So everyone's talking about WoW's Mists of Pandaria cinematic trailer right now. I watched it out of curiosity, and pretty much as I expected it was very well done but didn't draw me back in at all. Mostly my emotional response was a mix of amusement about the sheer levels of testosterone featured in the trailer and confusion about what exactly it was trying to achieve.
It also made me think about game trailers that really resonated with me though. The original cinematic trailer for WoW still gives me the chills today; it just did so many things right:
I knew almost nothing about Blizzard and the Warcraft franchise when I first watched it, but it managed to captivate me anyway. The maps and narration at the beginning establish sufficient context for what is going on.
After that, the cinematic mostly focuses on showing off different races, classes and environments, with the main message being "this could be you". Obviously it's not a hundred percent faithful to gameplay (to this day I've never heard of infernals climbing towers anywhere), but it's a close enough approximation and it looks cool as hell. I didn't even know what a druid was at the time, but I knew that being a night elf in a lush green forest definitely looked appealing.
TOR came with not one, but three cinematic trailers: one which I consider "neutral" (while "Return" is about the Sith retaking Korriban, Republic characters escape to carry a warning), one that shows the Empire kicking ass ("Deceived") and one that shows the Republic doing so:
This trailer was one of the major points that sold me on the game, and looking at it now I realise that for all the differences, it has a lot in common with the original WoW trailer. The narration at the beginning makes it easy to understand what's going even if you'd somehow never heard of Star Wars before, and then it's all about watching different classes kick ass.
Seeing the troopers shine in this cinematic was the sticking point for me, as I never felt particularly drawn to the idea of playing a Jedi. But then, how can a simple soldier prevail in a world dominated by force users? Well, the video answers that question. Look at how that guy fights against the force lightning - the sheer willpower! Did he just set off a grenade in a Sith's face? OMG!
As a bonus, it also tells a story, but it's completely optional. I know WoW's WOTLK cinematic had a lot of fans, but to me it was always a bit of a letdown after Blizzard's previous work. Yes, yes, it's poignant and pretty and everything, but what does it have to do with me? If you didn't already have a backstory with Arthas (case in point: me), there was nothing there to draw a connection between player and game.
In comparison, the story in "Hope" is very low key. The trailer can do its job perfectly fine without you ever knowing more about the characters than "this is a trooper", "this is a Jedi" and "this is a bad guy with a really scarred face". But once you do know more, you can get an extra tickle out of knowing that this is a younger Satele Shan facing off against Darth Malgus, and that the brave Republic trooper is Jace Malcom, captain of Havoc Squad at the time. Did you know that, like Satele and Malgus, he too shows up as a quest giver in game? He's a bit more well-hidden though, you've got to do the Alderaan bonus series on Republic side to run into him.