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Torturer Who?

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Reactions to one of the most controversial of all World of Warcraft‘s quests – and the hype that came with it.

I recently played active witness to one of World of Warcraft‘s most popular and controversial quest chains, Battle for the Undercity. Whilst trying to quell my fanboy-ish gushing, I did find one matter I wanted to write about, as the in-game machinima content and boss battles came to their conclusion.

Following the release of Blizzard’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft, there was much outcry and inter-blog discussion of a particular Horde quest in Northrend. In it, an enemy non-player character (NPC) has to be tortured for information, then slain once his intelligence is divulged. The outcry was levelled squarely at the players’ being asked to conduct this act, which happens to involve a branding iron. I didn’t read into the incident too deeply at the time, but I knew enough to think I’d probably wish to avoid this quest. Seasoned gamers who commented on the quest made one sad note, that the quest was a shame for being slotted into the middle of an “epic chain” – indeed, it forms part of the lead-up to Battle for the Undercity. Players who objected to this quest for whatever reason would then be missing out on some premiere content for the game.

To be honest, the quest almost passed me by when I found it. I’d arrived at Venomspite, a Forsaken settlement, as the last port of call before the three Dragonblight-based quest chains would merge at the foot of the Lich King’s fortress, and I had even conducted a few missions before arriving at this one. I realise now that what I had been missing all this time was context.

As is so often the case in this game, I’d already killed the main target of this particular quest simply as a result of exploring. Torturer LeCraft was a character I’d met in the basement of the Scarlet Crusade’s barracks, surrounded by dead or imprisoned Forsaken kinsmen (my character is also Forsaken). Killing him was pretty much run-of-the-mill. Despite that, even being asked to torture this character seemed like no real stretch at all because, well, I’ve done far far worse to much less deserving creatures in the game:

  • The Scarlet Crusade are an extremist religious cult, cut off from the human-led Alliance for their belief that all undead creatures should be denied life. The crux of their argument is that it matters not whether Sylvanas Windrunner’s Forsaken are free of the Lich King’s control or not – they’re still impure and should be purged. As far as the Forsaken themselves are concerned, this makes the Scarlets an enemy second only to the Lich King himself, for cursing them to such an undeath. The player, then, is bred to believe in this.
  • The Forsaken have been torturing and experimenting on other creatures since players arrive at their first town, Brill. Scarlet soldiers there are turned undead, while apocetharies in their capital breed rabbits and other wildlife to test wild new, transformative concoctions. Torture in this case with an iron, rather than a vile chemical elixir, could arguably be seen as tame by comparison.
  • The target is a torturer himself, surrounded by chained and deceased kinsmen of the Forsaken. One might say that stooping to his level is perhaps a bitter moral judgement to be forced upon the player, and that would, in truth, be the only point I could stick upon this quest.
  • It follows a handful of quests scattered throughout the player’s experience in Azeroth, in which enemies have to be duelled and combat stops just before they die, be it in in the name of seeking resolution to a diplomatic problem, drawing some item from them or coercing them into helping you. The mechanics of these are fundamentally the same, and so nothing new to a player who’s reached this point in Northrend – hold off from killing the enemy for just long enough that they talk to you.

So, although I came to the party a lot later than that first round of commentators, I’d like to say for the record that I believe the whole affair was grossly overstated and overhyped.