Homeworld, one of the defining RTS games of the late 90s, has decided to pluck itself out of the skies and dive down to more firm footing with the latest prequel, Deserts of Kharak. Though the move from space to ground combat was a striking change of pace that worried me when news about the game first made its rounds, I must applaud developer Blackbird Interactive for keeping the feel and scale of Homeworld. It is after all, what made the game so endearing when it first released back in ‘99. So, in spite of the fact that Homeworld has traded its space ships for dune buggys, what else can be expected? A lot, as it turns out.
Deserts of Kharak utilizes a smart cover-based system that plays nice with the integrated y-axis, and though most combat takes place on a flat plane, the inclusion of these strategic vantage points makes map control a necessity. The disappointing AI is probably the title’s biggest drawback, though, tainting the overall experience and making it far from flawless, but we’ll get into the nitty-gritty about that in just a bit.
"So, in spite of the fact that Homeworld has traded its space ships for dune buggys, what else can be expected? A lot, as it turns out."
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak asks players to become a part of the Coalition. As part of this exploratory group players are tasked with finding the Primary Anomoly, which may contain the key to the salvation of mankind. Along the way players will eventually encounter the Gaalsien forces, who are essentially religious fanatics that want nothing more than to destroy the Coalition because they dared to go into space. This summary doesn’t do the title justice considering the atmosphere of the storytelling is probably DoK’s best attribute, but I was thoroughly impressed that Blackbird managed to capture some of the urgency of the original Homeworld.
Voice acting, sound, and graphics go a long way towards propelling DoK’s overarching story. The cut scenes are beautifully delivered with high-caliber voice acting, while subtle arabian scores and the punch of explosives help keep the pace of combat.The the smart writing really helped to develop the stories on both sides of the conflict and though some reveals fell flat on their face the majority of the experience was well put together. My one qualm with the story’s presentation was the fact that a considerable amount of major plot points were buried inside walls of text. Considering how well put together the cut scenes were, I wish that Blackbird would have taken a bit more time to animate the story’s more important moments.
"There’s a fine balance of risk and reward with each and every action, and the developers did a great job of making maps equal and entertaining."
DoK has some incredibly inventive gameplay offering up equal levels of depth and strategy especially towards the end of the title’s 12-15 hour campaign. Players will begin with a massive sandcrawler base that serves as a mobile command point. It’s lackluster in the beginning but as the story progresses the base evolves into a hulking behemoth capable of raining destruction wherever it goes. It’s satisfying to say the least, and it offers up a unique sense of progression.
DoK is very much in line with the pace of combat Homeworld fans are used to. It’s painfully slow at times, especially to players like me that are more used to Blizzard style RTS, but it is immensely rewarding when things play out the way you want them to. There’s a fine balance of risk and reward with each and every action, and the developers did a great job of making maps equal and entertaining. DoK also does a wonderful job of punishing the player for greed. There were a number of times when I decided to pursue resources over laying siege, or vice versa, and as a result I would end up crippled due to my hubris.
"Assuming the AI can be addressed in the future, I think Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has the potential to remain a staple in my PC gaming rotation over the next few months, which is a testament to it’s gameplay longevity."
Multiplayer was a total treat in spite of its drawbacks. Though the scale of the combat is not quite as high as the campaign -- 125 unit cap instead of 200 -- there’s still a lot of potential for challenge as long as you’re playing against a human opponent. The skirmish AI leaves a lot to be desired and is almost completely incompetent, providing little to no challenge. I’m not sure what happened between the development of the AI in the campaign and the skirmish modes, but it certainly needs to be addressed. Only 5 maps are available for the multiplayer as well, which is a bit disappointing, but it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
Assuming the AI can be addressed in the future, I think Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has the potential to remain a staple in my PC gaming rotation over the next few months, which is a testament to it’s gameplay longevity. Though the game sacrifices the intrigue of space for more familiar ground combat, it does an excellent job of making the desert wastelands just as lonely and desolate as the galaxies Homeworld players are used to navigating.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC