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Dune: Spice Wars, the Arrakis 4X strategy game developed by Shiro Games, is graduating from early access on September 14.

Publisher Funcom said the full Dune Spice Wars will bring the sixth major content update since the game entered Early Access, introducing a new faction: the opulent and politically sharp House Ecaz. The game is based on Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, but it’s a very different kind of strategy game.

With a total of six factions now warring over the priceless spice, the pursuit of power is as unpredictable as the shifting sands of Arrakis themselves, Funcom said.

Throughout Early Access on Steam, Dune: Spice Wars has continued to grow and be refined thanks to a clear content roadmap and feedback-based updates, the company said. I played a ton of the game in early access earlier this year, and I became a spice addict.

Dune Spice Wars is an RTS with 4X elements.
Dune Spice Wars is an RTS with 4X elements. Here’s Arrakeen.

In Dune Spice Wars, you battle for control of the planet, which is the sole source of spice, a substance that enables interstellar space travel. Playing as the House Atreides faction, you start out with a headquarters in Arrakeen. You can explore, control territory, grow the economy, engage in combat, spy on your enemies, and engage in politics.

Each time you play, the game is different. The maps will be procedurally generated, with different options for size, wind strength, sandworm activity, and many others. Deep deserts are used as a kind of blocking feature (like seas in other games), at least until you develop technologies to survive longer in the desert, or build a network, or airfields. Maps will also feature unique places that readers of the book will recognize.

The team said the art style is cartoonish and bold in part because creating a game on a desert planet has quite a few challenges, one of which is making sure what you look at for a few hours is not bland even if it’s just rock and sand.

Your job is to create outposts and grab resources. You can generate power, create air power, build missile defenses, or generate troops. But you have to be careful with your economy, expanding into new parts of the planet without stretching yourself thin and making yourself vulnerable to attacks from other factions.

A sandstorm can wipe out your army in Dune Spice Wars.

When I played the game, I had an awful time securing great victories because the factions all tended to either race to get the most wealth or constant harass my faction with small attacks on all borders. In effect, you’re surrounded and you have to figure out if others such as the Fremen are your allies or enemies. I wasn’t able to build much with a small economy, and so I had to focus on constantly expanding into new territories while making sure I could defend each parcel.

The Atreides had good troops — including some like drones that don’t really appear in the books — and I enjoyed playing as the righteous team. But it was hard to amass a lot of troops in the desert, as sandworms came to eat them or they died while crossing the desert. I hope they fixed some of this in the fine tuning, as it was frustrating to not be able to accomplish much once the borders of the game were all fleshed out and taken by various factions. There were a lot of paths to consider, including warfare, politics, spying, diplomacy, industry and betrayal.

Developer choices

Dune: Spice wars is a new 4X game.
Dune: Spice wars is a new 4X game.

While earlier games cast the Atreides with blue regalia, the developers stayed true to the book, putting the heroic faction into green and black colors.

The team also spent time working on the environment and even worked with a geologist specializing in deserts to create things that could exist on such a planet. The stylized art direction comes into play by adding things that bring a variety of colors and shapes so that the environment can stay harsh while not getting boring to look at for hours at a time.

The new arrivals, House Ecaz, wield power like a paint brush, rapidly expanding its influence across the hostile canvas of Arrakis, where sun and sandworm devour all. The prestige of their artworks grants them unique power over the Landsraad, letting them stand toe-to-toe with even the Atreides in terms of political clout. I’m looking forward to trying out the final version.

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