The first time that I heard about the unofficial “Hardcore Classic” scene for WoW Classic, I didn’t get it. The idea of voluntary permadeath play seemed so at odds with how MMORPGs are designed and the immense amount of time that you sink into a character. It took a whole lot of effusive praise by friends for this system that got me to take a peek, and after that, I was hooked.
In all of Blizzard’s handling — and mishandling — of WoW Classic to date, jumping on board with hardcore servers last month may be one of its wisest calls. Adopting this wildly popular format and giving it official support gave new life to this aging format and provided viable reasons why players should return to vanilla once more. In today’s Casually Classic column, I’m going to argue six reasons from experience why these hardcore servers are well worth your time — even if you lose it all in the process of play.
It’s made vanilla WoW Classic relevant again
Until the hardcore scene set up shop, the original, pre-Burning Crusade version of Classic was destined to be forgotten by design. Those who volunteered be left behind were a very niche subset content on consuming the same content over and over again. Even seasonal servers saw vanilla as a stepping stone rather than the destination.
Now with hardcore servers, this has changed. We’ve seen a population surge flow back into the pre-expansion version of this game with all of its painful polygons, awkward quest flow, and stingy drops. And all it took was a ruleset to revitalize what had been going dormant.
It makes you play strategically
The revelation I had after getting into hardcore is that it wasn’t just about making the game harder or more punishing; it’s that its very makeup forces you to play in a completely different way than how we normally engage with MMOs.
With this ultimate death penalty, players can’t afford to throw their corpses at obstacles or take great risks. Caution is exercised, certain places are avoided, grouping offers safety in numbers, and a trusty bank alt is really the only insurance that you have.
It offers memorable encounters and experiences
What you lose in security and permanence on a hardcore server, you more than make up with great stories. This ruleset is an incredible story generator, turning everyday encounters into nerve-wracking brushes with death and moments of high triumph.
I find that when I’m playing hardcore, I tend to walk away from gaming sessions with more to share about it than I do on a typical MMO. And the fact that this is true even though I’m stomping through lands that I’ve visited hundreds of times in the past two decades amazes me.
It makes loot and progression all that much more meaningful
When loot and gear is transformed from a mere stat boost to a literal lifeline for what could make the difference between survival and death, then every drop has the potential to change your current hardcore run. I love how much the stuff in your inventory ends up mattering in this game mode, even if it’s just vendor trash that gives me more coin for the next much-needed skill purchase.
Along with this, progression is more than a level number. Getting those bumps in power and those precious talent points are also a bulwark between you and the Grim Reaper. This is a leveling journey — a particularly brutal one — in which every step forward has weight.
It’s actually fairly laid back
As paradoxical as it may be to consider, hardcore servers offer some of the most laid-back MMO leveling you’ll ever experience. There are moments of high terror and frantic decision-making, but I’d say that this is only 3% of the time. Maybe less. The rest is filled with questing and grinding in the safest possible areas as the ruleset encourages players to hunker down and farm mobs for loot and XP instead of going on risky ventures.
There’s a simple, fulfilling joy to getting into a zone of grinding while seeing XP bars raise, inventories swell, coffers fill up, and skills increase. It’s the very type of gaming that the industry ditched a long time ago with the mistaken assumption that it wasn’t compelling.
It gives everyone a conversational centerpiece
Do you hate being in guilds where nobody ever talks? Then join a hardcore server and get ready for nonstop chatter, because people there love talking. This is down to two factors: The slow pace of leveling allows for a lot of time to talk, and everyone wants to be talking about the same thing.
Hardcore’s very setup plops down this conversational centerpiece that the community can’t get enough of discussing. My guildies are forever swapping stories, sharing strategies, and engaging in “I’m so glad that wasn’t me” rubbernecking commentary on others who bite the bullet. The great drama of this server generates a whole lot of talk, and I’m happy to partake in that.