Dune video games have managed to reflect the strategy of ruling Arrakis, but they’ve failed to capture the franchise’s most fascinating quality.
While there have been many video games based on Frank Herbert’s Dune series, none have captured the true appeal of the epic sci-fi saga. The franchise kicked off with Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune, which tells the story of Paul Atreides and his family’s newfound ownership of the coveted desert planet Arrakis. While there is some sci-fi action and adventure involved, Dune is mostly concerned with exploring the politics, religion and ecology of its far-future setting. Video games like the upcoming survival MMO Dune: Awakening tend to take a much more surface-level approach to the franchise, with this problem being repeated in every Dune game so far.
Over the course of the franchise’s history there have been four licensed Dune games, with several more planned for the future. Almost all of these games involve strategic gameplay or management systems, reflecting the novel series’ focus on the struggles of controlling Arrakis. The 1992 Dune game lets players rule Arrakis in the role of Paul Atreides, while 1992’s Dune 2 was a revolutionary title that popularized the real-time strategy genre. The 1998 game Dune 2000 served as a modern remake of Dune 2, introducing improved graphics and live-action cutscenes, while Emperor: Battle for Dune was a direct sequel to that game. The RTS game Dune: Spice Wars is currently in early access with a full launch planned for 2023, and Dune: Awakening will bring multiplayer survival gameplay to Arrakis in the future too.
While most Dune games reflect the franchise’s focus on political intrigue and survival, they fail to grasp the full scale of the franchise’s story. Paul Atreides is often the central character of these games, since he’s the protagonist of Dune and its sequel Dune Messiah, but Frank Herbert’s epic six-book sci-fi saga actually spans thousands of years. Children of Dune primarily follows Paul’s sister Alia and twin children Leto and Ghanima, while the fourth novel God Emperor of Dune takes a bizarre turn with Leto ruling the universe for thousands of years after ascending into godhood. Heretics of Dune picks up after a 1,500 year time skip, and Chapterhouse: Dune follows after that. While an open-world survival MMO Dune game may sound fun, it fails to capture the massive scope of Frank Herbert’s work.
Dune Games Can Go Much Bigger Than Paul Atreides
Paul Atreides is the protagonist of the first two novels, but video games need to leave the recognizable hero behind to capture the full scope of Dune. Games like Crusader Kings and Civilization have taken strategic gameplay to a grander scale, with players building dynasties and ruling empires over the course of many generations. A game that thoroughly explores Arrakis and its history could see players start out as Duke Leto Atreides, before the throne is passed to his son Paul Atreides and then his God Emperor son Leto II. Intergalactic politics and Arrakis’ ecology could change dynamically over time, making it increasingly difficult to maintain hold of the galactic spice trade.
While Dune: Spice Wars gameplay may let players rule Arrakis through strategy and tactics, it doesn’t reflect the thousand-year timeline of Frank Herbert’s beloved novels. The struggle for spice is meant to plague Paul Atreides’ entire bloodline, and this concept can only be conveyed through an experience similar to Crusader Kings or Civilization. By expanding real-time strategy onto a massive timeline, a Dune game could finally capture the grandeur of the original texts.