As gamers everywhere eagerly await the arrival of The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda, the company behind the hit saga, has whet the gaming world’s collective appetite to an astounding degree with a new, cinematic trailer for the game. Titled “The Arrival”, this new trailer (which can be viewed above) continues the story set in motion by the first trailer and introduces us to the primary villain of the game, Daedric Prince of Domination and Enslavement Molag Bal. (Delve into The Elder Scrolls lore for full info on what he’s up to.)
The story behind the trailer isn’t what catches my eye, though. It’s the pure cinematic qualities it possesses, an aspect of gaming trailers that has become all the rage in recent years. Just look at how aesthetically pleasing this trailer is: the combat and character model visuals are a sight to behold, as the trailer comes to an end you almost expect a title card saying “The Elder Scrolls: The Movie. Coming Fall 2014”. The visuals are that astounding. But this begs the question: why are these trailers suddenly so “hip” in the gaming world?
Video games are undergoing a paradigm shift, a “revolution” if you will. No longer is gameplay vital in a successful game. It’s about the story, the cinematic aspects of the game. Let’s take one specific 2013 game for example: Tomb Raider. Does this game have good gameplay? Certainly, but it’s your run of the mill action/adventure gameplay, with no truly transcendent qualities. However, this game featured a variety of incredibly cinematic cutscenes that constituted for a large chunk of the game’s play-through time. It’s almost like the game is a movie first, and as you’re watching the film you get to control the protagonist and experience the events alongside her, something that gamers definitely responded to as is evidenced by the critical and commercial praise the game received.
The Elder Scrolls Online is different though because the game is not yet out. The cinematic aspects are not necessarily part of the finished game; they were just chosen to drum up excitement after fans of the franchise initially reacted negatively to the game’s announcement.
One thing the trailer does not do is showcase any of the gameplay that will actually be featured in the end product. Bethesda presented this part of the game back in 2012, which is when the initial backlash began. This is telling: a trailer featuring actual gameplay created a negative reaction. A trailer featuring awesome cinematic qualities but showcasing no actual gameplay is being received universally positively. I’m not a Psychology major, but that shows you that the reason behind these cinematic trailers is pretty obvious.
Now, The Elder Scrolls Online is not the first MMO to feature an incredible visual trailer. Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Lord of the Rings Online, and even World of Warcraft have all done the same in the past. And while yes those games do have their redeeming qualities, let’s be honest, they aren’t beloved because of their spectacular gameplay or one-of-a-kind combat system. The trailer promised something that the final product failed to deliver on.
What does this all mean? Well, basically cinematic trailers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Don’t let these video game companies dupe you. Trailers of this type are nice to look at and all, but what is important is the finished product.
How does the game play, is the storyline engaging, does it have replay value, how far do the true graphics drop off from these crazy good cinematic ones. All questions The Elder Scrolls Online must answer when the game drops later this year. And in a larger context, all video game developers must heed this warning. The trailer is just one of the hundreds of pieces that make up the puzzle of a game. Cinematic trailers are beautiful, sure. But don’t toy with us. The game itself is what’s truly important. Put the most effort into that, for everyone’s sake.
The Elder Scrolls Online is set for PC release on April 4th; Xbox One and PS4 in June 2014.