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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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Two Worlds II

Knight and day.

For all the shortcomings of Reality Pump's rather awful RPG Two Worlds, at least it gave the developer something to focus its efforts on for a sequel. Most reviewers quickly decided that the original game was buggy, ugly and fairly dull. There's three things to get to work on already.

Having had a chance to look at a very early preview build, it's too early to say whether Two Worlds II will ship with quite as many glitches as its older sibling, but on the other points it's already looking like a distinct improvement.

While Polish developer Reality Pump remains in control of the project, TopWare, the publisher, is taking a far more hands-on approach this time around - particularly when it comes to the writing and voiceovers - and between the two of them they're hoping to create an experience that makes more sense to a global audience.

With a story set seven years after the first Two Worlds - just in case you were keeping track of these things - with the Orcs nearly entirely exterminated by the evil Gandohar, it's up to you to set things straight, even if that means working with an old enemy.

Narrative aside, the first thing that stands out about the sequel is that it's not exactly ugly any more. Kicking off in a huge dungeon, there are plenty of opportunities to take in the improvements to the game engine. Chains hanging from ceilings ripple in the breeze, torches splutter and spark on the walls, sending out real-time shadows, and everywhere you look water is running over stone rather prettily.

While exploring, you can take out your eye to use it to scout ahead, and even initiate fights.

Reality Pump has three different versions of its proprietary Grace engine running - one for each platform, covering the PC, PS3, and 360 - and the differences between this game and the lifeless environments of the first are pretty obvious.

It's not just improvements in technology, however. There's a real sense throughout our hands-off demo of a developer getting its act together. The camera now pulls in close for cut-scenes rather than staying at an awkward distance, we're promised that a new writer - whose previous credits include Dead Space - has been brought in to make the fantasy stuff a little less laughable, and the whole game skips along at a less arthritic pace.

The dungeon we're currently exploring will eventually double as the tutorial, and it appears to move at a nice clip, shifting from the introduction of basic movement to rooms that ease you into combat, a library stuffed with books and globes that gives you a chance - if you want it - to learn a little more about the world, and finally, a fairly violent encounter with the game's baddies in which heads are severed, blood arcs through the air, and there's much ominous chatter about destinies and revenge.

Stepping outside and things only get better. The game's outdoors environments are looking lovely, and there's far more variety to the art design. With a world that's 33 per cent bigger than the first game, the landscapes we're shown range from Brothers Grimm-style swamps, full of spooky, twisted trees, creepers, and thick mists, to cities with Persian influences, where peasants mill around in busy marketplaces and palms sway in the distance, and even an oriental plaza filled with wooden bridges and temples of red and gold.