Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Game Poster Image
Sci-fi strategy prequel has frequent but mild violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids will learn to develop and deploy tactics of varying complexity in this real-time military strategy game. At its simplest, the game tasks players simply to order their units to attack groups of opposing units. In more complex scenarios, players will need to determine not only which units are best suited to take on specific attackers but also their positions on the battlefield. They'll also need to triage situations, choosing which fronts on which to spend limited resources, where they can afford to lose or retreat from battle, and where they need to press an advantage. The specific decisions players make in Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak aren't directly transferable to the real world, but the strategic concepts at play can help kids learn to think on their feet.

Positive Messages

Human ingenuity, strategy, determination are enough to overcome daunting challenges, but game promotes violence as a means to solve many problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Human characters -- depicted primarily through radio chatter -- are mostly warriors. Their primary objective isn't war but scientific discovery. They have to fight, defend themselves to achieve objectives, save their species.

Ease of Play

Combat is complex but familiar to fans of real-time strategy games. Three difficulty levels allow players to set themselves a challenge properly fitted to their experience, ability.


Gun, missile, laser combat shown from bird's-eye vantage. Players observe tiny vehicles shooting each other and exploding. Human characters die, but deaths generally assumed rather than shown, save for brief cut scenes where lifeless bodies are visible. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a downloadable real-time strategy game with a sci-fi theme. Players view a large map from high in the sky, ordering groups of ground units and ships to attack enemies with guns, lasers, and missiles. There's no blood or gore -- enemy units simply explode and disappear -- but dead bodies are briefly seen in animated cut scenes. The protagonists aren't warlike by nature but must arm and defend themselves from any attackers they encounter on their quest to discover a technology that could save their people. The narrative has a dark vibe but suggests that human perseverance and intelligence are enough to overcome even the hardest problems. 

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What's it about?

Set more than a century before the space combat-strategy game Homeworld, HOMEWORLD: DESERTS OF KHARAK takes place on an arid planet home to a desperate people. All their hope rests in finding a mysterious object located by satellite resting in the middle of a vast desert. They suspect it could hold the key to their future on Kharak -- or off of it. Players take command of an expedition sent to find and learn the secrets of the artifact, but they are dogged at every turn by a rival group known as the Gaalsien. Mission by mission, players explore the desert, fending off their attackers with groups of land and air vehicles while harvesting scant resources from the dunes to upgrade and build better units. The heart of the player's force is a land vehicle that looks like an aircraft carrier on wheels. It serves as manufacturing facility and air base, and players can direct its internal energy toward defense, repair, or offensive actions as needed. Beyond the campaign, players can also engage in customizable one-off skirmishes and do battle with other players online. 

Is it any good?

Set on land rather than in space, it may appear at first glance that this prequel shares little in common with its beloved predecessor. But its designers have managed to imbue these desert battles with a feeling of three dimensions, making the gentle gradations of the desert landscape a key factor in battle. Ripples on the surface of the sandy sea serve as obstacles for land vehicles, and high ground is almost always advantageous. Plus, the slow but versatile mobile land carrier brings a fresh dimension to ground combat, forcing players to develop strategies that allow them to explore, harvest resources, and mount temporary defenses, all while gradually moving across interesting maps.

Add in some reliable (if slightly more traditional) elements -- such as army development and growth balanced by limited resources -- and you have a serious contender for your real-time strategy dollars. If the campaign were just a little longer and had the developers found a way to make enemy movement a little more reactive and dynamic (it's sometimes hard to see merit in your foe's strategies even on harder difficulties), Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak would rank alongside the very best games the genre has seen in recent years.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about strategy. When playing games, do you enjoy taking time to think out a series of moves and countermoves, or do you prefer more twitchy action based on reflexes and instinct? Why do you think some people might like one type of game more than the other?

  • Talk about screen time. This game is broken into missions that generally take less than an hour each to complete, but is playing one mission per session enough for you, or do you feel the need to play more? Are you sad when you finish a really good game in only a few days?

Game details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strategy

Themes & Topics

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