Seven Excellent Strategy Game Trailers

By Edward Mass 01 Apr 2019 3

The internet age has given us some of the most majestic and impressive trailers for games yet, with AAA/mainstream series such as Assassin's Creed (The AC: Revelations trailer was always my favourite-ED) ramping up the production value to rival even Hollywood blockbusters.

When it comes to strategy games, our trailers tend to focus more on the mechanical prowess of their offerings. But there are some trailers that stand-out as testaments to the immersive power of hooking a potential player with some much-needed gravitas or a quirky twist. Here are seven such trailers and the reasons why they have made their mark on the strategy gaming canon.

Napoleon: Total War Official CGI Trailer (2009)

Forget the complex and beautiful intricacies of Total War mechanics and instead be pulled into the sheer and unadulterated ambition of one of the most infamous men in European history: Napoleon Bonaparte. Dripping with palpable disdain and the triumphant thunderclap of a man on the verge of Imperium, this trailer exemplifies the commanding presence of one of the greatest generals of all time. Goaded by his spiteful gaze, the audience is treated to the power of a man completely underestimated by the world even as the smoke of cannon shot explodes around him.

The aura in this trailer is undeniable and the quality of the voice acting only amplifies the impeccable scripting. Whoever wrote the monologue for this intense closeup portrait of a man who would take over the world invincibly creates the proper gravitas fitting for the game and immediately transports the player into the throes of “VIVE L'EMPEREUR!”. Closing with the burning of the HMS Victory, the trailer not only promises glory but teases the player into achieving what the real Napoleon could not. Ominous in its apocalyptic closing, it is the perfect trailer for this Revolutionary Emperor intent on destroying the old world. Also, the game itself turned out to be pretty good, and a much needed fix for the roller-coaster that was Empire: Total War.

Leviathan Warships Jazzy Trailer with Jazz Boatman (2013)

Say what you want about the disappointment that Leviathan Warships was to many, but the trailer was a slice of PR gold amassing more than a million views on YouTube alone. Smooth Jazz and comedic delivery gives this subtle and counter-intuitive trailer a real edge in memorability. The low key comedic content that turned as slowly as the game's boats elicited more than one sincere chuckle out of me just from watching it.

Sidestepping traditional foci on the destruction wrought by such a game premise, instead the trailer delights and tickles to present the subtle and bare-bones game as an ironically enjoyable time. If only they had kept the voice-over the entire campaign, it might have saved it from being as unpopular as it was. This trailer, nonetheless, proves that comedy marketing can work even for PC games.

Red Alert 3 Cast Announcement Trailer (2008)

The Command and Conquer (and specifically Red Alert) franchise is no stranger to the hilariously campy use of live action cinematics in their games, but the 2008 trailer for RA3 achieves a level of star-studded so-bad-it's-goodness that one gets that painful feeling in the back of one's cheek when biting into sour candy. Delicious.

Filled with barely-censored babes as your aides-de-camp as well as Tim Curry's gem of a grin AND George Takei sitting as the Emperor, this trailer has to be seen to be believed. Even the soap-opera-esque video quality gives it that added level of campiness that wraps this entire trailer into tarty cringey goodness.

Dawn of War III – Announcement Trailer (2016)

It's rare to see a trailer that better encapsulates the ethos of a fictional universe than the actual game, but the Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War III announcement trailer accomplishes the task of showcasing its parent universe better than the disappointing product. Rugged, fantastical, and existentially horrifying, the atmosphere of this trailer is absolutely perfect for the setting. The carnage, the sacrifice, and the slight dread of blind faith all factor into oppressive atmosphere of this universe.

A sense of unease is created in the sheer volume of death which somehow matches the fatalism of the Space Marines. On the planet of Acheron, only death awaits and this trailer truly ushers the player into an infernal experience.

Civilization VI Launch Trailer (2016)

Subtle in its understated majesty. The setting is perfect. The humble beginning is recorded with a familial curiosity: a longing to expand beyond the horizon through the course of navigation. Thus, exploration as the tying principle despite all the intervening wars and advances in technology which creates a single thread for the would-be player. Here, with the same face traversing the ages, we see the course of human “progress” which lives up to the name of the series. We see the triumphs and pains of the entirety of human drama. Despite its usual Civ cartoon style, we get a sense of the humble pride of the human race moving forward. Even the horrors of war represented in the scene with the winged hussar evokes a sense of hope for it is wings that the human race truly wishes to achieve in any Civ game. Just as the music crescendos, one wishes for the human race to also rise to such heights.

Finally, at the end, as if to add one final twist to the poetic narrative—or perhaps to answer its initial question of “how will we know when we get there”, we see a reversal which ties back to the beginning creating an endearing if not heart wrenching acknowledgement of sacrifice; as if to say that all of human civilization has been a worthy sacrifice if we but achieve some greatness by the end. A perfectly crafted narrative in under three minutes and a civilizing experience. It makes you want to believe in humanity again. (Also, Sean Bean is a legend-ED)

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void Opening Cinematic (2015)

While technically the opening cinematic of the final installment of the Starcraft II expansions, this video was showcased as a trailer at the WCS Season 3 Finals and ever since then has permanently left its mark as one of the best ever created for strategy games.

Blizzard is no stranger to epic cinematic trailers with even World of Warcraft, after all these years, still boasting some of the best rendered CGI graphics in the business for its trailers (despite not really upgrading their game at all), but it is this trailer for the final part of the SC2 Trilogy that elevates the RTS gaming experience to pitch perfection. It is as if the return to the Protoss Homeworld of Aiur is also a return of the gamer to finally see his or her own Legacy in Starcraft mature. Twenty years of graphic upgrades in cinematic trailers has allowed the player to mix both nostalgia and genuinely amazing visuals with enough gravitas to fill a lifetime that makes this trailer a masterpiece.

Trope after trope of heroic sacrifice with carefully choreographed moves gives payoff after payoff in visual style and immersive pull. Never before has the player's RTS experience been brought to life in such a fashion and with so much emotional weight. I still get chills whenever I see that lone Zealot slow motion sacrificing himself for the warping in pylon against the banelings. Or who could not feel the emotion rising when the High Templars form the Archon in stunning detail line by line? The trailer is close to perfect and will forever be a gold standard.

Stellaris: Apocalypse – Release Date/Story Trailer

I wonder if Paradox knew what they had done with this trailer. With a game as “nerdy” in its complexity and depth as Stellaris, it's hard to imagine an intensely emotional trailer to accompany one of its expansions. Never before had I felt the rumble of humanity calling out with such nobility—not even for games like Mass Effect.

The soundtrack is flawless, the art style is appropriate in its subtlety. The narration—bringing to life the singular importance of a mother and child is perfectly humanizing. We are immediately pulled into the tenderness of the presentation. Yet, already, in the first few lines, there is a hint of sadness. A little suggestion of an ominous reality that approaches. And in the face of that terrifying unknown, it is humanity's incredible and singular ability for sacrifice and unwavering idealism that exonerates us. It is our final blessing, our final gift even if all of humanity is lost, it is our final message to the universe that we came to cherish all sentient life. It is the image of humanity's best wishes sacrificed. And as we watch our planet turned to dust, it is as if we remember that this planet, too, was like our mother and despite her best offerings, we could not save her. This terrible ache yearns for an answer.

This trailer was an unexpected splash of humanity in an otherwise cold game and universe and one of the most perfectly executed trailers for strategy games out there.

Do you have a favourite trailer for a strategy game? Let us know in the comments below.

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