Dune Spice Wars
Denis Villeneuve’s film returned fans to the world of the desert planet Arrakis, once again making the Dune universe one of the most popular and discussed. And the Shiro Games studio, which gave rise to the excellent Northgard strategy, guessed the time and released Dune: Spice Wars, dedicated to Arrakis and the confrontation between four factions waging war for control over the production of an overvalued resource – spices.
Book lovers need not worry. The plot of Dune: Spice Wars is not burdened. Instead, you have a map, a side choice, and then full terrain generation and a random set of timed tasks work, and these are not even necessary to complete. The player is left to himself and can come to victory in any way, even by shaking the reputation of the empire, even by destroying and capturing.
Spice is an important resource, though not the only one. The extraction of building materials and water, the recruitment and collection of taxes, as well as the generation of scientific progress and authority are much more important. The spice is mainly used as a tax to the emperor (or as a bribe if you are not playing as an imperial faction), which will be regularly deducted from your balance. There will be no spice – you will receive a penalty, and if it is in abundance, you can use this value as a trade resource. In general, there is not much sense in spices, agents and the army are much more useful here. The former can be infiltrated into enemies or local planetary groupings, and from there regularly bring you additional resources. The very same agent network is a good tool to spoil the enemies, for example, with its help you can poison their water.
There are three main differences between Dune and Northgard. First: locations are not overwhelmed with resources. For several sectors, you will find one field of spices and some kind of increase in the growth of building materials. Second: it is impossible to build up the occupied territories. Due to the presence of sandworms, buildings can only be placed on a piece of stone around cities, which are also not very numerous. Third: lack of units. Those that guard the city cannot be controlled, and the only workers here are harvesters and reconnaissance drones. As a result, a few troops mostly run around the map, which also need to move very carefully – the worms do not sleep and react to very active skirmishes. The change of seasons has been replaced by sandstorms, which also make adjustments to both the collection of spices and the movement of troops. For the rest…
And what about the rest? Lack of dynamics? Yes, there is. Empty locations, through which the army slowly runs (you won’t get enough at all the airstations), captures neutrals, digs in and runs further until it hits one of the three enemies. More than four sides on a map of any size cannot participate, and none of them are alike. Perhaps this is done for balance, so that the player always knows what to expect. Some do not know how to peacefully annex neutral cities, while others do, and still have voting privileges in the local planetary senate, choosing bonuses and debuffs for factions for the next cycle.
Although the penalties here are rarely serious. Even a negative money balance does not lead to defeat and is always compensated by one or two trade deals or long trade agreements. The game seemed to be positioned as difficult, but if only the balance of resources is concerned, then it is one of the most sparing in the genre.
War is another matter. Enemies are aggressive, cruel, sudden. If the Harkonnen are close by, expect an attack in the forehead, if the Fremen, then in the back, if the smugglers, then you will be sent into debt slavery, and if the Atreides, you will be peacefully “united” through referendums.
However, despite versatile opponents, Dune: Spice Wars turned out to be an extremely boring game. It lacks scale and variety. Arrakis is just a big desert, and the map generator only chooses where the desert is higher and where it is lower. Huge spaces are not filled with anything, and the generation of large maps only adds to what is happening – the restrictions on units do not disappear anywhere, and the scale of the war, as, for example, in Stellaris, does not grow. The lack of a plot component completes the picture of despondency. The authors give familiar characters, but do not allow them to express themselves, forcing them to consider the balance, and not arrange verbal duels. Having passed the map only once, you will already know everything about the game, and most likely you will not want to repeat your experience. Starting settings aimed at increasing the number of sandstorms and worm activity, of course
Perhaps some of this will change when the game is released in its entirety, but it is unlikely. Still, this is not a game from Paradox Interactive, where updates sometimes radically change both the look of the game and the basics of gameplay. In Dune: Spice Wars, any attempt to change something rests first on the setting, and then on the generation of the open world. You can’t add sides to the conflict, like in Northgard, you can’t make the world more diverse, like in Wartales, you can’t think through each battle in advance to make it more interesting and tense.
In short, only fans of this setting will get real pleasure from Dune: Spice Wars. There is spice, familiar faces and an endless desert, on which Shai-Huluds crawl – that is exactly what real fans of books and films would like, not games. But for the rest, it is desirable to look at two other studio strategies that worked great, not only because there were Vikings.