As Frank Herbert famously wrote, fear is the mind-killer, but after decades of waiting, gamers can finally put their fears aside knowing that there’s a new Dune game on the horizon. There was a litany of reveals and announcements at the 2021 Game Awards, but perhaps the least expected was Dune: Spice Wars from developer Shiro Games. While excitement is surging again for this franchise thanks to the new film adapting Herbert’s world-renowned sci-fi novels, no one was expecting a tie-in game to be announced, let alone one following in the footsteps of the classic Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty from way back in 1992.
While the origins of most genres are muddled at best, it is almost undisputed that Dune 2: The Building of a Dynasty was the first true real-time strategy game. That makes it all the more appropriate for Dune: Spice Wars to return to the genre, and Shiro Games, developers of Northgard, seems like a great fit to bring this series back. This game is closer than you might expect, and while spice is the key to controlling the universe, information is a close second. Here’s everything we know about Dune: Spice Wars.
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Dune: Spice Wars has an ambitious turnaround time from the recent announcement at the end of 2021 to a window of 2022. Where things get a little muddled is when we look closer. The developers have announced that PC players will be able to play the game in early access to give feedback on “ensuring accessibility while staying true to the essence of Frank Herbert’s work and making a unique game where the very interesting features of the Dune universe are translated into a compelling gameplay experience.” That’s all well and good, but later on, they also touch on how long this early access period could last. “Our current estimation is 9 to 12 months depending on how quickly we are able to reach our milestones and implement all of our planned features and content. But there’s no rush.”
Based on those quotes, it seems like the “release date” is meant for the early access version of the game and not the full product. If early access will last between 9 and 12 months, then 2023 would be the more accurate window for Dune: Spice Wars coming out in full.
There’s no official list of platforms that Dune: Spice Wars will hit, however, we can at least say for certain that it will be coming to PC via steam since there is already a store page up for it in preparation of the early access launch. PC was all but assured for an RTS style game like this. As far as other platforms are concerned, that’s almost impossible to predict. Some RTS games, especially recently, have made the jump over to consoles better than they have in the past, but if Dune: Spice Wars is too complex, it might just be a PC exclusive. Once it hits early access, or the team officially announces platforms, we will have a better idea of what to expect.
The official announcement trailer for Dune: Spice Wars is just a hair over a minute long, so there’s not too much to see, but there is plenty to dig up out of the sand.
The trailer opens on the desert city of Arrakis under siege as a series of voice-overs quote a few key lines from the novels and make comments on power and war. The voices eventually overlap until nothing distinct can be heard, with the camera continuing to pull away from the city, showing off the massive desert and a giant sandworm before revealing the entire scene was held in the palm of a giant hand. The final words we hear clearly are “This is my vengeance” before the hand closes and crushes the scene into a billow of sand and all the voices at once state, “This is my Dune.”
Beyond this, the story is a complete mystery. We don’t know how closely it will follow the books, if at all, with the only mention of the story from the official website being that players will “create [their] own story and play as one of several factions, including House Atreides and House Harkonnen, and compete for power of Dune and the spice.” The team at Shiro Games at least claims to have a love for the Dune property and want to do it justice, stating: “I think I speak for every single person at Shiro Games when I say that we are all massive fans of Dune — both the original novel and the new and spectacular Denis Villeneuve film. To be able to bring this universe to life as a strategy game again is incredible.”
That all sounds very Dune at least, but it seems like details will have to wait until the game is closer to release.
Right off the bat, we know the broad strokes of what to expect from Dune: Spice Wars, since it is being billed as an RTS. Where things get a little more interesting is that it is also claimed to incorporate 4X elements. For those unaware, 4X stands for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate and is typically associated with the Civilization franchise, where those are the main methods of victory.
The team has made some comments about how things will work in the Dune setting. “The Dune universe is the perfect setting for a strategy game. You have major factions, such as House Atreides and House Harkonnen, with a rivalry that spans back centuries. You have political intrigue, deception, and warfare, all centered around what is by far the most valuable substance in the universe: Spice. And then there is the stage itself, Arrakis, a hostile planet full of hidden wonders to explore. Massive sandworms that can devour entire armies, sandstorms, spice harvesters, all of which our amazing team of developers have incorporated into this game.”
The first gameplay trailer showed off some basic units, ground and air, moving around Arrakis. Units are moved in groups, and new structures can be placed as you would expect from an RTS title. Things get a little more interesting when the map zooms out and the game looks more like a management sim style game, with designated regions, resources, and political information present. The subterfuge system shows that you will assign agents to different places to undertake missions, such as setting up probes, combating drugs, and counterintelligence operations. These agents also have levels and will probably be more effective as they grow.
You can pick and invest in political actions. The one example was Speaker of the Council, which would show the player any upcoming Resolutions during the voting phase and allow for a reroll on any resolution. These all cost a currency of influence and resolve, though we don’t know the details yet of how they are earned.
This all implies that the scope of the game is much larger than a typical RTS, where you simply need to outproduce and overwhelm your opponent. Other, more subtle, and nonviolent options seem to be available. Another quote from the game’s official description confirms these plans. “You can deploy agents to sabotage, assassinate, and spy on your opponents; use political means to influence the Landsraad and pass beneficial resolutions; amass incredible wealth and simply overwhelm the other houses through economic and technological supremacy; or you can opt for open war.”
Aside from the two mentioned factions, House Atreides and House Harkonnen, it is possible that the Fremon and Imperial Sardaukar will fill in one or more additional slots to balance the game out. The mention of the sandworms was also expanded on a little and will apparently be something like environmental hazards that can ambush and destroy your units and spice harvesters if you don’t scan for them before traversing the desert.
Finally, whatever the game does turn out to be when it first arrives, it is clear the team is going to be changing and adapting it in major ways. Player feedback will guide the team as it adds more features and content, makes balance changes, and even adds new game modes.
This is another component that isn’t officially confirmed, but in all other ways is expected. RTS games, and even 4X games, are best played with and against other human players. If it follows the normal RTS structure, which Dune: Spice Wars seems poised to do, then there will probably be some form of campaign for each of the main factions, and then a full-on multiplayer mode where you pit these factions against each other. Regarding their comments about early access implementing new game modes, that alone heavily implies that it will be multiplayer-focused. Again, this is technically all still up in the air right now. Multiplayer may be in the plan, but not arrive when early access launches, similar to how Halo Infinite launched, but we have to wait and see.
This is another really tough call to make right now. Based on the structure of the game coming out in early access, it seems like the team is more than willing to add features and content as they go, but who knows if that is meant to end once the game sees a full release. Multiplayer-centered DLC, assuming multiplayer is part of the package, makes the most sense. New factions are perfect additions to RTS-style games and can help prolong the life of the community.
You can’t quite pre-order Dune: Spice Wars yet, although you can add the game to your Steam wish list for when the early access period begins. That is still an ambiguous time in 2022, and it will be more time after that before full pre-orders even go live. Rolling from early access into a full release, at least on PC, may even mean there won’t be any pre-orders since the early access version will technically fill that role. This is another bit of info we will have to keep an eye on in the coming months.
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