Starting in mid-April, I joined my friend Doug Wreden in playing World of Warcraft: Classic hardcore.
For those who are unfamiliar, hardcore mode, also known as “perma-death,” is a modified way of playing a game that enforces various additional restrictions, the most iconic of which prohibits you from ever dying, consequenced by being forced to delete your character. WoW Classic doesn’t have an official hardcore mode, but there is a fan-made add-on that implements the functionality, which Doug and I used.
Here is our saga.
I joined World of Warcraft during Mists of Pandaria and never played Classic. I’m not really a fan of classic games in general—I appreciate the quality-of-life improvements that game developers add to modern-day games, so I usually don’t go out of my way to play older games unless they are particularly nostalgic. With that being said, Doug somehow convinced me to join him on a duo adventure of WoW Classic hardcore.
Doug really wanted to play Druid, which limited us to the Night Elf race. My first character was a Hunter named Parkzerect, a combination of “Parkzer” and “erect,” because this is hardcore.
We got to level 2, at which point, Doug got bored of the Night Elf leveling zone and proposed bum-rushing our way to the Human leveling area. I didn’t know what that meant, but I agreed; we set off on our journey and promptly died to a level 20+ Young Wetlands Crocolisk.
For our second attempt, I made a Hunter named Parkzerecter, a combination of “Parkzer” and “erecter,” because we were just getting started and I was even more ready than before. After six levels, I discovered that clearly was not the case, because I sort of just randomly forgot to keep track of my health bar and died to a Vicious Grell, ending our run.
I’m not great at World of Warcraft: Classic, but I play a ton of MMORPGs. I was pretty tilted at my method of death, which I found to be inexcusable due to how basic and easily-preventable it was. To express my frustration, I named my next character Parkzerblind.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. We were both insane. We tried the bum-rush strategy a second time and promptly died to another Young Wetlands Crocolisk.
… Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. We tried the bum-rush strategy a third time on my fourth character, a Hunter named Pogzer because of how Pog it was to die over and over again.
As you’d expect… we were NOT insane, because this time, we died to some sort of strange swamp beast and not a Crocolisk. Very Pog.
In the spirit of actually not being insane, Doug came up with a different strategy to make it to an alternative leveling zone on our fifth characters—we swam. I put Doug on follow and he piloted himself and my Rogue Dogpit for literally 50 minutes through the ocean.
Miraculously, this was a successful journey. I’m generally a Shadow Priest one-trick pony and I know basically nothing about any other class, so the Rouge leveling experience was novel. One of my favorite parts about Rogue was its instant-cast ability, which was very convenient for tagging quest mobs.
There was one situation where a lot of other players were standing in an orderly line waiting for a spawn, and when Doug and I arrived, we joined the line. The line soon degenerated into chaos after some inconsiderate people showed up and tried to cut in line. Hilariously, after I realized there was no point in being respectful anymore, I said aloud, “I guess there’s no line anymore” … and then promptly proceeded to catch, tag, and steal the next spawn of the quest monster, effectively saving us potentially upwards of 20 minutes of waiting, had everyone else decided to continue using the line system.
We successfully made it to level 10, upon which I did the Rogue class quest. While doing the class quest, I had to find a treasure map, so I walked up to the target holding the loot and started attacking it. Suddenly, four Defias Bodyguards spawned out of nowhere and started attacking me.
I shrieked out to Doug for assistance, and he healed me… rerouting monster enmity to himself. Tanking four level 10 monsters as a level 10 is never great news, and unsurprisingly, he died. After their successful assassination, the guards went back to targeting me, and I died as well, ending our run.
So what happened? Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to attack the monster that had the treasure map. Instead, I was supposed to use my Stealth to enter his house undetected and use my Pickpocket ability to steal the treasure map. My lack of game mechanic knowledge caused our deaths, which was disappointing.
As a side note, remember how, in our second attempt, I died because I wasn’t paying attention to my health? I fixed that by installing an add-on that lets me create custom alerts. Now, when I descend below 40% health, an airhorn blares and the words “YOU ARE LITERALLY TROLLING” and “RUN AWAY” appear and start bouncing on my screen (which you will see in the next screenshot). It has been incredibly useful.
Doug and I were both pretty bummed that we lost our run just because I didn’t know a particular game mechanic and the quest text wasn’t explicitly clear about what I was supposed to do, so we booted up our sixth attempt with Dogspit the Rogue.
We made it to level 11, one level higher than before… but we died when Doug jumped into a pit to attack a melee quest mob and ended up taking too much damage from two additional rangers. I didn’t see them hiding behind terrain, but Doug said he did notice them, though it didn’t occur to him that they would deal so much damage.
I further compounded the problem by not properly focus-firing the lowest-health target—I thought I had killed the melee enemy and started sprinting towards the ranged ones, but apparently, I either missed my attack or canceled my attack animation and the melee enemy survived with a sliver of health, giving it enough time to make Doug flinch during his heal cast time and die by a margin of milliseconds.
At this point, we wanted to give up and refused to give up at the same time.
Attempt seven was Drooid the Hunter, which we managed to bring to level 12 (yet again, another one level higher than before), but failed our run when Doug… uh… drowned to death.
Attempt eight was Driud the Hunter, and at this point, both of us were pretty frustrated and mildly tilted. This death was very similar to our second attempt when I randomly died to a Vicious Grell; Doug ended up getting greedy and pulled a quest mob with a slow respawn timer while he was already under attack by a monster, and through a combination of unlucky respawns of regular mobs and falling under attack by even more enemies, we died.
Out of sheer stubbornness, we kept trying. It was infuriating that we kept on dying right after finishing the introductory zone, and we really wanted to get to level 20 and clear at least one dungeon. I created Dogmilk the Hunter to adventure together with Doug’s Druid Dogcheese for our ninth attempt.
At this point, as you’d expect, the Night Elf leveling zone was very, very boring. Luckily, there was apparently a Peggle add-on for World of Warcraft: Classic, which I eagerly installed. Doug has played a lot of Peggle, but this was my first time trying it. I got instantly hooked and proceeded to clear (all the orange pegs) and full clear (all the orange and blue pegs) every single one of the 13 levels in two days.
Peggle made leveling from 1 to 10 much more bearable, but it also came with its own risks… I got so invested into Peggle that I almost got our run disqualified three times. The first was when I was too busy playing Peggle to notice that I had to pick up the Stormwind flight path, and a few hours later, Doug flew back to Stormwind while I was still stranded in the questing area (which is a problem, because both duo characters have to remain in the same zone and only have a 10-minute grace period). The second was when I was too busy playing Peggle to notice that Doug had logged out already to take a break for dinner (which is a problem, because both duo characters must be online together at all times in order for the duo run to be valid). The third was when I was too busy playing Peggle to notice that my ship had arrived back in town after Doug had finished his Druid-specific class quest, and I nearly kept riding the ship to the next destination.
I started actually having a lot of fun after we got past level 13 and realized we weren’t going to continue the “die after one more level” curse.
Doug and I also got much better at coordination, and we managed to survive multiple seemingly impossible situations, one of which involved being under attack by six enemies at the same time due to a combination of miscommunication, poor timing, bad respawn luck, and unexpectedly high aggro ranges.
After we got to the mid- to late teens in level, it felt like we actually had agency over our own lives, and if we played with good skill and synergy, we could survive sticky situations without feeling utterly helpless. I had a pet with Growl that I could use to juggle tanking aggro, we had multiple healing and buffing items to use at our disposal, and we had crowd control spells to slow or disable the enemies while we kited away.
So… we did it. We made it to level 20 and cleared both Deadmines and Wailing Cavern. I screen recorded our first dungeon to preserve the memory, and I live streamed our second dungeon on Twitch as my first stream in over 8 months.
Our Deadmines run went extremely smoothly because we had a highly competent and overqualified team, but our Wailing Cavern run was a lot more dicey, which made it far more interesting. I also enjoyed streaming again, and it was nice seeing and recognizing some old usernames from several years ago back when I used to stream more regularly, as well as a lot of new usernames from Doug’s community who joined in to watch.
Now that we finally achieved our goal, we’re both going to take a short break from obsessively grinding WoW Classic, but it’s definitely something we’re going to keep alive little-by-little over time to see just how far we can manage to take our characters.
Edit (May 28, 2023):
It hasn’t been too long since we cleared the dungeon, but unfortunately, our run has come to an end. We made it up to level 24, and while we were clearing some mobs in a(n apparently) dangerous area of Redridge Mountains, neither Doug nor I saw a patrolling group of enemies nearby. We were already engaged in combat with a few enemies, and by the time the patrolling group came into our field of vision, they had already aggroed onto Doug and beat him down pretty quickly, upon which I also fell shortly afterwards.
And with that, our World of Warcraft: Classic adventure comes to an end. We don’t want to try from scratch again anytime soon, but there are some rumors that an official version of hardcore mode may be coming to World of Warcraft: Classic, so if that happens, then we may make our return for attempt #10.