We Got A Look At Dune: Awakening’s Massive Desert Maps And MMO Elements

Exploring Dune: Awakening’s Survival and MMO Elements

We’ve heard a lot about the survival aspect of Dune: Awakening–such as the way you’ll need to conserve water, stay out of the baking Arrakis sun, and carefully avoid ever-present sandworms. While it seems that staying alive on the least hospitable planet in the universe will take up a lot of your attention, the other part of Dune: Awakening is a slate of MMO elements, including the way you’ll tangle with other players who are also doing their best to survive.

Developer Fancom gave a hands-off demonstration of Dune: Awakening during Summer Game Fest 2024’s Play Days event, giving a quick new look at the survival MMO and particularly showing off a bit of its moment-to-moment gameplay. While we didn’t get to play the game ourselves, we did see it being played, which gave a sense of the fact that while you’re completing quests and keeping yourself alive, there will be times when you’ve got to contend with other players who might want what you have.

Exploring the Hagga Basin and Other Key Locations

The demo picked up right after the player had cleared out an underground ecology lab, one of the locations that serves as Dune: Awakening’s equivalent to a dungeon. We were told that this character was in about the midgame, around 60 hours in, having gone beyond basic survival to gather and craft elements like a suspensor belt–a special bit of levitation technology that allowed them to make very high jumps and to float down from high locations unscathed–and an ornithopter, a flying vehicle for getting around. Leaving the dungeon, the player jumped right into their ornithopter, lifted it up, and transitioned out of the dungeon and out into the desert at large.

Ornithopters are a good way to get around the desert without attracting sandworm attention, but everything else is vulnerable.

This is the Hagga Basin, which looks like it’ll be a main focus of much of Dune: Awakening, at least early on. As social and economic director Matt Woodward explained during the demo, the location supports around 40 players in an instance, and is made up of a variety of different locations. There are places like the lab, expanses of desert, and villages or outposts you can visit. The ornithopter did a pass over a few different parts of the location, including the open desert, where we landed for a quick look around.

In Frank Herbert’s novel, the desert isn’t uniform–the sand can sometimes compress to conduct sound extremely well, known as drum sand, and we also saw a bubbling area where subsurface liquid created quicksand. The player used the suspensor belt to jump free of the quicksand before sinking, but as all Dune fans know, messing around with that technology attracts the worm–which showed up a few seconds later. It was back to the ornithopter to avoid being eaten. Sandworms are a big hazard in Dune: Awakening, because while you retain your gear if you’re killed by other means, anything on you when you’re eaten by a sandworm (along with vehicles or anything else that gets consumed) is gone forever.

Exploring Faction Bases and Crafting Abilities

Next, the demo took us to a non-combat zone: a Harkonnen base. In this playthrough, the player had sided with the Harkonnen faction, making them allies to the great house but enemies with anyone loyal to the Atreides, the house of Dune’s usual protagonists. The base, Woodward said, was created using the same building system that Dune: Awakening makes available to characters, with only a few developer-specific pieces. The gist is that you’ll be able to construct your own bases and dwellings at the same level of quality as the developers, if you want.

The Harkonnen base was a spot where the player could pick up quests or talk to NPCs if they wanted to. This is also the kind of place where you can talk to trainer characters who can unlock new abilities for your character. You choose a role at the start of the game, like being a human computer called a Mentat, a swordmaster, or a Bene Gesserit who can deploy special abilities like the mind-controlling Voice. But you’re not limited to just the abilities and skill trees you get when you choose your starting conditions. In the Harkonnen base, the demo showed us the Mentat trainer, who can help you start unlocking Mentat abilities for your character so you can mix and match how you play.

Exploring the Crashed Spaceship and Unique Schematics

Leaving the Harkonnen base by grabbing another vehicle, a land-based buggy, we headed to a new location: a crashed spaceship. The ship had smashed through the surface of Arrakis and was located deep in a gorge. It was full of valuable stuff, so the Harkonnens and the Atreides had each set up a base at one end of the gorge, hoping to protect the wreck itself from the other faction. That had resulted in something of a stalemate between the two.

Which social spaces you can enter, like Harko Village, is determined by your faction alignment.

The gorge was a good demonstration of the way locations are laid out in Dune: Awakening. The Harkonnen base is a non-combat area, essentially a social location. Outside of it, in the gorge, is a “Limited Warfare” area, which consists of PvE gameplay, where you’ll take down enemy soldiers and NPCs. The shipwreck itself, however, is a “War of Assassins” area, named after the larger conflict between the Atreides and the Harkonnen–a full PvP zone.

The reason for that is because the shipwreck contains valuable, one-of-a-kind schematics you can use to create new gear. Venturing into the ship, your goal is to find that schematic and leave with it. In this case, it allowed the crafting of a new, powerful rifle, but since there’s only one schematic in the shipwreck at a time, in order to liberate it for yourself, you’ll have to deal with anyone else who’s also trying to take it. The demo obviously didn’t have anyone else contending for that schematic, but in the live game, heading into locations like this will be a risk.

The Vast World of Dune: Awakening

The playthrough of the demo ended after leaving the crashed ship, but Woodward gave a little more context of just how large we can expect Dune: Awakening to be. The Hagga Basin, he said, is comparable to the size of Conan: Exile’s map, about 64 square kilometers. Dune: Awakening will also have social locations like the capital city of Arrakeen, and the Harkonnen town Harko Village. Leaving the Hagga Basin by ornithopter takes you to an overworld map that lets you travel between major locales.

The overworld map allows you to move between different major locations, like Hagga Basin and the deep desert.
The overworld map allows you to move between different major locations, like Hagga Basin and the deep desert.

And then there’s the deep desert–the high-level PvP area where you’re seemingly going to put a lot of effort. Forming groups and guilds, you’ll head into the deep desert to harvest spice, search labs, and find wrecked ships, among other things. Just like in the wrecked ship, you’ll potentially fight other players as you try to claim unique schematics in the deep desert each week. Woodward said that the deep desert is the size of three of the 8-kilometer by 8-kilometer Hagga Basin map. Each week, a Coriolis Storm will reset the whole area, so not only are you going to be revisiting it over and over, but it’s going to be a huge area that will take a while to explore after each sweep.

Though the demo only lasted a few minutes, it still gave an interesting new take on Dune: Awakening, and in particular, how the game’s survival and MMO elements are going to work and meld together. There’s still a lot of the game we need to see in action, and the demo only gave quick looks at things like actually exploring and interacting with the desert, or engaging in combat–which seems like it can be pretty different from one player to the next, depending on what path you decide to take. But the ideas of questing, surviving, and fighting other players for cool, finite resources all sound like intense and fun additions to Dune: Awakening and great uses of the Dune setting. We’ll have to keep waiting to see even more, but what Funcom has shown so far looks promising.