Dune: Awakening is a survival sandbox in every sense

Dune: Awakening is a survival sandbox in every sense
Images via Funcom | Legendary Pictures

Written by 

Lloyd Coombes

Published 

4th Mar 2024 17:30

Survival games are pretty common these days. Between Palworld's success, new kid on the block Nightingale, and the popular Enshrouded, you've got three big titles already in the first two-and-a-half months of this year alone.

Each offers variations on a theme, and while it may seem like Dune: Awakening's selling point is being tied to a sci-fi mega-franchise, there's a lot more to Funcom's latest title than you may be expecting. Not unlike one of its massive sandworms, Dune: Awakening could be about to surface with a whole heap of desert power along with it.

Surviving Arrakis

Arrakis in Dune: Awakening
Click to enlarge

Whether you've seen the movies (of which Dune Awakening was intended to launch alongside Part One), read the books, or you're completely fresh to the Dune franchise, you'll likely know Arrakis is one of the most horrendous planets to be stuck on.

It's sandy, naturally, but it's also besieged by the Harkonnen regime and smugglers that work to pillage its spice reserves, while the Fremen try to slow them down with guerilla tactics. There's also the minor inconvenience of sandworms, which swallow up those foolish enough to even tiptoe across the open sands.

Put simply, Arrakis is hellish, but it's also full of opportunity. Dune: Awakening starts as many survival games do - with barely any clothing and an empty stomach. Here, though, there's an added impetus on finding water, either from exploring deep caverns, raiding supplies, or harvesting it from other players.

Funcom is calling Dune: Awakening a "Survival MMO", and to that end players can expect to make tough choices, aligning with factions and working their way to a position of power - or just earning a sweet Ornithopter to hunt down stragglers.

The devs are keen to focus on the sandbox nature of Awakening, letting you rise up the political ladder as a Harkonnen, and Atreides, or other factions, learning skills from the Bene Gesserit or working with the Fremen to undermine the Emperor's machinations. Or you can spend your time rescuing folks from the desert to recruit them to your cause, smuggling spice, or just enjoying being part of Arrakis.

Shifting Sands

A sandworm in Dune Awakening
Click to enlarge

If you've played Palworld et al and are concerned you've reached the 'end' once your base is optimised and you're powerful enough to stomp anything that dares attack, Dune: Awakening is about to knock you out of your comfort zone like you've been hit by an Atomic.

The Deep Desert, where players will find the best spice reserves with which to grow their empire, is a constantly evolving space as players collide. It's also impermanent, with Coriolis storms reshaping the very landscape and landmarks.

That means that your spice processing operation will be totalled in that area, requiring repairs or rebuilding week by week.

Beneath those sands, Shai-Hulud (the sandworms) are always on the move. They'll surface when players are near, making crossing during the day, in the almost unbearable heat, more than perilous. They can be led astray with Thumpers, or set on opponents with well-placed footsteps, but they're an ever-present threat however you choose to deal with them.

Home Sweet Hole

A shipwreck in Dune Awakening
Click to enlarge

Player housing is customisable, and thankfully won't be swept away in those storms provided it's built in safer areas and properly shielded. The team at Funcom has praised Unreal Engine 5's dynamic lighting for bringing these spaces to life, but the same applies to just about everything.

Pre-launch footage, rendered in-engine, looks great. Sand dunes look eerily empty, interiors feel alien, and the technology of the Fremen and their Imperial visitors looks spot-on - an advantage of having access to Legendary Pictures' models for the two Dune movies.

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My only concern remains the inclusion of ranged weapons. I get why they're there (a PvP survival game may feel a little arduous without them), but they're at odds with the Dune universe. In that fiction, laser weapons can trigger a feedback loop of catastrophic proportions when hitting a shield, prompting a revival of blade-based combat.

Funcom's answer to this is that the game takes place on an alternate timeline, and while I'm no purist, it'll be interesting to see how many of Dune's core tenets of combat make the jump to a genre that, at pretty much every other level, feels like a perfect match. Details of where the timelines diverge are coming at a later date, I was told.

Final Thoughts

I'm desperate to know more about Dune: Awakening on the heels of the latest movie, and while the alternate timeline may be a convenient way to repurpose things into a more engaging combat system, I'm looking forward to putting on my stillsuit (slip-fashion, of course).

There's still no release date, but Dune: Awakening will get more beta tests in the coming months. See you on Arrakis.

Lloyd is GGRecon's Editor-in-Chief, having previously worked at Dexerto and Gfinity, and occasionally appears in The Daily Star newspaper. A big fan of loot-based games including Destiny 2 and Diablo 4, when he's not working you'll find him at the gym or trying to play Magic The Gathering.

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