The tried and true of Dune: Spice Wars, a game that marks the return to Arrakis of real-time strategy, with a really interesting formula
Frank Herbert’s Dune cycle, especially the first novel, has inspired many video game authors, both indirectly and directly. It is probably not the most beaten work ever, but there are several titles that players remember with pleasure, starting with Cryo Interactive’s Dune, which mixed strategy and narrative, passing through Westwood’s Dune 2, which has canonized the strategists in real time.
In any case, it is precisely the rarity of the games on Dune and the intrinsic value of the scenario that have brought us closer to tried out of Dune: Spice Wars with high expectations, fortunately not disappointed.
Dune: Spice Wars by Shiro Games is basically one strategic 4X in real time, therefore with a complex and articulated game system, not only focused on the accumulation of resources and the creation of military units. We are therefore talking about a product that by choice is directed towards a certain user. Anyway, let’s start playing. After selecting one of the four available factions (Atreides, Harkonnen, Smugglers and Fremen) and choosing two advisors, who give different bonuses depending on their roles and which change from faction to faction, you end up with the capital at half function (it cannot be expanded until a certain level of expansion has been reached), with few resources and with taxes in Spice to pay to the emperor, who is not interested in our difficulties. There are only some giant worms on the doorstep and … ah no, there are those too.
The first thing we are asked to do is to use an ornithopter to explore the surrounding territories, in search of one from which to harvest the Spice (building a refinery with a reaper attached), then to generate at least a couple of military units to conquer it and start our expansion.
The first moments of the game make it clear how the game is structured: Arrakis is divided into many territories, each headed by an independent village. To take the check it is necessary to attack the villages, destroy their defenses and then invest for colonization (if desired, they can also be destroyed or plundered). When the territory is part of our possessions, it is possible to start building on it both military defenses, economic, military or government-related structures.
The first hours are essentially used to exploit the resources of the territory, if present, such as La Spezia, rare materials or the wind, the latter useful for obtaining water. The latter are self-explanatory and concern the expansion of the army and defense in general (it is also possible to build missile turrets, so to speak). The third include all those buildings related to government functions, all translated into game mechanicssuch as research buildings, information gathering buildings, and so on.
Each building and each unit naturally costs resources, both for construction and maintenance. Since Arrakis is not really a thriving planet, you have to be careful, at least initially, if you don’t want to run out of Solari (the current currency) or some other productive resource. After all, the game also suggests not to rush: each village has two slots for the production of buildings, which can be increased by spending materials. When we have expanded enough, we can also begin to improve the capital, with interventions aimed at the various sectors of the government. In this sense, Dune: Spice Wars seems to be well balanced, with the gameplay of the first hours of the game made up of exploration of the territory, conquest and management of the acquired resources.
From time to time the ornithopterans, which have a key role since they are the only units capable of probing Arrakis, moreover without risking being eaten by sand worms, may discover some event, like other downed aircraft and water merchants, from which to draw other resources. Let it be clear that you cannot live on occasional supplies, but the presence of these small events certainly makes exploration more enjoyable and varied.
Military, spies and politicians
As we said, when you want to take possession of a territory you have to send troops to conquer their villages. Over time, technologies are developed that make it possible to relate to local populations in different ways (there is a research tree dedicated to the culture of Arrakis), but at the beginning the only solution is to fight. The hiring units are initially few and never become very many. We start with a couple of elements, different depending on the chosen faction and, in the medium game, we get to have small armies. The focus on the military side depends a lot on the style of play chosen and the research done.
What matters, in the end, is the so-called Hegemony, which determines our degree of influence on the planet and which is determined not only by conquests, but also by espionage, politics and diplomacy. The first allows you to assign agents to control other factions or spheres of influence. In the espionage screen it is also possible to start missions which, if successful, yield various bonuses. Politics, on the other hand, mixes economic and power relations.
Occasionally the factions they are asked to vote on certain topics, such as who has to use special defensive units, or the price of water or things like that. Depending on the accumulated power, we will have a greater or lesser influence on the vote and we will be able to direct political choices to our advantage, or to the disadvantage of our opponents. For this it is important to make agreements with the other factions, so as to increase our general influence and have the possibility of obtaining more.
The combat systeminstead, it is very simple and almost completely automated. Once the troops are sent against the chosen target, the clashes will turn automatically, with the player who can at most make his men withdraw (if possible), to avoid defeat or being eaten by sand worms. The latter are particularly dangerous because they cannot be stopped in any way. Simply, when they are reported it is best to leave, because they can eat up an entire army in one bite. After all, they are the lords of Dune.
From technical point of view, Dune: Spice Wars is a clever, but fairly modest title. The most curated part is certainly that of the map, since it is the one on which you spend most of the time. Units, on the other hand, are always shown from a distance, as are capitals and villages. This is because they are not very rich in detail. Frankly after the initial curiosity, you get caught up in the flow of the game and zoom in very little on the units, which are fine even in microscopic format, given the type of game. It should be noted that the Shiro Games title turned out to be very stable and clean, despite being still in Early Access. A great prospect for the final version.
We liked Dune: Spice Wars. It is probably too early to expose ourselves, but we have been involved in its dynamics and in how it reads Dune in a strategic key, without falling into simplified and mass formulas. We’ll see if the final version will confirm the good impressions we’ve had so far, in the meantime let’s keep playing.
- Dune 4X looks better than expected
- Interesting gameplay
- A few more military units wouldn’t hurt him