HomeReviews3.5/5 ReviewDune: Spice Wars Review

Dune: Spice Wars Review

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My very first PC gaming experience was a Dune game, way back in the 1990s. In fact it was Dune 2, from Westwood Studios, and my housemate had a 386 machine capable of running the game. I lost countless hours playing that game instead of doing actual university work. In complete contrast, I have never managed to read any of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, or even watched one of the films. 

But now Funcom and Shiro Games have released Dune: Spice Wars to the masses; a seeming spiritual successor to the game of my early years. Is it worth playing? Let’s go and harvest some Spice…

dune spice wars review 1
Dune: Spice Wars comes to the masses

I like to start by looking at the presentation of things and with Dune: Spice Wars everything is all tickety-boo. Things look exactly like you would expect, with a huge map of whichever stage you are on, filled with various points of interest. However, before you can see what is in a sector of the map, you have to send a unit to investigate, as otherwise it is just a mass of sand. As the map is revealed, various points of interest are also shown, and then it is up to you to figure out what to do. 

The units you control, from soldiers up to Harvesters, are all nicely drawn and animated, and it is always pretty easy to see what is going on. The camera can be zoomed in or out quite a long way too, but weirdly cannot be panned around, which seems odd. However, you soon learn to adapt and I soon got used to things. 

The sound is exactly as you’d expect, with the various units replying when you order them around. From there, the sounds of battle – and even of the giant sandworms when they pop up and eat your army – come across as nothing short of great. Even the briefings at the start of the missions are all acted very well, and all in all, I have nothing to complain about. 

What about a story, then? Why are we stuck on a desert planet called Arrakis? Well, the answer to that is simple – Spice. This substance can apparently extend life and expand people’s consciousness. It also makes interstellar travel possible. So, pretty useful stuff, no? And as always when a substance is valuable, there are people who wish to control the trade, and this is the basis of the story of the game. 

dune spice wars review 3
A world to control

Basically, at the start of Dune: Spice Wars we have to choose which of the factions we wish to play as, and our job is to make sure that by the end of the game, we are the most powerful of the factions, and control the flow of Spice. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is anything but!

Normally at this point I’d scribble a couple of paragraphs about how the game plays out, but this won’t suffice in this case. The gameplay on offer here is deep, multi-layered and very involving. Depending on which House you choose, it can vary the way that the game is played out. There are a number of ways to achieve victory in any of the modes that you choose to play, from all-out military domination, to winning by controlling the Landsraad, the political organisation at the heart of the planet’s governance, through to using a network of spies to undermine rival Houses. There is a great deal of complexity to Dune: Spice Wars and it boggles the mind trying to keep everything in balance. There’s no point being an awesome military force if your enemy can win by controlling the CHOAM market, is there? I’m not quite sure what a CHOAM is, but you can buy shares in it, and if you manage to control a majority, you win. 

The gameplay is almost like you’d expect, with you having an area of the map that you have to try to dominate in one way or another, in order to gain power. As you start a match, sending Ornithopters out to reconnoitre is a great idea, as not only do they remove the sand blocking the view, but they can also scan the ground so you can see what is what; whether that be villages that can annexed (peacefully or otherwise), points of interest like valuable minerals, Spice fields or various wrecks to investigate. 

dune spice wars review 2
Looking good…

This segment of the game plays out as I remember, building up your forces and trying to get the Spice, get the control and hold on to it. As you capture villages, you can build various structures to help you survive, from dew collectors that allow you to create water (very valuable on a desert planet) through to missile batteries that protect your territory. Of course, every building comes with an upkeep cost, and you have to pay a tax every so often in order to avoid penalties. All the while you need to keep your economy going by harvesting Spice and so on. Spinning plates? Piece of cake compared to this. 

Further to all that, every so often the Landsraad, the government for want of a better term, meets, requiring a vote on three proposals. These seem random, but apparently by having enough political clout, you can change the proposals. I say apparently as I’m about as popular as Liz Truss, it appears. If you can stay in charge of the Landsraad for a certain amount of time, this is another route to victory, so it is worth trying to make friends and allies. 

So, are there any downsides to what Dune: Spice Wars offers? Well, yes, and I’m sure it will surprise no one to learn that mapping a keyboard and mouse to a controller has brought a few issues. In fact, the controls are incredibly complex. There are some bits of the menus where the D-pad is required, there are some bits where you have to choose options with the left stick, and it is all a bit overwhelming to be honest. Eventually you do learn to use the main controls, but I feel like I am missing quite a lot of options. 

The multiplayer is working well, even if the online world does seem about as sparsely populated as the rest of Arrakis. When you do find a lobby, there is no difference between playing online and playing solo, except that the enemies you face are infinitely more cunning due to being real people. I’ve been roundly spanked in pretty much every multiplayer game I’ve got into. The main stumbling block seems to be that the other players play at whatever the opposite of the speed of light is – every Landsraad meeting takes the full ten minutes to resolve, and until it is, you can’t make any actions, which gets tedious. Other than that, the netcode is stable, there’s no lag and everything is groovy.

dune spice wars review 4
Dune: Spice Wars is properly complex

All in all, Dune: Spice Wars is a satisfying 4X game, but it is not without its issues. The controls are the only real stumbling block, but the biggest problem I have is in the sheer complexity of the systems. It is like the developers have tried to shoehorn every little bit of the books into a game, and as a result things are almost as dense and impenetrable as the books. 

With a little streamlining, this could have been the game to make me forget Dune 2, but as it stands, Dune: Spice Wars is too complex for its own good.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Looks good and sounds good
  • Playing the missions and building up the chosen faction is involving
  • Many ways to win, and Factions to play as
Cons:
  • Controls are very complicated
  • All a little overwhelming
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Funcom
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PC
  • Release date and price - 17 November 2023 | £33.49
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Looks good and sounds good</li> <li>Playing the missions and building up the chosen faction is involving</li> <li>Many ways to win, and Factions to play as</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Controls are very complicated</li> <li>All a little overwhelming</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Funcom</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PC <li>Release date and price - 17 November 2023 | £33.49</li> </ul>Dune: Spice Wars Review
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