Have You Played… Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak?

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.

28 Comments

  1. mavrik says:

    It was really good. I was very sceptical about moving Homeworld from space to ground, but the team somehow managed to grab all the magic of the original three homeworlds – soundtrack, voice acting, story-telling, everything fits.

    Also the game manages to avoid the ultra-fast “every-unit-has-100-skills-you-need-to-use-in-split-second” gameplay of modern eSport RTSes, so it’s also very enjoyable to play.

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    Drib says:

    I also did not enjoy the original Homeworld, and so gave the remakes a miss.

    The controls for 3d space were wonky, and I expect seem only wonkier today after aging for so long.

    • mavrik says:

      You do understand this is a ground-based standard RTS right? What do space controls have to do with this?

      Also I don’t remember anything wonky about controls in remastered editions.

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        Drib says:

        Did you read the part of the article where he talked about not liking the original homeworld? You know, the RTS in space where you fought in space and it wasn’t 2d on a desert planet? The thing I was plainly referring to when I said ‘original homeworld’?

        • Unclepauly says:

          Yup, you even stated “after aging for so long”. Pretty sure Deserts of Karak hasn’t aged much at all.

    • Asurmen says:

      How were they wonky? You only really had to deal with the z axis as up or down from the ship’s current plane and that was easy. Set your x and y with one click if you wanted to continue on the same plane, like any other RTS, or hold to also set the z.

      Really quite simple.

  3. wombat191 says:

    Well I just picked it up on the last sale and I’ve played the tutorial :) seems ok so far

  4. Maxheadroom says:

    Played (and finished) the originals, skipped the remasters and totally forgot this one was a thing

  5. Xocrates says:

    Played, but haven’t finished the campaign.

    I did quite enjoy what I did play though, and I do think they did a great job recapturing the spirit of the original.

  6. TotallyUseless says:

    Contemplating of even getting this game. Although I loved Homeword series decade ago, the last time I played the HD remakes I passed out to sleep several times. May be finding it boring since Battlefleet Gothic fills the same RTS space combat but with higher octane.

    Might get it when on sale tho.

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    Nauallis says:

    Loved Homeworld 1 & 2, wasn’t terribly fond of this one. There’s not much in evidence by way of tactics and unit scripting. The AI will always, ALWAYS use its counter units to kill off whatever of your units it specifically counters… but your units? haha no. Your units will shoot the first thing they see, every time. The AI can loss-leader you to resource death in almost every skirmish, but that doesn’t seem to apply to the player.

    What was great about 1 & 2 was that your units needed to be managed, absolutely, but not micromanaged. This game needs micromanagement, but the controls just aren’t there for it.

  8. mcnostril says:

    This game ruined other RTS’ for me.
    Not so much the game itself (though I enjoyed it quite a bit), but the audio design which is absolutely incredible. Everything sounds fantastic giving the action a tremendous sense of scale and weight, and every unit has so many lines of perfectly delivered and processed chatter, it really feels like you’re in charge of a massive operation.
    I tried the Homeworld remaster, and while the audio is in a similar vein, Desert of Kharak breathes so much life into its units that Homeworld’s ships just felt like dead bits of metal floating in space.

    • Hanban says:

      While I count Homeworld 1 & 2 as my favourite games ever, Deserts of Kharak doesn’t make that list for me. I would, however, rank it among the greatest games ever when it comes to audio and visual design. It looks absolutely gorgeous and sounds better. So, in total agreement there!

    • borgkubus says:

      I agree. Good game, fantastic sound design.

    • Durgendorf says:

      RTS games need more great sound design. The only game I’ve played that wowed me was Company of Heroes, where listening to the barks was a huge boon not just to my immersion but to my situational awareness. I skipped Kharak but might need to check it out now.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Hmm, I’m a sucker for good sound design. I also like RTS’s. Although I do hate deserts…

  9. haldolium says:

    For a moment (level 6). They did transport the Homeworld (2) atmosphere very well, but the gameplay was sadly disappointing for me.

    Just checked the patch status and it seems to have been “finished” in June 2016. Might check it out once more but iirc my issues lay much more deeper as any “balance” stuff and was more related to basic gameplay choices.

  10. KDR_11k says:

    I think it’s only good for the story, sadly. The skirmish and MP options are very limited, all the maps have a line of three resource spots near each spawn point and nothing else to take, you have to play in the CTF-like artifact capture mode to make the rest of the map do anything. The unit selection is extremely limited, little more than rock, paper and scissors. Maybe I’m missing something but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of strategic freedom. Even the DLC factions change less than picking a general in C&C Generals ZH.

  11. elevown says:

    I remember the reviews being pretty bad – saying like the AI was terrible etc so never got round to trying this 1.

  12. Phinor says:

    I didn’t enjoy Homeworld nor did I enjoy the remastered version. Deserts of Kharak though, this one I really enjoyed. Just a notch simpler so I could actually manage it all and not lose my whole fleet on the third mission.

  13. heretic says:

    Really enjoyed this, wish they released singleplayer DLC rather than multiplayer stuff though.

    Highlight for me was the way the story is told and the great art and audio direction!

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    The Almighty Moo says:

    Yes yes, but why yellow? In the desert? Why? What happened to the option to scour space / the desert in the bubblegum and toothpaste colours?

    Also the inversion of the selection colours in the sensor menu confused me for ages until I realised why I kept getting trying to select things that were already selected.

    Still, a great game with brilliant sound and a fun single player.

  15. DeadCanDance says:

    It didn’t seem very well optimized, performance wise. It never reached 60 fps even on the early missions, even though my computer is way more than the recommended. But the sound is incredible.

  16. STARFIGHTER says:

    I loved it, but I gobble up anything remotely Homeworld related. Back before Gearbox gave them the license to play with, I even signed up for the $100 prospector early access thingamajigger – one of the first people to do so. They ended up refunding everyone that bought it and giving them a free copy of the game, which I appreciated.

    It was a great Homeworld game, but I think it might have relied too much on that formula. I hope that future titles do something more with the genre.

  17. Sound says:

    Great sound, great look, good story, passable gameplay.

    I found the gameplay very forgettable and mushy. The battles mostly centered on attrition and basic positioning, and had very little in the way of interesting decision-making. And where positioning had impact, the ability to control the movement of your units was gummy. This isn’t innately a problem, but in the context, it makes the game feel like whatever you do is arbitrary. Either you’re using time efficiently, of you’re losing. No other consideration has a significant impact, really. It might have well been a high-res Cookie Clicker.

    I also agree with the review in regard to the salvaging gameplay. Honestly, that was one of the most interesting parts, and it amounted to no significant gameplay past McGuffin status.

    All a shame, as Homeworld was a very big deal for me when it came out. But the door is still open for another title, at least.

  18. zombiewarrior07 says:

    I really enjoyed this game, but I would love to see a Dune mod of it. You know, deserts, spice, coriolois storms, and of course, giant sand worms! I think it would be a perfect fit for this game.

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    alison says:

    I picked this game up because i liked Dune 2 and thought this would be similar. It’s not. It looks amazing. It sounds amazing. It is impossibly, horribly, awfully difficult (assuming you are coming from Dune 2). There are about a million buttons and the enemy attacks you so quickly you barely have time to scroll up to where the attack is coming from before you are dead. Definitely not a game for casual RTS players. I gave up after the second or third level when i didn’t have any units left and also didn’t have any resources to build more units.