Dune: Spice Wars Review

He who controls the Spice, controls the Universe.

by Shaun Cichacki

Let’s set the scene: a wicked sandstorm blocks your path, your military is starving and losing supplies, and a sandworm has just been spotted in your area. You have two options, to continue pushing ahead towards the final goal that you have, and risk losing everything, or retreat for now, and hope that your enemy doesn’t win through forms of diplomacy. The sound of synthesizers buzzes in your ear, letting you know that the time to make your final act is now, and you can make or break what has happened over the last five hours of your life.

You decide to push forward, and just as you’re about to make it through, you notice that half of your military has been claimed by the wicked Sandworm, and now, you’re stuck watching your final moment to thrive fall before your face. “Was there anything I could have done differently”, you may ask, as you boot up another round of Dune: Spice WarsYou select a different faction, with a different mindset, and venture forth into the world of Arrakis once more to take ownership of the land.

Based on the world created by Frank Herbert in the year 1965, the effects of Dune were felt almost immediately, changing the world of Science Fiction as we once knew it. Brought to the big screen in 1984 by the one and only David Lynch, the world got to see a little deeper into his mind. While there may not be any Cat/Rat Hybrid creatures in Dune: Spice Wars, the popularity of the 2021 Reboot brought Dune back into the hearts and minds of many new fans.

Is Spice Wars something you can jump into without any prior knowledge of the series, and does it do enough to keep fans of the Real-Time Strategy and 4X Genre happy? Let’s dive into the details of what makes this a must-play, not only for fans but for those who are new to Dune in general.

Many Dangers Exist On Arrakis

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As you make your way into the world of Arrakis for the first time, you’ll have to choose where your morals and laurels lie. Do they lie with the noble House Atreides, the vicious and cruel House Harkonnen, the sly and cunning Smugglers, or the Arrakis-born Fremen? While there is little story told, you’ll feel the effects of the way the world moves around you through panels of dialog thrown at your by your opponents. If you are helpful, and willing to help out, you’ll receive the praise that you need to help push you towards a diplomatic victory. However, if you are merciless, prepare to be threatened, scorned, or worse by those that once trusted you.

You’ll have a lot of things on your plate, but the weight of knowing that you are possibly going to betray, or be betrayed by an ally is something that hits hard and effectively. You may notice that an opposing faction has been doing everything they can to get on your good side, only to strike at you while you are the least suspecting of it. There are ways around this, and there are ways that you can get them back for what they have done, and this is one of the best parts about Dune: Spice Wars.

You’ll be able to not only fight with blades, chemical weapons, and machinery, but through the power of your mind, and votes. You can sabotage with spies, sending undercover agents into an opposing Factions life to find out more information, and put you ahead in the standings. You can put bounties on your foes, and do your best to influence the others to do the same. Or, you may get stuck with some misfortune of your own, as your opponents are as smart and cunning as you believe that you are.

All of these factors put you in the middle of many wars, not only fought by man and woman but through mind and soul. You’ll feel the effects of every battle, and you’ll enjoy the victory, or feel the defeat. As with many other 4X titles, you’ll have to be on your toes, and treat your friends and foes as if they are the same. You never know when you’ll be on the receiving end of a vicious strike.

The Sleeper Has Awakened

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While exploring the lands, you’ll need to be paying attention to more than just your foot soldiers. You’ll need to micromanage many different aspects of this game, from the water supply that your base currently has, to the buildings that you are overtaking villages for. You are in charge of not only yourself, but your whole people, and that is a mighty large task indeed. Will you work with the other factions to set up proper trading, allowing treaties so you don’t lose supplies in their area to help them overtake another Faction? The choices are yours, and yours alone.

Screenshots do not do this game proper justice. The unique art style shines while showcasing the world of Arrakis, and those who live within it. Animations are fluid, bringing the Faction Leaders to life in glorious splendor, with the grotesque figure of Vladimir Harkonnen giving you menacing glares, winds that blow gently across the land, visual cues as to when you may find yourself losing your troops due to Sandworms, and so much more. The world that Frank Herbert wrote about so many years ago is brought to life in loving detail, and helpful visual clues will make sure that you are not as lost as you could be with everything going on.

The sounds and sights are only overshadowed by one thing, and that is the score that this game brings along with it. Saying that the soundtrack in this game is excellent is underselling it, as the haunting synth soundtrack elevates this game to another level. As you examine the plains, looking for the next area to strike, the eerie buzz of the electronic soundtrack swells in your ears, bringing a new sense of purpose to your quest. While simple, this does a stellar job of keeping you engaged through matches that can take upwards of 5 hours to complete.

The Spice Extends Life

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As you learn the ins and outs of the way the game functions, you’ll slowly start to build a rhythm for yourself, and find out what makes this game as special as it is. Finding new lands to overtake, finding new ways to enhance your military power, struggling to survive as you watch your resources slowly begin to go into a deficit after a catastrophic loss, and your rise from the ashes to take back what is rightfully yours.

If you put yourself into the shoes of your faction leader, this game takes on a whole new form. While it is a 4X game with Real-Time Strategy elements, indulging in a little bit of role-playing can help push this into a new class of its own. You can attempt to overthrow the other Factions with brute strength, cozy up to the Government to get more votes and send out spies to help you learn new intel about your opponents, the list is almost endless.

And this is what makes Dune: Spice Wars a great title because you’ll feel the effects of everything that is happening around you. If you are focusing on ravaging the lands without caring for your people, you’ll find yourself in a lock, where you cannot continue to expand unless you begin to help your people. You’ll need to build buildings, harvest the wind to make water, find Spice on the planets and harvest it, and more. You need to live this game not only for the idea of conquest but for the ideas of your people.

You can take part in votes to throw a wrench in the plans of your opposing Factions, but if you haven’t built a good reputation with anyone, they can all gang up on you and hit you with some devastating results. You’ll need to make sure you have enough Spice to pay the Imperial Bribes for them to turn an eye towards the things you’ve been doing, setting up Treaties and Trades with your opponents to gain the trust of some, and the ire of others.

It’s enough to make your head spin, but the game does a great job of making sure that while it may be overwhelming, you can manage it all. You’ll be prompted with plenty of time before a vote will be taking place, you’ll have time to get out of the way of the Sandworms, you’ll have the time to try to stop one of your villages from being raided. The pressure is still on, no matter what, but you can manage it all after learning its systems.

Its tutorial sections are a little lacking, but with the game being in Early Access, there is plenty of time to correct this. You’ll be tasked with Setting up a Harvester once you have found your first Spice, but how exactly do you do that? You only have your home base at the start, and you’ll need to explore the worlds and figure it out. It’s nice, in a sense, as it makes you feel like you are being thrust into the middle of these Spice Wars without knowing all of the details, much like a real war. But, after exploring and learning, you’ll be commanding Arrakis in no time.

Verdict

Dune: Spice Wars has something that can appeal to everyone. The adjustable difficulty, map size, and which factions you wish to wage war upon are great for those that are new to the genre, and want to get their feet wet for the first time. Or, if you are a veteran, you’ll find all of the challenges that you could ask for and more. With a haunting soundtrack, great sound effects, a great visual style that stands out from the crowd, and the plethora of options that you’ll be able to take to achieve victory, you’ll find yourself excited to try to take command of the Spice, even after suffering a crushing loss. Dune: Spice Wars is a truly great use of its license and since it is in Early Access, it has plenty of room to expand. But as it stands, you’ll find an excellent game that is worthy of your time and effort that can only continue to get better from here.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

"loved"
loved

  • Score: 4.5 / 5
  • Available On: PC
  • Published By: Funcom
  • Developed By: Shiro Games
  • Genre: Strategy
  • US Release Date: April 26, 2022
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "With a haunting soundtrack, great sound effects, a great visual style that stands out from the crowd, excellent commanding gameplay, and the plethora of options that you'll be able to take to achieve victory, you'll find yourself excited to try to take command of the Spice, even if you end suffering a crushing loss."
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