Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
Confession time! I’m not the biggest fan of Homeworld. I played it on original release and bounced off it like a meteor off a deflector shield. I liked it more when the HD remakes landed a couple of years ago, but it was still more admiration than love. I’m not sure what exactly I found unsatisfying about them, but it may well have something to do with trying to think tactically in 3D space, because while I didn’t enjoy the original Homeworlds, I loved the recent prequel, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak [official site].
Originally known as Hardware: Shipbreakers, deserts of Kharak switches out the spaceships and inky void of Homeworld for rolling sand-dunes and gigantic, sand-crawling vehicle carriers. But structurally it follows the format of Homeworld fairly closely. There’s a strong emphasis on storytelling, and each of the 14 missions in its campaign is designed to be unique, fast-paced and action-packed.
I love the sense of scale of Kharak, which manages to be even more striking than Homeworld despite dealing with smaller units. The campaign also unfolds beautifully, starting out by focussing on controlling small bands of dune buggies, then slowly upping the ante with missile-toting aircraft, artillery spitting carriers, and eventually devastating orbital weaponry.
I do wonder, though, what was lost in the transition between Shipbreakers and Deserts of Kharak. Read old interviews about the game, and there’s a real focus on the breaking down and recycling of ancient technology in the desert to outfit your vehicular army. Yet this is only a minor feature in the final game. Perhaps the idea didn’t fit with Homeworld’s tight focus on story and combat, or perhaps the system didn’t work as well as Blackbird originally hoped.
Either way, big-budget RTS are fairly thin on the ground these days, and Deserts of Kharak is well worth seeking out if you like massive vehicles slowly blowing up other massive vehicles.