Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a real-time strategy game and a prequel to the 1999 Homeworld. Unlike the original game that was set in space, this title takes place on the desert planet Kharak and 106 years before the events of the original game. Kharak is dying as it turns more into a desert each year and the Kushan clans that inhabit the world constantly fight each other for territory. One day, a satellite detects an anomaly named the Jaraci Object in the Great Banded Desert. An expedition is sent there by the Coalition of the Northern Kiithid, one of the Kushan clans, to investigate it, but they disappear. This game describes what happens to the second expedition sent there, focusing on its chief science officer, Rachel S'jet. The plot is told in thirteen single-player missions.
The game is played as a ground-based real-time strategy game between two Kushan factions: Coalition of the Northern Kiithid and Kiith Gaalsien (a renegade clan). The player commands troops and uses a single mobile, building base. Harvesters are sent out to collect resources and these are brought back to the base to develop the troops. For the gameplay the topography of the landscape plays an important role for a tactical approach. There are different multiplayer modes, including one about capturing artifacts that need to be transferred back to the base for a certain time to win the match. Online multiplayer also includes ranked play.