Dune: Spice Wars early access review: a compact 4X that falters in the middle

Dune: Spice Wars early on access review: a compact 4X that falters in the middle

I have already used the pun ‘Atreides Nuts’ and will not do so again

Right, housekeeping first. Dune: Spice Wars’ Steam page describes it as a “real-time strategy game with 4X elements”. An odd choice, considering Shiro Games themselves downplay RTS elements in a Steam weblog. Spice Wars is every bit much 4X every bit the dead eyes of two smiley faces, and one with plenty forward momentum equally to make such tantalising lies unnecessary. Embrace your 1000 strategy! It’s similar John Dune always said: “Fear is the path to the dark side, Malcolm Reynolds”.

Last year graced us with the excellent Slipways, and I’m enlightened some were left unsated past its conundrum-leaning play, still yearning for the fabled 4X-light. Stupendous news, those people: once Spice Wars clicks, you can pop a victory screen in four hours. Perhaps less if, unlike me, you can avoid feeding expensive troops to hungry sandworms (i.e The Dickhead’south Gambit). And happy days everyone else, because this brevity doesn’t sacrifice both systems-rich and setting-faithful design. Every political or ecological factor on Arrakis is given due TLC, from trading water with Sietches to prevent raids, to bribing the spacing guild with regular spice shipments. Not everything is equally impactful, but they all converge in an engaging melange of Dune-flavoured determination making.

Early access brings four factions. First, there’s Leto Atreides, for people who cut their apparently toast into triangles and consume information technology on the way to parish council meetings. Ever the diplomat, Leto can expand through peaceful annexation. Information technology’south comparatively tiresome and plush, merely prevents the need to spread your military out too thinly, lending Leto’southward entrada a ready fist behind the velvet glove. At that place’southward the Baron Harkonnen, for reprobates who slather their toast in marmalade and eat information technology in the bath. The Harkonnens tin use a resource called manpower, usually used for recruitment, to oppress endemic villages for a heave in resource output. This increases unrest, potentially leading to rebellions, but can otherwise make you disgustingly rich, disgustingly quickly.

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There’southward Leto Atreides, for people who cut their evidently toast into triangles and eat it on the mode to parish quango meetings.

There’southward the Smugglers, who don’t care most toast until you brand some, and suddenly they really fancy a slice. They can install underworld buildings beneath enemy villages, which so steal resources, buff local friendly troops, and other assorted subterfuge – think Skaven undercities or Co-operative Offices from Stellaris. Finally, you lot have the Fremen, led by Liet Kynes, for people who enjoy lecturing others on the environmental bear on of candy grain while they’re just trying to enjoy some nice toast. The Fremen can hail Sandworms similar gargantuan Ubers, shuttling troops across huge distances. Their units also suffer greatly reduced supply drain – and therefore health drain – when hoofing information technology across the dunes. Dune is covered in dunes (they’re bloody everywhere, actually) so these are both clutch mobility boosts, allowing for flavorful Fremen smash’n’nuance tactics.

I’ve found 3 paths to victory so far, although only 2 of them seem practical unless you’re up for a very long session. The fastest, every bit the Atreides anyway, is to schmooze your fashion into Dune governorship and keep it for threescore days. A resources called influence plays a big part here, equally does keeping the Landsraad sweetness with punctual spice payments and not flexing your military as well hard. The 2d way – slower just more flexible – is through a resources called Hegemony. Unlike factions take alternate ways of gaining it (Fremen water production, for case) simply territorial expansion and spice payments are a big cistron for everyone. Finally, you can knock out your three opponents through war or assassination, merely this is complex and lengthy.

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A political choice to make in Dune: Spice Wars after a member of your family has made a faux pas at the last Landsraad meeting

Right, those spice payments. It’s clear that care was taken ensuring spice acquisition felt vital to victory, and Herbert’s magic dorito dust is well represented as the fulcrum of both the game’southward fiction and economy. You send your Ornithopters out to track down deposits, capture the sector, build a refinery, and go harvesting. Sometimes, sandworms come to investigate the dissonance. Yous’ll need to recall your harvesters when you get the warning to stop them getting devoured, although this can exist automated for a small reduction in harvesting efficiency. You lot’re limited to ane harvester per refinery, but you can upgrade the crew with research and the yield with various factors. May the spice be with y’all, etc. etc.

The trick hither, and the i that lends a game of Spice Wars much of its forrard momentum, is the ever increasing spice tax. Whether it’s the Emperor or the spacing order breathing down your sunburnt neck, you’ll need to make regular payments of desert dandruff, and more each time. To this end, you use a toggle to decide how much of your income goes into storage to be automatically deducted on tax day, and how much of information technology is automatically sold to CHOAM to grant you a passive income of Solaris, i.eastward space bux. Go along up those regular payments, and y’all’ll go the biggest Hegemony bonuses, so they’re vital for virtually victories. It’s a nifty system that forces you to either go along expanding or exploit the spice you already take to its limits. You’re left perpetually hungry for spice, as you should exist.

This is more or less the only serious railroad in an impressively varied gear up of paths to big Hegemony payoffs. Yous can focus on military, espionage, infrastructure, playing wide or (reasonably) tall. You can buy shares in CHOAM, or ally with every Sietch on Dune. You can use influence to pass favourable motions at the Landsraad quango. Even at this early phase in development, I was reminded of how Stellaris felt after a bunch of expansions, admitting understandably distilled and nowhere almost every bit narratively fluid. Affairs is very limited, though. Trading is useful – and somewhat overpowered – but there’s trivial depth beyond inter-faction reputation. That said, it’s a compact, near claustrophobic game with only four factions, so I can see how something like non-aggression pacts wouldn’t quite gel.

A giant sandworm emerges from the ground in Dune: Spice Wars

Speaking of non-non-assailment: aggression. While combat is primarily a game of numbers rather than tactics, with application and economic system the major factors, in that location are some nuances. Stealth, debuffs, ranged and melee units all play their office, with some disproportion between factions. I tin can run across this stuff becoming more pronounced in multiplayer and on the highest difficulties, even if I never felt the need to main it. There’south oft enough fine tuning and different decisions elsewhere to keep your micro-fingers happy, anyhow. I found ‘operations’ to be very impactful though – schemes you can enquiry then deploy at a time of your choosing, to buff or debuff military in entire sectors of the map. You can fifty-fifty have agents run counter-schemes confronting your enemies.

My primary gripe with Spice Wars is the pacing. While the early game is all decorated expansion and sending your dragonfly-esque ‘thopters to chart the landscape, and the end game plays host to tense struggles for key territory and the enacting of long-term schemes, the mid game plays host to tensionless pockets of ho-hummery. This is partially because Spice Wars is quite an easy game on its standard settings, and being vigilant and proactive early means your rivals spend most of the mid game playing catch up. This, and the mid-tier techs are more than subtle and cumulative compared to those on the top and lesser of the trees.

A menu screen in Dune: Spice Wars allowing the player to conduct espionage

I’thousand also somewhat torn betwixt my own personal feelings toward the game and how clearly thoughtful and well-fabricated it is. At present that I’ve finished reviewing information technology, I won’t exist playing Spice Wars for fun. I’ve hit victories with two of the four factions, come up shut enough with the other ii, as well as experimenting plenty to have had my fill up. Afterward CK3 and Stellaris, I observe it hard to get invested in grand strategies that don’t accept some sort of role playing attribute, although that’due south non to say Spice Wars isn’t practiced at making you experience like a major player on Arrakis. Yous can always roleplay as ‘guy who likes to ain all the spice’, of form, and you’d exist well catered for.

This said, less good than very expert is all the same expert (wrote the professional, terribly), and Spice Wars has been a very pleasant surprise overall. It’s intricate. It’southward polished. It’south well considered. I remember in the early on 2010’due south where, if you lot wanted to make a soulless licensed game, you did some sort of God Of State of war ripoff, and how that gradually got phased out for limp plow based tactics. What I’m saying is, I don’t think y’all make a cerebral, intricate 4X out of cynicism, and this very much feels similar a game Shiro wanted to make, trends exist damned. They did opt for the nearly aesthetically boring Baron Harkonnen imaginable though, whose current incarnation I volition hold against Villenue forever. I hope ‘early access’ means they can become back to this concept art and not decide on the objectively worst one, the cowards.