World of Warcraft’s test realms are a way for players to preview upcoming content, and some of that content recently caused an uproar among fans. An early draft of a quest in the upcoming Fractures in Time patch, which is planned to release on July 11, had players work to maintain the timeline. Unfortunately, that task required them to ensure the capture, torture, and exploitation of one of their closest allies. After fan outrage, Blizzard subsequently removed and updated this quest, replacing it with a quest where players help free this ally instead.
Wowhead tracks changes to the test realms, and they have the new quest text and dialogue available to read. The new content is written with a much more empathetic attitude, and shows how player reactions to test realm content can lead to much better iterations of in-game content.
World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer game, and every player is the protagonist of their own story. The supporting cast is made up of the most powerful heroes and dastardly villains in the cosmos, and this presents an obvious narrative difficulty. The player can be an undead rogue called Ganklordx, or a noble night elf role-player, but either way will be in the regular habit of killing gods and rolling with a stable of mortal legends. Blizzard has to come up with antagonists worth fighting, spinning dastardly plans with terrible consequences.
In Dragonflight, players head to the Dragon Isles, a mysterious, long-lost continent that’s home to the noble dragons. The dragons are divided into five flights (hence the expansion name) each led by an Aspect. Alexstrasza is the Aspect of the Red Dragonflight, the Dragonqueen, and one of the oldest characters in the franchise. She’s the poster girl of Dragonflight, a magnificent and powerful creature — and a rape survivor. And Blizzard has struggled to handle the narrative weight of her story over the decades.
Blizzard launched a Public Test Realm (PTR) for the Fractures of Time update in May, and one quest in particular didn’t fit. Chromie, a fan-favorite Bronze dragon with time-travel powers, teams up with the player to stop the nefarious Infinite Dragonflight from changing the timeline and creating a new future. This is pretty common — we’ve gone back in time to aid the Bronze Dragonflight before, and aided tons of villains in the process.
This quest is different from previous time travel capers, though, because it deals with Alexstrasza’s backstory. The player needs to make sure the Dragonmaw Clan doesn’t misplace the Demon Soul, a powerful artifact later used to defeat big bad dragon Deathwing. The Demon Soul was used by the Dragonmaw Clan to bind Alexstrasza to their will, pressure her consorts to impregnate her, and use her Dragonflight as war mounts. This is, needless to say, much darker than most content in the Warcraft franchise. Blizzard has touched on this plot point since in a novel and a Dragonflight quest, so it’s still canon, and a part of her character.
In the first iteration of this quest made available to players for testing, Alexstrasza learns about the player’s actions, and she grinds her teeth and comments that it had to be done, but she certainly doesn’t like it. The quest is otherwise light-hearted, with Chromie cracking the occasional joke and treating the venture more like a sitcom plot than a serious story.
A player with the handle Englavian posted an extremely thoughtful thread about the quest on the game’s official forums. They wrote, “Very little is shown to the player in-game about the weight of what you just did. [...] She should speak in a way that conveys her love for mortals, her unending forgiveness, WITHOUT being apologetic or saying anything that can be interpreted as stating what happened to her was OK. She should give closure to the situation instead of storming off after gritting her teeth, and it should be written with all the merited emotional weight.”
Other fans criticized Blizzard, calling the content tone-deaf and exploitative, especially in light of lawsuits filed against the company alleging the developer fostered an environment of sexual harassment within its workforce.
Blizzard replied to the thread, sharing that the content would be changed. On June 16, a community manager replied to the thread with:
We have seen the comments in the community regarding some Chromie quests in Fractures of Time on the PTR and we understand your concerns. We’ve been iterating and discussing all of these quests internally, and we’re in the process of adjusting and removing quests. These changes will be available in an upcoming PTR build. Thank you for your feedback
This isn’t the first time Alexstrasza’s test realm content has been edited. After all, putting this content out there and changing it based on player feedback is part of the development process. As the Dragonflight story plays out and Alexstrasza takes center stage as a main character, she hasn’t always come across as benevolent and brilliant as she should. Players have previously criticized the character’s response to Sarkareth’s Dracthyr rebellion, which had Alexstrasza come across as a distant neoliberal who is focused on an unjust peace over violent revolution.
It’s an interesting contrast to previous expansion Shadowlands, where one of the common player complaints was that the game’s cover character, Bolvar Fordragon, barely showed up. His scant number of lines and slim presence adds up to a fraction of the screen time given to Alexstrasza, who has been a much more prominent “main character” driving the plot forward in Dragonflight. While the extra screen time helps, mistakes like this one can erode a player’s investment in the story.
Englavian’s original post concludes with the following: “My greatest fear from this situation will be that the feedback Blizzard receives, or interprets as what people want, is that they should not be touching on grim, dark, disgusting subjects ever again. This would be a horrible thing for them to commit to. What they should commit to is being able to treat each situation like this with the seriousness it deserves, giving closure to the player when they have to involve themselves in it, and remaining consistent to the values of the characters who have roles in it.”
Update (June 26): Blizzard has removed the original iteration of this quest from test realms, and replaced it with a version that focuses on freeing Alexstrasza from her captivity at the hands of the Dragonmaw, instead of ensuring that her torment continues. We’ve edited the article to reflect this.