Saturday, November 15, 2008

Torture Quests

The quest The Art of Persuasion in Borean Tundra was a bad call on Blizzard's part.

I was okay with the Death Knight torture quest because it fit the Death Knight thematically. But this one is just out of place. Especially ironic considering the quest giver states, "You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain 'extreme' measures - even in desperate times such as these" as the reason he is handing the prisoner over to you to be tortured.

My immediate thought was, "Hello, paladin here!"

It's especially annoying because it's on the main line to Coldarra and the Nexus. If you don't do this quest, you pretty much miss out on the entire Malygos conflict.

As I said before in Stories, Wrong Choices and Death Knights, there is a difference between single-player Western RPGs and MMOs. MMOs must have a shared reality and thus our choices are dictated by the quest designer. The quest designer therefore has the responsibility of making sure our actions are at least somewhat acceptable.

This quest crosses that line, and is a failure on the part of the quest designer.

(Also, you'd think mages would have a spell to force people to tell the truth. That seems like a very common spell in fantasy.)


  1. In real life, you don't necessarily get rewarded or are left alone if you do the right thing. The right thing can deprive you of significant material advantages, your face not being decked, or getting arrested by authorities.

    Yeah, this is World of Warcraft, but hey. Where's the fun in being a Paladin if there's no pressure to act evil in the face of adversity, instead of shouldering that extra burden to uphold that sense of justice?

  2. Torture quests are not exactly routine on the Horde side, but not uncommon. Realistically, Death Knights should have been restricted to Horde and paladins remained Alliance only, instead of the twisting the whole ethical concept of the classes. That would have meant another regular class with paladin like abilities on the Horde though or keeping shaman Horde only. I wish the hero classes had been faction specific, although that would have meant two initially - which I would have preferred anyway in the name of variety.

  3. I'd like to point out a little problem here. While you had problems with torturing 1 mage-hunter, you had no problem of killing a dozen before.

  4. He could fight back before. That's the main difference.

    Also, consider that the Kirin Tor regards it as not good. The quest quite clearly states that the Mage is handing him over to you because he's not allowed to torture. WoW's version of extraordinary rendition.

    Regardless, let's just state it as an axiom that for the purposes of Warcraft, torturing a prisoner is morally worse than killing an enemy in combat. I am not really interested in debating morality, as it will just lead to a stupid comment thread.

  5. My immediate thought was, "Hello, paladin here!"

    Actually, based on the lore, torture itself is not outside the scope of what Paladins are called upon to do in the course of their duties (although it's not exactly encouraged, either). I haven't done the quest, so I can't say one way or the other, but the particular method of torture used in the quest may be more objectionable to a generalized Paladin of lore than the torture itself.

  6. Unfortunately, this seems like one of many elements where Blizzard dropped the ball on this expansion.

    - The game is simply too easy. You're just going through the motions without thought or concern while leveling up. At level 70 I was going through a 75 dungeon successfully. This is absurd.

    - There is just WAY too many broken quests that made it to live. I understand they do not have time to fix everything and that they have to push out the game. But with so many broken quests so early in the game it just feels so... well... un-Blizzard like. Polish used to be the expectation, now, it had really gone by the wayside.

    - Stability. Really, this is remarkable. A month of server issues before launch and now queues of two and a half hours being reported from some realms. If Blizzard's turning down the dial of the content was an effort to bring more of the game to casual players, they probably will have lost those players by now. If you only have an hour or two to play each night and have to wait two and a half in queue, there's nothing for you. There have been problems before with stability, but over a month is unheard of from any Blizzard offering.

  7. I think the problem that I had with this quest was that it has long ranging consequences if your character says "Nuh-uh, no way, this is way different than fighting these guys".

    Particularly since it's not just poke poke done, but you have to listen to the guy plead with you while you do it. And while, intrinsically, this didn't bother my Shaman, who did the quest and didn't really think twice, for my Paladin that just doesn't fit.

    But her decision *not* to do it means she can't do the Coldarra/Malygos questlines - something that I'd rather not miss out on.

    Gryph - the quest in question has a chained mage-hunter in a chair, and you are asked to repeatedly use a "Needler" on him to get him to disclose the location of a prisoner, since the Kirin Tor "frown on such things" and as such can't do it themselves.

  8. Agreed. I did that questline in beta and left what I thought was scathing feedback about how I (a hunter but also a pally) would never do such a thing.

  9. I also found the quest stupid when I did it.
    Its not coherent that the mage say he couldn't torture, but has no problem asking you to do it.

    It's simply stupid.

  10. I submitted feedback on this quest in beta. I really don't thik that in this day and age we should be glorifying torture. I don't care about the RP elements.

  11. Having completed the initial DK quests I can understand the "thematic" reasons for the torture quest there. You're a monster engaging in wholesale destruction. Ultimately your independence from the LK is intended to launch your character on a path to redemption. Given this context the nature of the initial quests is completely understandable.

    I haven't done the quest in question yet (I'm starting out in the Fjord) so I can't speak with a great amount of authority on it; however by the sound of it this is rather troubling. Having "good" people engaged in "bad" acts for the purposes of a greater cause is dangerous territory that Blizzard should avoid. GTA gets criticized for people learning how to carjack. I doubt though WoW would get similar criticism given how the quest is a tiny part of the game. Regardless, I think Blizzard should stay out of the business of pushing the envelope on "moral" issues like this.

  12. During the Beta, I inserted the /tickle emote between applications of the Needler. It's made me feel a little better.

  13. I don't think it glorifies torture so much as reminding people that out sourcing torture is a moral cop out. The torture still happens.

  14. I don't find it much worse than any of the Brill experiments with captured Alliance or again in New Agamand...

    But yeah, overall it justifies my disliking of the Forsaken. Orcs and Trolls would probably just smash 'em, but not torture them before :P

  15. Everyone has to make hard choices about darkness. In happy bunny land you do the good thing and still get rewarded. Outside of there, doing the nice thing doesn't yield anything. Our actions do not have to be acceptable, we only have to choose them. You were always free to not torture him, you'd just miss out on some content. That's your call to make, what are you willing to sacrifice of yourself for the advancement of a cause?

    Oh, if you have any Horde, I'm sure you'll love the Forsaken faction's dealings with the Scarlet Onslaught. Hint: the torture isn't just with harmless mental pokers.

  16. To paraphrase a friend's comments on this quest, "Nobody expects the Argent Inquisition!" Given that I've seen a priest torturing the undead as a method of interrogation in Wintergarde Keep, this sort of quest doesn't surprise me all that much. Especially given how in the past, real paladin-style knights would engage in such behavior to get answers. So, while regrettable... this sort of activity (foisting off the responsibility of torture onto the player) isn't out of line with what we've seen in the Warcraft universe, where even servants of the Light will engage in skullduggery and less-moral activities in order to advance their agendas.

    Remember, this is the same universe where a paladin was excommunicated for valuing his honor and self-integrity by releasing a member of the Horde from torture and imprisonment. You might be familiar with him - his name is Tirion Fordring, for those who forgot who he was.

  17. The Missing Diplomat quest forced you to kill 2 npcs outside Stormwind library if you wanted to proceed any further.
    It clearly stated that this was outside the law.
    My Warlock had no problem with the deed, but on my Paladin it was an ethical crossroads.

    Again on Horde side, in Undercity you collect some poison or other for a Forsaken Apothecary, who uses it on test subjects (and kills them). Highly immoral.

    There are other times in the game where the slaughter of unarmed men and women takes place without any thought whatsoever, simply because they are npcs and you need to kill them to progress; round them up and aoe them down (in TK and BT for instance).

    For players with a conscience, it can be a dilemma to carry out such quests/activites.

  18. Two follow-ons from this:

    1) You can buy a "prototype Needler" from the NPC at the top of the tower. It only has 2 charges, but can be used on the mob shackled in the tower irrespective of whether you need to do it or not.

    2) In Dragonblight, there's a quest where you "save" children by displacing them to the Kalu'ak culture for re-education. Either there's some very subtle social commentary going on on Blizzard's part, or their quest designers are wrong in the head.

    One has to wonder - if they were really making a comment on torture, why isn't there an option to refuse other than dropping the quest completely?

  19. Yeah, I've been bothered by a couple of the quest lines in WotLK myself, and I haven't even gotten out of the starting areas.

    I think what ended up bothering me most about the torture quest was that the Kirin Tor mage was adamant that torture was out of bounds for him, but he was all eager to let me do it for them (and had been devoting resources to creating the tool in the first place). Any idiot should be able to see there's no difference between me doing it and him encouraging me to do it. I actually tried using the prod on him in the middle of the torture, but it still attacked the prisoner, which was disappointing.

    In the Howling Fjord, there is a quest where you bring some Forsaken plague juice to a drunk gnome, who adds some stuff to it to make a vaccine, then tells you to test it out on a Vyrkul prisoner. I still haven't finished this quest, because it reminds me a lot of some quests you get as a low level Forsaken in Brill. Incidentally, it was those quests which turned me off from playing a Forsaken character altogether. Honestly, it's considered in bounds for a servant of the light to test out a concoction created by a drunk gnome on a totally subdued prisoner? What the hell. I don't know if it works or not, but what if it doesn't?

    Lastly, also in the Coldarra area, there's a quest where a formerly imprisoned red dragon asks you to help her get revenge on a captor and infuriate Malygos. I didn't find this one quite as objectionable, although I was uncomfortable sitting with this red dragon outside the Nexus, she's shouting at Malygos, and is sitting there roasting the corpse of his dead consort. I feel like all the NPCs in this game have gone nuts.

    I think all this stuff serves a purpose. It's making your character have to do a lot of questionable stuff on his way to destroy Arthas, paralleling his journey to becoming the Lich King. Presumably by the end of things you come to reject these methods and choose a different path than Arthas did, and that's great and all.

    But it's somewhat offputting to be compelled by game mechanics to do this stuff. In the torture example, I of course want to get the information the prisoner has...but there's no way to even try to get it except to torture the guy. In the plague example, of course I want to know what the Forsaken are up to, and if we have found a vaccine for the plague...but I am also not given a chance to test it on anything but a helpless prisoner. I don't like being railroaded into darkness like this.

  20. As a Horde Paladin, I didn't really have a difficult time doing it. "Sorry Mr., but you have info that I need, and I will get it."

    In regards to the ease of the dungeons, I have to completely agree. Maybe it will be different in heroic, but I remember actually having to use CC. That seems like a thing of the past. "Hey Tank, go in and swing away, I will heal you". This is the same for group quests...often you are able to solo them. That is not a group quest.

  21. Fully agree with you. I was doing this quest on my rogue and it made me cringe a bit. And he's a murderous scumbag. Still having a aguy tied to a chair while I zap him seems worse than killing by cunning.

    For you pallies it really doesn't fit.

    ~Jason DPS Liberation Front

  22. While I agree with most comments this in the end is a game. You could completely follow your moral values and not do the quest (which may limit you from a dozen others and nice rewards) or you could write it into your characters history somehow.

    Alos about the dungeons I too agree but at the same token I think a lot of use had access to some nice gear which will not easily be replaced til high 70's/80 which 50% or more of players don't have so they may not find these so easy. I say we wait til higher dungeons and heroics/raids to pass judgement.

  23. I think what a lot us are forgetting is these are designed similarly to opening dungeons in BC. Remember some of us started playing after BC came out and we walked into Outland in mostly greens and replaced most of them very quickly with more greens adn some quest reward blues and then took on instances. They were a challenge for people new to 60 or lower.

    Now think back if you had been in 60 purples doing those instance how quickly you would have blown through them. Same thing now applies in Northrend.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Rather than crit your comment section with a wall of text, I piggybacked on your post here.

  26. (Also, you'd think mages would have a spell to force people to tell the truth. That seems like a very common spell in fantasy.)

    You forget that there's also penty of times where there's a spell to prevent the spells that make you speak. And considering that these folks are working for the Aspect of magic...

  27. @rildar "One has to wonder - if they were really making a comment on torture, why isn't there an option to refuse other than dropping the quest completely?"
    What other option do you want? You don't do what people ask you to do, they don't reward you. Would you rather there be an option to say something and instead of just getting nowhere, end up being considered hostile? Blizzard is actually quite generous for making quests completely optional, since there is never an actual loss from not completing a quest.

    While it might be cool to see effects from not doing quests, I'm worried what might happen with all those quests I skipped from the Forsaken. Or maybe that's what the cinematic was, them attempting to get revenge on me for all the quests I skipped while leveling.

  28. Well, questioning the moral of torture one could also question murder, war, deception, stealing and various other activities we are involved with in-game.

    Its a war-like envoironment, much more realitic (or moraly chalenging) than before. Yes, its a game. But still a game of conflicts. And to some extend conflicts within ourselves (as little poor Arthas started having some time ago). Kinda like the question "Would you purge Stratholem if you were in Arthas' place?"

  29. While I completely understand the distaste this quest can cause (it made me feel weird too), I gotta say I am okay with it for two reasons:

    1.) From an RP standpoint, my character exists entirely in my head so what she does and does not do in game, does not effect what she does and does not do in her "lore" that I have in my head. Just as wiping on Curator fiftybillion times the first time I was doing Karazhan isn't part of her backstory, quests in the game don't have to be either =P

    2.) I was really getting the feeling that the entire purpose of the quest was to get you to think. Blizzard wants you to think about the fact that you are holding good and evil in your hands (as is evidenced by the fact that if you keep torturing the guy after the quest, he tells you stuff like "You have a darkness in you"... seems deliberate to me). Blizz has often said that they wanted to make a world where good and evil are very real forces that you have to deal with. By forcing you to do this quest you are forced to think about it and in that level they have very much succeeded.

    It's sort of like reading those crazy weird books you had to read in literature classes-- a lot of them make you feel uncomfortable, but that's part of why they're "classics" eh? Because they make you think. =P

  30. It's a game.

    For everyone who is complaining about the nature of the quest, we had a choice to decline it - but we decided that the rewards outweighed our distaste.

    On one hand, we each decided that torturing a defenseless NPC was worth that quest reward, 4 gold, 20k experience, and the chance to run an instance later.

    On the other hand, not every decision we make in a game translates directly to RL... which is why most of us aren't running around immitating any of the GTA characters...because we're secure in our sense of self and we can distinguish reality from make-believe.

    Blizz didn't make the quest a prerequisite for end-game...just a 5-man along the way. Skipping Nexus would have been a bit like skipping RFK...a small price to pay for our peace of mind. And yet, here we are...

    I'm just sayin'. If it was that important to us, we would have made different choices.

  31. I have prot pally, and I did this quest last night and felt a little weird doing it. I understand that I have killed a whole bunch of stuff to get to this point and get dyed red when i kill an animal, but this was odd - i did it by looking anywhere else but the screen and spamming the quest item.

  32. I felt bad doing this quest, too. I also felt uber guilty killing mobs in the DK line that BEGGED for their lives. Something dark and twisted about that. I just keep trying to tell myself it's just a video game...

  33. If you think that's bad try doing the quest where you kill the prisoners in new hearthglen where they thought you came to save them =P. There are tons of quest out there like these.

    It's just a game and regarding RP wise hey my toon is not perfect I had to do some crazy shit while leveling you know? There's a war going on and my toon has to do his part.

    Kill 20 boars? You got it

    Torture for info? you bet

    Kill rhinos for leveling cooking? I'm on it!

    Bring the head of X dude for peace and justice? I'll wrap it up for you!

  34. The Kirin Tor quest differs from the DK newbie quest in a number of ways:

    1) The Kirin Tor mage KNOWS it's wrong. If you read the Scourge books in the DK newbie zone (and you ought to: they're fantastic), you'll see that Kel'Thuzad and other intelligent members of the Scourge actually have a whole alien code of behavior and that things like torture of the living fits into it just fine.

    2) The DK newbie quest has torture -- sort of. You're actually just fighting Scarlet Crusade soldiers with specialized weapons. The Kirin Tor mage wants you to torture a bound and helpless captive. If anything, the DKs are more on the side of the angels (well, Naaru) here.

    3) This quest leads directly to the Nexus quests (which is why my wife and I were taking a break from leveling in the Fjord to do it) and there, one of the ways we see that Malygos has lost his way is that he kidnaps, brainwashes and rapes a female member of another dragonflight. But torture is apparently OK with at least one quest designer at Blizzard. Very odd.

    Incidentally, the daily Kalu'ak quest to rescue the wolvar pups is actually pretty beneficent. Those pups will die in the coming war between the two people, and the tribal elders don't mind that happening. The quest giver explicitly says he doesn't want the children to die, nor for the enemy tribe to be wiped out. It's a humanitarian quest, and about as guilt-free as the daily quest to help sea lions breed. (What a game!)

    Finally, the poisoning the Vrykul quest is pretty explicitly meant to mirror the Brill poison the dwarf quest, since it's reintroducing the New Plague storyline to the Alliance. And if you haven't done it, the reaction from the NPCs nearby when it happens differs dramatically from how the NPCs in Brill feel about what happens to the dwarf prisoner.

    There's obviously a diversity of quest designers at Blizzard, and only one or two of them watch a whole lot of "24" and have some strange hang-ups with poop.

  35. Not only do I fully agree with you, but in the beta I wrote long paragraphs of feedback on why this quest didn't work - we really weren't given motivation to go to the extreme of torture in this quest chain. There was no building of player loyalty to the Kirin, and no really good argument that torture was the only way to resolve that situation. I too did not buy the fact that these powerful mages suddenly needed someone else to "get their hands dirty." When I did the quest I actually tried to attack the mage questgiver - but it didn't work.

    As beta tester I wrote again during other quests in the chain: "Still annoyed with previous torture quest, not seeing that my actions were for a worthy cause, beginning to distrust the Kirin."

    While I have no problems fighting and killing mages - I have a huge problem zapping someone tied to a chair who can't fight back. Not only is it an unfair advantage - it's not what I consider a game. If the player was put in the same situation - tied down and then killed - I don't think many people would find that particularly "fun" either.

    I also gave feedback in beta about the Death Knight quests that I disliked the parts where I had to kill cowering civilians and torture people - but then I suddenly "turn good" at the end simply because I'm following the leader/npc. But that did seem to work somewhat for my character.

    Finding this torture quest so soon after playing a DK really made me feel that Blizz had gotten a bit lazy and just threw the torture part in to spice things up a bit, and make it seem "edgy." Instead it feels wrong, and poorly written.

  36. The torture victim is at war with the Kirin Tor. Both the Kirin Tor and the Mage Hunters have decided to resort to violence to further their ends.

    In particular, the Mage Hunters had kidnapped a member of the Kirin Tor.

    In my opinion, torture is a perfectly acceptable method of intelligence gathering in dire situations (kidnapping, terrorism, etc); one which the Kirin Tor shouldn't have prohibited in the first place.

    Your character has to decide what to do, which path to follow. They don't have to do the quest, yet if they do complete the quest they are participating in the fight against Malygos, who, if he had his way, would destroy all magic users and potential magic users (which is pretty much every one in the World of Warcraft).

    Under these circumstances, mass genocide of everyone, I would expect torture to be a given.

  37. What pissed me off about this quest is that it feeds into the whole myth that torture is an effective, if immoral, tool for gathering intelligence. It's a classic symptom of know-nothingism, the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant gratification answers to all questions.

    As Professor Darius Rejali documented in the book Torture and Democracy, torture doesn't work. It is a completely ineffective method of gathering intelligence. The KGB, probably the most effective intelligence-gathering operation in history, knew that torture was good for breaking people and obtaining confessions, but NOT for gathering solid actionable intelligence.

  38. I agree with Russel in that torture is an ineffective means of gathering information.

    Not surprising from Blizzard since as a whole they really have no clue about what makes people tick.

    The one thing that I keep coming back to in WOW is how weak the storyline is and how little it has to do with game play. The idea of good and evil is pretty blurry throughout the game.

    One funny quote is when my Horde Toon gets to Northrend and the Royal Apothecary NPC there makes some statement about how they are the Royal Apothecary Society and that they don't give belly-aches...kinda inconsistent in that they had no problem wanting me to poison a cat in Felwood. I didn't do that quest either.

    Experience and items are fairly easy to come by in WotLK, bypassing some lame quest won't nerf your toon.

  39. The Apothecaries are in Northrend to wage war with bioweapons, not to cause belly-aches. The NPC even says so. That's completely consistent with the Apothecary quests in Azeroth, where they're turning cuddly dogs and kittens into ferocious beasts and testing bioweapons on prisoners of war.