Windows Central Verdict
Dune: Spice Wars is a solid strategy experience that allows players to win or lose through politics, not just combat. The game clearly uses Dune as a setting, not just an aesthetic. The Xbox controls can be convoluted to learn, however, and the tiny UI elements could present a challenge for some prospective players.
Great strategy gameplay mechanics
Large variety of viable paths to victory
Stylized, clean visual design
Somewhat convoluted Xbox controls
Tiny UI elements
Why you can trust Windows Central
Ornithopters fly overhead, scanning for new fields of Spice as my Sardauker finish taking control of a small village. In the distance, I see signs of a sandworm, blocking any attempt at crossing the empty dune by land.
Such is Dune: Spice Wars, a strategy game that asks players to take control of Arrakis in whatever ways you see fit. Military might is one avenue, but there's other, far more subtle ways of taking control as well. It's a fun experience, one that has been available for some time on PC and is now playable on Xbox Series X|S consoles, as well as being accessible through Xbox Game Pass.
There are some issues worth mentioning, with the controls taking a fair bit of time to get used to, while the UI elements being small could definitely pose a challenge for some. Overall, this is a game that steeps itself into the world of Dune, drawing on factions in the foreground and the shadows to craft a solid strategic soirée.
What is Dune: Spice Wars?
Developer: Shiro Games
Install size: 5GB
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X (primarily)
Release date: Nov. 28, 2023 (on Xbox)
Xbox Game Pass: Yes
Dune: Spice Wars is a strategy game developed by Shiro Games (who previously developed Northgard) and co-published by Shiro Games and Funcom. Like Northgard, Dune: Spice Wars blends 4X strategy design elements with real-time gameplay, meaning players are focused on developing buildings and technology, but can still battle and advances play out in real-time as opposed to waiting through turns.
Different scale conflicts are available, with one-on-one "Kanly Duels" if you want a quick game against a single opponent, as well as longer-form campaigns that involve a number of ways for achieving victory. While different factions have advantages and disadvantages, you'll ultimately want to power your economy by harvesting Spice and not being overrun politically or militarily.
Dune: Spice Wars — Gameplay and customization
As mentioned above, every faction on Arrakis wants to control the Spice, so a huge part of the gameplay here is in putting down harvesters to collect this rare substance in order to make money. Spice production isn't just useful for your economy however, it's required, with a tax to pay that grows larger and larger the longer the games runs on.
You can also choose how much to sell off immediately and how much to store, meaning you're constantly weighing having more wealth at the moment against possibly running out of Spice later on. And as always, there's the threat of the iconic sandworms, ready and waiting to swallow up your harvesters and soldiers alike if you aren't paying attention.
Outside of constantly monitoring your Spice, there's a lot to manage, including other resources like water, plascrete, and intel. Any newcomers should absolutely play through the tutorial in order to avoid being overwhelmed. You can build armies to subdue villages or attack other major factions, recruit agents to initiate plots to undermine or spy on your enemies, and vote using gathered political clout in the Landsraad.
Having enough votes to pass a vote can be more deadly than a sneak attack. After all, it doesn't matter if your enemy has an unbeatable army if they suddenly get hit with crippling upkeep costs. All of that helps this game capture the spirit of Dune, and it really feels like you're in a battle of wits through subterfuge, not just military might.
On Xbox Series X|S consoles, the controls can be a bit tricky to learn. The developers have implemented some shortcuts on the controller, allowing you to zoom up or down and "inspect" different tabs, like you would if you were hovering over an icon with your mouse on a computer. It's not the most intuitive system, but with practice, it does work out okay.
Dune: Spice Wars — Visuals and audio
Visually, Dune: Spice Wars looks good, opting for stylized visuals over any photorealistic effects. That could've clashed with the often-grim and weird tone of Dune, but the approach works well, and I found myself slipping away from keeping an eye on my resources as I spent time admiring the Ornithopters scanning across the endless desert while squads of soldiers made their way across the polar sink.
Running on Xbox Series X, performance seemed mostly fine, and the game appears to be targeting 60 FPS, though drops definitely can be felt if you suddenly pan across the screen quickly or zoom in as a bunch of units clash and explosions go off.
The audio design is also great, with clear indicators for different notifications like trade deals or sandworm sightings. The soundtrack is a bit more in the background than I'd expect, focusing mainly on subdued, somber tones instead of any exciting combat music. It mostly works given the birds-eye view of the game, but it's definitely more reserved than it could've been.
Dune: Spice Wars — Accessibility and approachability
Dune: Spice Wars does feature a few accessibility options that can make things a bit easer for some players. This includes the standard trifecta of colorblindness settings — Protanopia, Deuteranopia, Tritanopia — as well as an extensive photosensitivity mode. This mode disables several flashing effects and reduces the visual effects of things on screen, such as lightning in sandstorms.
Unfortunately, as I touched on above, there's nothing that can be done about the small UI elements all over the screen. While I was able to play without issue, anyone who is visually impaired or struggles with tiny characters on screen will likely have problems.
Dune: Spice Wars — Should you play it?
Dune: Spice Wars is a fun experience, and while the controls can take a bit to get used to, this is another great example of how real-time strategy titles can be ported to a console and controller in a way that works. It's also worth reiterating that the game is available on Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, so console or Windows PC users who are currently subscribed can check Dune: Spice Wars out without buying it.
Despite the name, there are more ways to win than just sheer military victory, and I'm looking forward to playing again with all the factions available as I try different plans to control Arrakis.
Try your hand at becoming the master of Arrakis and cultivating power in Dune: Spice Wars. The gameplay allows for multiple paths to victory, while the tone of the source material shines through. The controls take a bit to get used to on Xbox however, and the small fonts can be an issue for some players.