Homeworld:Deserts of Kharak was developed by Blackbird Interactive and published by Gearbox Software. It was released for Steam on January 20th, 2016 for $49.99. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels.
Homeworld:Deserts of Kharak is a Real time strategy game and the follow up to Homeworld: Remastered which debuted at PAX South in 2015. The game is set as the title suggests in the desert. You are in control of what can only be described as a “giant aircraft carrier which can move on desert sand”. The campaign is relatively rich in story albeit militaristic and choppy in tone it does manage to capture your attention. The mechanics are somewhat simple and shallow for a full RTS but that adds a meta game element to the potential multiplayer battles.
What I enjoyed:
Keeping it simple – Deserts of Kharak doesn’t have a ridiculously deep unit type count nor a wide variety of ranges on those unit types. It has three, and each counters one of the others similar to rock, paper, scissors in that none of the three are overall superior. This was initially a bit of a let down but in the aspect of game design it’s a relatively solid strategy. This type of limitation encourages players to think critically without knowing a rich meta-game or end game strategy like other RTS games require.
Dune tunes – The audio and music in the game are well done to a point I felt immersed in the desert once I really sunk into the game. The militaristic style of the game isn’t exactly my personal style, but it’s well done in that I was annoyed by the commanders barking orders at me genuinely. The weapon sounds are also well done and not overzealous like RTS games tend to be so ultimately the audio in the game was clearly part of the cohesive design strategy.
Real time real issues – The premise of the game towards the beginning is that the desert and it’s storms are taking over a planet. This is a relatively topical theme weather is was intended or not since global climate is such a hot button issue. The other issues that come up in dialogue suggest that the environment is incredibly important and not to be taken for granted. It’s an interesting notion to think what would happen should a planet begin to slowly evolve into a desert.
What I disliked:
Sandy voices – The voice overs while convincing were speaking in choppy military speak which started to sound less than human. The dialogue really was a bit of an annoyance to me in terms of how it was written and delivered. The voice acting was likely directed in this course but I can’t help but feeling like it was a less than human performance. The multiple five word sentences and unnaturally bureaucratic tone repeating over and over was irritating.
Sunburnt AI – The AI enemies in the game don’t tend to make very logical decisions nor seem to play well against humans. This is a complaint I’ve heard from other reviewers in discussions about the game and it leads to a bigger overall issue. The game with poor AI then relies on the player base to enrich it via multiplayer games. I have some issues with any game that can’t stand alone without an internet connection unless it’s design is purely meant to be human vs. human.
Homeworld:Deserts of Kharak does have some great moments and fun aspects which are worth taking a look at eventually. I can’t encourage anyone to purchase a game at such a high price point without a better AI or certain multiplayer following. I’d like to think people will see the use of the three unit types as a good limitation of design but ultimately my thoughts are that they will stick with the bigger deeper RTS titles on the market. Relying on us to populate the multiplayer for replay value is a bold choice and forces the mode upon anyone looking to get their full value. I am simply not sure that the game will have enough of a following to garner that sort of multiplayer presence which is a major contributor to my score to wait until the next Steam sale for this one.
Score: Wait for a Sale
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