Things Are Spicin’ Up In Dune: Spice Wars Early Access

Control the spice, control Arrakis. Back to the ol' RTS format in a much more superior way, here are my thoughts of Dune: Spice Wars Early Access.

Want to hear something controversial? Dune: Spice Wars isn’t as good as Dune 2. Is that the internet melting? Far from the type who likes to court attention for the sake of it and be difficult, the RTS from Shiro Games and Funcom didn’t moisten my pants as much as its 90s predecessor did.

Alright, so the strategy title in question isn’t made by the same people, but it’s the same scenario: fight over Arrakis for control of the spice, cause some shit with the natives, then blast the crap out of everything on your way out.

Dune: Spice Wars is superior to ‘The Game That Got Me Into RTS Titles’ (Dune 2), except for accessibility. Running through the tutorials, I was genuinely excited about getting stuck in but paid attention to how to play. In practice, it wasn’t the thrill I’d been seeking.

Dune: Spice Wars Early Access - Fat Tony
Fat Tony. Source: PR

Dune: Spice Wars Early Access

I was tempted to buy this in Early Access, but knew full well I’d be swallowed up by it and would never review it. Besides, the folks who dish out review codes for this dev or publisher have me on their refusal list, so there is no chance of writing this within the right timescale (I believe it came out in December 2022?).

Anyhoo, Dune: Spice Wars finally made it on my playlist. Atreides is the house that appeals most, but back in the day, Harkonnen was my favourite, what with their treachery and extreme firepower. However, it feels much more balanced, and skills and abilities are subtle here.

Outside of exploration and combat, there’s a lot of political engagement, much like the book. You can buy and sell shares, gain intelligence on your rivals, trade (a.k.a. keep the enemy at bay while you build your armies), research new units and structures, and a heap more, to the point of overwhelming.

Dune: Spice Wars Early Access - Skirmish
Skirmish. Source: PR

New Spice

In the field, areas are defined by smaller territories you can raid and annexe. Each faction (officially four, but there are actually six) has bonuses and flaws for influencing the locals, which can work to your advantage. In short, taking over as many territories as possible seems like the best way to expand, but…

… all these structures take up resources, and taxes are due for the Empire. Dune: Spice Wars is an all-in-one experience allowing for real-time combat and behind-the-scenes business management. While the actions are easy to perform, multi-tasking takes time, and I found it took me a good few hours until I started to ‘get it’.

A lot of the time, you must play the political part of trading with your rivals while also spying on them. Accumulating an overpowering army is one way about it, but gone are the days of Command & Conquer and dominating a skirmish, or at least holding the lines while you send for new troops to back you up.

Dune: Spice Wars Early Access - Diplomacy
Diplomacy. Source: PR

It’s Gonna Be A Long War

Again, there are many things to learn here, such as the research system and where to invest your agents. Soldiers cannot be ‘built’ unless you have enough manpower and influence. If there isn’t a decent water supply, forget about annexing a local settlement.

With multiple campaigns on offer – epic ones with numerous factions, to a medium playthrough, and finally to one-vs-one skirmishes with many parameters such as difficulty. Dune: Spice Wars has a hefty amount of options. But as with most RTS’ or something like the Fallout series, you can’t just have a quick go, and even when you limit the factions, game time can escalate, so wait for the kids to go to bed, when the wife says she has a headache, or throw a sickie and play in your PJs when everyone’s out.

There’s just so much going on, and going for Dune: Spice Wars, it’s a bit of a slow-burner, so I’m pleased to say this isn’t a definitive, final review as it’s still in Early Access. Still, it’s not far off it, and the game is polished enough to recommend it as is, but I still prefer the simplicity of Dune 2 on the Amiga.