Dune: Spice Wars is a real time strategy game where factions war over Arrakis. Take on the AI or other players in multiplayer mode to dominate through military force, politics, or by controlling the CHOAM markets. The game does feature characters from the Dune universe, but isn’t narrative focused. Players can easily jump into this game without having read Frank Herbert’s series. It’s also easy enough to pick up even if they haven’t played Shiro Games’ previous title, Northgard.
There are three modes in single player: Battle for Arrakis, Conquest, and Kanly Duel. The first is a shorter campaign between four factions and the second is a longer, drawn out campaign. The Kanly Duel is a “fast” paced duel between two factions. The multiplayer mode is much more customizable, from the size of the map down to the aggression level of the sandworms. Players can also team up in 2vs2 or free-for-all battles.
Winning is a delicate balance between capturing villages to harvest the area’s spice, sending agents to gather intel and resources from other Houses, and political maneuvering in the Council meetings. With a large enough military, players can own enough of the map to reach enemy bases. When these are destroyed, their faction wins. Or players can win the game instantly by controlling 50% shares in the markets.
Factions can also win through earning 30,000 hegemony or by players being elected as governor. Hegemony will be earned as the game goes on through expansion, winning battles, and getting charters passed in your faction’s favor. Players must keep the charter in their favor as governor for two council meetings. Make smart choices and play the long game to have the best chance of winning.
While there are intermittent tips, most things about Dune: Spice Wars will not be apparent. It drops players in with the assumption that they’re familiar with how an RTS works. While players will be told how to buy or sell their market shares, they might not realize just how important it is. Until a message warns that an enemy faction is close to winning. While that may add to replayability, it can be a little frustrating at first. Enemies can attack before players have even set up their first military unit. And each takes time to create. Combat itself isn’t complicated, however.
Spice War’s “Battle for Arrakis” campaign can be completed in a few hours and can be continued after a faction wins. Once players learn the game’s mechanics and which faction they prefer, they can lose themselves in the minute to minute decisions. Players who may have hoped to learn about each House might be disappointed. There are story events that occur, but they appear as pop-up windows with a brief sentence or two as an explanation. Except for the other faction leaders who appear to trade or offer a truce, no characters are shown. It can create distance that breaks immersion since these events won’t feel important with just one playthrough.
Players who are new to the real time strategy genre, and are okay with Spice War’s narrative taking a backseat, may have a better experience. The mechanics are simple. It won’t take long to figure out most of what isn’t explained since the game can be paused, even in combat. There’s enough variety even against AI that players who just want a good single player experience can enjoy themselves. Each game can feel like a painfully slow defeat or getting an inch closer to victory. If that sounds exciting, Dune: Spice Wars is worth checking out.