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Dune Awakening may just be the best survival game of 2024

Dune Awakening is a survival crafting MMO that looks to inject life into the genre, and give players a chance to thrive on their terms.

I recently had the chance to fly to LA, have a little wander around the Warner Brothers lot, and get a sneaky hands-off preview of Funcom’s new project. It, much like every other thought I’ve had in the past few months, is about Dune. Dune Awakening is a third-person survival crafting MMO, set on the desert planet of Arrakis, and it puts you in the shoes of an absolute nobody. A nobody who’ll run this town, someday. Probably.

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Survival games. We’ve come to know them very well in 2024, with Palworld, Enshrouded, and even Pacific Drive getting in on the act. It isn’t April yet, and I’m already about at my limit of crafting faff. Thankfully, Dune Awakening is looking to offer more than collecting rock and sifting through sand, although everyone has to start somewhere.

Dune Awakening begins with you, face down in the sand, on the verge. You hear the distinctive hiss of a Shai-Hulud – a sandworm. Finding the nearest rock formation is at the top of your list, hoping it’ll save you from being devoured. From there, though, it’s apparently all up to you.

Dune Awakening preview: a cloaked traveler looks on at several dragonfly-like crafts.

The general loop will look familiar to anyone versed in survival crafting games, albeit with a Dune twist. You’ll need a stillsuit to survive the harsh desert, and building a home base will no doubt be high on your list of priorities. It looks like you’ll mine, and scrap, and build. Fabrication stations inside your base will allow you to craft more advanced gear, which in turn will allow you to take on bigger challenges, and to venture into more dangerous locations.

Funcom tells me that the areas you inhabit in Dune Awakening come in two flavors: static, and the deep desert. Static appears to be exactly that; relatively calm sections of Arrakis where you can set up a permanent base. Things stay where they should, and in theory, this will give you a jumping-off point for your adventures.

Dune Awakening preview: a group of travelers look on at an approaching sandstorm.

The deep desert, though, is a PvP-focused part of the map. The area is wiped every week, destroyed by sandstorms, which means that while you can set up a forward operating base here, I wouldn’t get too attached. The deep desert hides some of the most valuable resources in Dune Awakening, and if all goes well, we should see some huge skirmishes as factions rush to claim their riches.

If stressful PvP combat isn’t your thing, it looks like you’ll be able to quasi-opt out by simply turning a blind eye to these areas. Customization was a big theme for Funcom’s Dune Awakening presentation, in the traditional cosmetic way, of course, but also with your experience. It looks like you’ll be able to approach your ascent on Arrakis in many ways.

Dune Awakening preview: a tank spews flames from its turret.

Surviving then thriving is a tantalizing prospect, and I was told that once your hierarchy of needs is met (presumably, that’s shelter, water, and a whole lot of spice) you can create a faction, in the hopes of ascending the ranks and eventually rubbing shoulders with the likes of House Atreides and House Harkonnen. Funcom states that Dune Awakening is set in a sort-of-alt-future; the developers have cherry-picked (with the blessing of the Herbert estate) which elements of the universe to include, with the official Dune encyclopedia being non-canon.

Back to taking over Arrakis, then. While politics may not seem like the most engaging of topics, if you consider the subject matter, then diplomacy has as much to do with murder as it does with debate. You’ll receive orders from the Emperor themselves, and completing these orders will see you and your faction rise. It’s difficult to see how this plays out from such an early stage, but having a big-picture end goal is never a bad thing – it may not turn out to be on the level of Eve in terms of alliance and betrayal, but even a fraction of that would go a long way.

Dune Awakening preview: a man holds a huge lazergun in both hands, spewing purple lazers from its spout.

For those who want that authentic Dune experience, Awakening is looking to serve a slice of Arrakis on a level we haven’t seen before. You’ll be able to pilot Ornithopters, drain enemy combatants of their blood (for water, obviously), and even train yourself in the Bene Gesserit ways. Commanding your opponent to fall on your sword seems a bit overpowered, but if that’s how it goes then I’ll take it.

Allowing players to find their level of engagement in Dune Awakening’s systems is admirable, and undoubtedly appealing to those who are burnt out on the crafting genre and those who live to create. The artisans amongst us will be able to save a blueprint of their creations and sell them on the in-game market, and for those whose woodworking abilities amount to little more than assembling flatpack furniture, those prefabs are perfect.

Dune Awakening preview: three travelers look out into the vastness of space.

In theory, being able to customize your experience should lend itself nicely to both single players and groups alike. You can involve yourself in the machinations of entire houses if you choose, or simply live a hermit life in the sand. Either should work, and hopefully, be entertaining for completely different reasons.

The flexibility gives me hope that Dune Awakening will find its audience; fans of the universe and those of a crafting survival disposition could find a lot to love here, and a healthy player base could drive things forward in a way we just don’t see very often with this type of thing. If you’re interested in getting involved with the many Dune Awakening closed betas, just head over to their website here. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for more information on the Dune Awakening release date like the rest of us. See you on Arrakis, soldier.