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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.

5 comments

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  1. Mark

    My only real complaint with the cut scenes is a noticeable lack of Blizzard polish to them. In WOTLK the cinematic was awesome as were all of the Warcraft 3 flashback cut scenes. But other than the Harrison Jones line being fun I felt most of the cut scenes were forced and boring. Had they added even just voice acting to the majority of them I feel it would have made a big difference.

    1. Drew

      Agreed; the cut scenes (and story, frankly) in Cata has been pretty ‘meh’ for me. I vivdly remember the first time I saw the Wrathgate sequence in WotLK – that was awesome. I can’t tell you about any of the cut scenes in Cata, to be honest.

    2. Chris

      I couldn’t really fit it in here without sounding more down on it than I wanted to be, but yeah, I noticed that too. Throughout all of Uldum I had issues with my ghoul being caught in front of the camera during cutscenes, obscuring the text. Timing also seemed really off in a couple of them too. Person A would say something, then you’d wait. And wait. And then, after the text box has totally disappeared and they’re just standing there, Person B will respond.

      That and some other stuff really kind of highlights that it’s not a “cutscene” at all, but rather a private instance running a script.

  2. Eliot

    Ms. Lady was running through Southern Barrens tonight, and she was struck by the fact that an NPC referred to the events of a dungeon run as “the efforts of a band of adventurers.” That set off some hopeless mockery from then on – you, too, could be part of a nameless band righting wrongs with no direct references to who you are! Don’t want you getting an ego, now.

    I’ve seen it said that Blizzard is essentially trying to beat TOR to the story game with Cataclysm. The way that story has been handled so far is like beating a pizza delivery by showing up ten minutes before the pizza is ready with half of a moldy orange.

    1. Chris

      Hah, such an apt analogy. The zones and story delivery have really been hit or miss for me, honestly. Hyjal was great. Deepholm was alright, Uldum was kind of “meh.”

      I think what makes it seem so good is that it’s only by comparison to what they’ve done in the past. Compared to something like LotRO, it’s still a little below the mark. When stood up against narrative titans like Bioware, I can only figure it’ll be like that moldy orange.

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