Dune: Awakening Is Already Making One Worrying Choice

Nothing but worms.

Dune: Awakening

Dune is one of the most important sci-fi literature series ever to exist, with Frank Herbert’s beloved novels have had massive influence in the way they subvert and deconstruct the classic “chosen one” narrative. The franchise has hit new heights and popularity with the critically acclaimed films directed by Denis Villeneuve, so it’s unsurprising we’re seeing a further expansion with video game adaptions. Dune: Awakening is the biggest Dune game we’ve seen yet, a survival MMO where players struggle against the dangers of Arrakis. However, in a new interview, developer Funcom says the studio is “sidestepping” religion. For any fans of Dune, that raises a tremendous red flag.

There’s more context to Dune: Awakening than flat-out skipping any religious themes in the series. Awakening takes an alternate history approach to Dune, and takes place a few years before the events of the books. However, one key event from the books has been changed to put things onto a different timeline, although Funcom hasn’t said just what that event is yet.

Dune: Awakening matches the visual aesthetic of Denis Villeneuve’s films.


"Things are slightly different in our universe. Many events are still the same, so it's not like we've gone all 'thousands of years ago, a rock slid in the wrong place and changed everything,” says Joel Bylos, creative director on Awakening, tells Eurogamer, “It's just a few years back. But the significant thing — it's really close to spoiler territory, which I can't really go through — but let's just say that for the large part, we sort of sidestep religion."

That alternate history approach is likely a wise choice overall, but it feels strange to think of a Dune story that “sidesteps” the series' religious elements. The very core of the series is intrinsically tied to its religious themes, heavily drawn from real-world regions like Islam. Dune, from an overhead view, is about deconstructing ‘the chosen one’ and ‘white savior’ tropes, using Paul Atredes as a vessel to explore the idea of how humanity worships heroes and messiahs. Yes, the series also loops in lots of political intrigue, but even then religion is a central part of that. The main narrative around the Fremen is entirely based on powerful organizations, like the Bene Gesserit, exploiting the fervent faith of those people to subjugate them.

In Dune: Awakening you’ll choose between two factions, Harkonnen and Arrakis. Without that central religious context of Fremen being subjugated, it’s hard to imagine how the conflict in Awakening will represent the overarching themes of Dune.

This is already a problem we’ve seen in Dune video games before, with the 2022 real-time strategy title Dune: Spice Wars. It’s a complex strategy game loaded with depth, and some of the ways it adapts Dune are genuinely smart. Spice Wars makes Spice a vital gameplay resource, and waging massive battles over Spice fields while trying to protect your collectors, feels fitting. However, Spice Wars is completely devoid of storytelling, which means that the religious tones of the series are lost in translation. The strategy game pits factions like the Fremen, Atreides, and Harkonnen against each other, and while the aesthetic of Dune is there, the lack of a punchy narrative context hurts the game. There’s none of that key context to seeing Freemen fight to protect their homeland, it’s just two faceless military factions against each other.

A survival game on Arrakis does make sense, but the whole culture and society of the Fremen are intrinsically tied to Dune’s religious themes.


The storytelling and thematic setting are truly what makes Dune shine, and without that Spice Wars inevitably ends up feeling like just another generic strategy game. That’s the worry I have with Dune: Awakening; that it’ll be so wrapped up in chasing the trends of survival games that it fails to capture the spirit of what makes Dune what it is. It’s also strange as the studio’s previous game, Conan Exiles, features an extensive religion system that revolves around pagan gods.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as Bylos, the creative director, does confirm to Eurogamer that the whole alternate history approach in Awakening has been done with the approval of the Herbert estate. That means whatever narrative changes have been made have the approval of the original author’s family, instilling some degree of confidence. It also sounds like Awakening is leaning into some of the stranger tones of the series, as Bylos says, “one of the things I think the movies don't do enough of is the weirdness of Dune — and we are definitely trying to capture some of that in the game. So spice plays a bigger part, and I think the player's interactions with spice can be pretty interesting.”

I’m not ready to write off Dune: Awakening entirely just yet, but the approach Funcom is taking is already giving me a lot of hesitation. Dune has a striking aesthetic style and some genuinely fun and unique details, like the iconic sandworms, but the beating heart of the franchise lies in its religious subtext, and you simply can’t cut that piece out.

Dune: Awakening is currently in development for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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