With the recent Dune movie hyping the public up on Arrakis and the war to control Spice, Shiro Games and Funcom are taking the next step in translating all of that political and military intrigue into a video game with Dune: Spice Wars, a mixture of real-time strategy with 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) elements set in a sprawling sci-fi universe.
Available in Steam Early Access on 26 April, we got our hands on an early preview and after a couple of hours, we are happy to report that Dune: Spice Wars is shaping up quite nicely, whether you are a veteran of other contemporaries like the Civilization series, or a newcomer hoping to enjoy Frank Herbert’s creation.
Taking a pick from the four available factions – House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Smugglers, and the Fremen, each come with its own bonuses, units, and drawbacks. Following that, you will also have to choose from the four councillors to aid you on your chosen path. This could be geared towards a more militaristic approach, or one full of subterfuge and espionage, the choice is yours.
There is no set objective when you first enter the Spice arena, and how players want to achieve victory is entirely up to them. It is this sense of freedom that ensures that no two games in Dune: Spice Wars will play out exactly the same. Adding in map size and difficulty, and the breadth of options can extend the game’s longevity as Early Access moves along.
Diving in, the game is going to overwhelm with plenty of information right off the bat, but with helpful tutorials that pop up whenever you need them, the decision to teach players as they play the game for themselves is a wise one. After all, nothing like getting your hands dirty to know how much it will take to dominate Arrakis.
From scouting out points of interest from your starting base with an ornithopter, drafting an army to assume control of villages, to building your first Refinery to harvest Spice, the game does feel like an RTS on that front. However, it becomes clearer that players will have more on their plate as time passes.
Resource management is key, as the balance of the economy will require some forward-thinking to prepare for the worse. Leaders have to worry about the Spice tax, dealing with other political powers via the Landsraad council, and engaging in the underhanded dealings that require intel, influence, and the expertise of spies.
Only by understanding how all of these systems work together can players hope to be the victor, and like in the lore, that is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, as things only get better after a few campaigns of familiarising yourself with what’s important.
Simply put, Dune: Spice Wars is not going for the quick-hit military-focused experience it could so very well be. Instead, what we have is a potentially riveting political drama that is driven by player choices and tendencies, housed in a sci-fi world that has a rich depository of lore to draw from, and the majesty of the desert and the magnificent sandworms, ready to devour anyone who gets too big for their boots.
It is still early days from a full launch, but these early impressions have us wanting more, and just like all the various factions, we certainly cannot get enough of the Spice.