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Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak review: A classic resurrected

Hayden Dingman | Jan. 20, 2016
We go hands-on to test whether 2003 translates to 2016.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Creating a follow-up to a legendary game like Homeworld is an unenviable task. Even more so when it comes more than a decade after the fact, playing pretender to a throne buried under the weight of collective nostalgia. Take twelve years and you see “Homeworld is a great real-time strategy series” become “Homeworld is one of the greatest.” It’s the half-memorized speech we give even as we retire the series to wherever games go when we’ve decided they’re past their prime, when we’ve entered their greatest feats into industry canon. We move on. We stop hoping for more.

The arrival of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, the first wholly-new game in the series since 2003’s Homeworld 2, is more than surprising. To some, the faithful, Deserts of Kharak arrives like a resurrection. To others, it's like a beloved museum display someone decided to tamper with.

The spice must flow

What I’m saying is: Heavy hangs the crown of twelve years’ dreams and expectations upon Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak’s head. And the question I’ve seen repeated most often is, “Can this really be a Homeworld game if it doesn’t take place in space?”

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
(Click to expand)

It’s not just a matter of setting. Homeworld made its name, in part, off an innovative Z-axis movement system—meaning you moved not just in a two-dimensional plane, a la most RTS games, but in all six directions. (Think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.) A Homeworld game that takes place on the surface of a planet seems to cut out a vital aspect of what makes the series unique.

And yet. And yet.

I’m not going to say every fan will be satisfied with Deserts of Kharak, but I think most will. For a game that started life as a mere spiritual successor (originally titled Hardware: Shipbreakers), Deserts of Kharak does a remarkable job recapturing the essence of Homeworld.

It helps that Deserts of Kharak deals in exodus. Right away, you set up an obvious parallel to the original series. In Homeworld, you set off across the galaxy in search of a new home. Here, you lead your people into the desert in search of an ancient relic, the Jaraci Object or Primary Anomaly.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

The journey is an order of magnitude smaller, but the result is the same: Persistent fleets. Part of Homeworld’s appeal was that your units stayed with you throughout the game. Whatever survived a mission, that’s how you’d start the next. A unique mechanic, yes, but it was also thematically appropriate. It preserved the idea of a ship alone in space, no magical supply lines to replenish you after a Pyrrhic victory.

 

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