Survival MMO Dune: Awakening takes place in an 'alternate' timeline

A character faces a sand worm in Dune Awakening.
(Image credit: Funcom)

Last year we got our first look at Dune: Awakening, the open world survival MMO from Funcom set on a "vast and seamless Arrakis" that will be shared by "thousands of players." But while the cinematic trailer showed us some familiar sights like the desert planet of Arrakis and a sandworm consuming a spice harvester, we still had plenty of questions.

Last week I got a few of those questions answered when I spoke with Dune: Awakening's creative director, Joel Bylos, about how the MMO fits into the Dune universe and the timeline of the fiction.

Dune: Awakening is set in the year 10199 AG, Bylos said, which is about eight years after the events of 2021's Dune film. But in the MMO, those events won't play out quite the same way people familiar with the books or films will remember them.

"It's similar to the books, but we've gone with an alternate history, like a 'what-if', if you want," Bylos said. "We worked closely with the Herbert [family] and Legendary [Pictures], and we found a point, a single point, the single pebble that starts a landslide."

This point, said Bylos, represents "where if just this one thing was different in the universe then it would change a lot of what comes after, and change it in a way that makes for more of a virtual world kind of experience, where players can see all the familiar things that they'd expect to see." 

Bylos unfortunately wouldn't tell me specifically what that 'pebble' of story was ("I'm not allowed to talk about that yet," he said) or how changing it would result in an alternative timeline. But this change is meant to allow players in Dune: Awakening to interact with characters from the books they otherwise wouldn't be able to because "a lot of major characters die" early on in the story.

"If you've seen the first movie, you can expect many of those characters to exist in the story of the game," Bylos said. "I could give an example that's very clear: Duke Leto is still alive. You can meet Duke Leto."

That's already a pretty major change to the fiction from just adjusting the course of that one 'pebble' Bylos referred to. In the original timeline, Duke Leto Atreides doesn't survive all that long on Arrakis, certainly not until year 10199 AG. And if Leto is alive, what does that mean for Arrakis and House Atreides? Or the Harkonens? I feel like fans of the books might enjoy trying to predict what little change in Dune lore would result in Duke Leto surviving much longer than he does in the original story.

Beyond just meeting Leto, players may get a chance to align themselves with the famous Duke.

"The idea is that players will be able to make choices about who they help, or want to work with later on in the game," Bylos said. "So if you're meeting Duke Leto, you've clearly done the right thing for a certain group of people and you've, obviously jumped through a lot of hoops. So yeah, it's kind of that angle."

While Leto was the only specific character Bylos was willing to name, it sounds like there will be more celebrities from Dune appearing in the MMO. Like another Funcom online multiplayer survival game, Conan Exiles, Bylos says Dune: Awakening will be "building out things further and further" after launch. "So more and more characters will show up over time," he said.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.