Release Date: 20 January 2016
Developer: Blackbird Interactive
Homeworld is admittedly not a series I ever played. Whilst some of the games I played most as a kid on my Mum’s PC were RTS games, I played Age of Empires, Age of Mythology and Empire Earth. Even so, Homeworld was a series that I heard about and was always keen to try. The remakes of the original Homeworld games last year somehow managed to give me this slip, but seeing this prequel I thought there was no better time to give the series a go.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak takes a serious departure from the earlier titles by taking place on land in (surprisingly) the Desert of Kharak. The new game swaps spaceships for dune buggies and star cruisers for tanks: playing as the Coalition, you travel across the deserts in search of the ‘Primary Anomaly’ which may contain within it mankind’s salvation. Along the way you are harried by the Gaalsien forces, who are angry with the Coalition since they dared to go into space, which is a big no-no for them. The stage is set, and you roll out in an enormous sand crawler type craft called Kapisi.
I won’t talk about the story too much, because it’s great and well worth experiencing for yourself. The game’s 10-12 hour run time is story-rich with some great cutscenes, music and, most importantly, interesting scenarios. Like any good RTS, the story scenarios force you to play in a way different to just spawning as many units as possible to steamroll the opponent. Restricted resources and differing objectives mean you need to keep changing up your strategy in order to achieve victory. I played through on the medium difficulty and it was about right for me, I’m not a great RTS player but we’ll get back to that in a little bit, but there are a few different options to tailor the game to your experience level.
So how does the game actually play? In short, pretty amazingly. One of the hallmarks of Homeworld was the Mother Base, a mobile base that could be used for production and upgrades – this set Homeworld apart from a lot of other games in the genre. For Deserts of Kharak, they take that aspect up it to 11. Your Carrier – the equivalent of the Mother Base – is also an incredibly powerful unit: it’s more than capable of wiping out enemy squads and, in a tricky spot, can turn the tide of battle. So you’ve got to be careful: if it dies, you’re done for, but it’s powerful enough that it can create a decisive victory. In truth I used it for likely far too many Hail Marys.
The rest of the units are fairly standard fare. For the most part it’s a game of matching up types to gain advantage: deploy fast units to deal with artillery, then deploy artillery to beat up attack units, because attack units are great at picking off the fast units. This, twinned with terrain advantage (high terrain beats low and lower units may lose line of fire) means that by playing sufficiently strategically, a relatively small force can decimate your opponent’s plans. That’s not to say that creating a massive army and charging at the enemy’s cruiser doesn’t work, just that it’s really not optimal.
Where do you go after the campaign then? As you might expect there is a Skirmish mode and a multiplayer mode. Disappointingly, only five maps are available, potentially leading to a lack of longevity. Now I’m not great at RTS games, and I was able to get through a couple of games on medium quite easily by simply disrupting the supply line of the enemy. I’ve also heard that many of the good players can breeze through even the more difficult settings without much of a problem.
The multiplayer is where my inexperience in the genre shows. I remember in my time playing Age of Mythology or Age of Empires I’d be using cheats more often than not to get through the campaign. And whilst I’m somewhat better now, I’m still clearly not good enough for multiplayer. I shan’t go into detail but suffice to say I lost my first match so hard that I’m not like to try again for a while. But if the game has staying power that’s where you’re going to find it, even if the queue times are already quite long.
Overall, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is great. In an age where RTS games are few and far between it stands out as a game that looks great, plays great and has a solid story behind it. It’s probably not going to stand as one of the best RTS of all time, and it’s not really done much new, but if you like the genre then it’s an easy pick up. Having got this one for free, I think it’s maybe time that I looked at buying the Homeworld Re-Mastered Collection.