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Dune: Awakening is going to turn me into a blood drinking, spice addicted survivalist

A survival game based in the world of Dune makes an awful lot of sense. Both the books and movies spend a lot of time explaining the mechanics of surviving on the harsh desert world of Arrakis, which made me pretty curious to learn more about Dune: Awakening during a recent hands-off gameplay preview from developer Funcom. The MMO does a lot of the standard survival stuff, as you craft gear, harvest resources, and explore dungeons. But what makes it interesting are the parts that are Dune-specific. That means forcing players to think a lot about water, heat, spice, and — of course — sandworms.

The game puts you in the role of a prisoner aboard a transport ship that crashes onto the surface of Arrakis. Funcom is keeping the story largely under wraps for now, but Awakening takes place at a time when the Fremen — the only people who thrive in the harsh desert environment — seem to all be missing, which appears to be the central mystery. I watched a presentation featuring around 30 minutes of gameplay, led by creative director Joel Bylos, and there were a few details that made me very excited about strapping on a stillsuit.

Stay thirsty, my friends

Hydration is an integral part of Dune. It’s the reason characters wear suits that collect sweat and tears to recycle as water, and that, naturally, has been turned into a gameplay mechanic in Awakening. You have to keep a close eye on your temperature out in the desert sun; once you get sunstroke, you get thirsty really quickly. You can avoid this somewhat by sticking to the cooler shadows or venturing out at night, but no matter what, you’ll have to be well attuned to your hydration level, represented by a big blue bar.

To start out, you’ll have to get creative to slake that thirst. Early on, players can get moisture from the few plants they find, but this only provides a tiny amount of water, and too much will make you sick. On the grosser end of the spectrum, you can use a device to extract the blood from dead enemies. Once you have the right equipment, you can filter the blood to turn it into purified water. But in a pinch, you can just… drink it, though consuming blood will reduce your health. Funcom used the phrase “water progression” to describe the evolving way you can hydrate as you progress.

Welcome to spice world

Spice — or melange, if you prefer — is what keeps the economy of the Dune universe moving, and that’s no different here. According to Funcom, you’ll need to gather the resource to 1) pay off taxes for whatever land you end up building a base on and 2) feed your growing addiction to the substance. It’s not clear yet how addiction works or if you’ll go on any psychedelic trips. But actually procuring spice seems appropriately perilous. At various times, spice blows will appear out in the open desert, looking like a big purple cloud of dust. You then have to rush to get there before other players and move quickly enough to gather spice before attracting a worm.

From what I saw, spice harvesting seems like at least a two-person job. One player pilots an ornithopter that transports the harvester to the blow, and the other drives the harvester to collect spice. While that’s going on, the pilot is able to keep an eye out for dangers: other players, incoming sandstorms, and any signs of sandworms. You can technically do it solo, the developer says, but I can’t imagine it’ll be easy. (Aside from worms, spice flows, and sandstorms, the desert will also feature random ship crashes you can loot and, at night, marauding groups of Sardaukar forces.)

Do we have wormsign?

And worms, of course, are the big danger. “You cannot beat a sandworm,” Bylos noted in the presentation. “They aren’t a boss. You don’t fight them. They are something that exists as a threat all the way through the game, from start to finish.” When you’re out in the open sand, either on foot or in a vehicle, there’s a meter that lets you know how much noise you’re making so you can avoid the worms for as long as possible. But once they do show up, there’s not much you can do other than run — you’re safe in any of the rocky outcroppings, but if a worm catches you in the sand, you’re done for.

There’s a lot more to Awakening, including co-operative base building and what sounds like some politicking once you get more established on Arrakis. But my brief glimpse of the game mostly showed that it’s taking the survival core of the franchise seriously — and I can’t wait to drink some blood.

Dune: Awakening is coming to the PC, PS5, and Xbox but doesn’t currently have a release date.

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