The harsh desert land of Arrakis sets the scene for Dune: Spice Wars, the upcoming RTS from Northgard developer Shiro Games and publisher Funcom. During a first look at the game in action, I see the unforgiving sandy wastelands from Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi universe covered in a dense fog. All that can be seen is the player's base, which dispatches a small scouting aircraft called an Ornithopter to head out into the unknown. As the flying vessel moves across the desert, the fog begins to lift, and the landscape opens up grid-by-grid with various points of interest to explore. Not too far away from the base is a vivid patch of purple which signals the presence of the most valuable and coveted resource in Dune: Spice.
In Dune, spice means power; the resource makes interstellar travel possible and can even extend life. Since Arrakis is a planet rich with this highly sought-after substance, you are vying for dominion over it against other opposing factions. From the get-go, it's easy to see how this unique universe once again provides an appealing stage for a real-time strategy game after all these years. With a helping of 4X elements, you will have to manage your resources, contend with political machinations, and use tactics like subterfuge to gain the upper hand as you face the challenges the desert lands will present. From everything I've seen so far, it's fair to say that Shiro Games is bringing the classic sci-fi setting to life in a way that will no doubt appeal to fans of the RTS genre and Dune alike.
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At the start of Dune: Spice Wars, you will decide to play as one of four major factions plucked from the Dune universe, with the likes of House Atreides and House Harkonnen. To begin with, each faction is assigned two different councilors of your choosing – each equipped with unique bonuses that can benefit you in different ways as you try to expand your presence across the desert planet. With a main base of operations at the heart of the planet, much of the landscape is obscured by fog to start off with, so exploration plays a key role. Scouting will present you with many points of interest shown as question marks – these spots can be everything from locations of valuable resources (including the important spice) to the presence of opposing teams.
Every faction also has different abilities, which can present you with various approaches to dealing with conflict or controlling more land. During the preview, for example, we get to see the Atreides faction at play. Upon discovering a village guarded by troops, the Atreides House sets about taking over the location to use as a place to set up a harvester to gather spice at a nearby field. While military units are sent to the village to engage in combat against the guarding troops, the faction does have the unique option to take control peacefully and avoid conflict.
Not unlike the different civilizations in Age of Empires, each faction in Dune: Spice Wars has its own unique selection of military units. With the likes of rangers that fire from a distance and melee fighters who hit in close quarters, units specialize in different combat styles and have unique passive abilities that can be beneficial in a variety of ways. The different units will undoubtedly allow for various strategic approaches as you micro manage each conflict. There's definitely an appeal in experiencing how each faction differs and how you can utilize their special abilities to shape your own unique journey to power in Arrakis.
The spice is right
Growing your faction will be no small feat, though. The dry, hostile wastelands of the planet won't be so kind to you as you try to assert dominance. While your handy Ornithopters serve as useful scouts, you will need to be careful about sending any of your units outside of your own territory. Anyone who braves the sandy landscapes will be at the mercy of the elements. I see a group of military units venture far out into the hazardous, deep deserts of Arrakis. The troops are outfitted with supplies that start to whittle down until they're entirely depleted – now their health starts to take a hit until they eventually perish in the sandy climbs. Along with the strong winds and harsh environments, another threat also looms below the surface. Massive Sandworms can cause a lot of trouble for your faction should you fail to scan for signs of them.
Still, as the saying goes: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Sometimes the reward of reaching the far reaches of Arrakis can outweigh the risk. You might find another vital resource, or perhaps a broken-down harvester that will give you more spice. Since spice is the most sought-after and highly valuable resource, having a healthy stockpile is vital both as a means of gaining more currency and as a way to maintain political standing. Each month, you will have to pay an Imperial spice tax, and as we learn, not paying up can affect the political standing of your faction and make you more vulnerable to attacks from other groups vying for power over Arrakis.
While spice is the name of the game, it isn't the only means of gaining power and influence. In Dune: Spice Wars, your approach in politics and diplomacy adds an additional layer of strategy to your quest to have a monopoly on Arrakis and its spice. The Landsraad council, for example, is a hub where you can vote on resolutions that can affect different aspects of your influential power such as infrastructure. Through acts of diplomacy, you can also strike up trades and form treaties that can sway how the opposing groups view you. If you want to be a bit more cloak and dagger in your political dealings, you can also attempt to perform subterfuge missions with your spies to gain an advantage. While the UI is currently subject to change, there are some in-depth systems at play that fit right into the world of Dune and offer up a variety of approaches to conquer the sandy landscapes.
Be it through warfare, politics, economical power, or subterfuge, there's an undeniable appeal in the amount of choice Dune Spice: Wars offers you to shape your own journey to power. It's also clear in the many features and details that Shiro Games has a lot of love for the Dune universe, packing this 2022 release with little details that will no doubt speak to fans of Frank Hubert's world. And even if you're unfamiliar with the classic sci-fi epic, the challenges of the desert planet will no doubt bring more dimension to the strategy of this upcoming 4X RTS.
Dune: Spice Wars is set to launch in early access on PC this Spring. You can check out the first gameplay trailer here.