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Dune: Awakening's survival systems might do the impossible: make smashing boulders and collecting water fun

 Sci-fi character from Dune.
Sci-fi character from Dune.

I like survival, but there are a few activities in survival games that almost instantly become mindless chores. I'm talking about smashing open rocks and boulders for ore, and that endless task we also practice in real life every day: keeping ourselves hydrated.

Breaking boulders and drinking water. It's not that I dread these activities, but they usually wind up being the tasks that get in the way of the stuff I actually want to be doing. I'll be hunting deer and run out of flint arrowheads: welp, time to murder another rock with my pickaxe. Or I'll be happily climbing a mountain and realize, whoops, I need to drink or I'll start losing health… where's the nearest river?

At a gameplay presentation for Funcom's survival MMO Dune: Awakening in San Francisco last week, hosted by game director Joel Bylos, I got to see how some of its survival systems work—and I'm pretty happy to report that its boulder smashing and water harvesting activities look… kinda great?

Let's rock

At least you won't be using a stupid primitive pickaxe to crack rocks on Arrakis, but instead a tool called a cutter ray, which is like a handyman's version of Dune's lasguns. Using the analysis mode of the cutter ray, you can identify the weak points of the boulder you want to mine, or the structural weakness of a piece of wreckage you want to turn into scrap.

The weakness appears as a line or pattern drawn across the object you're cutting, and if you trace along the line with the beam of your cutter, it will take you less time to finish and the object will produce more resources.

A person using a laser to cut a rock
A person using a laser to cut a rock

It reminds me a little of smashing boulders and chopping trees in Rust: a glint will appear on the boulder (and a red X on the tree trunk), giving you a target to aim for, and it'll move to another spot with each successful strike. The more times you connect with the target, the quicker you're able to destroy the boulder and collect its resources. It's a minigame to help make the mindless chores in Rust a little less dull, and I like it a lot. It's great to see something along those lines here in Dune: Awakening.

"As the rocks increase in tier, the complexity of the patterns will also increase and you'll have to craft better cutter rays to be able to use them," Bylos said.

Sunblock

While you're scurrying around on the desert planet Arrakis looking for rocks to cut, the sun is your biggest enemy, and too much exposure to direct sunlight means the player's water meter will begin draining quickly. At the start of the game, before you have much in the way of protection, the only way to safely move through the world in the daytime is by staying in the shade, and quickly moving from shadow to shadow. As the sun begins to set, this becomes easier as the shadows grow longer and give you more cover. This also reminds me of another game: V Rising, where as a vampire I had to navigate carefully through the shadows of trees during the day.

Person in a cave looking through a hole and seeing a bright sun
Person in a cave looking through a hole and seeing a bright sun

Early on, one of the primary ways to collect drinking water is by scavenging and finding certain plants that can be gathered and eaten—though that's not a great solution. "You can only hydrate yourself up to about a third of your [water meter] before you start to throw up the plant fiber," Bylos said, "because you can't ingest that much moisture from plant fiber."

Eventually players will acquire a stillsuit, which captures the wearer's moisture—sweat, urine, and in the books at least, even poop—and recycle it for drinking water. Once you're wearing a stillsuit, you'll see a second water meter appear beside your original one. As your character's water meter decreases, the stillsuit's water meter will increase: it's capturing your wastewater and recycling it for you. Gross! But also very cool.

Plasma chugger

Person in armor and hood pointing gun
Person in armor and hood pointing gun

Speaking of gross, those enemies you kill? They're full of precious water too, though quite a lot of it is unfortunately in blood form. When you're just getting started on Arrakis you may have to do some grim stuff to survive, like use a rusty needle and a crude blood bag to extract a fallen enemy's blood and, y'know, chug it.

...drinking blood is not really good for you.

"That will give you water," Bylos said, "but will also reduce your maximum health because drinking blood is not really good for you." I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, but that sounds like it's probably true.

Thankfully there's a less horrible way to consume your juicy enemies. Once you've built your base, you'll be able to craft a number of workstations, including a device called a blood purifier. "If you want to bring blood back to your base, deposit it into this machine, it will start to filter the blood into water over time," Bylos said. "You're able to keep getting water that way, handling your own water needs." Water isn't just for drinking: eventually you'll start needing it for industrial crafting and it can even be used for political purposes late-game, though we don't have any real details about that yet.

A base on a desert planet
A base on a desert planet

I asked about a couple of other survival systems that weren't shown in the presentation: food and illness. There is food in the game, said Scott Junior, executive producer of Dune: Awakening, though it will provide buffs and benefits as opposed to serving as meals. "We wanted to put all of our survival pressure, really, on that water [meter]," he said.

As for illnesses: "There is an illness in the form of spice addiction," Junior said. "That's the main one. We're not too ready to talk about that yet."

I'm by no means an expert on MMOs, but I do play a lot of survival games, and I'm finding myself more and more interested in Dune: Awakening the more I learn about it. Funcom's survival MMO doesn't have a release date yet, but closed beta tests are planned "soon," so I hope it won't be too much longer before I can get in there myself to start cutting up boulders and drinking my enemies' blood.