Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty
for PC (DOS)

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Alternate Titles: Dune II: Battle for Arrakis
Company: Westwood / Virgin Interactive
Year: 1992
Genre: Strategy, Action
Theme: Based on Other Media / Science Fiction / War
Language: English, Francais, Deutsch
Licence: Commercial
Views: 57444
Review by NetDanzr (2006-05-28)

Despite popular beliefs, there is nothing original about Dune II. Except of one thing, which enabled Westwood to become a powerhouse among games developers. As for gameplay, however, the game did not “revolutionarize”, “create a new style of gaming” or “became the first of its kind.” All it did was to combine several games already out in the market. The developer did this very skillfully, however, creating an unique experience and one of the most entertaining games ever.

Real-time strategies existed well before Dune II. The first one was The Ancient Art of War, hitting the PC in 1984, eight years before Dune. This game, however, followed a very abstract model of “capture the flag” tactical scenarios. Units moved and fought in real time, but there was no base management or resource harvesting. Next was Nether Earth. This highly underrated game was never ported to a PC, yet it was the first true RTS. I played the game on a ZX Spectrum, but I've seen Atari 800 and Commodore versions as well. In this game, you controlled robots, which took over factories where they could produce more robots. You had to harvest an incredible six different resources, more than any other RTS I know of. Yet, the combat was still a little cumbersome. This game was later resurrected (with enormous changes) in the critically acclaimed Z. Two years later, in 1989, Sega Genesis came with its own real-time strategy game: Herzog Zwei. This game looked a lot like today's RTS games. It featured a high-paced combat with lots of units, bases and the possibility to destroy them (well, that was the goal).

Dune II was released in 1992. It was developed by Westwood and published by Virgin Interactive. The development team had no previous experience in RTS development; the core of the team formed while developing Eye of the Beholder, and the broader team was defined when developing The Legend of Kyrandia. Yet, a team with experience in adventure and RPG gaming managed to create a true gem.

The game is based more on David Lynch's movie adaptation of Dune than by the book itself. Dune is a unique planet: it contains the Spice, a special substance that powers the pilots of the Spacing Guild, which owns the only means of interstellar transportation. The Spice is thus incredibly valuable, as is the desert planet (hence the name). However, only one of the three great galactic houses, Atreides, Orodos and Harkonnen, can mine this Spice. To determine the winner, the Galactic Emperor has sent all three houses to their planet and allowed them to use any means (and I mean any, including nuclear missiles) to get rid of the competition.

The game and the missions are quite similar. You start with a construction yard, which is capable to build other buildings, which, in turn are capable of building different units. You have to build a refinery, which will process the spice you harvest. This creates the money to build buildings and units. Nearly each mission, you will be required to eliminate all opposition on the map, and nearly each mission, new buildings and units will be introduced. In the later stage of the game you'll have planes flying overhead, mobile rocket launchers attacking the enemy base while your base is defended by gun and rocket turrets. The action is very fast-paced, and the strategy surprisingly deep, especially due to the fact that you'll be limited to 25 units in each game.

This game basically combined Nether Earth and Herzog Zwei. Unlike Herzog Zwei, you will have the freedom to decide where to build your base (easily accessible bases in Herzog Zwei were one of the challenges). In addition, each house had some specific weapons, which was not the case in Herzog Zwei. Lastly, you did not have full control over your units - the flying units were always controlled by the computer.

On the other hand, there were a few problems with the game. Maybe the biggest problem was the interface: you were unable to select more than one unit. This meant some frantic clicking around when launching an offensive or when trying to stop the computer's rush. Speaking of rushes, the computer was, frankly, really stupid. It attacked always along the same lines, rushing you in regular intervals. You could time it and strike from the rear with a relatively small group of units, disabling some of its buildings. And speaking of the A.I., this was the first game that had problems with the harvesters (which, sadly, remain until today). The harvesters ignored enemy vehicles, which meant that you could set five tanks onto the enemy's Spice field, the harvester would still come there and try to harvest.

What made this game really unique, however, was its development. I believe that this was the first truly corporate game ever created. Until that time, games were created by groups of enthusiasts, who developed, programmed and tested the game together. This game, however, was developed by a highly structured team, which crystallized over the course of its two previous games (Eye of the Beholder and Legend of Kyrandia), and remained like that until today. Just consider: the designer, Joe Bostic, remained in design functions (or similar ones) with Command and Conquer until today. (The other designer, Aaron E. Powell did not work on any games ever since.) The same goes for the graphics experts Elie Arabian and Ren Olsen. Frank Klepacki, responsible for sound and music does exactly the same until today, in all Command and Conquer and Dune games (plus a few more). Brett Sperry, the producer, has been producing every Command and Conquer game since. Even some people in the quality assurance department, such as Mike Lightner and Glenn Sperry do the same work till today, with the Command and Conquer series.

What does this lead to? This game was not a designer's gem anymore. While the designer still played a major role in the development, you cannot credit the designer with inventing the game. Dune II is not a brainchild of a gifted individual anymore, but a product of a well-functioning corporate team. This was the first game of its kind, and despite its high fun factor, I value it mainly as the bad omen of things to come it really is. The game has proved the superiority of design teams against single developers - they work faster and produce much more complex results. Westwood has never deviated from this route, which made it one of the powerhouses in the gaming industry. Single developers are a dying breed by now. And this game started it all?

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by themasterofall (2015-06-17)

Dune II, my first real time strategy game. Back then on a 486 with a 640MB hard drive ^_^. The best thing about this game for me was the back story (including the small videos). The unit pics are done in an almost lovely style and form a good contrast with the pixilized graphics.

This is what you do:

1. Harvest Spice

This is the stuff which dreams are made of in Dune II. If it runs out, that's it. Of course, you need sufficient machines to harvest it and the right building to process it.

2. Construct Buildings

Like in every strategy game, buildings and units are linked. If you want to build a specific unit, you need a number of buildings.

3. Produce Units

As always, it is the mix of units which counts. They can, for example, be sent on patrol to protect the harvesters.

4. Using the Special Attack (each race has its own)

These always recharge, i.e. even after all Spice has been used up, you can still win using them (even if it becomes boring and takes very long).

5. Conquest

The gameplay is well balanced, even though the Harkonnen have a slight advantage (particularly because of their special attack). There are some buildings and units which you can and should upgrade.

What I like is that you can't take things slow forever, because the Spice will not last very long in the missions (especially in the last ones). I.e. just producing more and more units at whatever cost and repeatedly attacking will not work. You only have few strikes and you have to make them count.

On the map, you see which regions are occupied by which race. Based on that, you can select the one to conquer next. No matter how you proceed or which race you play, the last mission always takes place on the same map ^_^. These selections don't really have a huge influence on the gameplay.

Also, global settings can't be found anywhere. You select your race and that's it. Nevertheless, I've had lots of fun hours with this game. At some point, it does become boring, but in spite of that, I recommend it!

Translated by Mr Creosote

Comments (11) [Post comment]

Gargantuan Orangutan:
Every 3-4 years I play through this game again for the nostalgia factor, the dynamic music, and because I still find it fun to play.
Mr Creosote:

I agree about this being a mandatory candidate to play.

I don't agree about gameplay versus presentation, on the other hand. It was extremely flashy for its time, graphics are way above most of the competitors (well done, Ren & Aaron), sound and music are changing according the the situation and so on. Gameplay, on the other hand, is fairly limited once the novelty is gone.


I own the game (it was part of the "10th anniversary collection of Westwood"). IMO the game is important because it the grandfather of the "command & Conquer" series. Therefor it is a game worth playing to see the roots of this highly influential series.

To the game itself: I play it now and then (not such a big strategy fan!) and I enjoy its focus on gameplay and not presentation.

In its time a game you should have played, now a jewel of long gone times.

Ren Olsen:

Elie Arabian was hired end of 92, if he worked
on Dune II it was minimal.
Myself and Aaron Powell did 98% of the graphics.


Mr Creosote:
Same for me, obviously - it's just too bad ;)
Maybe not in all levels, but I remember those things appeared, but well, I haven't replayed the game in a long time.
Mr Creosote:
In the PC version once a spice field was depleted a pre-spice mound appeared. If you shot to it, or a unit passed over it, it exploded, but gave little spice compared to what was before.

Are you sure? I certainly do remember those 'things' which 'openend' a new spice field when shot at, but I also remember many times when I was just completely broke, because there wasn't anything to harvest anymore.

Fun (or not so fun back then) fact: This game runs on an Amiga 500. The emphasis is on 'runs', however. Later levels are more like watching a frozen frame... wait, I've seen something move! Completely unplayable on stock models.


In the PC version once a spice field was depleted a pre-spice mound appeared. If you shot to it, or a unit passed over it, it exploded, but gave little spice compared to what was before.

There is a remake, Dune 2000, but it is too similar to Command and Conquer, I do not like the changes like that having more than one units building only serves for training faster, not for training more at the same time.

Mr Creosote:

A game which aged extremely badly. Although it impressed because of its technical merits when it was new, I just can't get myself to seriously play it these days. It's just repetetive, fussy and in the end unchallenging.

Also: One of the two games responsible for the whole industry going down the drain. Because of its success, everybody and their dog wanted to imitate it, resulting in approximately 50% of all games being identical to this one for a long time (the other 50% being Doom clones).