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Thursday, August 14, 2014

[WoD] Cinematic Thoughts

The announced announcement of Warlord's release date has come, and with a day under three months until we get to step through the dark portal and time into an un-ruined Draenor Blizzard is teasing us with the release of the expansion's intro cinematic. Like all of Blizzard's cinematics, it is visually gorgeous to the edge of near photorealism. The level of detail they put into their animation is one of my greatest points of respect for the cinematic. That said, I set it alongside the Cataclysm trailer as one of the weakest.
It's the Circle of Liiiiiife....
In roughly half the trailers (Cata, Wrath, and Warlords) the point has been to introduce us to the main villain of the story. In Wrath we got the voice over of Arthas's father that juxtaposed the eerie similarities between what Arthas could have been and what he had become. This cinematic worked for me because it harkened back to Warcraft 3 in a way that reminded old players of Arthas's fall, but also clued new entrants to the franchise in on who this Lich King was. A new viewer would not need to know much about the preceding story to realize that the voice over is partially ironic.
Mannoroth-ade, is it in you?
Cataclysm's was weaker because, despite being visually impressive disaster porn that explained how Deathwing's emergence wrecked most of Azeroth, all it really gave us was an over-dramatic rant about hating everything. So far as a new player knows there's this dragon that's been underground and he's really angry and wants to break things. It was a bit like audio-booking an angsty teenager's tumblr page.
I have NO idea who this might be, the disguise is too clever
Warlord's is doing basically the same thing; showing us who the main villains of our expansion will be and roughly how events immediately prior to the expansion would play out. Except in this case things are a little different because we've already been dealing with one of the villains for half of an expansion. So the trailer shows us the ripple in time Garrosh's Doctor-esque hijinks caused when he strolled back to Draenor and convinced Grom that guns and explosives are way cooler than demon magic.
Disregard fel magic, acquire explosives
Unlike the Wrath trailer, a new entrant to the series would not realize that the events transpiring were different from the history. The exchanges about "destiny" just sound like every other cliched exchange about fate in a fantasy setting and don't inform the viewer that this isn't supposed to be how it goes. Perhaps that was intended, as Blizzard has said that this was meant to be an expansion that would appeal to veteran players, but I am not sure that pure veteran pandering is the right direction to go with the expansion's iconic trailer and a subscriber base that's falling in a symmetrical arc shape.
It's like I've seen this before
But I want to be clear about one thing, my criticism is meant only out of affection for the franchise. I am not looking to kick a beaten dog, or rail against something I already disdain, but to point out what I consider flaws from a place of respect. Kind of like how I can point out flaws in the original Star Wars trilogy and yet still be happy as a clam watching it over and over again.
Mannoroth was apparently AFK when his raid leader mentioned killing the left-side Engineer. I mean who knew demons were so vulnerable to explosives and axes. Someone should tell past-Tyrande.
Draenei and Ladies need not apply

I did not expect to see much Draenei or female representation in the cinematic, mainly because I know these things take years to make and this one has probably been in production since long before Blizzcon when Blizzard received the greatest amount of commentary on their relative lack of female or Draenei representation. Still, I had hoped for at least a brief cameo of Maraad or Yrel as background figures, but that would not fit the event. This isn't to say that omission of either is necessarily excused, just that I realize that this wasn't going to change post Blizzcon. Disappointing, but I can hope that future cinematics take the post-Blizzcon comments to heart.
Betcha most of those torches are Draenei slaves/prisoners
As someone who primarily plays Alliance it is growing harder and harder to constantly stomach the repeated matra of "Soon!" when we ask for some time in the spotlight. The media tells you a lot about a game, it tells you what the developer wants you to see, what they are excited about, and that is not Draenei. On the other hand, it's still a fun cinematic, and the horde-player/Warcraft-vet in me does enjoy getting to see "old" Orcs again. That was the story that got me hooked on Warcraft in the first place, but the lore has expanded so much in the meantime that roughly half the player base is in the camp of "So our side is kind of...there." The same is true of the female presence; I could go on about how much of this cinematic drips of "male power fantasy" but that would be a post all its own and I suspect other bloggers will tackle that.

Better in game

My chief objection to this trailer is that it feels like it would have been something better experienced in game. They say for film "Show, don't tell" and for video games I believe in "Experience, don't show." I understand why this scene was chosen, as I said before this is the tipping point where Garrosh effectively rewrites history. Still it's the video-game equivalent of exposition dialogue and might have meant more to new and old players if experienced in the game.
Arcanite Reaper Gorehowl HOOOOOOOO!
Instead, they could have gone back to the WoW and TBC roots with the trailer and instead featured the player characters (or the stand-ins for them) to help ease the sensation that this MMORPG is all about the NPCs and the players are just spectators.

That said, the above scene might be the moment when Wrathion suddenly decides that maybe Varian wasn't the right choice for "Leader of Azeroth against the Legion." I wouldn't be all that surprised if he shows up with aims to us players court Grom for the job, now that we've seen that he can two-shot a pit lord with a grenade and Heroic Leap.

That ONE moment

I have criticized the depiction of Garrosh throughout his Warcraft tenure mainly because his character seems so completely divorced from reality. He makes choices that seem arbitrary and capricious, made purely because of a forced-feeling hatred of all things not-Orc. No matter how big the threats to Azeroth grow, Garrosh (and his counterpart Varian) want nothing more than genocide of the opposing species. Unstoppable waves of undead taking over? Fuck that lets murder orcs. Giant dragon ripping the planet to shreds? Maybe later, right now the humans need some killing. His character development has felt flat and unrealistic to the point where it almost became a joke. 
Can I keep it?
Then this little scene happened. Perhaps I am projecting, but this moment actually changed some of my opinion of Garrosh. For a handful of frames he picks up the weapon that would have become his and looks at it with disregard mixed with ownership and affection. I am not saying I have completely changed my outlook on Garrosh, but for two seconds he almost seems to have an internal dialogue. It almost looks like Gorehowl spurs a negative memory in him as if perhaps deep down he might regret some of what he's done. Though I have not read War Crimes, and what I hear second hand is that he basically doesn't care about any of that. So perhaps not.

So all in all those are my thoughts on the cinematic. If I were a schoolteacher I'd still be giving it a solid B+ if nothing else but it's technical merits and general enjoyability, but it still feels like it could have been better.

1 comment:

  1. To me, the big breakout success of The Burning Crusade's environments were how alien, magical, and strange they felt. From the brief trailer for WoD, a lot of that seems to carry over, but the overall story on top of it seems so conventional and familiar that I just want to cry.