When thinking about what distinguishes the Dune universe from other epic sci-fi, Shiro Games has captured many of those elements in Dune: Spice Wars. From the intricate galactic politics to the seamless fusion of futuristic and ancient themes, and the awe-inspiring grandeur of Arrakis, Spice Wars encompasses the essence of what makes Dune unique.
The real-time battle system at the heart of each hour-long clash for control over Dune is well-paced and strikes the perfect balance between complexity and accessibility. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned player, you can dive right in and have a great time. However, delving deeper into the game reveals the rewarding intricacies of unit synergies, such as the teamwork bonuses of the Atreides legions or the hit-and-run tactics of the Fremen.
A notable addition to the game since its Early Access launch is the incorporation of airships. These late-game units can be game-changers when used effectively, but their costly nature can lead to wasted resources if not utilized properly. However, one area where the game falls short is the AI. Whether it’s the opponent’s units or your own, they tend to behave in nonsensical ways when grouped closely together. Increasing the difficulty level is necessary to find a satisfying combat challenge.
Despite the AI’s lackluster performance in battle, it exhibits cunning and effectiveness in matters of strategy. Utilizing diplomatic and espionage options, the AI can quickly turn the tide of the game even on Normal difficulty. Players must remain vigilant and adapt to the AI’s shrewd maneuvering to secure victory.
Resource management is a crucial aspect of Spice Wars. The clever and hands-on resource system keeps players constantly deciding when to sell and when to stockpile spice, while considering fluctuating exchange rates and the periodic Imperial tax. The game successfully creates a sense of scarcity, requiring players to constantly thirst for resources and potentially clash with allies over critical spice fields.
The supply system introduces a strategic dimension by depleting provisions for units traversing neutral or hostile territories. The harsh deserts drain supplies at an accelerated rate and cause health damage to units. However, maintaining a surplus of water enhances unit capabilities and mobility, incentivizing players to coexist harmoniously with Arrakis rather than attempting to reshape it.
The Fremen faction excels in desert traversal, possessing the ability to move quickly and safely compared to other factions. Their unique capability to gather spice without attracting sandworms adds another layer of complexity to the economic gameplay. Players must make difficult choices between automated evacuation of harvesters, reducing production, or risking manual evacuation to avoid sandworm encounters. Escorting harvesters with ornithopters sacrifices reconnaissance but provides early warnings, further deepening the strategic trade-offs.
The ever-present threat of sandworms reinforces the unforgiving nature of Arrakis, reminding players that even with great power, they must respect the planet’s rules. The attention to detail in the game’s visual and auditory elements truly brings Arrakis to life. From the gleaming dunes in the daytime to the tranquil, twinkling blue sea at night, the game’s aesthetics are captivating.
While conflict rages on the desert surface, high-level strategy unfolds in the cutthroat space senate known as the Landsraad. The four major houses, Atreides, Harkonnen, Corino, and Ecaz, hold voting power, but all factions, including the Fremen and Smugglers, can engage in influence-based activities. Spice Wars impressively integrates a deep political system into the already complex RTS gameplay without overwhelming or unbalancing the experience.
Adding to the espionage system’s tension is the assassination action, which introduces a race against the clock. Player’s can gather intelligence on rival factions and attempt to assassinate their leaders while being wary of counterespionage efforts. If targeted, players must allocate resources to locate the assassin before it’s too late. The assassination system adds an exhilarating detective game element, where players must divert resources and take risks to protect against potential assassinations.
The game features a user-friendly interface that allows players to manage the various aspects of gameplay, including espionage. Engaging in espionage activities generates resources, incentivizing players to utilize these mechanics to support their preferred playstyles, even if espionage is not their main focus. Additionally, spy traits and settlement traits contribute to the gameplay’s optimization potential for meticulous players.
Besides the standard skirmish mode, Spice Wars offers two additional modes. Kanly Duel is a fast-paced 1v1 showdown on a smaller map with accelerated technology progression, ideal for competitive play or quick matches with friends. The Conquest mode provides a more extensive campaign experience, consisting of eight or nine missions and lasting approximately 12 hours. Players unlock perks and passive resource income by conquering sectors on the turn-based campaign map, with additional rewards for tackling challenging optional objectives.