Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is billed as a prequel to the revered (and now remastered) Homeworld series, and it shares much in common with the genre-defining real-time strategy classic even though it takes the action out of space and onto the ground. Many times I could hardly tell the difference between my swarm of desert-ready vehicles from a fleet of ships, circling around my quarry, guns blazing. This is a good thing if you’re looking for a single-player focused RTS experience.
Deserts of Kharak takes much from Homeworld’s heritage, such as persistent units that you want to keep healthy from mission to mission, but provides new and interesting things to play around with as well. The most notable addition is the new carrier “base” unit, which doubles as production facility and a mobile fortress with a variety of powerful defensive and offensive abilities. The decisions a player makes using the carrier are decidedly more interesting than those of the legendary “space banana” base of Homeworld fame, from powerful airstrikes to massive barrages.
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The campaign is the best part of Deserts of Kharak. Missions are diverse and interesting, never falling into a rhythm of just churning out units en-masse to win. The story and setup are cliché sci-fi fare, and enemy aggression sometimes act too passively toward the player, but the missions offer impactful choices when it comes to resource management and route to victory.
Resource management sets the gameplay apart from the traditional RTS, where you can often establish resource dominance to win. Deserts of Kharak often limits available resources in each mission, forcing the player to make tough choices on whether to build more units or upgrade. This makes for more interesting and tactical experiences; you can’t brute force through missions with salvage superiority. This also makes it a pity that the campaign is so fleeting; most players can complete it in around six hours.
Units begin as standard paper-rock-scissors options, with light but speedy vehicles countering the long range and powerful railguns, and heavy armored units able to blow through lightly armored fare but weak to the range of railguns. Units get more interesting as you move through the game by offering things outside of the “counter this with that” philosophy, and the progression is paced well, but hardly revolutionary.
Multiplayer and skirmish options are available for those simply looking to get into the action. These modes allows players to select from two different factions, but it’s simple fare that doesn’t do much to raise the needle or enhance the experience – this is a game you pick up to play the campaign.
Deserts of Kharak is a single-player focused RTS game designed for lovers of the waning genre. If that’s what you’re looking for, it won’t disappoint, but the campaign is rather short, and the multiplayer options don’t do much to keep your interest piqued.