Top 9 MMO Cinematics

by Tyler Edwards, July 18, 2012

Cinematics are a crucial part of any video game, MMOs included. Within the game, they tell the most important and dramatic parts of the story, and as trailers, they are crucial to attracting attention and bringing players to a game. But while a movie trailer is just clips from the film, video game cinematics - and especially MMO cinematics - are often a part of the game's story in their own right, filled with tense emotion and shocking plot twists. The following list contains some of the most powerful, gripping, and intriguing cinematics to come out of the MMO genre.

9: Second trailer, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning:

This trailer is a bit generic. Unlike other entries on the list, it doesn't bring a lot to the table in terms of originality, emotion, or good storytelling. It's just another massive battle like we've seen in so many trailers. But then again, there's something to be said for execution.

The entire trailer is a brutal back and forth brawl between the armies of Order and Destruction. It shows off the races of both sides very effectively, and each is diverse enough to draw a range of players. Whether you admire the brutality of the Greenskins, the grace of the Elves, or the stoicism of the Dwarfs, odds are you see something in this trailer that you like.

And ending on a cliffhanger never hurts.

8: Intro cinematic, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm:

Blizzard Entertainment is famous for its epic cinematics, and the Cataclysm intro is one of their finest. Whereas previous World of Warcraft cinematics tended to be more generic montages of the important races and characters, the Cataclysm cinematic depicts a key moment of the story: the apocalyptic Shattering for which the expansion is named.

For a true Warcraft fan, it is both amazing and horrifying to watch Deathwing fly around the world and obliterate all the familiar landmarks of Azeroth. It can be downright painful to watch beloved areas like Auberdine and Stormwind City burn beneath the Destroyer's endless rage.

However, the cinematic's strength is also its flaw. If you're not a hardcore WoW fan, it loses all of its emotional punch, becoming nothing more than a generic video featuring an angry dragon blowing things up for reasons that are at best unclear but may have to do with pain and agony.

7: The Chaotic Throne - Interlude trailer, Lineage 2:

Now, I'll be honest: I stumbled across this little gem while researching this article, and I don't know much about Lineage 2; but even without fully understanding what was going on, I was quite impressed with this trailer.

The graphics are pretty, of course, but there's more to it than that. The cinematic tells an emotional story of war, betrayal, and tragedy, all culminating in a vicious duel over a river of lava that makes Obi-Wan and Anakin look like sissies. It has all the epic conflict we usually see in an MMO trailer, but there's depth there, as well.

Its only major flaw is that its constant scene breaks and time jumps make the plot somewhat hard to follow.

6: Gamescom trailer, The Secret World:

This trailer is interesting less because of what it shows and more because of what it doesn't. Most MMO trailers go for broke, assaulting the senses with massive battle scenes and sweeping orchestral scores. The Secret World takes the opposite approach, showing us a quiet lull between moments of struggle.

This trailer implies two intense battles. First, we see a standoff between characters representing each of the game's three factions - Templar, Illuminati, and Dragon. Clearly, they had quite a brawl, but we don't see it. Then, a horrible Lovecraftian beast bursts onto the scene, and the trio is forced to put aside their differences to battle the monster - a microcosm of the game's main plot - but the trailer fades out just as the battle is beginning.

It leaves you hungry for more, and it does so in a way that sets it apart from other MMOs.

5: Memories of War trailer, Aion: Ascension:

Ascension is the second expansion for the Korean MMO Aion and the beginning of its free to play era. This is a business move designed to bring back old players, and the Memories of War trailer is a key part of that strategy, cleverly taking the viewer through the game's story to date and playing off their nostalgia.

While it uses the in game engine and thus lacks some of the visual punch of some of the other cinematics on the list, it is nonetheless a very powerful and effective trailer, reminding people of what they liked about the game in the past whilst hyping them up for the future. It reminds players that, in Aion, they play as something more than human: a Daeva beyond the reach of death.

It also ties the mechanics of an MMO into the plot in an interesting way, emphasizing the importance of other players. It turns the declining subscriptions that led to its free to play transition into a compelling plot point.

4: "Who Do You Trust" trailer, DC Universe Online:

Most MMO trailers focus on some kind of huge battle, and this one is no exception, but DC Universe Online sets itself apart from the pact with the dark tone of this trailer. Rare is the cinematic that shows the good guys being defeated, and rarer still is the one that does so in such a ruthless manner.

Even if you're not a DC fan, it's hard not to be captivated by the sight of Lex Luthor methodically and brutally killing all of the famous DC heroes, culminating with Superman himself - only to be himself defeated at the hands of an even greater villain.

3: Main intro, Star Wars: The Old Republic:

If this trailer doesn't fill you with gleeful nostalgia, either you haven't seen the Star Wars movies (in which case I am impressed you have Internet access under that rock) or there is something very wrong with you. It's amazing that Bioware was able to capture everything that people love about Star Wars in a six minute cinematic.

In fact, if this cinematic has a flaw, it's that it tries a little too hard to appeal to our nostalgia. The smuggler is almost but not quite Han Solo. The ship is almost but not quite the Millennium Falcon. The elder Jedi is almost but not quite Qui-Gon Jinn. All it's missing are a Wookie and a princess. It ends up feeling just a tad too much like blatant fan service.

But even with that issue, it's still one of the best cinematics you'll ever see.

2: The Battle of Angrathar, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King:

Considering that World of Warcraft is renowned for its photorealistic CG cinematics, it's ironic that their greatest triumph is a mere cutscene using the much less impressive in game engine.

But the Battle of Angrathar proves there's a lot more to a good cinematic than looks. It depicts a rare moment of unity as the usually opposing forces of the Horde and the Alliance fight together to defeat the evil Lich King once and for all - only to be betrayed by one of their own in a massacre that leaves all three armies devastated.

It's an epic, emotional struggle filled with heroism and tragedy, and it embodies everything that makes the Warcraft universe great. Its events changed the storyline of WoW forever, killing off major characters and redrawing the political landscape. Cinematics don't get much better than this.

1: Republic intro, Star Wars: The Old Republic:

It takes a lot to beat the Battle of Angrathar, but Bioware managed it. This article is not long enough to describe all the different ways this cinematic is brilliant.

It has all the action and epic feel we've come to expect from an MMO cinematic, and the tension is further amplified by numerous stunning reversals and "cavalry coming over the hill" moments, as well as the sheer bravery and intensity of the characters.

The emotional roller coaster is capped off with the inspiring sight of the Republic army triumphant, a literal light in a dark galaxy. If you didn't want to play a Republic character before you saw this cinematic, you probably do now.

It also ties in with the game's main cinematic in an interesting way. Between the two, we see the Jedi character, Satele Shan, transition from an uncertain Padawan to a Sith-obliterating force of nature.

This is not only everything a video game cinematic should be, it's also everything a Star Wars movie should be. It's safe to say that there's more old fashioned Star Wars greatness in this five minute cinematic than in all three of George Lucas' much maligned prequel films. And nary a Jar Jar in sight.