Menu Close

Dune: Spice Wars Early Access Review

Dune: Spice Wars is a 4X real-time strategy game developed by Shiro Games and published by Funcom in Early Access on Steam on April 26, 2022. Set in Frank Herbert’s Dune universe, you must lead one of four factions and battle for control and dominance over the harsh desert planet of Arrakis. Having played Shiro Game’s outstanding RTS Northgard and being a fan of the 90’s Dune 2 RTS, I was very excited to get stuck into this game. While much more complex than both of those games, Dune: Spice Wars is incredibly deep and rewarding once you take the time to master all that it involves.

This game is in early access, so I did experience a couple of performance dips but overall, the game looks incredible and ran well. After failing several games within an hour of gameplay each time, I had to slow down and rewire my thinking of how to play the game. The term 4X covers the four pillars within the strategy genre of explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate, and you do need to think strategically and balance all those things. Expand too soon and you drain your resources too quickly. Grow your army too quickly and you won’t be able to afford the upkeep and villages may revolt. I reckon it took me a good 4 hours and multiple failures to learn some decent strategies.

There is no story campaign, however if Northgard is anything to go by, which received a single player campaign after more than a year into early access, it could still be on the cards. However, there is plenty of gameplay to enjoy here in Dune: Spice Wars. You first choose which faction you want to represent between House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Smugglers, and the Fremen, and two councillors who have more bonus options. All factions have pros and cons, like the Atreides can use the peaceful annexation ability which means they can capture villagers without having to send troops there. Harkonnen have less village resource production however gain more production based on active militia, and so on.

You can play against one or up to three of the other factions and change the AI difficulty in the settings. My first few games were played on normal difficulty and after trying all four factions, I lasted just over an hour in each attempt before I hit resource issues and found it increasingly too hard to defend attacks. Dropping the difficulty to easy and then thinking more about each move helped me survive longer and eventually to earn some wins. The key for me was not to expand too soon, and to keep an eye on my resources earn rates to make sure my next moves wouldn’t put me in deficit.

I loved the day/night cycle as the colours of the terrain and shadows changed before your eyes. Zooming right down into the action as your troops attempt to take over a village showed the moons in the background at night and big epic sandstorms during the day that will kill your troops if you don’t move them. The other threat to your troops, and especially harvesters, is the familiar planetary worms. The sand ripples and you’re given a warning flag to move your troops, otherwise it will consume anything in that area. I lost a few harvesters early to the worms as I didn’t turn on the option to auto recall if there’s a worm. You harvest less spice, and you have to manually redeploy them, but you need that spice to keep coming in.

The world design of Arakkis is awesome with volcanoes, huge craters and a large basin that can be useful to gain more resources. Let’s not forget the sand, and there are desert zones that aren’t habitable that means no one can dominate the entire map. Crossing vast zones that aren’t yours depletes you troops health after spending too long out there. You need to be mindful when you give your troops an order to attack a village or enemy troops, that they don’t cross over uncapped territory. I lost many fights as I forgot this and by the time they got to there, they had no health left.

Outside of combat, there is a heap of things to manage and keep an eye out and it was overwhelming at first. Aside from the regular resources to keep track of, like Solari, Plascrete, Fuel Cells, Water, Manpower, and Authority, you need to be mindful of research, Landsraad Council voting, trading between factions, intelligence and espionage missions, and finally your trading of spice to bribe the Imperial overlords. By playing and failing a few times, I did eventually learn which research would benefit which faction early, and my first two wins were due to being elected the Governor of Dune.

Overall, Dune: Spice Wars is a superb 4x strategy game despite being in early access and the gameplay bodes well for its future. I’m keen to see the development roadmap coming soon to see what else is on the Arrakis horizon. Even in early access, I can highly recommend the game for 4X strategy game fans.

This review utilised a key provided by Shiro Games and Dune: Spice Wars is available now on Steam early access.


Related Posts