As a recent Dune fan thanks to the recent film adaptation and a newbie to the world of real-time strategy games, I was excited to try out the new Dune: Spice Wars. I’ve seen the acclaim gained by the old Westwood Dune titles, so this fresh take on the series quickly grabbed my attention. Sadly, Spice Wars made me look to the past for a better introduction to the genre.
Strategy in the sands
Dune Spice Wars is a 4x real-time strategy game that places players in control of one of the famous factions of the series: The Fremen, House Atreides, House Harkonnen, or the Smugglers. Each faction comes with their own special abilities. The main goal as the leader of one of these groups is to control the mining resources and use them and the profit economic power gained from them to become the strongest of the four sides.
The big problem when it comes to this is I had no idea how anything worked.
While I expected a real-time strategy to be complicated, I didn’t think the learning curve would come from the actual tutorial. There are so many pieces to the puzzle that I found myself wishing the text blocks were much more in-depth. The game expects you to quickly learn how to use your armies, what to do with your obtained assets, how to deal with other factions politically, how to satisfy the people of your faction, and how to pay your taxes (seriously) after barely going into detail on each mechanic. It really feels like the game is chasing the the dedicated RTS crowd, but its not friendly for newcomers hoping to hop in the genre through a fan-favorite IP.
I had to capture civilizations near spice farms, which is easier said than done. It involved sending out a recon drone maintained with spice and water, but those resources are crucial to keeping my people happy. This is a relatively normal balance for the genre, but its not explained well here. I found myself fumbling back and forth when something like a political conference came around because I had no clue what I was really voting on. I also ended up committing tax evasion since I didn’t know how to optimally mine my spices until it was too late.
Lack of ambition
I was thinking a new Dune game would be eager to welcome in new players, especially since the franchise just saw the release of a blockbuster film with an all-star cast, making it a perfect starting point for the RTS genre. Instead, Dune Spice Wars had me fending myself from the giant sandworms with nothing but a half-baked instruction manual.
When I finally figured out how the game worked, I found myself enjoying certain aspects. I loved seeing the world around me grow and watching the faction I selected, the Fremen, gain more power to take on the seemingly higher houses like the Harkonnen. Watching my armies slowly take over surrounding territories and seeing my spice count constantly grow gave me that buzz I was hoping to get from a slow-burn RTS experience. The visuals are all a Dune fan could ask for too, giving players familiar with the source material a narrative through scenery.
Still, there are elements that left me clicking around until I found how something like espionage worked and wishing I could read a more fully formed tutorial.
Dune Spice Wars is a game that has less ambition than it should in its current early access build. I really expected an eye-opening journey into the genre through a franchise I already enjoyed. The world of Dune has so much that a title like this can capitalize on, but so many potential creative opportunities miss the mark. Instead, this is a game created mostly for those that were already enamored with the classic Dune titles.
While Dune Spice Wars may have some enjoyable mechanics for fans of the RTS genre, I don’t see it as a great jumping-in point for those unfamiliar with how they work or Dune fans. And for RTS fans, just know that you’re diving into an early access experience that’s not going to be as fleshed out as other strategy games currently on the market.
Dune Spice Wars will be available on PC via early access on April 26.