The game is set in Frank Herbert's Dune universe, where the most valuable substance is called Spice. It can only be found on the planet Arrakis (a.k.a. Dune) and cannot be replicated. The current owner of Arrakis is the Galactic Padishah Emperor Frederick IV. He has managed to gain a large debt and is desperate to pay it off. To quickly gain large amounts of spice, the Emperor has made offers to three great Houses: House Atreides, House Ordos, and House Harkonnen. All three Houses will be allowed to harvest Spice on Arrakis. The House that delivers the most Spice will gain sole governorship of Arrakis and a share of the tax revenues.
The player takes the role of a commander for one of the three Houses. Before each mission the player is presented a map of Arrakis on which the player can select the next territory to conquer. On almost all missions, the player gains control of a territory by completely obliterating the enemy.
During the missions the player is required to build up a base and an army in order to achieve victory. Any type of building in the game costs credits, and the player only starts off with a small amount of credits. To gain more credits, the player has to build Spice Refineries and collect Spice with a unit called the Harvester. There is a fixed amount of spice in each mission, forcing the player to be economical with the acquired credits.
The planet Arrakis is mostly covered with sand with a few patches of rocky terrain. The player is restricted to only build on the rocky terrain. Due to the harsh weather on Arrakis, all buildings will deteriorate and become in need of repair. Players can significantly slow down the rate buildings deteriorate, by covering the terrain with concrete slab before placing any structures on it. Arrakis also harbours giant sandworms, which can travel through sand and are capable of swallowing any land unit whole.
The game features fog of war, but unlike many modern RTS games, the fog once lifted is lifted forever.
Dune II is considered to be one of the most influential games in the real-time strategy genre. Its interface became the basis for subsequent real-time strategy games. In contrast to Herzog Zwei's reliance on a commander unit, Dune II's usage of the mouse for controlling base building and unit actions was completely new at the time.
Other features that carried over to many other games include:
- Resource-gathering to fund unit and building construction
- Construction dependencies (technology tree)
- Mobile units that can be deployed as Buildings
- Different sides/factions with unique unit-types.
- Destruction of enemy base as a goal
Biggest difference to modern real time strategy games is that even though there are mouse controls each unit has to be selected individually.
Has a long tradition of being fair and just administrators. Their people are hard working, peaceable, and with an unusual devotion to duty. They prefer to achieve their goals through diplomacy, although this will not be an option on Arrakis.
This House represents a cartel of wealthy families, all living on a frigid and ice-covered world. The Ordos produce no physical product of their own and rely solely upon their merchandising skills to survive. They have little conscience and have a long history of manipulation, sabotage, and terrorism. (House Ordos is not featured in the Dune novels)
A cruel and ruthless House. They have a long history of employing violence and fear to achieve their objectives. Status is not bestowed in House Harkonnen, it is taken. Meaning that a subordinate advances by killing his superior.
- Concrete slab: Make up the foundations that are required before erecting structures.
- Wall section: Can be used for structure enhancement and fortification purposes.
- Windtrap: Provides power.
- Refinery: Converts Spice into credits.
- Spice silo: Stores Spice.
- Outpost: Provides the player with a radar.
- Turret: Fires armour-piercing rounds at a close range.
- Rocket turret: Fires long range, high explosive projectiles.
- Construction yard: Required to build any new structures.
- Barracks: Produces Light Infantry units.
- WOR: Produces Heavy Trooper units
- Light Factory: Produces small, lightly armoured, combat vehicles.
- Heavy Factory: Produces large, tracked, military or spice harvesting vehicles.
- High Tech Factory: Produces airborne unit
- Repair Facility: Can repair damaged vehicles.
- IX (Research Center): Provides technology updates on structures and vehicles.
- Starport: Allows the player "to engage in intergalactic trading", meaning the player can buy new units.
- Palace: A building which features are unique to each house. They cannot be purchased or built.
- Harvester: Used to collect spice.
- MCV (Mobile Construction Vehicle): Can transform itself into a Construction Yard.
- Infantry: Lightly armoured foot soldiers
- Troopers: Soldiers armed with FS Rockets.
- Trike: Fast, lightly armoured vehicle.
- Quad: Lightly armoured vehicle. Slower, but stronger, than the Trike.
- Combat Tank: Medium armoured tank.
- Missile Tank: Tank which fires long range missiles.
- Siege Tank: Slow, heavily armoured tank with more than twice the firepower of the smaller Combat tank.
- Carryall: An airborne transporter
- Ornithopter: Lightly armoured aircraft capable of firing battle support rockets.
- Fremen: Arrakis natives allied with the Atreides.
- Sonic Tank: Atreides developed tank which fires powerful blasts of sonic energy.
- Deviator: An Ordos weapon which fires nerve gas capable of confusing enemies so they may temporarily change their loyalty.
- Raider: An Ordos modified Trike, with less armour, but more speed and manoeuvrability.
- Saboteur: Ordos espionage unit. Can destroy almost any structure or vehicle.
- Death Hand: A ballistic missile based at all Harkonnen Palaces. Can inflict great damage across a wide area.
- Devastator: Harkonnen Developed tank. It is the most powerful tank on Arrakis, and also very slow.
- Sardaukar: The Emperor's elite troopers. They have superior firepower and armour to other infantry units.
In 1993, Dune II was ported to the Sega Mega Drive as well as the Amiga. Gameplay-wise, both versions stayed true to the original, with the graphics and control schemes being the biggest changes. The Mega drive version did not have any Save Game support, opting for a password based system instead.
In 1998, Westwood remade Dune II using an updated Command & Conquer engine as Dune 2000 for PC and PlayStation. Aside from the visual upgrade, the game now featured the ability to select and command multiple units at once (like in C&C), FMV movies and some differences in unit and structure behavior; instead of all structured deteriorating over time, where concrete slowed the process, in Dune 2000 only structures built directly on rock deteriorate.
In 2002, the open source project Dune Legacy started, with the intent of reintegrating the Dune II data into a game that would run on modern (Windows, MacOS and *nix) operating systems. Due to legal issues the project closed down in 2004, but was revived in 2009. Like source ports for Doom and many other games, it requires the player to own an original copy of Dune II from which they can copy some of the data, in order to make the game run. Like Dune 2000 it has implemented Command & Conquer's multiple unit control and control groups, as well as the addition of online multiplayer, but aside from that remains true to the original game's graphics, balance and behavior. The Dune Legacy project remains active as of 2013. at SourceFourge.