It’s a really good time to be a Dune fan. Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 film has brought an all-new and fantastic look to the franchise and Shiro Games is joining in the hype with one of the first new video game takes on Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi universe. Dune: Spice Wars brings us back to Arrakis with a new real-time strategy game and I recently got a chance to sit down with the devs and see a demonstration of how the latest war for spice is coming together.
Control the spice, control the universe
As is nearly always at the core of all things Dune, Spice Wars takes players back to the planet of Arrakis to wage war and claim dominance over the most precious of resources. For this endeavor, Shiro Games has designed a real-time strategy game with 4X elements. Players will manage the establishment and wellbeing of settlements and outposts while enlisting combatant units to fight off not only the planet’s hostile conditions, but also fellow houses that are also seeking domination over the planet’s spice.
For our demo, classic Dune rivals, the noble and just House Atreides and the ruthless and cunning House Harkonnen, were on display, though there will be further factions. More importantly, though the Atreides and Harkonnen are traditionally always directly at each other’s throats, immediate conflict is not the path to dominance on this unforgiving world. I got to see some level of diplomacy, including the use of spies to learn secrets and create disarray and politics to form social and trade alliances. A Harkonnen/Atreides alliance? It will never work! But here, it just might buy you some time and benefit you both as you expand your infrastructure and resource collection on the planet.
After all, Arrakis is as hostile towards invaders and settlers as always. There are villages to discover, befriend, and/or subjugate to your cause, and points of interest which may bring fortune like bonus resources and advancements to your side. However, in the fog of war that covers the land, there are also deadly threats. During the demonstration, I got to see wandering raiders try their hand at intercepting one of the Atreides settlements. There are also the sandworms to consider, lurking beneath the twisting dunes of the planet. They can attack out of nowhere at any time and make leaving your units on unsolid ground or non-rocky terrain a dangerous risk. That includes when you’re in the middle of a skirmish with raiders or a rival faction.
Perhaps one of the most important gameplay features Shiro Games showed me during the brief demonstration was an advancement tree. From there, your faction can specialize in factors of diplomacy/subterfuge, military, economy, or resource collection/efficiency. What you choose to specialize in will help dictate your best path towards dominance, but factions are likely to host their own specializations as well. After all, what good would a Harkonnen leader be if they could not effectively guide their armies in brutal combat?
Set your mind in motion
My brief glimpse of what Shiro Games has put together in Dune: Spice Wars was brief, but rewarding. The game looks like a proper return to Dune strategy with all sorts of new twists and turns that remain faithful to the spirit of Frank Herbert’s iconic universe. The war for spice is never over and there’s so much more to see as the game targets a spring 2022 early access release date. However, for what I saw, the exploration of the desert planet, the race and battle against other factions, and, of course, contending with the merciless planet itself, looks to be a strategic experience that will be rewarding to explore for hours on end.
This preview is based on hands-off impressions of a demo presented by the developer. Dune: Spice Wars will be coming to early access on PC via Steam in spring 2022.