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"What happens in the desert stays in the desert" - How Dune Awakening's factions expand upon the lore more than the Dune movies

Be it Harkonnen or Atreides, the war for spice is fought with more than just swords and firearms.

Dune Awakening player character
Image credit: Funcom

Those who play online survival games are pirates, pioneers, gang leaders, and ambushers. They form strong alliances and establish long-lasting rivalries. If video games are able to foster interesting, often hilarious, and always engaging player behavior, than this genre in particular is a petri dish in which it flourishes.

Dune Awakening looks to be no exception. For those of us who've dreamed of waging political, economic, and physical war on the Dunes of Arrakis, the game may be our best bet.

So to find out more, I sat down and talked with chief creative officer at Funcom and creative director of Dune Awakening, Joel Bylos. He and the company he works for has ample experience with survival games, and gameplay showcases present a promising peek at the games' unique quirks and twists. But what for those who wish to envelop themselves in Dune? The spiceheads eager to pick a faction and make a name for themselves?

Much of the meat takes place later in the game - after you've built up your own base and carved out a home on Arrakis - but the roots are planted in character creation. Able to pick from a variety of home planets, you can craft anything from a regular self-insert, a noble warrior from House Atreides, or a pale, bald Harkonnen. This, plus the option of what kind of master you trained under, lets you ignite that Dune fantasy.

Dune Awakening soldiers training
Command your troops. | Image credit: Funcom

Eventually, you'll run into the two major factions both in the flesh and embedded in stone. Handlers from both the Atreides and Harkonnen can be found by the player, and each faction has their own settlement in the world for players to explore and mingle in. The one we saw was Harko Village - a slice of the monochromatic home planet dropped in the sand.

"The idea is that you want to use those spaces to show off the character of the factions" explains Bylos, when asked to expand on Harko Village's purpose in Dune Awakening.

Each faction has their own hub (reminiscent to me of Horde and Alliance capital cities in World of Warcraft) and helps connect the game to the vast universe outside of Dune Awakening. Bylos continues, "It feels a bit like a brutalist [depiction] of what Harkonnens would be like in their place [...] We wanted to create a space for players to roleplay. We set up a bar, a place called Hanovars.

In the books the Harkonnens have made their money from the whale fur industry, which is this super random reference that's thrown out there. But if you go into Hanover's Bar, there's this giant whale skeleton on the roof. So there are all these little things that create this authentic environment for players to hang out in."

Dune awakening settlement
Aside from your own base of operations, hubs will exist for you to mingle in. | Image credit: Funcom

Okay, so the factions are here but how do you, the player, actually fit into all of this? Well, when you find those aforementioned handlers you'll be able to complete missions and contracts for them, gaining their trust. You can also join a player guild of course. A gaggle of likeminded money-makers, PvPers, roleplayers, or all-around oddballs that match your own energy. According to Bylos this guild can, if it so chooses, take things a step further.

"Eventually, if you're a guild, you might sign a contract of allegiance which means you go to the leader of the faction (either Beast Rabban or Leto Atreides) and sign onto their faction. From that point on, your guild is aligned with that faction [...] From that point on you're able to participate in the Lansraad. The Lansrad have certain demands they need, and they're going to change things. They'll vote in different rulesets, and you need to influence that voting."

The Lansraad, for those unaware, is the entity that represents the great houses of the Dune universe and are ruled by the emperor himself. While Bylos was sure to emphasize that the factions and Lansraad systems aren't necessarily joined at the hip, those guilds who choose to represent a faction can complete objectives to win over the favour of the Lansraad for ample boons and benefits.

"There's quite a lot! I can just sort of talk broadly about it. If you influence the Lansrad in particular ways they might reduce spice tax, which makes it very beneficial for you as a faction to have been stockpiling spice instead of selling it. Then wait until you win the Lansraad, change the spice taxation, and then sell a bunch because that's a great way to make money. That's an example."

Dune Awakening soldiers training
An alliance built on trust? Or conveniance? | Image credit: Funcom

While we won't be seeing Paul's religious Jihad in this alternate universe, the presence of political intrigue friction should be a pleasing thought for Dune fans new and old. However I was curious how the Funcom team would tackle the problem of faction imbalance, especially if winning over the favour of the Lansraad could have vast economic impacts for players. As it turns out, being a member of the same faction isn't a guarantee of friendship by any means.

"In PvP areas you can see another Atreides player and shoot them, that's up to you. We have this rule - what happens in the desert stays in the desert. It's not just about going 'I'm Atreides now and that's my brother'. No no, that guy's Atreides and his guild is getting up ahead of yours! You kinda want to backstab them as well. That's kind of the Dune universe! It's like Game of Thrones in space in a way, you don't just want to let some upstart young guild get ahead either right? They'll get more rewards than our guild. So we kind of want to encourage this dynamic social play between different groups, even within the factions."

The result of all this points to an interesting end game for the humble roleplayer, and the survival gamer who loves nothing more than the shifting dynamics between players. If you - yes you at home - want nothing more than to rep your Harkonnen colours with other bald boys then the game should allow you to do that in a way that's appropriate. For my money, this could be the real selling point for Dune Awakening if Bylos and co can pull it off.

Because it's ultimately the player's own desire to influence the game to their favour that'll become the ultimate force in a game like Dune Awakening. If Funcom can give them an outlet to express their competitive and shady nature, then you can forget desert power. You'll have player power. Player power that'll excite its base, and entice spectators to try the game out for themselves.


Dune Awakening has yet to get a release date, but will be launching on PC. You can sign up for beta tests on the official website.

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