Dune: Awakening Is the Massively Ambitious Game the Series Needs

A deadly world awaits.

Dune Awakening

Just a few minutes into my Dune: Awakening demo, the developers were flabbergasted. As they flew the Ornithoper into the desert, a piece of space junk came screaming down from above, smashing right into our vehicle and crashing us into the arid desert. I was told this was the first time anything like that had happened at Summer Game Fest, but I wasn’t bothered, it was hilarious.

That kind of emergent moment seems to be indicative of the world developer Funcom, the studio behind Conan Exiles, is trying to build. Dune: Awakening is shaping up to be the ultimate Dune fantasy that painstakingly recreates the beloved sci-fi world of Arrakis. It’s clear Awakening is engineered to be the ultimate immersive experience for fans, one where every gameplay mechanic and feature makes sense within the world of Dune. After seeing 30 minutes of the game, as well as the most recent Dune: Awakening Direct, I’m starting to feel like Funcom can pull it off.

Awakening’s world feels expansive and dangerous, with emergent elements that can put you under pressure at any moment.


At its core, Dune: Awakening is a survival MMO, meaning your primary focus will be on gathering and collecting resources, exploration, and eventually building your own settlements. Water is your most important resource, and this can be extracted from any number of locations, including the bodies of enemies that you’ve defeated.

Most of our demo focused on exploration aspects of Dune: Awakening, which is how our space debris mishap happened. The world of Awakening looks utterly massive, and is already the most vibrant realization of Arrakis ever seen in a video game. Massive sand dunes sprawl in every direction, yawning canyons hide settlements and camps, and massive starship wrecks dot the landscape, begging to be combed through for resources.

Awakening has taken an interesting approach to its world design, with not just one seamless open world, but rather several massive zones that make up the entire planet. Each zone is its own MMO area and can be populated with dozens of players at any time. Once you gain access to an Ornithopter, you can move to the world map and fly across the entirety of Arrakis, landing in other zones. Some places are more wild and expansive areas while others are cities, like Arrakeen. The catch is that you’ll need supplies and fuel in order to traverse the map, so you’ll need to do some scavenging to make sure you’re prepared.

Awakening’s world is split up into a number of zones, each of which is essentially a massive MMO world inhabited by dozens of players.


Funcom also detailed the end-game plans for Awakening, which fascinatingly includes a massive PvP area that you’ll be able to enter, with various groups and factions warring over resources. This area will apparently change weekly due to storms that affect the layout, and those changes will be a combination of hand-crafted content and set pieces, as well as procedurally generated ones. It sounds like just the kind of thing hardcore players may want.

Amidst all these survival elements is Awakening’s combat, which puts a heavy emphasis on melee combat, just like you’d expect out of Dune. You will still have ranged weapons that fire needles, but our demo was focused on stealth and melee combat as we made our way through a dungeon, methodically taking out Atreides soldiers. Both you and most enemies have shields that need to be broken through before real damage can be caused, meaning you need to stay on the offensive. The other interesting addition that radically changes things is a jet pack, effortlessly letting you jump from great heights and land safely.

This, combined with the ability to climb any surface, makes Awakening’s world feel like a literal and metaphorical sandbox, where anything you see can be reached and explored. The developers from Funcom made sure to stress that despite being set on a sand world, they wanted Awakening to have a number of diverse biomes that felt fresh and exciting and have really focused on that in terms of world design.

Choosing your allegiance will be a major part of Awakening’s story, but also opens up new vehicle, weapon, and building options.


In our demo, we roamed through arid hills of sand, a spartan jet-black Harkonen base, a dusty bandit camp nestled in a hideaway, and a massive red canyon. Awakening isn’t meant to look exactly like Denis Villeneuve’s films, but rather adopt elements of them along with inspirations from the books and other media, to craft something that feels wholly Dune.

It’s clear that the survival elements and world of Arrakis have been given a lot of thought in Awakening, but there’s still a lot Funcom hasn’t detailed. During our demo, we saw a tiny snippet of how your faction allegiances can change things, whether you side with the Harkonnen or Atreides in the ongoing conflict. Siding with Harkonnen would open up new quests and vendors, and give you access to their vehicles and weapons, like a hulking Ornithopter three times the size of the one we were using. There are also emergent elements that you can find through your allegiance, like a Harkonnen sergeant interrogating a squad of captured Atreides soldiers.

The latest Awakening Direct also dives a bit into the religion of Dune, and how that will play into the narrative and choices in Awakening. We don’t know if you’ll be able to choose allegiances in this regard, but it’s clear learning the traditions and history of the Fremen will be a central pillar of the narrative.

But story is still the major question mark in my mind with Dune: Awakening, the thing that could really push this game over the edge. My demo focused on the mechanical aspects of the game, the survival elements, and the world design, all of which seem rock solid already. Arrakis fittingly feels like a dangerous place where everything is just waiting to bring your life to an end, and yes, that includes Sand Worms that will sense your footsteps on sand.

We know Awakening will tell an alternate story where Paul Atreides isn’t born, but all the heavy political and religious themes need to be kept intact for it to feel fittingly Dune-esque. Those are seemingly focuses of the game based on what Funcom has talked about, but we still need to see how these elements will actually be implemented.

Awakening looks like the kind of game that’s easy to lose yourself in for dozens of hours purely through its gameplay, but if the story and themes can get players equally invested, this could easily claim the banner of the best Dune game ever made.

Dune Awakening is currently in development for PC. There’s currently no release date.

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