Review: Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
While the space opera fans marveled last year before the topspin return of the first two episodes of Homeworld, with Homeworld Remastered Collection (review last year), Gearbox was preparing something else with the franchise. Needless to say, even after recuperating the series from a dying THQ, the challenge to continue the legacy of Homeworld is a bold one. After the last chapter, Gearbox enlisted the services of Blackbird Interactive, whose leading members are former Relic Entertainment, makers of Homeworld Remastered Collection and Company of Heroes. Thus comes Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, a sort of prelude to the galactic mess that one got to orchestrate fifteen years ago, with a good dose of science fiction, leaving the galaxy warfare to focus on action in the warm sand of a dying planet. Is it the comeback of the series?
We leave the traditional and endless trips to the stars, as it is on the earth, or sand rather, that we are invited to follow the adventures of Rachel S’jet and the crew of Cruiser Kapisi . Their goal is to venture into the endless deserts of Kharak – a name that should ring a bell for fans of the series – a hundred years before the first Homeword, with the difficult task of finding the “Primal Anomaly” that will save this world in agony. But like most stories, it can go simple, and some hostile local tribes will not hesitate to come disrupt the process.
The passage from space to land, in references to the first two episodes, will constitute a major switch of themes for veterans during the campaign. The story relies primarily on excellent narration, even more than before if possible. each mission is introduced by a watercolor styled cutscene, and at the same time indicates that nothing is that easy.
The objectives are varied, although the familiar STR players will feel right at home in known territory. Defend an area at the peril of your life, find a specific artifact in the carcass of a huge ship, destroy enemy cruiser or protect allies … simple yet still effective. Only downside: we would have liked the campaign lasts a little longer. Despite the obvious skill needed, it only took me a little less than eight hours to cross three quarters of Kharak, got my hands on the precious artifact while killing some Sajuuk before switching to multiplayer. The difficulty that you are used to in the first two installment, with a completely punitive assignments are not in this game. The disappearance of a crew management on a 3D environment also feels weird for someone who is used to it.
Nevertheless, the principle of keeping its army as intact and safe from one mission to the other is still there, even though the game gives us the ability to start with a preset army to manage a minimum set depending on situations. Newcomers will find excellence in Deserts of Kharak, both in its story as with the mechanics, to engage later on in the massive task of trying Homeworld Remastered Collection. Even with the difference in perspective, Deserts of Kharak has a lot of the great accuracy and essence of the first installments, which is reassuring.
There’s also the pleasure of finding an alternative to the mythical mothership, a symbol of Homeworld I and II. The “mothercruiser”, as it is called, uses exactly the same operating principles of its predecessors. Production, harvesting, improvements, and few surprises on the side, such as the possibility of allocating the power to attack modules, defense, repair, or attach artifacts that you’ll find along the way, which improve key aspects… Even the construction of a land “fleet” land is exactly the same principles as before: you will have to try to have a mix of units as much as possible, to manage any potential aggression, playing on the same concept of paper-rock-scissors.
The simple geometric codes designating units (among the 13 types available) remain the same, and their use through the missions through tactical view is as always effective, despite the passage of a movement on ground instead of a three dimensional space. In short, the game welcomes the space pilgrims with open arms. But considering the 3D movements ditched for this episode, is there something to compensate this key element of the Homeworld series? Well, I’m happy to tell you there is.
Deserts of Kharak has a lot of the great accuracy and essence of the first installments, which is reassuring
The game takes advantage of positioning on the heights like it is already used in other strategy games. The integration of Homeworld’s mechanics fits perfectly with the dunes and plains environment, offering a true reflection on how to advance your troops, according to the surroundings. If positioned on higher ground, your units gain a damage bonus, as well as an opportunity to be missed by your opponent’s attacks, with natural obstacles which will plunge them to go into a large close melee assault, worthy of the space battles of the series.
This advantage can of course be double-edged if you find yourself at a disadvantage. It should also be borne in mind that the topology of the place may very well prevent our mother cruiser to advance as it should on the ground. Alas, these little subtleties disappear abruptly when well managed through the mission, by optimizing your army composition.
After reading all of this, you’ll notice that the game is still Homeworld singleplayer pleasure and confirms that the spirit of the series is still the same. Multiplayer side, although this was never really the main attraction of the franchise, it ends up being really well. Whether with matchmaking or private games, the the multiplayer mode has only five maps and two playable races: the Coalition (which you play as in the singleplayer campaign) against the Kiith Gaalsien (the main enemies). Content is a bit low when it comes to the richness of the previous Homeworld, but will still entertain hardcore players for couple of hours, especially if more maps will be offered later on.
At least, if there is a point on which many fans of the license will appreciate not changing, it’s the feel of these canonical opus. The graphics and designs of the vessels are as charming as it is the case with its spatial vastness If the universe changed drastically, the feeling of being alone in a vast desert, especially when experiencing your first ambush, is the same as a galactic graveyard. Topped with the soundtrack, led as usual by Paul Ruskay, fits with undeniable correctness to everything in the game, with his typical mixture of eastern and western music, that compliments the great SFX of the shootings, explosions, etc.
But, as it was the case with the remastered version, I experienced some minor problems, such as an unpleasant change of camera angle after a cutscene, or even the dumbed-out AI… Basically nothing very annoying, but can possibly interfere from time to time. In short, a rather successful bet for Geaborx which, hopefully, feels a bit relaxed with their investment, and the challenge of building a spin-off before we dive back with a vengeance in the void of the galaxy, with hopefully Homeworld III.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak was reviewed using an PC copy of the game provided by Gearbox Software. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• The same solid gameplay except on land
• Feels like Homeworld
• The music is an auditory trip
• Always as pleasant clashes
• Great storyline
• interesting artistic direction especially in cutscenes
• Too short of a main story
• A little expensive for its lifespan
• The AI can be a bit slow in comparison to other Homeworld
• Where's the legendary difficulty of the series?
• It's still not Homeworld 3