It’s not often that we get new strategy games in the old sci-fi worlds and from popular movie licenses, but Dune: Spice Wars tries to be the source material. Now the new game from Shiro Games and posted by Funcom here, well, this early access title isn’t fun and polished enough to play right away.
The action of Dunes takes place in a somewhat dark sci-fi world compared to, say, Star Wars. Imagine a kind of intergalactic game of thrones with bloody battles for resources, and soon you’ll get a good picture of what awaits. We are on Arrakis, the famous sand-covered planet that helped make the dune world so popular. But of course it’s not only sand that makes Arrakis so important – it’s the resources under the dunes that make the entire universe, this empire that rules planet after planet, search for these riches. It is the so-called spice – “condiment” – that attracts the most powerful and brutal rulers.
Unsurprisingly, Dune: Spice Wars is all about the battle for the spice supplier, and it’s all about this bloody rat race. Here you can take control of four factions, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which makes trying out new campaigns as another nation all the more fun. It is important in a strategy game that takes place mostly on the same orange-brown sand-covered map at almost any time.
Dune: Spice Wars is a so called 4X game where you have to search for resources and seize territory as you compete with your opponents for world domination. Dunes still have some good twists on the genre, and I especially like that the hex map has been replaced with neat, flexible zones that are delicious if you go into each other. It’s important when we talk about sand dunes as far as the eye can see – um, that is, as far as the eye can see until sandstorms blow over the horizon of course.
The dune world is very empty compared to many other worlds out there, but like I said, the treasures are underground. In addition, we have the capitals of the various factions, as well as villages scattered across the landscape. The thing that I think is really cool about sand dunes is that you have no idea where anything is. The whole world is covered in sand walls before you actually explore it, something you need Ornithopers (sci-fi helicopters) to break through. These machines can also search and find points of interest, which is our first step in the search for the long-awaited spice, which is only found in certain areas.
As the obsessive Atreides (the “good” imperialists), you don’t necessarily have to fight to take over villages. Sand Dunes: Spice Wars is as much about politics as it is about war, and House Atreides can use its powerful influence to expand itself. However, this takes 15 days and affects the resources, but it is a good way to take control of several areas at the same time, while also saving lives lost. However, this resource must be balanced with the desire to gain a foothold in Laandsraad (the narrowing of the empire), which can award some big rewards or ugly punishments. Harkonnen’s obsession (“the wicked” imperialists) is surprisingly not focused on war, nor possessing the diplomatic capabilities of Atreides, but he can, in turn, crush the enemy with superior military force.
Even with the most basic Fremen you can have fun, because like Fremen you can benefit from knowing nature and the Arraki monsters better than most people. Dedicated “snakes” can be called sandworms and even ride on them, in order to move from one place to another quickly. This is a big help as it takes a long time for your forces to run from point A to B, especially when the water resources start to run out.
The struggle for existence
And the resources in particular are what make Dune: Spice Wars so unique and especially interesting. You can earn money from spices, but all factions must also pay a separate spice tax to the empire or to smugglers to continue their operations. But instead of being a constant expense item, you balance how much spice you want to produce – and how much you want to sell and thus make real money from.
Additionally, you have to make sure you have steel for the factories, fuel for the machines, water for your people, and even enough people to take care of the kingdom and run your harvesting machines. This means that every decision has serious consequences, and it is important to make sure you can build something before making a decision. Each building has maintenance costs, which means it requires more than one payment.
But perhaps what changes the formula most is how fragile your resource anchors are in reality. Not only do you have to watch out for massive sandstorms that threaten to destroy your devices, but massive sandstorms can crawl out of the sand in no time and take you completely to bed. You’re always notified of incoming attacks, but time is short, and if you don’t follow through — and if you’re not willing to pay more for an automatic device evacuation — you’ll probably make a fuss every now and then.
Plus, you’ll be dealing with angry rebels that appear from different regions, and together these make Dune: Spice Wars one of the most unique and most distorted games you’ve played in a long time. It’s fun to watch, and while it can be frustrating not to anticipate attacks or respond in time, you always have a chance to do better next time. The accessible formula also makes it fun to start new campaigns, so it’s really hard to get bored here.
A little too warm?
Dune is a somewhat apocalyptic world, with plenty of desperate and brutal moments in both book and movie formats. It’s a little odd, then, that the visual style of Dune: Spice Wars is just as cute and friendly as it gets. Spice Wars is by all means a nice, if not a simple game, but it has to be said that the details of the soldiers, for example, could have been more complex, at the same time they could have drawn more inspiration from the source material. It’s kind of reminiscent of the brutal concepts the game otherwise handles, and while that’s impressive, it could be cooler with a more realistic and detailed style, perhaps something like Frostpunk.
Dune: Spice Wars is from day one a unique and fun 4X strategy game that I find hard to put down. Not only is this easy to access because you started out so simple and small, but the battle for resources, challenging living conditions, sandworms, slightly deeper systems linked to politics and the diversity of factions make this game I want to see more of, which I hope will inspire developers others. Maybe you do something with the excitement because it all happens in real time – because unlike Civilization, for example, Dune isn’t a round game. Together, this creates an experience that feels fresh and exciting that always keeps you on your toes, and is worth its weight in gold in a strategy game genre like this.
Dunes: Spice Wars is available via Steam Early Access from April 26.
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