Up until now we've only known about the Atreides and Harkonnen factions in Dune: Spice Wars, the veritable Mario and Bowser of any potential Dune videogame. In an update posted to Steam on March 11, Shiro Games unveiled the game's third faction: the Smugglers.
In the books, the Smugglers were a faction positioned between the galaxy at large and the Fremen of Arrakis. Eventually, they allied with House Atreides and provided safe harbor for Atreides retainer (and one of the faction's advisors in Spice Wars) Gurney Halleck. In the books, the smugglers' leader, Esmar Tuek, died during the Harkonnen coup against House Atreides.
Tuek, who was adapted out of Denis Villenueve's recent adaptation of Dune, sees an expanded role in Spice Wars as the head of this playable faction. Here, the Smugglers vie for control of Arrakis itself, with an eye on seizing the power and prestige of recognition as a noble house on the galactic Landsraad.
In gameplay terms, the smugglers seem to have an espionage angle, with their mercantile, cloak-and-dagger focus resembling House Ordos in the classic, Westwood Studios games. The Smugglers have a unique affinity for "parasitizing the development of their neighbors " through infiltration, and the post also outlined the unique units available to them:
- Scavengers are opportunist killers, who’ll do anything for an easy buck. They prefer to attack weak, starving units with their sharpened blades. Their strength increases when their target supplies diminish.
- Wreckers use chemical weapons to reduce the supply of enemies in their area of attack, which makes them the perfect harassing unit, allowing their allies to comfortably loot the spoils.
- Snipers, deadly marksmen with modified sniper rifles, have the longest attack range on Arrakis. Factoring in their camouflage, they are adept at finishing fleeing units.
- Free Company are the most famous assassins and bounty hunters in the Imperium, equipped with dual swords and impressive stealth gear. Their versatility comes mainly from their ability to mimic the skills of their targets during fights.
- The combat drone is a strong, extremely agile mechanical unit conceived for autonomous fighting, to support the Smuggler troops.
There's one more faction for Shiro Games to reveal prior to Early Access, with a fifth coming to the game some time after that. The Fremen are certainly one option. In previous games, they've had a role as an NPC faction for players to woo and win over, as the Atreides did in the books, but Shiro has demonstrated both a willingness and a desire to break with Dune's gaming tradition in Dune: Spice Wars. House Corrino (the Emperor's faction) may be another option, but it typically operates at a remove from Arrakis with the Harkonnen largely acting as a semi-loyal arm of the Imperium.
Those seem like obvious choices though, and the Smuggler reveal is a bit of a curveball. We'll find out either way soon, as Dune: Spice Wars has its Early Access release planned for later this year.