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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Sid Meier's Civilization V

Epic win?

Likewise, the few changes that developer Firaxis has made to the game itself are all smart changes made by smart men. The swapping out of religion and the old government system for a kind of cultural tech tree strengthens the game's sense of upward momentum.

The simple removal of units being able to stack up in a single tile, and the addition of ranged units that can fire across a tile (archers, ships, artillery) ends up having absolutely massive consequences. Assaulting a city (which now get a ranged attack of their own) in Civ V often requires at least 30 seconds of chin-stroking as you consider where to place your troops. More importantly, deft positioning of your army now allows you to overcome a substantially larger force. It's a fun addition to a game where combat was often a case of a fat stack steamrollering everything else.

Then there are the new city-states, which are a cross between an AI nation and a static map resource. They're individual cities that won't expand, somehow manage to boast some of the most advanced units in the game, and that can be befriended through money, gifts, or doing missions for them, whereupon they'll give you a bonus of anything from military units to culture points for as long as you keep bribing them.

The great thing about city-states is how much flavour they add to the map. Despite who they help being a transparently mathematical thing, they're also oddly human, and the feeling of some aggressive despot declaring war on you only for your three city-states to start slinging armies his way is heartwarming.

Come to think of it, why doesn't Civ ever cough up a conflict on the scale of World War 2?

But all of these new features have one thing in common. They're all small enough changes to have very little impact on the way Civilization plays, meaning this game has all the same pitfalls as previous Civ titles. For most of the time nothing is happening, and you're clicking your way through turns in an addicted trance. Then every so often a terrible attacking force will come out of nowhere, you'll have no means of reacting to it since units often take at least 10 turns to build, and in the worst cases you're left with no choice but to restart an earlier save.

Far more common than these crippling blitzkriegs are the wars that make no sense and that you knock back with ease, because the AI in Civ V is still curiously terrible. At its absolute smartest (what the game calls its 'normal' difficulty setting, before the AI starts receiving stat bonuses) the AI still makes inexplicable demands from you. It will refuse your demands, even if you've got an apocalyptic horde parked outside its borders. It will go to war with you, dash a dozen armies against your defences, then offer you everything it's got for a peace settlement. These aren't opponents that make for fond memories. Civ V is occasionally capable of clashes between equally-matched nations, but they're unforgivably rare. If you want respectable competition, you need to head online.

This is the reason I spent that week actively wrestling with my burning desire to click on the Civ V icon, despite it being such an astoundingly slick, engaging game. For all the hours it eats up, outside of its multiplayer it gives disappointingly little back, and it will continue to give very little back until Firaxis bites the bullet and admits that there are aspects of Civilization which deserve not just to be improved, but fixed.

Civilization V is released for PC on 24th September.

8 / 10

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