Why “Hardcore” World of Warcraft Makes the MMO Interesting Again

WoW Classic's Hardcore update is the best reason to be excited about the MMO in quite some time.

World of Warcraft
Photo: Blizzard

Today, Blizzard announced that “Hardcore” realms are coming to the Classic WoW PTR servers starting on June 29. Though this is a big update for Classic WoW (a game that needs some good news), Hardcore WoW has actually been an unofficial part of the Classic WoW experience for quite some time. During that time, many lapsed WoW fans have discovered that Hardcore offers a legitimate reason to feel excited about diving into Azeroth once more.

The rules of Hardcore WoW are simple. You create a Classic WoW character, you complete quests, you level up, and you participate in all of the other usual Classic WoW content. However, when your character dies once, they are dead forever. It’s basically the World of Warcraft equivalent of Diablo‘s own hardcore mode.

As noted above, players have been participating in unofficial Hardcore WoW runs for quite some time. That is to say that they simply create a Classic WoW character and delete that character when they die. Some mods and websites have helped participants keep track of the adopted game mode, but it’s all been off the books until this point.

However, the official version of the concept will include a few ideas not seen in the homemade versions of that mode. Most notably, Hardcore Classic WoW realms will allow your character to exist as a ghost after they die. You can’t keep playing the game as a ghost, but you can perform “housekeeping” tasks like transferring guild leadership to another player. Those realms will also disable certain class abilities that allow players to resurrect themselves and others, as well as Battlegrounds PvP modes. However, anyone bold enough can challenge another Hardcore player to a duel to the (perma)death. The game will even keep track of how many duels a Hardcore player has won.

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Most importantly, Hardcore WoW‘s realms will only contain Hardcore players. Everyone on those servers will be trying to stay alive as long as possible under permadeath rules. While there will undoubtedly be trolls (though the realms feature a few restrictions that prevent the most obvious ways to get other players killed), that feature gives Hardcore WoW something it hasn’t had before: a formal in-game community. For the first time, Hardcore WoW participants will be able to share an official server with others who are playing the game roughly the same way they are.

That’s what makes this update so significant. After all, at its best, Classic WoW features two things that modern WoW does not: a significant leveling process and an organic need for cooperation and communities.

Unlike retail WoW, hitting the max level in Classic WoW is a long and often difficult process. Typically, you expect to die many, many times during that process. Some classes are better suited for leveling than others, but making mistakes is a big part of the experience.

Some find that kind of leveling system in an MMO to be about as fun as pulling out their own teeth. Constantly dying while your character slowly becomes powerful enough to properly defend themselves isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time. That’s a big part of the reason why the whole leveling process was eventually streamlined in future expansions.

However, some (myself included) found that Classic WoW‘s leveling process was actually a big part of the reason why the game felt so fresh. The “joke” about WoW is that you don’t get to finally start playing the game until you’re around 100 hours into it, but every step of the Classic WoW leveling experience felt like an adventure. That feeling is closely related to the very real fear that you can die to so many things in the world at pretty much any time.

That’s where the community comes in. Classic WoW emphasizes forming bonds and alliances with other players in ways that modern WoW (and many other modern games) do not. Strangely, that’s partially because the game lacks automated group-finding tools. Without such features, you’re forced to reach out to other players through more socially-driven channels. More importantly, you’re often forced to team up with new players out of simple necessity. After all, Classic‘s Raids may not be as challenging as modern WoW‘s endgame content, but even “basic” leveling challenges are often much easier to overcome with a group.

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That’s also what makes Hardcore WoW special. At its core, that concept taps into the things that still make the Classic WoW experience unique and worthwhile. Leveling in Classic WoW is a challenging endeavor, and Hardcore only enhances the considerable thrills and dangers that come with that task. Teaming up in Classic is an often necessary process that Hardcore turns into a gamble. Yes, other players can help you survive difficult encounters, but they can just as easily make a mistake that leads to both of your permanent deaths. How far are you willing to push it? How many people will risk running raids or even high-level dungeons? How long can you survive in a game where death is almost inevitable? How does the joy of surviving compare to the thrill of risking it all and coming out the other side?

The Classic WoW experiment has failed a few too many times so far given the potential and early success of that long-awaited concept. Yet, in Hardcore WoW, there is a reason for at least some of Classic‘s most dedicated fans to finally feel excited again. It’s a mode that understands and expands upon some of the best reasons why you would bother to play a nearly 20-year-old MMO in the first place. It’s also the rare WoW update in recent years that capitalizes on something that makes people interested in the game again while the excitement around that concept remains high.