Cataclysm: Inconsistent Cinematic Quality

Time and again, guildies have gawked at the new direction questing has taken in Cataclysm. We’re bombarded with in-game cinematic scenes from all sides. They introduce us to the quest topic at hand as we enter a zone, cut in to our play time to give more impact to major plot points during a chain and culminate the stories before we leave a zone. Some players balk at the loss of control, but most have cheered the introduction of a cinematic  experience as a step in the right direction for questing.

Millions of players have already completed Mount Hyjal, which means they’ve all been taken through the epitome of Cataclysm’s cinematic arc. Players enter the zone on the back of an emerald drake with the idea that a quick tour is in order. This tour quickly turns into a nightmare. The hold has been destroyed, reduced to cinders. As the dragon swoops and dives around the zone his jaw drops as he approaches none other than Deathwing. With Ragnaros beneath him. The sight, for avatars and players alike, is simply astounding.

Blizzard’s cinematic crew uses every trick in the book to rope us in. We’re set up to expect a boring “Off to the left…and to the right you’ll see…” flight as we head to join Malfurion’s forces against Ragnaros. Only we don’t quite make it that far. We’re quickly thrown into view of the biggest-hookah-smoking-dragon ever. Visually, the world in the immediate vicinity is nothing but fire, lava and cinders, as suggested by the quest title. The sound is forebodingly still at first, then it shifts to the sound of flames and bubbling lava. Few will forget the intro, and outro, cinematic delivered in Mount Hyjal. There’s too much action, too much lore, too much organization, production and direction present to leave your cerebral cortex unchanged.

Click through to see how it all goes sour.

Yet, the cinematic experiences we digest later are…inconsistent; so horribly diverse in production quality as to fall into the uncanny valley and ruin the framing for the tale at hand. I’ve come across at least a dozen short cinematics in Cataclysm and few, if any, have lived up to Mount Hyjal’s sequence. Most tend to be little more than non-interactive quest boxes. Reciting the idea of the quest text in a long-winded discussion between NPCs. There are no voice overs (sadly, something Deathwing and Ragnaros lacked as well), no epic soundtrack or stunning vistas. Heck, even the later Dragon vs. Dragon (nerfed that name for spoiling’s sake) battle in Grim Batol is without voiceover treatment or custom music. If there’s a cinematic that I have seen so far that deserved full attention, it’s that one.

I do appreciate the cinematic scenes that we do have. Not all of them need, or even deserve, full production. Yet, I can’t help but think many of them were unfinished, or simply rushed. There was even a cutscene where the camera wasn’t panned on the NPCs that were speaking for C’thun’s sake!

A sorely missed opportunity. Hopefully the content patches have top-notch production for all of their cinematics.


  1. Theres also the problem where the cutscenes just dont work. i had a few instances in uldum and twilight highlands where my camera was looking at the floor for 5 minutes, till i had enough and quit the scene. Also me and a few guildies had the unfortunate incident in Vashj’ir, where upon entering a sub, the cutscene starts to play, and BAM!! your booted off the server.

    My take on it all? Blizz didn’t have time to finish everything, what with the sheer amount of new stuff here, so bugs weren’t reported. mistakes happen, and thats what patches and hotfixes are for. The Xpac is new, give em some time to iron out the wrinkes.

    Oh, the Harrison Jones questlines and cinematics in Uldum are epic!!

  2. I’ve had no issues with the cutscenes myself. I think the issue with cinematics on a par with the quality Wrathgate was is sheer money and time. While it IS a shame that not all of the cutscenes were of the same quality, at the same time we all have to bear in mind that they’ve done the cutscenes to basically advance the story without killing too much of a player’s time; that and Wrathgate was a very IMPORTANT part of the story as it tied together three different elements of that expansion where we’d only had hints before. Also for the buck, this expansion (cutscene quality aside and that’s a debate in and of itself) provides WAY more bang than anything I can remember and is a quality expansion.

    In comparison, before I came back to WoW, I spent 3 weeks playing Lotro. The cutscenes there were absolutely beautiful. They were …moderately, in my opinion, voice acted, they were immersive and they advanaced the story well. However, the game play was absolutely atrocious and incredibally grind heavy.

    What makes the difference? Well, let’s compare them to going to a movie shall we? Let’s consider that cutscenes are trailers and the gameplay is the movie.

    I paid $40 bucks for Cataclysm and it’s something that provides a massive amount of replay value; i.e. I’ll PAY to go see that movie over and over and over and over again. Sure, the trailer (cutscenes) were only enough to get moderately interested in GOING to the movie and it sure was a risk paying for said movie, but when all is said and done, there’s enough in game to get me to go back over and over and over and over again, and I’ll always find something new.

    LOTRO was tremendous in terms of the actual cutscenes. No doubt about that. Well voice acted, narrated, and drove the story forward well enough. It was enough that it gave me little doubt that this should be something I should go see. However at the end of the day, the grind heavy gameplay, broken profession system, unimaginative character customization selections and over all timesinking nature of the game itself was enough to make me walk out half-way through wishing I had money back that I’d never paid in the first place regardless of the cutscene quality.

    The cutscenes do not make or break the game. They entertain us to a point where we stay immersed in the story surrounding our adventures (the Harrison Jones quest chain is a fantastic example of this) and the Naga saga (cwhutididthur?) in Vash’jir was an EXCELLENT mix of story telling, questing, and feeling like I was actually PARTICIPATING in a fundamental way in what could’ve easily been reduced to nothing more than a series of cutscenes. The cutscenes merely serve to tell a a very important, immersive story while cutting down our questing time and Blizzard really came through in spades.

  3. I like the cutscenes. Their was only one so far that I was really annoyed at in Uldum because apparently during the later part of it if you are not facing the right direction the camera will pan to where you left your character standing and in that direction so you will not only miss what people are saying but the point of the cutscene.

  4. umm, dude. They added the voice over’s for the cinematics. Like in wrath, they had alot to do, sooo, yeah, not enough time to finish everything off the bat. (try alting)

    Besides’, every cut scene has been nothing but pure awesome wrapped in “Hell yeah”. To me, it sounds more like you have too high standard’s for this (and many parts truly) of the game. Like that guy on the forum’s who wanted all in game cinimatics to be CG like in SC2.

    Hey, want top notch quality? Just wait about 11 years and they’ll be happy to push it out. :P

  5. The biggest issue I’ve had with the cinematics to date is Grim Batol in which ‘Dragon v. Dragon’ come to a certain circle, but the models end up going through objects… which kind of killed it for me. Also I’m an Unholy DK and in some cinematics I’ve had an issue where the camera is inside my ghoul, so I end up seeing the cinematics through the jaw of my ghoul. I really enjoyed seeing the cinematics at first but now I’ve ended gone through all of the zones except Hyjal and the quality of them has been all over the place.

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