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Dune MMO will let you use The Voice, sell bases and drink blood-water - but not kill or ride sandworms (yet)

Dune: Awakening's gameplay trailer certainly looks like those new movies

A sandworm bursts through the desert as players run for their lives in the Dune: Awakening MMO
Image credit: Funcom

Dune: Awakening, the massively-multiplayer take on Frank Herbert’s sandy sci-fi universe from dong-loving devs Funcom, has shown off some more of its online, open-world Arrakis in a lengthy developer direct. We’ve also learnt more about what we will - and won’t - be able to do during our time exploring the planet.

Awakening reared its head through the sands in 2022 as one of several Dune games in the works from Funcom, the studio known for MMO Conan Exiles. Like Exiles, Dune: Awakening will be a survival-MMO, with the expected blend of exploration, crafting, PvP combat and survival mechanics that implies - except now with added sand and spice.

In a way that only feels right for a series notorious for ambitious - if often misguided, see Lynch and Jodorowsky - adaptations, Dune: Awakening certainly appears to be going for it.

In the game’s first Dune Direct preview stream, creative director Joel Bylos outlines an admittedly impressive-sounding experience that veers from having to travel in the shade or at night to survive Arrakis’ heat, adapting with the game’s evolving weather system, to searching out sources of water to simply survive - plants are fine, but can eventually make you sick, meaning that the best way to get water is by killing your fellow players and drinking the water out of their blood.

Three players, one on a sand bike, look out over the desert of Arrakis at an incoming storm in MMO Dune: Awakening.
Image credit: Funcom

To help turn rival players into the fleshy equivalent of a Lucozade Sport, you’ll have all manner of deadly weapons to use - once you craft them from the resources you’ve collected, that is. The combat will apparently allow for a variety of up-close melee with knives, ranged shooting (such as sniping from a vantage point) and abilities gained by training with your mentor, selected during character creation, and other teachers found in the world.

Bylos says this extends to being able to use the supernatural Voice of the mysterious Bene Gesserit, compelling enemies to come close to you so you can slip a gom jabbar into their ribs. What that looks like in reality we don’t know - I’m guessing it’s not just putting a scary voice filter onto your mic chat. You’ll be able to multi-skill with different classes, too, letting you mix up melee adeptness with gun skills and powers. There’ll also be wider factions for you to gradually impress by completing missions, seeing you work your way up the ranks with the Harkonnens and Atreides and so on.

If you want to put your combat skills to the test, there’ll be a dedicated PvP area called the Shifting Sands. True to its name, the arena will apparently be remoulded by the desert storms every couple of weeks, changing the actual landscape of the region for different terrain to do battle on.

It’s not all blood-drinking and duels with other players, mind. You can ally up to build bases together, with Conan Exiles’ base-building expanded with some new options including proper collaborative construction. You can also get into property management, by selling your most impressive creations via the in-game exchange.

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As you wander around the dunes collecting resources, you’ll need to contend with Arrakis’ sandworms, which make their expected appearance when players are causing too many vibrations - by doing doughnuts on a sand bike, for instance, or when summoned by a crafted thumper used to lure or distract.

Bylos called the worms, which can be both “small” and the big toothy versions familiar from the movies, a “tension mechanic”. In other words, you can’t actually kill the worms, needing to simply avoid them - or use them to wind up other players. It seems you also won’t be able to ride the worms Fremen-style at launch, according to Bylos’ interview with Eurogamer, though that might eventually change. Instead, you’ll be able to use vehicles such as ornithopters and sand bikes to get around.

It all sounds impressive - and looks impressive too from a new gameplay trailer shown off during the 25-minute stream, which showcased the way Funcom has been working with director Denis Villeneuve’s team to bring certain elements from the movies directly into the MMO. The use of Unreal Engine 5 and Lumen tech does look pretty sharp, with some lovely lighting as sun pours through windows, ornithopters pepper each other with missiles and so on.

Dune: Awakening is currently running a series of closed betas, with Bylos saying that Funcom will gradually open them up to more players who’ve signed up. As for a full release, there’s no word yet, as the devs say they won’t “rush it out the door”.

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