Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

As most people have probably heard, the Mists trailer is out this morning! I watched it eagerly and I really enjoyed it. I saw some comments going around where people were comparing their “favourite” trailers or rating and numbering them. It seemed like a good opportunity to go back in time a little bit and reflect on the trailers for the previous expansions. It’s interesting to see the evolution in both aim and tone.


For me what really stands out about the classic “World of Warcraft” trailer is that it’s quite ambitious for the time. Keep in mind, I didn’t play the original Warcraft RTS games nor did I watch this trailer when it was current. Based on the way it’s put together, it feels to me as if they really wanted to highlight and showcase the various races that would feature in the game that people knew and loved from the originals. So it’s very, “Look, it’s a dwarf! Look, it’s a night elf! Look now she’s a panther OMG you guys!” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either!

Something interesting to note for later (if you’re watching the cinematics along with me) is the characterization of the orc versus later orcs. The orc in this cinematic is very much “ROAR” and look there is fire and I am big and scary. To my ears he even sounds more bestial/brutish; if watching this trailer were my only experience with any Warcraft stuff I might think he was a monster rather than a playable, sentient race. This cinematic sets out to get people excited about what they will see in the online version of Warcraft, and is obviously aimed mostly at fans of the Warcraft universe.

The Burning Crusade

This is a trailer I watched closer to when it was actually released. I didn’t have any idea of the backstory of Illidan (Tyrande, Malfurion etc) at the time so I had no idea who the scary guy with the voice was. Watching it now with different eyes, I can appreciate the impact of the Illidan voiceover. You know it had a lasting effect, because how many times did you hear someone make a joke or quote, “I/You/Your Dog was not prepared”?

The blood elves and the draenei are characterized; they did a particularly good job with the female blood elf, in my opinion. Especially the first time you watch this trailer, you’re surprised by her sudden shift in attitude from seemingly innocent to sinister. There is a need in her that’s frightening, which is exactly the story of the Sin’dorei in the Burning Crusade.

Up until this point with the cinematics, Blizzard has been outdoing themselves each time. I’m not talking about the actual graphics of the cinematics (although they have obviously improved, along with technology) but also the scope and ambition. This one shows the Dark Portal with its swirling door – challenging players, even mocking them. “You are not prepared” became a catchphrase because it was so memorable and it hits right at the heart of gamers. You think I’m not prepared? I’m going to show you how prepared I am!

Wrath of the Lich King

This trailer. (Did you watch it again? You really should.) This trailer gave me chills. It’s so cleverly done. The juxtaposition of Terenas Menethil instructing his son on the responsibility of royalty paired with the dark visuals and the true horror and irony of what his son went on to become are nothing less than masterful. I don’t know if it’s because Blizzard had such a legendary figure from the previous games to build upon, but in terms of cohesiveness and impact this trailer blows all of the others out of the water. I can’t even find something to nitpick about with it. It has awe-inspiring visuals, emotional heft, and it also tells a story. Even the music used for it is phenomenal and it lends much to the story itself as the trailer unfolds. It is a tragic lament, an incredibly sad song – in keeping with what is also a tragic story.

The cinematic leaves you wanting to defeat the horrors that are hinted at here. I look at the legions of undead and I still get twitchy even to this day. I really want to kill the Lich King and everything he stands for. And this is knowing that I’ve already done so! This trailer is successful even when it’s an anachronism. Basically, I love it, and I loved Wrath, so I am clearly biased.


The trailer for Cataclysm is an interesting case. I would argue (and you’re welcome to disagree) that it is much less successful than any previous trailer, even the Vanilla trailer. Oh sure, it has impressive visuals. You get the lava and the forge and the big dragon. But for me therein lies the problem that we’ve been talking about for all of Cataclysm: the story told in this trailer really boils down to “I am a big dragon destroying your Azeroth rawr.” It’s sad because the character of Neltharion has a lot of meat to it, none of which featured in Cataclysm at all. I found myself struggling to remember whether I even heard his voice when you’re fighting him, or if I only read what he said on the screen? The fact that I can’t remember seems eloquent enough to me.

That’s where this trailer falls down. It has some emotional impact, yes, but all of the weight of the trailer rests upon the locations Deathwing is destroying. It relies on you caring about seeing them destroyed. In that sense, it works. Seeing Thousand Needles awash in a great tidal wave is definitely upsetting. But other parts of the trailer just expose the suspension of disbelief necessary for Deathwing to work as a villain, and why he simply wasn’t that effective in Cataclysm. He was STANDING on Stormwind and he didn’t just raze it to the ground. Yes, it’s distressing to see a dragon with his claws planted at the front gate of Stormwind. But you know that Stormwind wasn’t actually destroyed, and then you have to wonder, why not? It took us an entire expansion to take him down, but for the majority of that he was just flying around randomly breathing fire on some things. Someone on Twitter pointed out (I’m sorry, I can’t remember who to attribute this to) that Deathing is basically a griefer. He waits until you are AFK and then ganks you by setting a zone on fire. I know some people joked that during Wrath we saw Arthas a little too much, but we saw him just enough as far as I’m concerned. I’ll never forget running into him in the “dream world” near Utgarde and how he squashed me like a bug. He was a villain who made things personal.

Other people have delved into this more deeply than I want to get into here, but essentially: Deathwing is just a big dragon (yawn) and that’s basically this trailer to me.

Mists of Pandaria

Now we get to the exciting new shiny that everyone wants to talk about! First of all, I want to talk about the orcΒ  here. (Remember how I mentioned orcs earlier?) Notice what a huge difference there is with this orc versus the first orc featured in the classic WoW trailer! This orc is canny. He doesn’t just come lumbering up to the human, he’s watching him for a moment, gauging his opponent, thinking. Oh, there’s no doubt they are going to end up fighting (hello, orcs and humans) but he doesn’t just charge in blindly. When he accidentally reveals his position with a sound, then he’s lost the advantage and he seizes what he has left to him to try and catch the human off-guard.

I really like the way they chose to portray both the orc and the human here. The human is also a grizzled veteran and someone used to command. He’s not going to back down from a fight with the orc, and it’s a great fight scene. As the trailer goes on, the appearance of Chen Stormstout just makes it better. Of course it has all the kung fu movie type tropes (effortlessly dodging attacks and putting both opponents down repeatedly, etc. Although the human does take a chunk out of his hat!) This is basically just a good, wholesome fight scene and it’s enjoyable to watch. There are moments of subtle humour, too – Chen replaces the pedestal the orc broke and then straightens it (you can almost hear him thinking “HMPH,”) and when the human hands the orc the spear their open-mouthed gaping is priceless.

But what about the story, since I was so down on the Cataclysm trailer and Deathwing for lacking a story? Well, it’s an interesting trailer because unlike the previous three expansions (and as Blizzard themselves have made this clear) it doesn’t have a “big bad.” You don’t see any villains in this cinematic at all, unless the humans and orcs are the villains, and we just might be in this context. But that doesn’t mean it’s lacking a story. Chen’s voice over speaks volumes about that with the more philosophical questions. “Why do we fight?” etc. The moment when the mists dissipate to reveal the rest of Pandaria gave me chills just like the Wrath trailer. Again, it’s a completely different approach and that’s what I like about it. It takes several themes – the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance, the nature of the new race we are meeting – and interweaves them.

We know that Mists doesn’t have one overarching villain the way previous expansions did. That doesn’t mean it lacks conflict. The trailer left me with a strong wish to explore this land and get to know its mysterious inhabitants. That is the best place you could hope for a trailer to leave you – excited, anticipatory, and impressed. If this world is even half as beautiful as the trailer would suggest, I am going to be ridiculously happy wandering around it at the end of September.

Comments on: "Cinematic Retrospective: A Look At Warcraft Trailers" (25)

  1. Great post, love the trailer and can’t wait to start exploring! This trailer hit all the right notes – hinting at whats to come, teasing and did it with gorgeous eye candy!

  2. You know, I had NEVER seen the original trailer. Thanks for the post for that alone! I got chills from that one.

    And I loved the BC trailer. I remember when it launched and I was like “omg, mage!” when he sheeped that mob and cracked up at the murlocs burning up in the next scene.

    Like you, my favourite is the Wrath trailer. I remember seeing it and going “HOLY SHIT, NO WAY” and I barely had a clue who Arthas was. I just knew I had to stop him. The trailer instilled in me a sense of “over my dead body”.

    I was riled up after the Cata trailer. As you say, the weight of it lies in the locations. And so that’s exactly what hit me. I just about cried at Auberdine and I was SO angry about Stormwind.

    The Mists trailer… I don’t know if it’s because I’ve already made my decision about not raiding or if it’s something else, but it left me flat. I enjoyed the fight scene… but I had no chills. I have no sense of anticipation. It doesn’t excite me the way the Burning Crusade one did, it doesn’t remind me of what the game was, the way the Vanilla one did and it doesn’t make me defensive or angry the way Wrath or Cata did.

    Great post, Vid. πŸ™‚

  3. There hasn’t been a WoW trailer yet that I’ve been disappointed with. In fact, when I first saw the original trailer, I thought the game looked quite scary but look at me now πŸ˜›

    Having played the beta, the opening cinematic has me even more exited about the 25th πŸ™‚

  4. Pretty jarring realization that the “Why do we fight?” could be applied to why are we still playing this game after 8 years. Answering that is pretty complicated for most people, but I have a feeling Mists will uncomplicate much of the response.

    I hope. :3

  5. I really loved the orc in the Mists trailer. Everything about him illustrated how he wasn’t a big brute, but “human” – his eyes, his movements, the clear hunter attitude he displayed in stalking the human. I even really liked his physique! Unlike most orcs we’ve seen before, who are just a giant block of muscles, this guy was lean and lanky, while still looking impressively strong. He LOOKED like a hunter (the word, not the class). I’m a big fan. πŸ˜€

  6. The moment where you see Chen’s glowing eyes, and the moment when the mist is cleared brought chills. There’s this little girl part of me, the really young version of me, who didn’t have these types of games growing up who just squee’s at the thought of getting to be a fuzzy panda. Then there’s the other part of me, the one who’s always been just a little bit more curious about Asian cultures and traditions. While this isn’t a history lesson in All Things Asian, it’s a nice change. After the Big Bad of Deathwing, I could use some humor.

    Also, the world of MoP, what little of Beta I played, is even more beautiful than the glimpse you see in this trailer. I’m stoked.

  7. Great post, Vid. I like the look back on all the previous trailers. Quite interesting how it’s gone from “Hey, this is a game! And this is a cinematic version of its stuff!” to something that’s entirely narrative.

    I’d have to say that WotLK is my favourite, both visually and with the narrative. It, by far, moved me the most out of any of them. I think I liked the Cata trailer better than you. I still thought it was pretty badass.

    As far as the MoP trailer goes, it seems to take a little step back…or rather, changes the narrative from a single character to the Pandaren and their land. While I’ve seen some people complain that it feels less, I quote, “epic-y”….I think it’s just epic in a different way. It has a much broader view than focusing on a single point.

    And that doesn’t limit a game. That opens it up.

  8. I have a somewhat different take on the Cataclysm trailer. I thought that Deathwing’s “Pain …. Agony …. My hatred burns” was a great re-introduction of the character, and it inspired some of my favorite writing. It just turned out to be the trailer for a completely different expansion than the one they put in the box. Which was weird as hell, but I consider that to be the fault of the expansion.

    I hope they haven’t made the same mistake again, because I thought the new trailer is pretty cool too.

    • That’s a good point! I think I was more impressed by the trailer when I first saw it (I may have said “this is going to be so great,”) but now looking back at it with the taste of Cataclysm in my mouth, I don’t like it as much. But I could be judging it unfairly on that basis.

      • DarthRegis said:

        Lol @ “the taste of cataclysm in my mouth”. I bet it tastes like ashes and dragon scale.

  9. The Mists cinematic brought to mind the character Pai Mei from /Kill Bill/. All that was missing was the outright taunting. I liked that a lot.

    But the original cinematic is still my favorite. I get chills at the reveal of Ironforge. While I’m sure the music was inspired by LotR, I don’t care πŸ™‚

    • Oh yeah, I thought that too! He just lacked the really-long beard thing; I actually considered going to find footage from Kill Bill to directly compare because I suspect it was an homage. (Although Pai Mei himself was an homage of so many other movies I haven’t seen, so I didn’t bother because it all seemed a bit out of my depth). I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who thought that, though!

      You just like the original because DWARF HUNTER, don’t lie! πŸ˜‰

      • @vid —

        Oh, wow, yeah, that beard-flip thing he did! No way they could have denied it if they had had that! πŸ™‚

        I was discussing with Mrs Grimm how I felt that Pai Mei was a homage to past martial-arts movie “sensei” figures. Great minds think alike πŸ™‚

  10. Ironshield said:

    Great post, thanks for prompting me to go back and re-watch those trailers. Personally I love all of them, even the Cata one. And this new one is an excellent addition.

  11. Up until now, my favourite was Wrath followed by Cataclysm. Yes, I like the Cataclysm one. It makes me want to fight Deathwing the same way that the Wrath one makes me want to fight Arthas. Of course, I got burned out on WoW around the time Cata launched, and I’m just coming back now. I’m not a raider anyway, however, so the bad raids in Cata wouldn’t have turned me off. I’m a quester, primarily, and they added a lot of cool quests in Cata, and I’ve barely scratched the surface so far.

    Now, though, Mists is by far my favourite, for pretty much all the reasons you mentioned. The fact that I love martial arts movies helps, of course. πŸ™‚

    Now I just have to get my characters to 85 in time. One of them, at least.

  12. I started the game in BC, but didn’t reach max lvl until just a few months from Wrath, so I consider myself a Wrath baby. The whole Arthas story was just too confusing and complex for me to really relate. So much politics and ancient history. I began to love the game in Northrend, and it was MY expansion, but the cinematic still does not resonate with me. And Northrend itself, without a starter zone, did not make me love it the way I loved Darkshore.

    Cata had a very simple baddy, which I liked, but the real “cataclysm” in Cataclysm was about the change to Azeroth it brought about, not so much the baddy who did it. New quests, changed zones, full flight mode, archeology, phased zones and events, etc. The whole game was improved upon. And The Cataclysm helps anchor and explain that. The cinematic for me brought the story back to Azeroth, where I was emotionally moved by the destruction and enjoyed avenging that. Deathwing was also my first expansion end boss killed thank you LFR.

    I love the Mists cinematic. I love that the final scene suggests that the point of the expansion is to search for who we are. What is worth fighting for? One thing I hope we will fight for is a bit more civility and a more generous style of play a la Pandamonkism. Here’s to the new Pandamonkia!

    It could happen.

  13. I really agree with the Cataclysm analysis. I was really looking forward to really delving into Deathwing’s store as Neltharion, the Aspect of Earth, and how/why he went insane, but really he was just made out to be a big bad dragon. I feel like part of that is because most of the players have not played WC II (including myself) or read the books, so they don’t have a lot of background on him. It was really the destruction of places like Auberdine and Stormwind that got me about the trailer (though the stunning CG was a big part of it, as well as the music). The voice over just seems so cliche and kind of kills it.

    The Wrath trailer, though the MoP trailer is AMAZING, is my favorite. As well as King Terenas’s voice over, the music (Arthas, My Son) has recurring lyrics from the ending song of the WC III expansion, which was O Thanagor. The lyrics say, “An karanir thanagor, mor ok angalor. Mor ak garum, pala’ahm raval,” which mean, “Long live the king, may his reign last forever. May his strength, fail him never.” So that makes the trailer have an even greater impact, since the song is about the king of Lordaeron, but used as the theme for the Lich King who was prince/future king of Lordaeron. So much thought put into those 3 minutes!

  14. My favourite is still the original cinematic. I rewatched it now and it still gives me chills. I knew nothing whatsoever about the Warcraft franchise back then, but to me it did a great job of conveying the idea that I could be something different in a virtual fantasy world. You could be that dwarf/night elf/whatever, exploring snowy mountain peaks or lush green forests. The BC trailer still had some of that as well, but none of the trailers from WOTLK on touched me the same way, because they were just… stories. Interesting ones, but I didn’t feel like they invited me along.

    Interestingly, I thought the MoP trailer was going back to that a little, when they started off with the orc and human (“this will be you, landing in Pandaria lost and confused”), but that connection doesn’t really work until the end, unless you’re excited by the idea of getting your butt kicked by a panda.

  15. […] in the lack of women in the cinematic. A bit of me thinks is because they can work out the animation of a male orc, but that level of animation of a warrior female orc would be a challenge to get right for the […]

  16. I was extremely disappointed by the cinematic, the whole build up to this expansion was the fact that both sides have been committing horrible atrocities against each other, both sides are feeling that the other needs to be leveled in order for their families to be safe. Things are about to boil over, the world will be embroiled in war! And what do we get? Two buffoons who randomly appear from a shipwreck who can’t do anything other then identically hand their bitter enemy their weapon. I was as crushed as I could be for this kind of thing. Zero threat, zero ambition, zero anything other than silly jokes and childish tropes. There was almost nothing left of what made the vanilla cinematic so great, and utterly nothing left of that amazing feeling of wisdom from the WoTLK cinematic. 😦

  17. […] at Manalicious decided to review all of the cinematic trailers, from vanilla to Mists. That is the best place you could hope for a trailer to leave you – excited, anticipatory, and […]

  18. Great review and very good points, however i must disagree as far as the Orc being different. I mean this difference makes perfect sense as far as the way he fights being different, but there is a whole story about that orc accross 3 cinematics, firstly in vanilla, he is young, energetic, ready to fight for warsong gulch, then in The Burning Crusade, he is fighting trial and error, dying and learning from his mistakes, then in MoP, he is a veteran, he learns how to be patient and understand his opponent before going in for the kill, I am not sure if it was intended but there is no doubt in my mind that the orc depicted in these cinematics is the same orc. I only wish they had done that progression with other characters as well. Thats my 2 cents, sorry for any spelling errors i am typing this from my phone :p

  19. I always liked the vanilla trailer most. It emphasizes a living world to explore and live in, and it does it in an amazing way. It tells you that “it’s here where legends are born and stories are written”. It focuses on the world.

    The others are just trailer for a story, they could be movie trailer. They were done well but I never felt like “I have to be in that world”, just a “let me see that story”.

  20. You MUST update this post with what must be Blizzard’s BEST WoW cinematic trailer yet – Warlords of Draenor.

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