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Dune: Awakening lets you build a life in an alt-history Arrakis

Published Jun 20th, 2024 7:45PM EDT
A shipwreck in Dune: Awakening.
Image: Funcom

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As intrigued as I was by the prospect of a survival game set in the Dune universe, I wasn’t sure what the collective appetite would be for a rehashed version of the story we were already told in the movies. Thankfully, developer Funcom sidestepped the issue by setting Dune: Awakening in an alternate timeline where Paul Atreides was never born.

At Summer Game Fest Play Days earlier this month, I got the chance to see the game in action for about 30 minutes of hands-off gameplay, and I came away impressed at the massive scope of this project, which is more than just another open-world survival crafting game.

We started our demo in an ornithopter overlooking a vast desert on Arrakis. As explained in the video above, this is not the same Arrakis that you read about in the books or saw in the movies. Paul was never born, and the Atreides family never fell. As a result, House Atreides and House Harkonnen are battling for Arrakis, and the Fremen have gone missing.

That’s where your character comes into play. Over the course of the journey, you will be able to decide which faction you want to side with, taking on contracts to align yourself with the houses. This gives the game more structure than many other survival games, as rather than exploring a relatively empty world in search of resources and enemies to fight, you’ll find camps and bases controlled by the families, filled with interactive NPCs and unique events.

Back to the ornithopter — over the course of our demo, we saw several of the gameplay loops that will keep players coming back for more. First of all, it’ll be a while before you can build your first ornithopter, but even the one we saw being piloted was a much less impressive model than the Atreides Royal Ornithopter we saw flying through the desert in Dune: Part One. If you want your own high-end ‘thopter, you’ll need to impress one of the houses.

Flying in an ornithopter in Dune: Awakening.
Flying in an ornithopter in Dune: Awakening. Image source: Funcom

Getting around the world is a challenge on its own. Before you have a flying vehicle, you will be at far greater risk of attracting the attention of a sandworm. As in other survival games, you’ll be penalized for dying, but if you happen to get swallowed by a sandworm, everything on you will get destroyed, including the vehicle you’re riding.

Thankfully, your means of traversal are plentiful. Even if you don’t have a vehicle, you can sprint around the world to avoid encounters or speed up trips from one point of interest to another with an energy field that looks similar to the shields in the movies.

In one part of the demo, we saw the player enter an ecology lab, which we were told is one of the game’s so-called dungeons. They navigated tight corridors and even had to fend off several enemies with hand-to-hand combat and the weapons in their inventory. During this segment, we were shown that the player can climb anywhere in the environment, much like Funcom’s other survival game, Conan Exiles, or Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

As the demo went on, we learned more about the game’s RPG elements, which include picking a mentor when you choose your class early on, equipping up to three skills to use during fights, and the ability to learn active and passive techniques.

Ambushing other players in Dune: Awakening.
Ambushing other players in Dune: Awakening. Image source: Funcom

The biggest differentiator between Dune: Awakening and its contemporaries is the MMO part. All of the action I described above took place in the Hagga Basin, which is a map that hosts at least 40 players at a time. If you leave Hagga Basin and enter the Overland Map, you can travel to the game’s social hubs — which include Arrakeen and Harko Village — or to the Deep Desert, which is an endgame PvP map that hosts hundreds of players at once.

The Deep Desert is said to stretch over 500 square kilometers, and it’s where you’ll likely spend most of your time when you’ve fully decked out your character. But you can’t stake your claim and stick around forever, as a coriolis storm sweeps through the map once a week and wipes it clean. Every base, every player, every item. Once the dust settles, the map will have changed, featuring a new landscape and new points of interest.

It’s hard to wrap my head around just how much is going on in this game, especially compared to many of the other survival games on the market.

Dune: Awakening doesn’t have a release date, but you can sign up for the beta.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.