With Dune: Spice Wars, Shiro Games has the daunting task of carving out a space in a rather cluttered, if not oversaturated 4X genre while also being a solid video game adaptation of a very popular multimedia IP. With my time in it so far, I think they’re on the right path.
Any game entering the 4X space is almost immediately going to be compared to the giants of the genre in Civilization and the Paradox Studios games Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings. Or rather, I compare them to Civilization because my thought process with most media content is “Does this deserve my time as opposed to this other thing I understand/enjoy,” because 4X games are NOT easy to get into. There is a lot of depth to them, and many an hour can be sunk into them just to have a decent grasp on the basics. So with that said, I’m coming into Dune: Spice Wars having sunk an unhealthy amount of hours into the Civilization series starting at IV and only really branching out to try out Humankind, so if I say “this mechanic in Dune: Spice Wars is totally new and cool!” just please keep that in mind that I’m too much of a coward to learn Paradox Studios’s insane games.
With all of that said, I do think that the real challenge is nailing the concept of “Heck yeah, I’m playing a Dune video game!” so this first look is going to be mostly aimed at “Well, am I playing a Dune video game?” So right off the bat, Dune: Spice Wars changes the way settlements are created. You start with your home base and send out scouting Ornithopters that will discover Local Settlements. You then send out your small military force to capture these settlements, unless you’re playing as House Atreides, which gives you the “Peaceful Annexation” ability, which allows you to, you know, peacefully annex local settlements. This is all done in real-time, rather than turn-based, which is a change of pace for me, and I think adds to the urgency of the decision-making.
Making Dune: Spice Wars a 4X game shows that the developers really wanted to lean more into the political aspects of Dune, and I think these mechanics help them achieve that. Coupling that with the distinct playable factions, the previously mentioned House Atreides with their peaceful, political abilities; House Harkkonnen with their purely militaristic ways; the Fremen being more at home and therefore better suited to handle the dangers of Arrakis; and the Smugglers faction offering up a conniving, treacherous way to play, really drives forward the developer’s goal of making a true Dune experience.
However, there are two other major things necessary to create a fulfilling Dune project: super massive gigantic sandworms, Spice and have no fear. and they do indeed play a part in this game! I cannot tell you how many times I have sent my military forward to conquer some poor local settlement, just to have a giant sandworm eat my ranged troopers and dash all hopes I had of acquiring said local settlement (it’s 3, it doesn’t happen THAT often, but where’s the dramatic excitement there?!). Sandworms’ other favorite targets are the Spice harvesters that you must build and keep alive in order to harvest Spice and pay your taxes at the end of the period. The franticness of balancing the building out of your colony, as well as the building up of it, mixed in with the raiders, sandworms, and factional enemies does a good job of creating a feel of somewhat controlled political mayhem.
Dune: Spice Wars is in its early infancy, just releasing into open Early Access but so far, I think Shiro Games have been able to tap into a vein of Dune-ness with Dune: Spice Wars, and I’m excited to see how the game expands out from here.