Even in its early access form, Dune Spice Wars is shaping up to be a triumphant return to the Dune universe in a real-time strategy game when Emperor: Battle for Dune came out in 2001, I thought the iPod was basically sorcery but even in its early access form, Dune Spice Wars is shaping up to be a triumphant return.
Four diverse groups engage in warfare, politics, and exploration in their own unique ways, making for a fascinating experience on the beautiful and deadly continent of Arrakis. And, even more amazing, it never made me feel like I needed to be a Mentat brain to keep track of everything.
Dune Spice Wars Early Access
Spice Wars is a more typical RTS than Shiro Games’ last project, Northgard, which has a lot of similarities to worker placement tabletop games. However, reverting to the old concept isn’t inherently a negative thing, as the game’s well-balanced resource mechanisms remain at its core.
Whether it was manpower, political clout, or the all-important spice, I never felt like I had enough of anything in this glistening desert. Spice Wars keeps you hungry for something, which might lead to conflict with a long-time ally if they get to that delicious spice field you’ve been eyeing before you do.
Combat is straightforward but enjoyable. Your army will be limited to a few of troops until you go very far down the military tech tree, which makes microing your units important in an equal combat. I like how this greatly boosts the skill cap without having to worry about a massive, incomprehensible blob of soldiers.
And each group fights a little differently, from the relatively easy Atreides armies, who gain bonuses for swarming a single adversary, to the elusive Fremen, who may wreak havoc with tiny teams of covert infiltrators.
The extra threat of the Shai Hulud adds even more tension and intrigue to each battle, especially in the late game. Why? Because having big numbers of soldiers battling over a tiny space puts them all at risk of becoming worm meal.
Masters of Dune
Because of these differences, each faction’s tactics have a distinct flavour, with the brutish Harkonnens relying on strong military garrisons to squeeze more productivity out of their workforce, and the Fremen’s advantageous ability to collect precious spice without noisy, mechanical harvesters that tend to attract giant death worm trouble.
Of course, you’ll never be able to completely eliminate the worm danger, so you’ll have to learn to live with them. I appreciate how this reminds you that no matter how powerful you get, you must still obey Arrakis’ harsh regulations.
In this fashion, the planet comes to life and takes on a personality of its own, surrounded by shimmering dunes during the day and an eerily silent, even meditative sea of twinkling blue at night. The units and structures have a cartoonishly styled aspect to them, but when you put it all together, it’s stunning.
This distinctive harshness is reflected in a supply system that requires you to provide all military units with enough supplies to endure for an extended period of time beyond friendly territory. Deep deserts are particularly lethal, separating the landscape with virtually impenetrable stretches that kill everything that attempts to move over them while also offering effective tactical problems to solve.
Some groups, particularly the Fremen, may someday be able to safely cross them. Most of the time, though, I had to determine if it was worth risking my whole army to hit an adversary when they were least expecting it a hazardous but thrilling gamble.
Not Brave Enough for Politics
While all of this is going on, high-level strategy is simmering as each group vies for a seat in the Landsraad, the ruthless space senate. The Atreides and Harkonnens have formal voting representation, but other factions, even the unrecognised Fremen and Smugglers, can use Influence to symbolise bribes and backroom agreements to get what they want.
It seems complicated, but it’s not; resolutions like raising the maintenance on particular products or giving a faction the right to raise special Imperial troops are put to a vote on a regular basis. Spice Wars’ ability to cram a very complicated political system into an already complex RTS without making it feel bloated or confused is commendable. However, before it exits early access, there is one area that may benefit from a balancing pass.
Dune Spice Wars Screens
All except one of the Spice Wars games I played, which took between three and four hours to complete, concluded when the House Atreides were elected Governors of Dune. It’s just a question of keeping this title for a particular amount of days until the game finishes after they’ve earned it.
The biggest concern I had was that there didn’t seem to be any way to stop them other than wiping them off the map which is very hard to achieve fast, considering that each faction’s main base has fortifications capable of decimating all but the most powerful late-game armies. You’ll have to hope that the governorship comes up for a vote again, and then strive to win it. Sometimes it just doesn’t come up again at all I couldn’t discover any way to alter this.
The espionage system is where the complication may have finally reached a breaking point. You can carry out helpful actions like as slowing enemy replenishment in a territory or initiating a revolt in one of their towns by using spies, who are named people who create an Intel resource. The trouble is that it takes a lot of time to handle, and it became one too many things to juggle when I already had to deal with combat, economics, and politics.
I wouldn’t want to see this system go away because shady deals are a huge aspect of the Dune universe. It would have been wonderful to have more methods to use my Intel passively rather than continually needing to allocate it to new tasks (or trade it away so it didn’t go to waste).
Those uprisings also felt a little too harsh. Even with numerous agents committed to counter-espionage, having an entire colony on the opposite side of the map spring up when you’re in the thick of a conflict may be fatal due to the limited unit cap. Local militias you’ve established in the settlement will only protect against competing powers and will not intervene if rebels attack. Because there are so few ways to combat it, it may be rather frustrating.
Overall, Dune: Spice Wars has left a lasting impression on me. There are some balancing concerns with the win conditions and espionage mechanisms, as well as the usual early-access glitches, but it’s a complex, intelligent, usually well-balanced RTS with significant faction variety that seems more or less polished even in its present early access stage.
The map is beautiful, and it compels you to make fascinating choices concerning the dangerous landscape and much more dangerous inhabitants. Most notably, it manages to set out a large number of graphical intricate concepts without never appearing overburdened or overpowering. If this is only the beginning of our experiences on Arrakis, I’m excited to see where this one goes, and I have no reservations in urging strategy aficionados get in right now.
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- April 26, 2022