Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
A few months ago, a gaming friend of mine reminded me that the “next great” Homeworld game was looming large on the horizon:
“So you remember that that new Homeworld game is coming out soon, right?” he said.
“Right…Deserts of Iraq or something…” I mumbled, baiting him.
He bit. “No! Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is what it’s called.” He heard me sniggling then added: “Oh, whatever man, you know what it’s called.”
“Okay, so why is it not in space?”
“Well, maybe it’s the home part of Homeworld, get it?”
I must admit that I was pretty intrigued upon hearing about the latest iteration of the Homeworld franchise. The original game is kind of a studded jewel among hardcore PC gamers and remains an indie classic. I was a little discouraged after Gearbox Software acquired the rights to the Homeworld series and released the ho-hum Homeworld Remastered, and assumed that the Homeworld series had reached its end point. But when I heard that Blackbird Interactive, made up of franchise veterans, had formed, and were working on a prequel, titled Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, I was looking forward to seeing what they could produce.
The backstory is as follows: A once powerful faction on the planet Kharak, the Kushan, left their home world seeking vengeance against a powerful rival and a new planet to settle on. Karak, which had been their home for many millennia, had been reduced to an arid wasteland, devoid of most of its moisture. There had been warnings that a great cataclysm would sweep over Karak, but the premonitions went on unheeded until it was too late.
For Homeworld veterans, there are lots of tie-ins and references to the original Homeworld games which should strike a chord or two. Indeed, the main character, Rachel S’jet, is most likely related to Karan S’jet of the earlier games. In spite of the franchise’s drastic shift from outer-space to a terrestrial setting, Blackbird Interactive has still managed to imbue it with enough of that Homeworld feeling to satisfy fans of the hallowed series.
The gigantic fleet carrier, the Kapisi, is basically the Mothership from the earlier games, and both share having an innate self-sufficiency; being able to engage in research; production, and resource gathering independent of outside influence. The carrier is a slow moving behemoth, however, and can’t fend off enemies on its own, so it has to rely on lighter, more nimble vehicles to aid it in various combat roles. Those roles are more or less analogous to those of the ships in the originals, and the blue tactical maps are very similar as well.
After logging a few hours of both campaign and multiplayer (when I could find a game), Deserts of Kharak reminded me a lot of another recent release, Act of Aggression. Although terrain in Deserts of Kharak plays a more prominent role (line of sight is indicated by solid or broken red lines), battles basically come down to spamming a bunch of units and then hurling them as fast as you can at the enemy. There are no formations. Yes, you read that correctly—there are zero formations for grouped units, so piling as many units into large blobs is pretty much your safest bet at overcoming your foes as quickly as you can.
Speaking of speed, over the years, I’ve noticed a gradual upswing in game speed across most game genres; first-person shooters, adventure, RPGs, etc. Real time strategy games have seen an overall ratcheting up in speed as well, making what used to be more mentally stimulating, slower, more strategic movements and tactical gameplay—rushed, almost spastic affairs. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak follows this unfortunate trend. You can produce units and have them catapulting out of your main base, the carrier, in no time.
Not only is the production time hurried, but the overall game speed is breakneck. An enemy carrier can be all the way across the map and you can create a blob of units in the course of a little over a minute, thrust them across the arid landscape, and be assaulting their base in the blink of an eye. Also like other recent games out there, there is no way to toggle the default game speed in order to slow things down. This used to be a standard option, especially in RTS games, such as the classic Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War, and first Company of Heroes. Well, not anymore. The developers seemed to have given into the throngs of modern gamers who have increasingly shorter and shorter attention spans.
While Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak’s lackluster campaign can be breezed through in seven to eight hours, its multiplayer is its greatest disappointment. When I went to go check out the game’s multiplayer servers, I found none. That’s right, nada. I switched back and forth between Ranked and Unranked, and all manner of options and still came up with nothing. Finally, after waiting twenty or so minutes, I found a game and played a few sessions with a few other players.
During this time, I found out that there were only five multiplayer maps included with Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. Combined with only two playable factions, which both feature a very limited selection of generic rock-paper-scissor type units, and things come up pretty paltry indeed. I mean, maybe I could understand this if the game was still an Alpha build, or only cost $4.99 or something, but offering what constitutes as one-quarter of what other games come with for a full retail price is frankly unacceptable.
To its credit, Desert of Kharak’s graphics are quite superb, and its overall presentation is both unique and polished. I really liked the two faction designs, and the desert setting—although minimalist (sort of like the game), had a lonely allure, with windswept rolling dunes and plenty of gorgeous lens flare to ogle. The high fidelity sounds are also well handled, with hearty explosions and radiant laser fire, and many of the audio cues have been carried over from the original Homeworld games.
Nostalgia just isn’t enough, in this case. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak feels like an incomplete game that was hurried out the door. When looking at the glowing reviews from other mainstream publications I had to scratch my head and wonder if they had played the same game. For diehard fans of the Homeworld series, or gamers who like to slobber over beautiful graphics regardless of gameplay considerations, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak could satisfy them for some time. But even they may become bored in time with the lack of content on hand, and quickly move off like the hastily produced units in the game.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak does have luscious graphics, I’ll give it that. If you want to check them out at their highest level of detail, consider updating your gaming PC or gaming laptop:
Visit CyberpowerPC’s website to check out all of the other great deals as well!