Preview: ‘Dune: Awakening’ takes fans to Arrakis and forces them to survive a wasteland


At a hands-off GDC demo, Byblos showed the media the character creation process and early parts of Dune: Awakening. Players begin as a prisoner set in front of the Reverend Mother. — Photos: Funcom

Dune may not seem like a natural setting for a survival MMO. Players explore the desert planet of Arrakis and resources appear scarce, but the developers at Funcom are huge fans of Frank Herbert’s work and heavily influenced by director Denis Villeneuve’s films. They know there’s more under the surface, and the team led by creative director Joel Bylos mined the lore and books to create a project that’s shaping up to be unexpectedly rich.

At a hands-off GDC demo, Byblos showed the media the character creation process and early parts of Dune: Awakening. Players begin as a prisoner set in front of the Reverend Mother. Players create a look for their avatar, using a diverse array of options. Players can look like a person from Caladan, the ancestral home of the Atreides family, or they can opt for the bald stylings of someone from Giedi Prime and House Harkonnen.

Character creation and development

Whatever the case, players have plenty of options including a choice of their background. As a prisoner, that part of character creation will be under duress as the Reverend Mother holds a poison pin to the neck as she interviews the protagonist. Players answer questions about their origin and pick a dialogue trait, which includes being honourable, political or nobility. This gives players distinct chat options when conversing. The last choice gives players a starting set of abilities as they describe their mentor.

Further in the game, players will discover skill trees. They can gain abilities from different disciplines, including Bene Gesserit and Planetologist. Further in the game, players will discover skill trees. They can gain abilities from different disciplines, including Bene Gesserit and Planetologist.

Further in the game, players will discover skill trees. They can gain abilities from different disciplines, including Bene Gesserit and Planetologist. Players can mix and match different skills from the classes. They can bring three active abilities and three techniques. The active abilities are skills that players have control over such as the ability to use a hunter-seeker while techniques offer more passive perks.

From there, the protagonist is sent to Arrakis where the ship is immediately shot down. It’s not a hospitable place, and players will find their character awake in a cave after surviving the crash. They immediately find a Fremkit, which will allow players to better survive the harsh environment. With it, they can craft a scrap metal knife and begin their survival journey.

A tutorial level and traversal

Bylos admits that Funcom’s games are a little harsh when it comes to introducing players to concepts and the world. With Dune: Awakening, they’re trying to fix that by giving newcomers a tutorial area, which also shows off how the movies don’t always show the full vision of Herbert. The developers said Arrakis isn’t all a barren wasteland, and players can find plants and other crafting material in places such as caves or rock formations.

Funcom’s Arrakis has a weather system and it impacts the map destroying vehicles and potentially killing players. They’ll also have to deal with sandworms.Funcom’s Arrakis has a weather system and it impacts the map destroying vehicles and potentially killing players. They’ll also have to deal with sandworms.

The developers brought over the climbing system from Conan: Exiles and they added more features tied to Dune such as suspensor belts. Combine that with a grappling hook and other tools and players have plenty of ways to traverse areas, battle enemies and avoid Sand Worms in Dune: Awakening. Essentially, players can climb and scramble over any rock or building.

But there are limits to travel, namely players can’t stay in the sun too long because they’ll overheat and risk a sunstroke, which is a punishing condition that reduces players’ water meter. They’ll have to move in the shade and that becomes interesting as the sun travels around the planet casting shadows that change over time. It’s one of those times when the fiction works hand in hand and inspires fascinating gameplay opportunities.

Advancing in Arrakis

In the demo, Funcom showed how plants can be found in caves and crevices, but other material such as metal is a bit more problematic. They solve this by strewing Arrakis with debris from the War of Assassins. Players can scavenge the vessel parts or they can use their mining laser to cut out important parts. Of course, players can mine rocks for minerals, too.

The team showed off the combat in Dune: Awakening and this takes into account shields and the fact that weapons such as the Maula Pistols don’t use explosives.The team showed off the combat in Dune: Awakening and this takes into account shields and the fact that weapons such as the Maula Pistols don’t use explosives.

Elsewhere in the demo, Bylos showed a protagonist with a full-on Stillsuit that lets them recycle water more efficiently allowing players to better survive the harsh climes. They also crafted a suspensor belt that minimizes fall damage by letting the float down. The suspensor also allow players to keep momentum so that when they fire a grappling hook and fly upward, they do it smoothly and moving higher than normal.

The team showed off the combat in Dune: Awakening and this takes into account shields and the fact that weapons such as the Maula Pistols don’t use explosives. It also showed off that, yes, Funcom can make ranged combat feel fun. Firing bullets will impact enemies in ways that make sense. It’s better to get headshots but if you need to slow them down, hitting them in the legs are good and enemies react accordingly.

Funcom also showed out a Mentats-influenced character. They appear more stealth friendly and can surmise traits and positions of their foes. They also have a hunter-seeker, a small drone that lets the Mentat assassinate foes. They can be seen as long as they’re moving.

Crafting and, ahem, water conservation

Not wanting to waste good water, players can exsanguinate their foes. Players essentially act like a vampire and steal their enemies fluids. They can drink them immediately but has penalties. It’s best to bring the bodily remains to the base where they can be purified and turned into safe drinking water.

Players can claim land but they’ll have pay taxes to the Imperium. From there, they use a hologram system that shows how a base will look like before players devote resources to walls and other objects. Players can even build with friends.Players can claim land but they’ll have pay taxes to the Imperium. From there, they use a hologram system that shows how a base will look like before players devote resources to walls and other objects. Players can even build with friends.

With base building, Funcom takes what they learned from Conan: Exiles and improve on it. Players can claim land but they’ll have pay taxes to the Imperium. From there, they use a hologram system that shows how a base will look like before players devote resources to walls and other objects. Players can even build with friends.

What’s notable is that players can copy a blueprint of their base and rebuild it in another part of the world. They don’t have to do everything from scratch. This is important when players are thinking about taking on the more dangerous parts of Dune: Awakening such as the Deep Desert. That’s where PvP is enabled and where players will need to quickly build defenses. It’s better to build the structure in a safe spot and bring it to more dangerous maps.

So why would anyone want to go out in the danger zones? Bylos said there are rare and valuable schematics in the world. If players find one, they can be one of the only people on the server who can craft that valuable item.

So why would anyone want to go out in the danger zones? Bylos said there are rare and valuable schematics in the world. If players find one, they can be one of the only people on the server who can craft that valuable item.So why would anyone want to go out in the danger zones? Bylos said there are rare and valuable schematics in the world. If players find one, they can be one of the only people on the server who can craft that valuable item.

One of the more impressive items to build is a vehicle and that comes into play in World Events. In Dune: Awakening, players will see ships destroyed near them and those have valuable goodies. They’ll have to race to the crash site and scavenge quickly before a fight ensues over the resources. In PvE areas, they don’t have to worry about that, but in a PvP zone, it could lead to a bloodbath.

On top of rivals, players also have to worry about weather. Funcom’s Arrakis has a weather system and it impacts the map destroying vehicles and potentially killing players. They’ll also have to deal with sandworms. Players can’t fight them. They are forces of nature that players have to escape it by going to rocky ground or distracting it with a thumper.

Lastly, Funcom said players will have social hubs in the game. It is an massively multiplayer online game after all. This is where players can find guilds, traders and factions. They can even organize a party to harvest spice, which is a difficult and risky endeavour in and of itself. Those are plenty of distractions, but those who are just interested in the story will be happy to learn that Dune: Awakening does have narrative that players can follow. There is a goal after being shipwrecked in a wasteland.

Dune: Awakening will release on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X and Series S. – The Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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