Dune: Spice Wars Review
There are multiple factions in Dune: Spice Wars, but I serve one master, and his name is Shai-Hulud.
The sand worms are the true master of the planet Arrakis, colloquially called Dune. You might be familiar with the flow of spice from reading the Dune novels, or seeing the recent movie. There’s also the infamous 80s movie. Dune is well represented in games too. There was an influential tabletop game first released in 1979. But gamers know that Dune is largely responsible for the entire real time strategy genre, with the release of Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty in 1992. That’s the weight of the universe on the back of Dune: Spice Wars, and it would be hard not to stumble under all that legacy.
Spice Wars was developed by Shiro Games who you remember from their game Northgard. With slick presentation and some clever rules, Northgard really shot some life into the real-time strategy genre. While this isn’t just a reskin of Northgard, there’s definitely a close relationship; siblings not cousins. This means that the game is played on a big continuous board. Your goal is to take over a territory by bringing its main population center under your control. Spice Wars flips the script a little by giving you a number of different options for expansion. You know, the Harkonnens take what they want with guns, the Attreides have slower but more peaceful methods.
If that was all, Spice Wars would be a pretty alright game. Northgard is fun. Dune is rad. Put the two of them together, and you have a nice melange. But I was impressed with how deep into the sands this game was ready to dig. Take the factions for example. You’ve got to have Harkonnens and Attreides, that’s a given. There’s also a dedicated Fremen faction. There are the vaguely named Smugglers. But then you’ve got House Corrino, represented by His Majesty Shaddam Corrino IV (eighty-first and last of the Padishah Emperors). Rounding out the roster is House Ecaz, who I had to look up. They are the Emperor’s in-laws.
Treacherous Shifting Sands
Spice Wars is dedicated to Dune lore, and if that’s something you dig, I am sure you will walk away impressed. But how does it play, straight-up? It’s alright. Now out of early access, Spice Wars still feels a little wobbly. You will send armies into conflict in the desert, and then you’ll wait a while because all units feel like damage sponges. You can automate your scouts, but that doesn’t really free up much management space. Northgard felt impeccably balanced so, maybe Spice Wars will get there? Remove the coat of paint, and I would probably pick Northgard over Spice Wars, just in terms of how they each play. But Spice Wars does have that extra coat of paint, and wow, what a coat.
The most immediate influence on Spice Wars is the 2021 film, directed by Denis Villeneuve. You can see it in the design of the characters, who (mostly) resemble the actors who play them in the movie. The game is overall very concerned with getting all the little things right. The art style gives the game its own strong sense of identity, but Dune fans will marvel at the ornithopters, and the hissing buzz of the shield generators.
Fear Is the Mind Killer
There’s an impressive attention paid to details. This is particularly true regarding the music. Hans Zimmer’s score to the 2021 movie is his best work in years, and Spice Wars borrows a lot of instrumentation including Zimmer’s throbbing percussion (womp-womp-WOMP). I was really transported to Arrakis. Spend long enough with this game and you will be rushing to top off your glass of water.
I cannot lie, the world of Dune is one of my favorites, and any chance to visit Arrakis is a welcome one. Despite a its significance to gaming as a whole, there aren’t a lot of Dune games out there. Spice Wars is the kind of power struggle fantasy game that we’ve been seeing for decades, but its a winning formula. Sure Spice Wars might mostly be porting over a lot of the mechanics from Northgard and dressing them up with a new coat of paint, but it’s an incredible court of paint. If you were distraught to learn that the second Dune movie will be pushed back into next year, Spice Wars will probably hold you over until the big day for the big worms.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Wonderfully realized planet
- Similar to other strategy games
- Excellent overall presentation
- Underdeveloped combat mechanics
- Derivative of other strategy games
- No major Campaign