Dune Awakening at Summer Games Fest 2024 — “Survival is the ability to swim in strange water”

When I sat down with the Funcom team at Summer Games Fest 2024 to see Dune Awakening they asked if I’ve “read the books”. We then had a spirited discussion about what I meant when I said “Yes, I’ve read ALL of the books”. Regardless of whether or not you are a Dune devotee like I am, a fan of the recent films, a casual watcher of the Alan Smithee version from the 1980s, or the surprisingly-good adaptations from the Sci Fi channel (I refuse to spell it otherwise), there’s no arguing that the Dune universe has had a profound and wide-reaching effect on all of the science fiction that came after it. The story of Paul Muad’dib Atreides is well known, but you’d have to dig into the lore a bit to understand the Golden Path, and why it’s the only path towards peace for the Universe, and why it’s paved with the blood of trillions to achieve it.

Without getting into a whole lot of detail, Paul has the ability to see something called “The Golden Path”. This Golden Path is a single thread amidst the near-infinite possibilities where the brutal hold of The Spice on the universe could be broken, achieving peace through power. This path would take tens of thousands of years, unleash a Jihad that would destroy large swaths of life, human or otherwise, isolate them from one another, and eventually at a distant point far beyond imagining, ultimately result in peace. Leto II would pay the price, forcing him to transform into a giant sandworm god, suffer thousands of years of isolation, and ultimately push him to orchestrate his own suicide to bring about this Golden Path. Every bit of it is awful, truly testing the limits of whether the ends justify the means. There is so much I’m leaving out, including the hold of the Bene Gesserit breeding programs, Imperial politics, power vacuums, Ghola, The Scattering, and so much more, but The Funcom team came up with an incredible story idea. What if Paul didn’t follow the Golden Path?

Dune: Awakening – Story Cinematic (The Vision of Paul Atreides)

The Golden Path leads to inestimable damage over tens of thousands of years, but Paul always had a choice. What if he stopped the plot against House Atreides, revealed Dr. Yueh’s treachery, and ultimately smothered the coup attempt by House Harkonnen? The Emperor would dispatch his brutal Sardukkar soldiers to cleanse Arrakis of the Fremen, stabilize Spice production, and install both House Atreides and House Harkonnen as dual stewarts of Dune. This version of Arrakis is ravaged by an ongoing War of Assassins between the two houses, but could this be a better outcome than The Golden Path?

At its core, Dune Awakening is a social MMO. Thankfully, it’s far more than a reskin of their previous work, Conan Exiles. We got to see a bit of the midgame played live, and there’s a lot to be excited about.

In true Funcom fashion, you start off nearly naked (though thankfully not nailed to a cross this time), and you’ll need to build yourself up. Our demo started roughly 40 hours in, with our equipment a bit kitbashed together so we could see what’s possible at this point. The Ornithopter in the background was unfamiliar, but the rounded and almost gothic nature of the trappings made it immediately apparent – it’s of Harkonnen design. You see, as you build up in this world you can align with the Harkonnen or Atrides, and in doing so you’ll gain access to all of their building equipment and designs, including flight craft. Setting out, we get our first taste of the world of Arrakis.

Rather than focusing on miles of endless sand (though that does exist in the deep desert), the area we are in features a number of alien and strange outcroppings and structures. Everything has a rust color to it, indicating a heavy iron presence in the zone. As the biome rushes by (our Ornithopter is equipped with a pair of large thrusters both underneath and near the tail section, as well as the standard wing set, allowing it to traverse the land very quickly), we can begin to see the biomes slowly change. As the dynamic lighting of the day blankets the sun, it strikes these surfaces, casting odd and often ominous shadows, thanks to the Lumen system inside of Unreal Engine 5. Moving north we see more black rocks as well as a white plume of dust.

Descending carefully we see that this is actually not smoke, as we initially thought, but something called “Flower sand”. Using a sand compactor we can gather up this resource, ultimately refining it into silicon back at base. Naturally the compactor creates a great deal of vibration, and that’ll inevitably draw worms. As this whole area is covered in drum sand, every moment on the surface is dangerous. Beyond the Ornithopter, you can also equip a bike which may be a better way to move quickly through this area.

With the War of Assassins being quietly fought between the two great houses on Dune, you’ll occasionally see the results of a successful strike – a ship hurtling towards the ground. One shipwreck is nearby, flooding the area with radiation. It represents a real hazard, as prolonged exposure will kill us, but it also likely contains important equipment we’d want to recover. We’d need to return with an anti-radiation suit, and that means gathering specific resources, components, and techniques to build it, or a great many credits to buy it. Either way, it’s a taste of some of the endgame challenges we’d face much later in the game.

Turning our attention north we again see the landscape change. Taller pillars strike the sky, and in true Funcom fashion, you might find something interesting on top should you scale it. Everything can be climbed, or you can use your suspensor belt, though that tends to drive worms crazy, so do so with caution. As we cross the Jabre region we encounter a new type of sand. We set foot on it and immediately regret it – bubble sand. Bubble sand, or as we’d know it, quicksand, is particularly treacherous. Once again a suspensor belt saves our skin.

The dev team took a second to really anger a worm to show off a “small one”. The size of a small capital ship, this massive beast is attracted to all of the tech we’ve been using. Their movements, what they come to investigate, how aggressive they are – it’s all dynamic. The massive worms lie in the deep desert, with the behemoths like we saw in the films being chief among them.

While the Sardukar were dispatched to destroy the Fremen, the Fremen are wise and know Arrakis better than anyone. Whether they are truly exterminated or not is something we’ll need to discover. In the vacuum they left behind, however, we see the rise of gangs and bands of assassins, as well as runaway slaves, scavengers, and military deserters. During this timeline, Carthag, the capital of the planet Arrakis under the rule of House Harkonnen, was hit with atomics, destroying it. The Harkonnen aligned with (a funny way of saying “re-enslaved”) the locals as the Harkonnen attempt to rebuild what they are uncreatively calling “New Carthag”. Each region has various factions vying for control, and each has their own skills, weapons, equipment, and tactics, including the more advanced gear you’d expect from a great house of the Landsraad. The further into the deep desert you venture, the tougher enemies you’ll find – you’d have to be to survive there.

Narrowly avoiding an incoming sandstorm (those are also dynamic, as is all weather), our demo driver lands at a nearby Harkonen fortress. This fortress is the same dark gothic strangeness we’ve come to expect from the Harkonen, and it was all built with the in-engine tools that we as players will receive. If you can see it, you can build it – an advanced version of what we played with in Conan Exiles.

Gaining access to the various faction gear has a great deal to do with raising your standing with each. A nearby contract board offers a chance to do exactly that, as well as funds and equipment. Additionally, this is how you gain access to the various skills in Dune Awakening.

We don’t quite know what a starter character looks like quite yet, but to gain access to other skills you’ll need to find the appropriate trainer. Here we see a Mentat Assassin trainer, and she’ll allow us to unlock items in one of our five skill trees, and then four specialization trees underneath those. In this case, we’d already created a sort of half-swordsman / half-Trooper. You can always equip three active skills, as well as passive ones, but the team wasn’t showing those additional goodies today.

In this build we had equipped a grappling hook. This skill allows us to grapple an enemy or nearby surface, using it to leap forward with a knee charge. This can have a devastating effect when combined with a swordmaster skill. Another skill is one that allows the player to deflect darts, suggesting that assassination darts might be more of a concern than initially believed. We see a few examples of the player’s ability to close the gap with the shigawire hook, slash them with a thin blade, and then dash out with a flurry of our cape to ensure we escaped without a scratch.

Finding a nearby shipwreck that had crashed earlier, we start to dig inside for any potential loot. Since all players can see this crash in realtime, it creates a gold rush to reach the crash. I was immediately reminded of something like The Division, and I suspect it’ll play exactly that way. This dynamic event isn’t just PvP, either – we encountered a few troops and emergent quests to solve.

Heading back to base, we see one of the ways the world (which is always on as it is a true MMO) will be broken up. In the world of Dune, there is a concept called “Kanly”. To prevent generational war without end, the Landsraad decided to adopt a system called Kanly, which clearly defined the formal rules and traditions by which a Great House can engage another Great House. It means some areas are no-go zones for weapons and combat, where other areas can have limited engagements, with everything else being where open combat can occur. Similarly, Dune Awakening has zones like cities where Kanly states you cannot shoot, fight, use skills, unsheath a weapon, or anything else that could be considered hostile. Heading further out we entered a zone where you might encounter limited enemy engagement (read: PvE), and then upon reaching the deep desert, we find the War of Assassins – full PvP. To accommodate this change, we also see a new concept for a Funcom game – respawn zones.

A small buggy that we can drive into the desert allows us to perform limited mining. A small carryall picks this buggy up and carries it back to base for refinement, but it also serves as a respawn point. If you’ve ever died in Conan Exiles and had to walk or ride across the entire planet, you know precisely why this is a huge improvement to the formula. As we visit each biome we’ll find a resource unique to that area, so being able to drag your spawn point with you becomes crucial.

One of the points that the team wanted to show us, repeatedly, is that Dune Awakening’s PvP is entirely a player decision. If you want to head into the full War of Assassins area and engage with PvP, you can. If you don’t, you can simply leave. If you want to mine in a PvE area and never touch PvP, that’s your choice as well. Again, using The Division as an example, there’s a great deal of content, including the entire storyline, that won’t require you ever visit a PvP zone. That said, there are some things that you’ll only find there, or being sold on the auction house, we can assume.

Digging into the wreck and uncovering a hold with three chests in it, we see our first look at loot in Dune Awakening. Using a system reminiscent of any other MMO, you have a full vendor trash to legendary gear layout, as well as a schematic system. Schematics in Dune aren’t always new equipment, but also the chance of getting modifiers like explosive shells or plasteel-puncturing rounds. It can also be schematics for buildings or vehicles, so re-running a dungeon like this might be worth doing. Given that our demo was being done by the World Director, he was very eager to point out that he likes to hide things everywhere.

Speaking of the world, the Funcom team preemptively answered a question we had – world size. The first layer of maps is over 450 square kilometers, and here you’ll find hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of players in a massive linked world. Heading further out you’ll encounter the shield wall, demonstrating the delineation of the map and the start of the deep desert PvE area. This area might have 40-80 other players (all of this to be balanced, of course), allowing some interaction without crowding. Pushing beyond the deep desert is the PvP portion, and here is where you’ll find a lot of the end game resources. It’s also where guild vs. guild battles will happen, as well as the most violent storms you’ll encounter in the game.

To keep things fresh, every week a Coriolis storm will hit this area, destroying, killing, and removing EVERYTHING on the map. You’ll need to pack your temporary tents and structures, retreat, and escape before the map is wiped completely clean. The map will be completely different next time you arrive, with structures, worm pits, and other cool locations being in a brand new location. It’s not about base raiding, but about the battle for rare resources. It’ll be interesting to see how the objectives are laid out and how players engage once another when we get to Early Access.

Truthfully, even as a Dune devotee, there is a great deal of information I simply couldn’t pass on in this writeup. The world is massive, and the potential is limitless. The team at Funcom have some incredibly ambitious goals for this game. The universe of Dune is vast beyond imagining, and capturing even a small part of that is going to be this nerd’s dream. I can’t wait to get my hands on it for myself.

Dune Awakening is likely to see closed Beta somewhere near the end of this year, with a potential release on PC and next-gen consoles near the end of 2025.

Stay tuned here at for all things Dune Awakening, as well as all of our other coverage of Summer Games Fest 2024!

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!

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