Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Review – Hiigara

The newest Homeworld chapter is finally here and yet again shows how RTS gaming is done.

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One name that’s synonymous with real-time strategy excellence is Homeworld. First released in 1999 from developers Relic and publisher Sierra, it was the first attempt to create a 3D RTS game set in outer space, allowing units to move and attack in any direction. Homeworld became a smash hit thanks to its stunning visuals, sound design, gripping storyline and exciting gameplay. Four years later Homeworld 2 was released and also became a hit as it used the same RTS formula which made the first game successful, along with many improvements.

The Homeworld series guides the player through an epic tale of a people who discover what their ancestors left behind and begin a lonesome journey while enduring terrible hardships to reclaim and protect what was lost to them. Both Homeworld 1 and 2 became landmarks of RTS gaming that other strategy games strive to meet even today.

The original Homeworld games were re-released and remastered with brand new graphical effects bringing a timeless classic into the new gaming generation, showing that these games still stand as two of the best video games ever released. Our review for Homeworld Remastered Collection explains in full.

Publisher Gearbox with developer Blackbird Interactive have now continued the Homeworld saga and released a prequel to the first Homeworld. Set on the planet of Kharak, a civil war has broken out among the people and it’s up to you to lead them out of this mayhem to help them discover the truth about their past. It’s time experience first hand how the Kushan’s journey to the stars began with Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak.


The Kushan are engaged in a bloody civil war on their home planet of Kharak. The Coalition of the Northern Kiithid and their rivals the Gaalsien are locked in conflict with no end in sight. Rachel S’jet, the Chief Science Officer of the Coalition, has been tasked to investigate an anomaly located deep within enemy territory.

At the same time, she is pursuing her own personal goal: finding her brother, who disappeared shortly after the anomaly’s appearance. All this leads Rachel thorough a chain of events where the truth of her people’s origins could forever change the course of Kharak’s destiny and secure a bright, glorious future for generations to come.

Deserts of Kharak plays out like RTS games such as Dune or Starcraft with heavy influences from previous Homeworld games. You’ll send light, heavy, and air units out of the field to crush your foes, while support vehicles gather resources needed to acquire new units and upgrades.

Units are suited to one task more than another so choose carefully which ones you’ll be sending out there. Some units include special abilities like boosts and smokescreens which can be activated during battles giving them an edge in the heat of the moment. If units survive battles with enemies, they gain in rank and become veterans.

Their shots are more accurate and they can take more punishment. Keep veteran units alive as much as possible as they’ll prove invaluable when carrying out missions and you’ll able to take them with you to the next one.

Rachel will be out there too. She can repair damaged units and even engage in combat, but it’s best to keep her away from the front lines. If she dies, the mission is over so she must be protected at all costs.

The sensors manager makes a return here, giving you a tactical view of the battlefield, complete with troop placement and terrain mapping. Using this view gives you a larger view of the battlefield where you can make pinpoint maneuvers with units and plan strategies from sneak attacks to ambushes giving you the tools you need for total command on the battlefield.


Your Carrier, the Kapisi, is your base of operations, similar to the motherships in the earlier Homeworld games. You use this vessel for research and unit building to replenish the ranks, add newer units, and acquire upgrades for units in your army.

The Kapisi also comes with a power distribution system. You’re able to distribute power among four systems: Reactive which increases armor strength, Repair which enables faster repairs to damaged systems and friendly units, Turrets enabling the Kapisi to engage in combat, and Range which effects the range of turret fire.

Different situations require you to administer power accordingly which makes keeping the Kapisi intact a very intense task. As with Rachel, the mission is lost if the Kapisi is destroyed. It will become stronger as you progress, allowing you to distribute more power between systems turning the Kapisi into a powerful and menacing tool of war.

The dunes of Kharak are a treacherous place. Large hills of sand block your view and break your units’ line of fire. Thick sandstorms affect your units’ range and accuracy and hide the enemy from sight. Some maps force you into narrow canyons, turning your units into easy prey for those waiting above. However these conditions may also work to your advantage. Moving your units to higher ground increases accuracy, hills provide some protection, and sandstorms may open opportunities like hiding your own units before decimating the enemy in an ambush.


Battles are gripping, frantic and very fun to watch. The game presents gunfire, missiles, men screaming over comms, and machines being ripped apart in fire and twisted metal while you make snap decisions to destroy your opponents and claim victory.

You’re on the edge of your seat constantly as you cautiously plan your next move, doing your best to procure resources and getting units out on the field as fast as possible to bolster the ranks and deliver some serious damage to your enemies. Even if the battles are now on land they still recapture the magic of the exciting space battles in Homeworld 1 & 2.

Deserts of Kharak is one of the best looking and sounding RTS games ever released. The visuals look sharp and strong presenting battles with highly detailed models, stunning special effects, and highly detailed battlefields. Gunblasts, missile fire and, explosions turn the bleak dunes of Kharak into a deadly display of lights and fire.

While the vehicles in this game lack the elegance and finesse of the spacecraft of Homeworld 1 & 2, they look highly detailed, unique, and designed in a manner reflecting the rough environment of Kharak. The dunes are vast and desolate with miles of sand and rock presenting an imposing arena for rival factions to do battle. Smaller details like sand on tires and tracks in the sand add even greater detail and indirect interactivity with the environment.

The hand-painted animated cutscenes look stunning and fit perfectly with the rest of the visuals.

Music maestro Paul Ruskay returns to once again deliver a riveting soundtrack adding to the intensity and drama of the Homeworld series. The musical tracks for Deserts of Kharak are more aggressive and fast paced, reflecting the harsh environment of Kharak and the ferocity of land based combat as opposed to the more humbling and somber music pieces of the previous Homeworld games.

Deafening, powerful sounds of gunblasts, missile fire, and bombs resonate across the battlefield. Voice acting is top-notch and presents the storyline of Deserts of Kharak in a dramatic fashion. Constant radio chatter can be heard adding a sense of immersion that you’re actually in command during a ferocious battle and units even talk to each other over comms when out of combat. The stunning visuals and sound design make Homeworld once again a spectacular and cinematic RTS showcase of wartime suspense, drama and intensity.


Homeworld nails RTS gaming yet again with perfected strategy mechanics, beautiful visual and sound design, and raw, engaging gameplay. Problems still exist however in this otherwise fantastic game.

You can’t arrange units in certain formations like you could in the previous games, which would have been useful for managing large and varied groups of units. Units, although competent, have pathfinding issues with some units going off on their own even when you’ve directed them where you need them. Units and background objects clip into each other, tires and tank threads sometimes don’t move along with the unit and using the camera to clip through units breaks the appeal of the visuals.

Multiplayer increases the fun of Deserts of Kharak when playing with up to six human opponents. Unfortunately, multiplayer is very limited for now. There aren’t a lot of maps to play on and there are very limited modes available. Also, when it comes to choosing factions, there’s not much of a difference between the Coalition and the Gaalsien aside from presentation. Both factions feel very similar to play as and don’t add enough variety to multiplayer matches.

After over a decade, the newest chapter in the Homeworld saga has brought the series back in a big way. The decision to switch to ground and air combat in a series known for its iconic space-opera setting was a bold one, but the developers have pulled it off with flying colors. It’s just as every bit as dramatic and exciting as its predecessors showing that even with major changes, it still stays true to what made the Homeworld series a milestone of RTS gaming.

Get Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and discover the truth about the history of the Kushan. And prepare for battle when doing so.

This review of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is based on a digital copy for the PC which was provided by the publisher.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
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  • Graphics
  • Gameplay
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About The Author
Asad Quadri Contributing Editor
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