Dune: Spice Wars Early Access Review

It’s been a while since we’ve visited the Dune universe in a real-time strategy game – when Emperor: Battle for Dune came out in 2001 I thought the iPod was basically magic – but even in its Early Access form , Dune: Spice Wars is shaping up to make a triumphant return. Four distinct factions, each engaging in interesting combat, politics, and exploration in slightly different ways, make for an exciting time in the beautifully deadly world of Arrakis. And what’s even more impressive, I never felt like I needed to be a highly skilled Mentat mastermind to keep track.

Spice Wars is a bit more of a traditional RTS than developer Shiro Games’ last project, Northgard, which shared many elements with worker placement tabletop games. But a return to the old formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and their balanced resource mechanics are still at the heart of everything. Whether it’s manpower, political clout, or that all-important spice, I’ve never gotten into a rut in this shimmering desert where I felt like I’ve had enough of everything. Spice Wars always leaves you hungry for something, which can lead to conflict even with a long-time ally if they happen to reach that juicy spice field you’ve been eyeing before you can.

Combat is relatively easy, but satisfying. Until you get fairly deep into the military tech tree, your army size will be limited to just a handful, making your units’ micron crucial in a balanced battle. I appreciate how this increases the ability cap significantly without having to worry about a huge undecipherable blob of soldiers. And each faction fights a little differently, from the relatively straightforward Atreides Legions, who get bonuses when they team up against a single enemy, to the elusive Fremen, who can wreak a lot of delightful havoc by launching small squads of stealthy infiltrators use skillfully. The additional danger of Shai Hulud introduces more tense and compelling considerations to any fight, especially in the late game. Why? Because when large groups of soldiers fight over a small area, there is a risk that they will all become worm food.


Because of these differences, each faction has their own tactics, with the brutal Harkonnens relying on strong military garrisons to extract additional productivity from their workforce, and the Fremen’s advantageous ability to gather valuable spices without noisy, mechanical harvesters that tend to to attract problems of giant deathworm species. Of course, you can never really eliminate the threat of the worms, so you’ll have to learn to live with them. I really like how this reminds you that no matter how powerful you become, you must still bow to the unforgiving rules of Arrakis. This is how the planet really comes to life and takes on a character all of its own, buoyed by shimmering dunes by day and an eerily calm, almost meditative sea of ​​glittering blue by night. The look of the units and buildings is a bit cartoonishly stylized, but everything together is beautiful.

This characteristic toughness also manifests itself in a supply system that requires you to provision all military units in order to survive for long periods away from friendly areas. Particularly dangerous are the deep deserts that split the map with basically impassable expanses, killing anything trying to traverse them and creating effective tactical puzzles to solve. Some factions, notably the Fremen, may eventually gain the ability to safely cross them. But mostly I had to decide if it was worth risking my entire army to hit an enemy where they least expected it – a risky but exciting move.


While all of this is going on, strategy simmers at the highest level as each faction competes for a position in the cutthroat space senate, the Landsraad. The Atreides and Harkonnens are voting members with official representation, but all factions, including the unrecognized Fremen and Smugglers, can spend a resource called Influence to represent bribes and backroom deals to get what they’re looking for. It sounds complex, but the way it works is very easy to follow, with resolutions like increasing the upkeep of certain goods or giving a faction the ability to create special Imperial armies that come up for vote on a regular basis . It’s impressive how Spice Wars managed to screw a fairly deep political system onto an already complex RTS without making it feel bloated or confusing. However, this is one area that could use a balance pass before it pulls out of Early Access.

Dune: Spice Wars screens

Of the several games I’ve played of Spice Wars, each lasting around three to four hours, all but one ended when House Atreides was elected governors of Dune. Once they achieve this title, they only have to keep it for a certain number of days before the game ends. The main issue I had was that there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop them, other than maybe swiping them off the map – and that’s almost impossible to do quickly since each faction’s main base has defenses that outweigh everything else than will decimate the strongest armies in the late game. You have to hope that the governorship happens to come back to the vote and try to win it over. Sometimes it just doesn’t show up at all – there’s no way I could find to influence this.


Eventually, in the espionage system, the complexity might boil over. With spies, named characters that generate an intel resource, you can perform useful operations ranging from hindering enemy supplies in a region to starting a rebellion in one of their settlements. The problem with this is that it takes a lot of time to manage and it was one too many things to juggle when I had to deal with war, economy and politics. Sneaky deals are a big part of the Dune universe, so I wouldn’t necessarily want that system to go away. But more ways to passively use my intel instead of having to constantly allocate it to new operations (or trade it away so it doesn’t go to waste) would have been nice.

And these rebellions also feel a bit too punitive. Given the small unit cap, having an entire settlement spring up on the other side of the map while you’re in the middle of a war, even with multiple counterintelligence agents assigned, can be disastrous. Local militias that you have set up in the settlement only defend themselves against rival powers and do not lift a finger against rebels. So it can get pretty frustrating with how few tools there are to counteract this. Dune: Spice Wars Early Access Review

Fry Electronics Team

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