When you first glance at the title of this game, it doesn’t seem like one that will inspire you to – depending on how old you are – drag mummy and daddy towards the shelves and eagerly point to it, or get excited and whip out your credit card and watch with glee as your purchase is rung up on the register.
It’s a good thing, though, that the image on the cover is fantastic. But let’s not get too hasty and judge a book (in this case, game) by its cover. It’s what’s on the inside that really matters, and Homeworld, Deserts of Kharak delivers rich, immersive gameplay in spades.
The game is set 106 years before its prequel, Homeworld, and centres around the dying world of Kharak. The wasting land is now the home of the banished Hiigaran people, whose conflicts among various splinter factions increase as steadily as the ever-expanding Great Banded Desert.
Tracking stations set up by the Hiigarans detect an object that is widely believed to reverse the death and violence on Kharak. To some, it may seem like a wild-goose chase, but this is not the first time the Jaraci Object has been spotted. Hiigarans from the polar north of the planet had previously sent an expedition to uncover the object, but the team had mysteriously vanished.
This second expedition is spearheaded by Rachel S’jet, who assembles a team onboard her ship, the Kapisi, which departs Epsilon base in search of this object. However, shortly after Rachel departs, another faction, the Gaalsien, a group of fanatics who’ve been exiled from the main body of Kharak’s societal structure, assault the Hiigaran people and lay siege to the planetary capital.
Cut off from supplies and intel, Rachel now needs to forge on, and hope that the Jaraci Object can help solve her growing worries. Repelling the Gaalsien, Rachel and her fellow Hiigarans stumble upon the Ifriit Nabal, the flagship of the first expedition all those years ago. To Rachel, this expedition means more than just salvation for her people.
Jacob, her elder brother, had been the commanding officer on that mission. He learns that Jacob withstood several years of Gaalsien incarceration, and that the reason the Gaalsien are at war with the Hiigarans is because they believe that the latter’s use of technology and satellites strongly goes against their faith. Rachel is not the only one hoping this object gives them salvation – the Gaalsien believe that securing the Jaraci Object will make them rulers of all of Kharak.
Facing a race against time with a militarily superior opposition, Rachel knows that the object, which has literally mobilised everyone on the planet, is now her only priority. While still under siege by the Gaalsien, the Hiigaran rulers understand this as well, and send her whatever aid they can spare; there are several more factions scattered across the desert willing to aid her.
All of this aid turns out to be pretty sizeable in the end: Rachel has at her disposal several fleets of ships, ranging from heavy spacefaring frigates and cruisers, to more nimble attack fighters and land-based artillery, tanks and some of the Hiigaran Coalition’s best infantry, all of whom know what is at stake and are more than willing to put their lives on the line for the salvation and safety of their people.
Deserts of Kharak may not have the nicest of titles, but it certainly is one of the best games to come out in the real-time strategy genre, and will live long in the memory of gamers everywhere.
The Short and Skinny
Name: Homeworld Deserts of Kharak
Genre: Fantasy/Real Time Strategy
Produced by: Blackbird Interactive and Gearbox Software
What it’s about: Kharak has always been a harsh and desolate world, and while many clans do battle it out for supremacy on the ground and in the air, none of them call the planet home.
Where to buy: Steam store, Humble Bundle, GOG.com
Platforms: Windows, Max OSX
IGN Rating: 8.8/10