it’s largely stopped in Europe. It’s astonishing we have as many historical buildings as we do.

          • Cinek says:

            We have as many historical buildings as we do, because you guys grossly overestimate the amount of destruction to the historical buildings people have done over the centuries. If something survives first 300 years – there’s quite a chance that humans won’t destroy it in next 500 or more. Most of the buildings ever built were destroyed simply because of progressing modernisation, relatively soon after they were built, much like we’re replacing buildings these days. Add to this the fact that due to rather poor knowledge of architecture many simply collapsed or were in a danger or collapse, some were destroyed in fires or floods, some by the foreign forces during sieges or bombings (precision ammunition is a new thing) and you don’t really need humans dismantling significant cultural sites to erase almost everything from the surface of the earth over the centuries.

          • unacom says:

            I don´t want to ruin illusions here, but wanton destruction of archaeological finds is still existent in europe (and I suppose wider-spread than we care to admit).
            Generally speaking a contractor or a owner is very much tempted to smash something he finds while digging-up his construction site, rather than call conservation specialists for asessment and risk a stay in construction which can last for a year. Trust me on that one. I´ve seen it done to ancient, roman and medieval finds. Then there is the owner who thinks that if he finds it, he owns it. Happens every day. As for using fine masonry for catapulting events… that happened too. By today this practice has largely ceased, I assume.

          • Stevie_D says:

            Actually Lenny, when the Ottomans were holed up inside the Acropolis in Greece, during the Greek War of Independance, the Greeks had to ship them lead – just so that the ottomans wouldn’t melt the lead from the building’s pillars for use as bullets, and thus end up destroying its foundations.

          • whodafug says:

            One of the central themes of the story is that the protagonist “group” (as well as the rest of the coalition) are going to Khar-Toba to get the artifacts there so they can journey into space. And we didn’t get to blow up Khar-Toba, and we know (from Homeworld) that they went in and recovered a load of cultural and scientific artifacts that told them where Hiigara was and how to get there, hence why they built Bananaship.

            Further, artifacts are at the centre of the game; when you break the crashed ships, they sometimes drop artifacts. Rachel frequently rants about artifacts and culture and stuff.

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          shevek says:

          Hint: what happened to the stone facing on the pyramids? Where did all the Classical bronze statues go?

          • Beanbee says:

            Hadrian’s wall and the great wall of china didn’t just get weathered away. Necessity generally beats reverence for the past.

          • unacom says:

            You´re right, I´m afraid. And it will probaly remain so for a very long time.

          • Press X to Gary Busey says:

            At least a lot of ancient artifacts are sold to finance terrorism instead of just smashed. link to i.imgur.com

      • RobotsForBreakfast says:

        Reminds me of some family heirlooms from my great grandparents. My great grandfather was General Halsey (brother of Admiral Halsey who commanded much of the Pacific fleet during WW2) and he was presented with many works of art and the like after the Japanese surrender. My grandparents have a set of thigh-tall brass candelabras which, if I’m remembering correctly, had been looted from Chinese temples by Japanese occupying forces. They have matching (but asymmetrical) seals cast onto them to hide large gouges which had been punched into them by the Japanese. Heaps of brass sculptures like these were rounded up, mutilated to destroy their value, and thrown into piles to be melted down and recast into bullet casings.

        So to those of you saying “nobody ever LITERALLY melted down culture to make tools of war”, I’m sorry to say that has in fact literally happened!

        • waltC says:

          I don’t understand the criticisms…1000 years ago it was a radically different world to live in from the standpoint of being a citizen…no science to speak of and the world was flat and nobody knew what a planet was or a star or an “orbit” or a germ, jet, airplane, telephone, TV, etc.–amazing to think that the value of common sanitation wasn’t even understood at one time. “What’s the point of washing hands?” etc. In a world like that our 21st values and mores have no place at all, and using them to judge the past is just silly. Few of us can really comprehend what it was to be a citizen of the Roman empire, for instance. We have our own share of science-myth today, of course, but it’s very mild compared to the gods and wood sprites and faeries believed to be the causes behind effects in those days.

    • BlackAlpha says:

      It seems the story/script writing is not a strong suit of the developers (remember Homeworld 2?). There are some things that make no sense, like you mentioned. Personally, I thought the first reaction to the crashed alien spaceship was super underwhelming (paraphrasing): “oh hey, look, an alien spaceship.”

      I’m not a big fan of the retcons they’ve done. It makes me wonder what the point of the Expedition Guide is if with the next Homeworld game they’re just going to retcon chunks of it (again). I don’t understand why they don’t respect their own lore/backstory. There are so many ways you can make things work without retconning, it just seems lazy to me.

      • Cinek says:

        Retcons were bound to be done, the plot from HW1 had plenty of plotholes on it’s own (it’s nearly as many as in HW2 – we’ve made a comparison once on a Relic forums, the most coherent HW game was, quite surprisingly, Cataclysm), and if they wanted to have another epic storyline placed after HWC – retconing was bound to happen. Don’t get me wrong – HW1 still have the best plot in a series, and one of the best ever in any RTS, but it was a closed story with very few open doors for the follow-up.

        There was an alternative scenario for HW2 which included building bases on gigantic progenitor spacecraft wrecks, but even that one would still need to retcon some of the stuff from HW1, just to make the whole thing coherent.

        • BlackAlpha says:

          I doubt it. It’s sci fi, the Homeworld story is pretty simple, so you can make up anything you like without the need to retcon anything. In this particular case, what they could’ve done is set it in the time period after Homeworld 1 or 2, which would’ve allowed them to do literally whatever they want, make up all sorts of crazy stories and it would still fit in just fine. It’s not so hard to do. Cataclysm is a good example of that, you just have to be a bit creative.

          If they keep resetting their story, then I’m going to stop caring for it.

          Ugh… I’m pretty salty because I’m not a big fan of this spin off. It’s not a bad RTS but it’s fairly average. Homeworld was never a complex game but at least it had an interesting sci fi space setting. How many interesting RTS space games do you know? Not a lot because there aren’t that many. Homeworld had that advantage. So, even if it might not have been that amazing, the setting and playstyle made it unique and interesting. How many interesting ground based RTS games do you know? A lot, like hell of a lot. Now that it’s yet another ground based RTS it needs to compete with all the other RTS games, and compared to other RTS games it’s quite average.

          By the way, there are a few really annoying bugs. For example, you can get stuck in a mission. Restarting the mission is the only way to fix it. I’ve had on quite a few occasions the AI freak out, the most annoying thing is when aircraft don’t want to land. But the most silly one is that the AI doesn’t know how to counter air units. It’s very noticeable in skirmish where they will happily let you bomb their carrier without even trying to defend themselves.

          OK, there’s still the atmosphere and the story. But then you find out that the story from the old games got canned, rewritten and the new version is not even that great. Is it even an improvement?

          Well, then there’s just the atmosphere left, they totally nailed it in that aspect – the graphics, the art, the sound, it’s amazing. But that’s just not enough for me, not enough to keep me interested. It’s just mostly bling and eye candy, but I want a good game and this one feels very average, and at certain times it feels very lacking.

          /rant

          • zxcasdqwecat says:

            Wonder where you get your ideas on it being “average” and stuff, while there are comparisons to be made I’m pretty sure you won’t find games designed the way this game is.

          • BlackAlpha says:

            You harvest resources. You build your base (in this case it’s abstracted by doing upgrades). You expand to different resource gathering sites to get more income. You build units to create an optimal blob of different units. You go engage the enemy blob of units, and abide by rock, paper, scissors rules to win. Alternatively, you tech up to get more powerful units and special abilities (like super weapons). And it’s all ground based. This is the old school way of doing things that was started like 20 years ago by games like C&C and Starcraft. Since then we’ve had loads and loads of games that have done the same.

            What this game does differently from most other RTS games is:
            – The presentation (how it looks and feels).
            – Persistent units in campaign.
            – Height advantage.
            – Some units keep moving while shooting (smaller vehicles and aircraft).

            The above are hardly game changers. It doesn’t really do anything to change the gameplay in big ways. So, the game is quite average. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it generic because the look and feel of the game does make it unique. But imagine the game didn’t look and feel the way it does, then it would be generic as hell.

            For some, the way the game looks and feels is enough to make it interesting. Maybe they just play it for the campaign. Others simply enjoy the old school formula. Personally, I got bored with the old school formula and I want RTS games to do things differently. We’ve already seen a lot of very good RTS games that have abandoned the old school formula. So, it is possible to do so. The old Homeworld games did things different enough to make them interesting. They had something going there. It’s a shame they abandoned that. This game looks too similar to generic RTS games, of which we’ve had plenty.

          • zxcasdqwecat says:

            :/ I now how rts games work and you are not supposed to change game but to keep it “simple” or “tight” if you will to have the best action possible. This thing about calling games “old school” and talking of “formula” is cringe worthy though. If anything highlights homeworlds (or any game) as proper games, not “average” when they do what they are supposed to do without fat. And I stand corrected in their design, the dramatic scale adds to everything, what they had “going on” was improving homeworlds design (for example the original had units’ chatter messing with the agnus dei moment when you return to kharak). Seems they made a pretty good effort at it, haven’t played the game but the review is pretty detailed, and if and when a next homeworld game appears it will include all these design developments to make it unique.

          • BlackAlpha says:

            “you are not supposed to change game but to keep it “simple” or “tight””

            I’m not too sure about that. There are very few old school RTS games which don’t change a lot to the old formula and manage to be successful. Starcraft is one of them. What else is there? All the other successful ones mix things up, like for example: Total War, Sins of a Solar Empire, Wargame, Men of War, Supreme Commander, Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, etc.

            Looking back at Dawn of War and Company of Heroes, I’m surprised that Deserts of Kharak didn’t innovate in some way. It’s like they took a step backwards.

          • BlackAlpha says:

            Hmm… I suppose if their goal was not to innovate but to take a step backwards and create a “tight” old school RTS game, then they succeeded. It’s just that I rather go play something else.

          • zxcasdqwecat says:

            No, what I meant is you are supposed to keep games simple designed go let elegant complexity emerge. Compare quake to any military shooter.
            Or the lack of use of z axis in deserts of kharak so that you can issue orders and move the units faster compared to regulating height in space. ‘Cause it’s simple and fastens the game.
            Having more and more features doesn’t mean innovating at all, you have it completely backwards and you are making a case of a game with good action.

          • BlackAlpha says:

            I’m not sure what you mean. I got what backwards? Look at the list of successful RTS games I posted. They don’t (strictly) follow the old formula, they are not overly complex and they are successful. Two of those game series were made by Relic even.

          • zxcasdqwecat says:

            I can look at it but that list useless;l

        • SomeDuder says:

          Have you got a link to this forumdiscussion? Sounds interesting!

          As for myself, I haven’t played this game yet, but as soon as it’s discounted, I’ll be buying it and having a go.

          I’m p. sure that the pre-exodus Kharakians didn’t have beamweapons and hovertanks tho, but hey, I gues it is hard to come up with something when the first game’s manual is so fantastically written, almost its own novel

    • Kong says:

      Entire medieval city centers have vanished, most of them in not so long ago war. What was still standing gave way for charming concrete. We needed the space anyway, for getting jammed in the mobilization revolution.
      How many artifacts of huge historical significance were fed to the war machine is uncomprehensible.

      • unacom says:

        There´s a hilarious story about how the president of one of the german bundesländer found his 1960s concrete residence had been added to the monument conservation list by vengeful preservationists after he granted an exception to demolish a beautiful 18th century structure…

    • guygodbois00 says:

      Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) Series Ending verbatim, m’lord.

    • DailyFrankPeter says:

      My thoughts were very similar: it’s the shipbreaking part that sounded like it could give this game an individual character, on par with Homeworld or even Dune.

      All the magnificent hulks, and eerie excavation sites cut into the rocks – simply background, reskinned tiberium field. You could have been dynamically forming the terrain unearthing hulks, defending and studying, or airlifting/ building ramps, then hauling the magnificent relic fragments on top of your carrier (seems built for that) to base while under enemy fire. Or interacting with that massive ‘carryall’ plane…

  2. Arathain says:

    I’m delighted to hear about the sound design. The way you describe it makes me think they’re picking up where Relic left off. Relic RTSs have always had some of the best sound design in gaming. It began with the original Homeworld, and Company of Heroes and Dawn of War 2 have superb sound. I could listen to someone play CoH without seeing their screen and have an excellent idea of what’s happening at any given moment. Just to top it off, as well as clarity they add a huge amount of character, so important to Dawn of War in particular.

    • haldolium says:

      Sound-wise, it’s awesomely close to Homeworld and brings the memories right back (unlike the Remasterd version where everything sounds plain wrong).
      Although from the fidelity, it’s not quite as amazing as Relics latest titles (CoH/DoW). But still, content wise, awesome and so far without obvious issues.

      Although sadly, they’ve treated Unity a little bit half-assed and made a lot of mistakes shipping with the engines default settings (such as no proper fullscreen mode or no setting for general mouse speed), horrible aliasing and a lot of meh-graphics, from a technical pov. Thankfully, their art design is on-pair with the sound.

      • Munin says:

        Hopefulle they’ll be able to patch some of that stuff fairly easily if it is engine preset stuff as you say.

        But yeah, really glad to hear the sound design is on par since that was one of the best things about the original.

  3. Uglycat says:

    I thought the Mad Max RTS was KKND?

  4. USER47 says:

    In TB’s WTF it looked pretty crap…

    • colw00t says:

      I have no idea what to do with this information.

      • kwyjibo says:

        You can usually use the first twenty minutes of “information” to get a good feel of the options menu.

        • Munin says:

          Then you can enjoy the core of the game: Single-player skirmish.

        • Rhodokasaurus says:

          Total Biscuit’s pedantry and endless dickering in the options menu of every game (especially getting very cross at 2D games that don’t need lots of options) is pretty much unbearable.

          • Cinek says:

            I like it. I always like any reviewer that’s pushing devs into making a proper settings menu instead of being a d*** and forcing you to edit some obscure files to change anything, or even worse: not giving you an option to change anything.

        • Immobile Piper says:

          At least TB gives me the option to skip it. Most reviewers don’t go into detail about that sort of stuff in the first place.

    • internisus says:

      While usually valuable for being technically informative and zealously pro-consumer, TotalBiscuit can often be narrow-minded and uninvested as a reviewer. This unimaginative overview of Kharak’s skirmish mode exemplifies the universalization of personal genre preferences and the myopic unwillingness to forgive beautiful forests for a few misshapen trees that make him a poor critic, however thorough. He is better treated as a kind of consumer’s guide than as an evaluator of art.

      In my opinion, of course of course. (And I do hope that BBI works towards improving the AI.)

      • SMGreer says:

        It is baffling to me that a man can make a video-review nearly forty minutes long and yet still manage to say remarkably little of worth.

        • Pulstar says:

          I’ve unsubscribed to him ages ago. He started to get on my nerves him and the rest of the 60fps brigade.

          • GWOP says:

            All that kerfuffle over a sprite based 2D card battler being locked to 30 FPS… TB’s fans are the worst.

          • GWOP says:

            (Ugh, messed up my tags.)

          • Apocalypse says:

            Key to TB is that he is not doing reviews. He shows you stuff. Some people like me care about most option menus, others can just skip it. Afterwards you get to see a impression of the game and can decide on your own, especially as he explains what he dislikes and likes and WHY. I usually disagree with TBs opinion on games, but I can form my own opinion based on his WTFs easily. All that need from such a video.

        • aircool says:

          I think that’s because there wasn’t a lot to say about the game. He was focussing on multiplayer (to avoid spoilers… fair enough) and the game did look somewhat light on gameplay and features. As for all that stunning detail, well, it’s just lost when the camera zooms out to cover a playable area. The carriers look cool (ground based aircraft carriers always look cool), but the rest are just blobs of coloured pixels with no personality.

          If the game was £9.99, I’d take a punt, but as it is, it really doesn’t seem anywhere near worth the asking price.

        • GWOP says:

          When his almost an hour long Shadow of Mordor review couldn’t make any mention of the Nemsis system, I realized his reviewing format is almost worthless.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        You seem to be under the impression that because he values gameplay over “art”, he is a bad critic.

        I am afraid you’re the one falling into subjectivity here. He’s been fairly clear that he has very little interest in story and doesn’t particularly care about art design as long as it doesn’t look terrible and runs well. He cares about gameplay. If you don’t, or if you don’t find it important, then he doesn’t have the same perspective on games than you do. That doesn’t make him wrong, nor a poor critic, but it reflects rather poorly on you for presuming so.

        • internisus says:

          Gameplay is art.

          • unacom says:

            How do you curate this?

          • Leucine says:

            In your opinion (obviously; I’m getting at something here) but for other people, gameplay is a series of mechanics that they’re interested in interacting with. In that case, what’s wrong with having a “consumer’s guide”? Particularly when it comes to the likes of strategy games where the mechanics so heavily underpin their working and the interest of fans usually is with that, not the artistic merits thereof.

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like this push against considering games as art but I equally dislike the growing number of people who, rather patronisingly and insultingly I must say, insist that others are wrong for not being interested in the artistic side. We all come to games for different things and having those interests catered to isn’t a bad thing; it’s not like there’s only so many aspects that can be covered.

            I don’t care about TB specifically, personally, I don’t watch him or any other Youtube personalities but… I suppose I’m just sick of all the needless hostility in the RPS comments which has been getting worse over the last few years.

          • internisus says:

            Leucine, I think you may be misunderstanding me a bit and reading some agenda into my words (perhaps because FriendlyFire misunderstood me a lot and I didn’t do much about it because I disliked their tone).

            What I mean is quite simply that TB is a poor critic overall. I’m not talking about his lack of concern with story or art design (although that is certainly a problem). He is a poor critic of games, in general, no matter how mechanically minded you are in your evaluation of gameplay—because these mechanics, this game design, is the art which a critic evaluates and whose audience he either ushers in or warns off. You see, FriendlyFire made it seem like my issue with TB is his interest in gameplay instead of art, but I was never dividing the two. There’s no “artistic side,” as you put it. This isn’t some complaint that TotalBiscuit isn’t artsy-fartsy enough for me; I’m just talking about games, same as you.

            He doesn’t have the disposition for the job. He is an arrogant, self-reinforcing person who often projects his personal preferences as universal and treats his preconceptions and expectations as more important than the intentions and goals of his subject. He does not make the effort to meet a game on its own terms. He lacks imagination and vitality. He is unfair and capricious. Sometimes a game suits him alright—is in his wheelhouse—and he does a decent job, but most of the time, as a critic, he is a workmanlike echochamber.

            There is nothing wrong with a consumer’s guide, which is why I said that he is valuable. So if you want to find out whether a release is a good PC port, watch the first 20 minutes of his video for a tour of the options menu (I’m not being sarcastic), but if you want a full consideration of the merits of a video game, go elsewhere.

          • Leucine says:

            Ah now you can’t go being reasonable like that!

            Unfortunately, all I can do is offer my apologies for what I said. I’m not familiar with TB so I’ll just take your word for it. A wider discussion on this general issue is probably better left for another time and place, anyway.

          • geisler says:

            Christ, “Workmanlike echochamber”, a new low for this cesspit commentary section. Your site of choice for gaming criticism is Polygon isn’t it my boy?

    • Bull0 says:

      I think people that want to watch Total Biscuit videos know where to find them, somehow.

    • hamilcarp says:

      Pretty sure most visitors here don’t give a flying fuck about TB.

      • Josh Grams says:

        Well, that makes sense: it’s a different outlook than RPS. Personally I lean more in that direction (insofar as I play games at all) so I find TB’s stuff informative though regrettably long-winded, while RPS is entertaining but only useful to me in the sense that I know I almost certainly won’t like it if they do.

        It takes all sorts, I guess…

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      Did quite nicely illustrate the problems with the AI though, as he played like a bit of a pillock (Let’s send my artillery railguns forward with no support! Oh no they’ve been ambushed!) but, once he’d survived the initial rush, won easily.

      • Apocalypse says:

        Exactly, and this was the whole point of the exercise. He clearly made his point that the AI sucks and should be improved in a patch.

  5. Lucid Spleen says:

    I think this ‘Wot’ nailed it.

    Picked this up today and I’m having a lot of fun with the campaign despite a few quibbles. Its a very pretty game and I have to echo what Alec said about the sound design, it’s the best I’ve heard in an RTS although I’m not that experienced with the genre.

    On the down side though. The AI can be as dumb as a brick which makes the skirmish mode a little frustrating. It hassles your carrier/base continuously with huge amounts of low-level units (at least twice as many as I was physically able to produce) and doesn’t seem to want to build any of the larger ones. So all I needed to do was build a medium size mixed force and make a bee-line for their carrier and it was game over. 15-20 minutes tops.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Dang, that’s pretty much Standard Poor RTS AI 101. Hopefully that gets some heavy attention in patches, since I tend to prefer compstomps, and something else leaning more SupComm than Starcraft would be welcome variety.

      • Lucid Spleen says:

        Agreed. Also they might want to increase the number of skirmish maps – I think there is only 5 at the moment. Still, campaign is pretty fun.

  6. aleander says:

    I give this review 0 dessert puns out of sand cake :(

    [also, gah, just as I decided to stop buying games at release, this happens :(]

  7. Jekadu says:

    I think it’s a really neat game so far, although hardly revolutionary. The first Homeworld is a game I feel is best remembered for its ideas, not its execution, and Deserts of Kharak succeeds in that sense as well. The aircraft carrier on wheels is a stroke of genius.

    I do feel that the user interface tries to emulate the first Homeworld a bit too closely, however. After playing Supreme Commander and its sequels, the idea of having a separate tactical and strategic view with a deadzone between them where you can’t zoom the camera seems really strange. I would rather have had a smooth transition between the two. I am also uncertain why the right mouse button is tied to camera pitch and yaw, as it serves almost no function.

    At the moment the game feels like the first Supreme Commander: an excellent effort, a solid foundation, but something which will probably be overshadowed by a later expansion that fixes all the annoying little design mistakes.

    • gpown says:

      I thought camera rotation on RMB was more or less the standard binding in RTS games that allow rotation?

      My only issue with the camera is that while you’re rotating, the cursor still moves around, despite being hidden. Then you release RMB and find yourself edge-panning the camera because it ended up on the edge. Massively annoying and seems almost impossible to have gotten through QA.

      • Jekadu says:

        My point is that the free camera is included because it was in the previous Homeworld games, not because it actually fills a necessary function. I suppose it could be used to check sight lines like in Massive’s games (where the player controls the camera directly, as if they were piloting a camera drone), but doing so would be exceptionally clumsy.

        It’s particularly irking when I should be able to use the button to control formations, but which for some reason aren’t actually in the game.

        Other stuff I’d like: snap to local maximum, map boundaries on the sensor view, ability to automatically sort unit types into control groups, grid mode for abilities like in Dawn of War 2, dynamic aggregation of abilities if multiple unit types are selected.

        All in all, it’s a decent game. It feels like Homeworld in most ways.

    • unacom says:

      Aircraft Carrier on wheels… I´m thinking Heavy Gear right now. They were levitating, however.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Command and Conquer 4!

        Ow.
        Ow.
        Ow.
        Stop hitting me. :(

        • unacom says:

          ?
          I zoned out of C&C right after Red Alert.
          So me no understand…

        • unacom says:

          Aaah. Yes! Now I understand. I´d probably play and like that if it weren´t for EA´s DRM, EULA and whatnot…

          • LionsPhil says:

            Yeah, it was an interesting idea, but those same factors put me off ever trying it either. (And it really, really shouldn’t have been rammed into the C&C license.)

        • Jekadu says:

          I kinda liked C&C4. It wasn’t brilliant, but I feel its biggest sin was simply being good instead of terrible. A terrible game is easy to dismiss, but a merely good game taunts you with its potential.

  8. Siimon says:

    I’d really rather be clicking a little aeroplane icon than going “um, so were they the diamond or the parallelogram?”

    Couldn’t agree more! I hate stuff like this that just takes away from being intuitive.

  9. Razumen says:

    Not gonna lie, it being just another ground based RTS has considerably dampened my excitement for this game. The idea of it explaining some of the lore before the Higaraan’s became space-faring does sound interesting, but not enough to make up for the loss of the actual space component of the game.

  10. Munin says:

    Man, I really hope they can swiftly patch the scripting, camera and AI glitchiness being mentioned. Otherwise it does sound like a pretty good game which hits all the right Homeworld notes.

    I’ll definitely pick it up once I have a bit of cash again.

  11. K_Sezegedin says:

    I know these guys have an excuse, since the game was well into spiritual sequel territory before they got the license, but its still funny a mythos as simple as Homeworld’s gets so fiercely retconned with EVERY entry.

  12. Razumen says:

    Love how the carrier just drives over your own units, like what, they couldn’t code in basic collision detection and avoidance?

  13. racccoon says:

    I see no point in breaking up the character of this games previous past into a separate entity, when it had its history in outta space. This is a stupid idea. :(

    • UncleLou says:

      Well, see it as a spin-off. If there’s one thing it doesn’t do, though, it’s losing the character of the HW games. It feels very much like a Homeworld game.

      • Razumen says:

        But it’s not a spinoff…it’s a direct prequel to the events in Homeworld 1.

        Homeworld Cataclysm was a spinoff…this, this is just another RTS riding on the successes of a past well-known RTS.

        • UncleLou says:

          Hm, that’s a bit unfair. It clearly is a labour of love made by (partially) the same team as the original HW games. I don’t know if you’ve played, but as I said before (and like the WIT says), it really feels like Homeworld.

          The fact that it’s a prequel, story-wise, doesn’t mean it’s not a spin-off though. There might very well be a HW3, but this is not it.

        • Cinek says:

          It is a spin-off. The sequel to Homeworld is Homeworld 2. Homeworld not in space can’t even be considered to be a sequel to any game in the series.

          • Razumen says:

            Regardless of HOW the game plays, it’s a prequel that directly links and expands upon the main series storyline, that’s not a spin-off to me.

          • UncleLou says:

            I am not a native speaker, but according to Wikipedia, a spin-off is “is a radio program, television program, video game, film, or any narrative work, derived from one or more already existing works, that focuses, in particular, in more detail on one aspect of that original work (e.g. a particular topic, character, or event). ”

            Although I wasn’t really referring to the story when I called it a spin-off rather than the setting.

  14. aircool says:

    This is a strange one… people I know who’ve picked it up like it. However, the units look tiny, and their details seems to be swamped under the HUD icons, health bars etc… There also seems to be a lack of units and maps.

    I really want a decent RTS which isn’t twitchy clickfest; I want to enjoy the destruction, not just flick from unit to unit whilst hammering shortcuts.

    The lack of redefinable keys is a queer omission for a full priced game, as is the lack of variety.

    I’m sitting on the fence whilst considering which fence to sit on…

    • STARFIGHTER says:

      I don’t understand the “lack of units” angle. I really don’t.

      How many units is “enough?” Because there are the motherships, 3 kinds of aircraft, 3 capital ships, 5 or 6 lighter units, plus two or three utility units including the Baserunner which is one of the most innovative “engineer” style units I’ve ever seen. That’s 14 different unit types to manage and they each have their own purpose and micro.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      “Lack of redefinable keys”?

      Uh, no. Every key can be re-mapped. The only thing I couldn’t find was a way to invert the mouse camera-control.

      • aircool says:

        Ah, I was under the impression that there was no way to rebind keys.

        • Premium User Badge

          Nauallis says:

          Welp, actually, no. Aircool had it right. Tried it again last night, and there’s no rebinding. The keybindings menu had the look of so many others where rebinding is possible, so I assumed.

  15. Legion1183 says:

    I read another review on Deserts of Kharak that said the skirmish mode feels a little “empty” – do you know if the game will be fleshed out a bit with future (free?) updates or DLC? With not much replayability in skirmish and a ~8 hour campaign I can’t really justify the asking price atm, so I may have to wait a while and see when I can pick this up on sale.

    • Legion1183 says:

      I may need to elaborate a little on “empty” – what I mean by that is too few maps and game modes.

      • Bull0 says:

        BBI have confirmed they’re going to support the game with DLC and that maps will be free.

  16. GreatBigWhiteWorld says:

    Uninstalled within 30 mins. Plz stop wasting my precious SSD space and go back to 1999 where you belong, foul demon.

  17. Cinek says:

    Homeworld without full 3D environment, very bad AI, and surprisingly low poly graphics for something released in 2015. A “very solid core”… well… I was already disappointed with way too many games that had “solid core” but nothing beyond that (ekhm, Elite, ekhm). As far as I loved Homeworld games – I’ll skip that spin-off.

  18. zxcasdqwecat says:

    oh my god guys. It’s homeworld with proper maps. Not that homeworld games are flawed or anything in their “beu” approach.

  19. Alberto says:

    I watched some videos with Blackbird CEO commenting and even in that tightly controlled environment the enemies were underwhelminy dumb.

    To the point of a dozen units happily sitting on top of a dune letting themselves be killed because that was clearly their pursuing limit, not attacking the player units nor retreating to avoid fire.

    All this while the CEO spoke about the “desperation” and “insurmountable odds” etc.

    Totalbiscuit video also referred to the ai plainly cheating, according to the resources mined etc displayed in the debriefing of the skirmishes. And it makes sense.

    Somehow I regret this project ended being a Homeworld game. It seemed more interesting before giant supercarriers stole the show.

  20. Chrisstoph says:

    Episode 1 – HOMEWORLD Deserts Of Karak

    link to youtu.be

    Subscribe to watch every episode of the new lets play series.
    New Episode out every day.

  21. wodin says:

    I’m really not a fan of RTS games. To be honest only Graviteam Tactics has ever grabbed me. I have never really got the base building and unit building RTS mechanics and always feel it’s a big race so not only feel underpressure form the start but also find it ends up a massive click fest. This game has not joined Graviteam OS as a permanent fixture on my had drive.