Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak review – Coming home

A prequel to the first Homeworld game, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak bears its heritage brightly and proudly, both in its mechanics and narrative. The majority of the team who worked on the first Homeworld game are present in Black Bird Interactive, the studio which made Deserts of Kharak, and it shows clearly. The theme and feel is strongly reminiscent, and nearly nostalgic for how strongly it pulls you back into the Homeworld franchise. The narrative comparison is so strong, in fact, that I was rather concerned that it would be a step by step recreation of Homeworld’s plot and missions instead played out in a desert, and that I’d be able to predict exactly what missions I’d be encountering and in what order.

Much to my relief, by the fourth mission the narrative was walking its own path, albeit still one regarding a desperate quest, and discovery. The story delves into the Hiigaran history on Kharak after that first deep desert discovery, first detailed in the introduction cinematic of the first Homeworld game, and the revelation as they realized what it truly was, and what it revealed about the history of the Hiigaran people.

Long before it was destroyed, the planet Kharak was dying a slow death. The deserts grew as the water shrank, pushing many of the clans to clash with each other for dwindling resources. After a satellite discovers a massive anomaly deep within one of the deserts, the Northern Coalition hopes that this discovery, along with hundreds of smaller anomalies detected throughout the desert, may lead to the planet’s salvation. However, that land is controlled by the Gaalsien, a strongly religious and territorial clan, set on keeping the secrets of the desert out of the hands of others. Despite this, and driven by the dim future of their people, an expedition lead by the carrier Kapisi is sent into enemy territory to unravel the mysteries buried within.

The cinematics strongly follow the styling of the older Homeworld games

Importantly, the game retains that sense of exploratory mysticism that was so profound in the Homeworld franchise. While the planet itself is a known entity to the protagonist, they’re exploring a massive chunk of it left abandoned for decades, kept guard and obscured by the Gaalsien. Many of the discoveries the make on their expedition raise new questions and details for fans of the franchise, regarding the Hiigaran exile on Kharak. It is, in the end, a very “Homeworld” narrative, albeit one that definitely feels like it has a lot more meat to it compared to the relatively loose story telling found in the other games.

The storytelling and voice acting is fantastic, retaining the franchises habit of using “cool under pressure” characters allowing that sense of urgency, the sense that this these people under your command are determined, but professional. It’s an interesting contrast to most other game narratives that prefer a more dramatic and emotional approach.

The game’s cutscenes keep to styling of the franchise, though there’s a larger range of motion present, especially when it comes to characters, and conversation. It’s fascinating to watch, and while it using such a medium does make certain character animation a bit awkward at times, it’s also very impressive seeing how they manage to animate certain scenes. The music is fantastic, being immediately familiar, composed by the same fantastic gentlemen who wrote the soundtrack to the original games. The radio chatter is back as well, including chatter between units and controllers outside of combat for things like reading confirmations, radiation spiking, and messages of good luck.

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