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When Cutscenes Go Too Far

I hit level 85 last week and now find myself at the tail end of Uldum, frantically scraping for that last gear point to start heroics. Now, Uldum is a pretty cool zone. It has a neat setting with new character models, fun quests, and memorable characters (Harrison Jones, anyone?). It also features an absolute glut of cutscenes — I like that; we’ve needed this.

Now, unlike a lot of players, I don’t mind the actual quantity of them. I’ve heard them dinged for being pointless — why show your character getting on the back of a caravan when you could just run? See, that undermines the whole point of a cutscene in the first place: to involve you in the story. I like having the screen fade to black and moving into some neat little piece of lore. Story has been a part of WoW most people could ignore and, honestly, that’s no way for a video game to be — especially one whose whole point is to deliver a virtual world. So, for my part, I’d be happy to see every zone get a good twenty or more cutscenes.

But, you know what, I can’t help but feel like the developers stepped on my toes a little bit. I can’t tell you how much it irked me to see my character cower to some snot-nosed little goblin. Or dragon. Or any of the other handful of things my Death Knight trembled in his boots over. That is not who my character is, or how he’d act, and is frankly a little silly considering how many thousands of bigger and badder enemies I’ve killed over the last few years.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: well, that’s RP, that doesn’t matter to most players. Really? Are you honestly okay with Blizzard dictating your actions — RP or not? You can take every in-character piece of the puzzle out of it and you’re still left with with a poorly done marionette who seems to ignore his whole context in the world.

It reminds me of when you’d get to the end of Shadows of Angmar in Lord of the Rings Online. You’d just gotten done slaying the Witch King, taking on drakes and trolls, and in an instant you’re delivering sandwiches to over worked dwarves. It doesn’t fit with every single thing leading up to it.

Developer whim. Gameplay staple. Over zealous narrative. After you’ve done Uldum, you can’t help but feel like the developers just went to town. They let their creativity run free without the benefit of an editor.

I know, it’s small. In the long run, even forgettable amongst all the other cool things they’ve done through in-game cutscenes.

What it comes down to, though, is character autonomy. It’s about your character being utterly forgettable itself. In the context of the game world, your place is quite literally your own because nothing else in the game really cares. In LotRO, you deliver sandwiches because that’s what the level 1 would do. In WoW, you cower to goblins because a developer forgot that every player exists in a bubble and went at it with a pin.

You are not yourself. You are character 11,876,786 in game world one. Someday a developer will realize that’s a pretty lazy way to “immerse” your player.

Oh well. Reading through this it seems pretty negative. It’s not really, just reflections on the state of MMO design.

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