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In 2021, Dennis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune took the silver screen by storm, leading to calls from gamers for a modern iteration of 1992’s Dune and/or Dune II (same year, quite different games). Thankfully, a few months after the movie’s release, Shiro Games announced Dune: Spice Wars during the 2021 Game Awards. The reveal spiced up the strategy community, intriguing veterans and newcomers to the Dune universe. Due to my age, I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to experience 1992’s titles; however, as a fan of the movie and strategy games, Dune: Spice Wars immediately piqued my attention, so I grabbed the opportunity to go hands-on with the upcoming title before it enters early access.
Dune: Spice Wars is a real time strategy game with 4X elements. If you’re unfamiliar with the term 4X, it basically stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate. These are the four pillars that Dune: Spice Wars’ gameplay focuses on, and each pillar can nudge you towards victory.
Exploration is key in any strategy game, and it’s one of the first things you do in Dune: Spice Wars as you begin to plan out the initial steps for your chosen faction. You can use any units to reveal new regions, however only ornithopters can survey them, and they also move a lot quicker, too! Surveying discoveries can reap rewards and give you a head start in your faction's race for victory. As you explore you can also expand your empire, claiming outposts and constructing buildings to boost resources for your cause.
Resources are crucial in Dune. If you’ve watched either film adaptation or read the book, you’ll know how important spice is - and as the game’s name suggests, it's no different here either. But alongside spice, you also need to manage other resources to survive in the dangerous desert wasteland: Water, Solari, Manpower, Authority, Hegemony, Influence, Fuel Cells and Plascrete. Each resource allows you to build, command or recruit more troops to aid your cause. Some regions generate more resources than others. Water, for example, requires windier territories to be occupied. Plascrete allows you to construct buildings, but also build more at each settlement. Each resource is paramount when it comes to expanding your empire in Arrakis.
Resources can be extremely volatile in Dune: Spice Wars - one second you can be generating hefty profits and the next you’ll be struggling to keep your faction afloat. Players must also keep on top of a Spice tax, as well as capitalise on the Spice-to-CHOAM exchange rate; failure to do so will leave you trailing behind the rest.
Dune: Spice Wars also has a huge political side to it. Factions can vote in the Landsraad council for resolutions which benefit them or allies, and the higher your influence the more votes you get. It’s very interesting seeing the effects of the Landsraad council take effect, and how it can boost you towards economic supremacy or towards being a military powerhouse.
If waging war on neighbouring factions is your thing, there’s certainly plenty of combat to look forward to. Each faction is under constant threat, not just from other factions, but from Sandworms and Sietch, which are neutral settlements. Protecting your spice is crucial, and boosting production and hiring militia to protect your spice production will go a long way towards your victory. If you control the spice flow, you control the universe.
There’s a few ways you can win on Arrakis. The first way is outright domination. You can achieve this by destroying an opponent’s home base, or by assassinating the enemy faction leader. The second way is Governorship - if you have a perfect political stance in the Landsraad council you can be elected as the legitimate ruler of Arrakis. Finally, you can also win by accumulating 50,000 Hegemony, which is essentially in-game score, by gathering spice, controlling villages and generally expanding your empire for a prolonged period of time.
There’s several factions in Dune: Spice Wars: House Harkonnen, House Atreides, The Smugglers and The Fremen. Each with a unique point of view on Arrakis, they each have different attributes which you’ll learn as you spend time with each faction. For example, for gathering spice, the Smugglers use giant harvesters (as seen in the film) which roam around the planet, but have to be extracted whenever a Sandworm threat presents itself. However, the Fremen have little spice-gathering camps which make less noise than harvesters, but are unable to be moved and can be destroyed by those pesky Sandworms.
The Sandworms in Dune: Spice Wars present a unique threat which is not to be ignored. Much like the film, if you make too much noise on the surface, or create intense vibrations, you’ll attract one and it’ll have devastating consequences if you don’t act quick enough. The game does give you a little warning to move units, and some harvesters have the option to auto-extract, but there’ll be occasions which you’ll have no option but to learn the hard way when a Sandworm catches your units in the open desert. The Sandworm threat also puts a unique spin on combat: you can’t just go in all guns blazing, you have to take into consideration the amount of units you need for each battle to win, but also create the least noise.
Variety is the spice of life, and in Dune: Spice Wars there’s so much to sink your sandy teeth into. It can be quite daunting at first, as with many strategy games, but give it enough time and you’ll be harvesting spice like there’s no tomorrow. Although initially it felt like a steep learning curve, the gameplay itself was rewarding, and a true real-time strategy game with 4X gameplay mechanics at the heart.
If this preview has intrigued you enough you’ll be glad to know that Dune: Spice Wars will be entering early access this week, on April 26th. Throughout the lengthy early access period Shiro Games will be releasing constant updates to Dune: Spice Wars, including multiplayer, new factions and a campaign mode. They’ll also be taking on board player feedback from the early access period to shape the future of the game.
With the release of 2021’s Dune, Frank Herbert’s world of otherworldly politics and resource power-battles reached new audiences. Similarly, Dune: Spice Wars will do the same for those who didn’t get chance to play the Dune titles of the 1990s - the second of which is a landmark strategy game. The Dune universe looks only to grow as Spice Wars’ early access period commences, and as we look forward to Dune: Part Two arriving in cinemas in 2023. So what are you waiting for? There’s plenty of spice to go around in Dune: Spice Wars. Arrakis awaits.
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