Dune: Awakening's combat 'is much more second-to-second and intense than you would find in an MMO'

One of the things Denis Villeneuve's Dune film highlights is that warfare on Arrakis relies on some quite contrasting flavors of fighting. When the soldiers of House Atreides and House Harkonnen clash in the movie, aircraft are raining artillery fire from above while warriors protected by Holtzman shields duel with old-fashioned blades down below. That sense of battles taking place on multiple, overlapping fronts is something Funcom's massively multiplayer survival game Dune: Awakening aims to capture as well.

Speaking to us as part of an exclusive interview in the PC Gaming Show, creative director Joel Bylos describes a game that will escalate from the player being a lone outcast sneaking around with a knife, stabbing people to steal their water, to all-out war. "By the end of the game perhaps you're running a guild," Bylos says, "you have a fleet of vehicles, ornithopters flying in formation, sand bikes cruising across the desert beneath them, tanks kicking up a cloud of dust as you drive to a spice blow in the distance in order to harvest with your guild. You see in the distance another guild coming towards you. And just as you clash, you hear the rumble of a sandworm coming. That's combat in Dune: Awakening."

(Image credit: Funcom)

That's a scenario your bog-standard hotbar of abilities on cooldowns wouldn't be able to do justice. Which is why game director Viljar Sommerbakk says, "Combat in our game is much more second-to-second and intense than you would find in an MMO, for instance." Funcom is drawing on previous experience and expertise there: Sommerbakk was world designer for Anarchy Online while Bylos was creative director on Conan: Exiles, and both worked as designers on Age of Conan. 

That kind of intense, overlapping combat is one of five pillars the developers describe Dune: Awakening as being built on. The five pillars are Survival, Politics and intrigue, Infinite exploration, Combined arms combat, Expression and customization. Yes, if you put them all together they spell out a cute acronym: SPICE.

Both Bylos and Sommerbakk are keen to emphasize the role of survival in particular, with thirst a significant consideration, and one that will scale up just like combat. "Water discipline is an important part of survival," Sommerbakk says. "In the beginning it might just be water for yourself, in the end you might need industrial levels of water because you have industrialized your base. And the storms are an important part of survival as well. You have to find shelter in the beginning, you have nothing to your name." Though building a base will provide shelter later on, you never stop having reasons to go out and compete over the spice.

"In the end you might even be riding the storms of the desert to actually gain access to unique resources," he continues. "But you always need to return and every time you go out you have to be careful of the worm. Because if you get caught by the worm there will be nothing left of you, and you will leave nothing behind."

There's a cheerful note to end on. Dune: Awakening will be coming to Steam, where you can wishlist it now. You should also keep an eye on the official website for updates, and always remember, if you walk without rhythm you won't attract the worm.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.