Have You Played… Emperor: Battle For Dune?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

2001’s Battle For Dune was the first time I remember being consciously nostalgic about games.

I was a big PC gamer in the early-to-mid 90s, but took something of a sabbatical in the last years of the decade, as life + no money got in the way (some cause and effect there, yes). Somehow I wound up working on a computing and games magazine in 2001, and very quickly had to learn PC games again. Just a couple of months in, Emperor: Battle For Dune code landed on my desk, and, in an instant, I reverted back from someone who liked PC games and into someone who adored them.

Not because of Emperor itself, you understand. It was a bit of a clunker, and killed its developer Westwood’s long-running real-time strategy hot streak (albeit already harmed by its 1998 predecessor Dune 2000). With the exception of an expansion pack for Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, Westwood never made another RTS before owners EA tragically closed the studio down in 2003 – although the ill-juged FPS-RTS mash-up C&C Renegade was the smoking gun there.

But it was a new Dune game, and Westwood’s first Dune game, 1992’s Dune II, was the first game I had ever really, truly, absolutely loved. Listless remake Dune 2000 was released during my PC gaming dark ages, and so Emperor was my first shot at returning to a universe and a style I’d so adored. There I was, 21, thinking a game sequel was a way to commune my childhood. It seemed so novel then. I look at the sea of remakes and sequels we get now, and I feel so numb.

I’m curious to play Emperor again now, to see how it really feels now I am no longer quite so vulnerable to calculated nostalgia. I’m sure it gave it some free passes because it had familiar vehicles and Sandworms, but I’m also sure I kicked it harder than it deserved because it wasn’t exactly the same. I imagine that, if I did play it, what I would feel most strongly is that we don’t really get RTSes like that any more. Oh look, here comes the nostalgia again.


  1. Uglycat says:

    I was thinking a few days ago that this would be a game series I’d like to see updated.

    • int says:

      Yes indeed. I wonder if EA still holds the IP.

      • KwisatzHaderach says:

        Quite possibly, now that Legendary acquired the rights to do films and series of the whole Dune universe material. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a revival of Dune games as well. Although I really hope for a Witcher 3 scale dune RPG some day, not do Kochi an RTS…

    • Turkey says:

      Hell, Dune needs an update in just about every form of media.

  2. Halk says:

    Never played Emperor, as it looked incredibly ugly.

    Dune 2000 is the way to go. It’s the last, most advanced, most challenging, and most beautiful game using (a version of) the first C&C engine.

    Can now be played in arbitrarily-hi-res thanks to inofficial patches. Played it again this summer, still looks good and still lots of fun.

    I guess it was the last RTS I was truly interested in. For me personally, with the death of the “classic C&C lineage”, the genre had run its course.

    • snappycow says:

      I have nothing against Emperor, but I don’t know why everybody else bashes Dune 2000. I loved it to bits, hammy FMV acting and all (John Rhys Davies!)

      Although it did not have any air units (autonomous carryalls and uncontrollable ornithopters don’t count), and even though everybody had almost the same tanks and scooters (Ordos had Raiders!), they were still differentiated enough that they felt ‘true’ to the house principles.

      “Oh mighty Shai-hulud
      Keeper of balance
      Bless the Maker and His water
      Bless the coming and going of Him
      May His passage cleanse the world…”

  3. Arathorn says:

    I actually liked this game a lot. I had never played much Doom II prior to this one so I didn’t go in it with a lot of nostalgia, but it looked good for its time and the gameplay mechanics were familiar (that is, it hadn’t really made a lot of strides) but solid. I also liked that infantry could use cover to be less vulnerable to being squashed by tanks and of course the cinematics were fun.

  4. JKing says:

    I remember the AI being pretty bad, with the enemy sending small groups of units and always getting dashed by my static defences. Otherwise I remember having a lot of fun with it, though a non-zero portion of that probably was nostalgia, either for Dune II, or the novels.

  5. minijedimaster says:

    Is this or Dune 2000 available for sale digitally at all? Don’t see any of the Dune games on Gog or Origin.

  6. dylan says:

    It’s not Dune in name, nor quite in style, but a wonderful oldschool RTS set on a dune-like world was released earlier this year in Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak.

    • DeadCanDance says:

      Finished it yesterday for the first time and I was genuinely surprised at how much it made old homeworld memories come back to life.

      • KillahMate says:

        DoK is genuinely as much Homeworld as a game can possibly be and not be set in space. I was very impressed.

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      alison says:

      I just bought this in last week’s Steam sale for exactly that nostalgic reason. The last RTS I played was C+C, and that was just a couple missions at a friend’s house. The last RTS I actually played was Dune II. I played through the first mission of Deserts of Kharak last weekend and everything died except for my scientist and my carrier. I don’t know if I suddenly suck at games or what, but I found the UI and hotkeys completely impenetrable, and the pace blisteringly fast. I will give it another shot since I paid for it, but it’s certainly a damn sight more complex than “harvest some spice, build some guys, click the guys, M to move, A to attack”.

  7. chriskj says:

    “1992’s Dune II, was the first game I had ever really, truly, absolutely loved.” Me too! It was like the sandbox with army men and tanks that I always wanted as a kid.

  8. thekelvingreen says:

    True fact: Dune II is one of Steve “Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone” Jackson’s top ten games of all time, and he knows a thing or two about games.

    • freeeeout says:

      In my top 10 as well and still play it to this day on my tablet can be downloaded from google play store

  9. MaxTaggart says:

    Oh my god… atomics!

    (I never played Emperor, and I assume that line’s not in it, but Dune II is also my first true RTS love).

    • Landrassa says:

      Pretty sure that line is from the *first* Dune :)

      While I did play Emperor quite a lot, Dune 2 was indeed my first RTS love. I have fond memories of editing the ini files that contained all the levels.

    • Fromage says:

      I…uh…actually like the first Dune the most.

  10. bfar says:

    Hey nice one! I actually loved this. Sure the AI was a bit predictable, but it was great fun and beautifully presented.

  11. wondergra says:

    RIP Vincent Schiavelli

  12. temujin33 says:

    Loved this game. Still waiting for the hd remake…

  13. frenz0rz says:

    I absolutely adored this game. It has, in my opinion, one of the best soundtracks of any game, RTS or otherwise.

    Each Great House had a totally different sound to reflect their personality, because each set of tracks was composed by a different artist.

    Check out this brutal, industrial Harkonnen riff:
    link to youtube.com

    And compare it to the insidious electronic tones of House Ordos:
    link to youtube.com

    And don’t get me started on the cutscenes. Michael Dorn!

  14. djfreex says:

    I enjoyed Emperor despite it was a big departure from Dune 2 in order to capitalize on the 3D revolution at the time. What I would give to see if a team like Relic, Fraxis or Creative Assembly could do with Dune license. No game captured the strategic feel to defend your base like Dune series to me. Watch out for those sandworm swallowing your Harverster and Noble Atreides FTW!

  15. Volftooms says:

    I may end up exiled for this, but I had a tremendous amount of fun with C&C Renegade! The single-player was as boilerplate as early-aughts shooters get – which is saying something – but I remember the multiplayer being an absolute hoot.