Dune: Awakening looks to spice up the world of survival MMOs

In a full presentation, Funcom revealed gameplay of the character creation, survival elements, sandworm, spice harvesting, base building, and much more.


To say that Dune: Awakening faces an uphill battle would be an understatement. For at least the last two decades, Dune fans have been waiting for a serious video game that respects the franchise. The success of the modern Dune films has made it the right time for Funcom, the developer behind Conan Exiles, to create a game that will hopefully live up to all of the expectations. Since many fans really want a single-player experience where they can explore and conquer Arrakis as Paul Atreides, the fact that Dune: Awakening is a survival MMO will take a lot of convincing for them to get on board. But in a 30-minute presentation for the game behind closed doors during GDC 2024, Funcom made its case. And so far, it looks like the developer has a lot of pieces in the right places.

The sleeper must awaken 

Dune Awakening Preview Character Creation
Players can adjust everything from nose bridge width and arm thickness, to eyeshadow strength and tattoo age.

SOURCE: Funcom

In general, the presentation of the game in its beta state was a scatterplot of various features, such as character creation, crafting, exploration, base building, and spice harvesting. Players begin Dune: Awakening, which takes place during the War of Assassins, as a prisoner on a ship where they first craft a character from scratch before answering pointed questions by a Reverend Mother who will decide their origins. Choosing the character’s planet (e.g. Kaitain, Gledi Prime, or Chusuk) and caste (e.g. Pyon and Na-Familia) determines dialogue traits that will flavor how the character speaks.

The most important decision to make is the character’s starting class with options for Mentat, Trooper, Swordmaster, and Bene Gesserit Acolyte. The presentation focused mainly on the Trooper, a standard soldier who uses grenades and traverses terrain quickly using a Shigawire cable, as well as the Mentat, who is capable of scanning an area for enemy threats and controlling a hunter-seeker drone that can kill targets in one shot. The Bene Gesserit Acolyte uses physical mastery and manipulation, being able to compel enemies out of their position, while the Swordmaster is adept at melee combat and has the power to deflect projectiles. Importantly, players are not locked into any class at the start and can apply skill points across every skill tree, taking any three active abilities and three techniques that they wish from various classes on the fly.

The attitude of the knife

Dune Awakening Preview Materials Resources Cutter Cutterray
The first order of business is making a stillsuit, so gathering resources quickly is key.

SOURCE: Funcom

At some point after character creation, the ship is destroyed and a stranger is seen walking through the wreckage and killing one of the survivors. However, the prisoner (in this case, a male Mentat) awakens in a cave, which is effectively a tutorial area, and finds that it is protected by moisture seals. By finding a Fremkit survival pack, he’s able to craft a scrap metal knife to cut through them and cobble together a few healkits from fiber gathered by some nearby plants. After a few cutscenes that weren’t shown due to spoilers, the prisoner attempts to escape the area by piloting an ornithopter into a sandstorm, but it ends up crashing in the middle of the desert below.

As Dune fans will know, though, that’s no place to be stranded on Arrakis. If the prisoner stays in the sun too long, he will quickly lose water and face sunstroke, but running on the sand is a surefire way to become sandworm food. Still, he has no choice but to sprint toward a rocky outcropping to hide in the shadows and remain out of the sandworm’s reach. At that point, it’s about survival: drinking water from plants, harvesting materials from rocks and salvage with a cutterray, and finding enemy outposts that might have resources, schematics, and equipment. Fortunately, later in the presentation a different character is seen wearing a stillsuit, which is important for retaining moisture while exploring the world.

Most of the presentation showed off gunplay combat, which works decently enough, but not much footage was shown on melee combat. It’s not easy to adapt Dune’s Holtzman shield technology and knife-centric combat in a video game. The developer on hand said that they wanted to show off firearms due to its expertise with melee combat from Conan Exiles, but I believe strong gameplay footage of the Swordmaster class in action would help ease fears on this front.

Literally built on sand

Dune Awakening Preview Sand Bike Vehicle
With enough materials, players can fabricate a sand bike from scratch.

SOURCE: Funcom

Once players are comfortable surviving the elements, they can focus on other pursuits. Exploring Arrakis at night is preferable, though players still need to avoid being spotted by ships looking for escaped prisoners. They can also join forces to explore Eco Labs, or botanical testing stations, that have been unsealed after thousands of years underground. These labs function similar to Vaults in Fallout where a team can explore bunkers and occasionally fight against an enemy faction for any resources inside.

Base building in particular will help support continued survival by providing a place with plenty of space for crafting refineries, purifiers, and fabricators. All players need to do is set down a console to claim a parcel of land and start building. Blueprints will make it easy to copy and paste structures in case players wish to move to another area or rebuild them from scratch. Materials found in the desert and outposts, including blood that can be harvested from enemies, can be turned into water and other components necessary to construct useful modules and vehicles like sand bikes.

The technology menu houses multiple pages of schematics that are accessible by default, though many of the larger constructs, such as spice harvesters and ornithopters, will likely require multiple people or perhaps a guild to complete. A lucky player can find a unique schematic too, possibly making that person the only one on the server with the ability to craft a particular item and sell it on the exchange at a high price.

Hunger is the best spice

Dune Awakening Preview Spice Bloom Ornithopter Dragonfly
Reaching a spice bloom first means piloting an ornithopter as aggressively as possible.

SOURCE: Funcom

Funcom is remaining tight-lipped on how the servers and MMO elements of the game will work, but it did reveal a town that functions as a social space. In this hub, players can join guilds, interact with various factions, find vendors, seek trainers, and meet other players for party formation and roleplay. It looks like certain servers will allow for a different amount of players depending on the map, but more details on this will be provided by the developers at a later date.

Several world events will occur once in a while with an opportunity to grab unique resources from the desert. Sometimes a ship will be destroyed and scatter along the sand, or a spice bloom will appear randomly in a swirl of purple (the developers made a point that fresh spice is violet instead of orange). These events can occur in both PvP and PvE areas, so players will need to tread carefully as they make a mad dash toward the same location.

Either way, it’s best not to get too greedy, since sandworms are always a threat. Throwing an occasional thumper on the ground will distract them, but only for a few seconds. If that weren’t enough, enormous sandstorms can also appear out of nowhere, destroying everything in its wake. I’m not sure whether this includes buildings on the map, but the developers said that players will need to be prepared to rebuild their bases about once a week. To be fair, that sounds about right for the housing market on Arrakis.

There is no set release date yet for Dune: Awakening, but it will be available on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam. Players can sign up for the upcoming beta test on the game’s official website.

This preview is based on a 30-minute presentation of the game shown by the developer behind closed doors during GDC 2024.

Contributing Editor

Once upon a time, Nick's parents confiscated his Super Nintendo because he was "playing it too much." He has secretly sworn revenge ever since. Nick is now a freelance writer for various video game sites. Powered by iced green tea, he typically plays RPGs of all kinds like Shin Megami Tensei, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout. In his spare time, he follows the latest season of Critical Role.

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