Now that World of Warcraft Classic’s Hardcore servers officially launched on Aug. 24, we spoke with Lead Software Engineer Ana Resendez and Associate Production Director Clay Stone to talk about the biggest changes and additional challenges this exciting new game mode brings.
Q: World of Warcraft Classic has been around for a while. What prompted you guys to make the time to bring hardcore now?
Resendez: “As you said, Classic, started its journey well before 2019. But then we released the first version of World Warcraft Classic, and it was a great experience to see, like all the players engaged in World Warcraft Classic and being able to relive a lot of their memories. When we first came out with World Warcraft Classic, we really wanted it to be about the original experience, like it was completely as close as it was in the original release World of Warcraft, players got to experience that we went through Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King just like the whole release of World of Warcraft Classic, But we left the servers open for people to continue to experience that environment where there are no expansions, it’s the original to 60, and the community started doing their own challenges there, right? We kind of got a nod to that in Season of Mastery, where players could get a buff and then it was kind of enough for you to not have died all the way from one to 60, you get to kill the different bosses, and then you get a special buff, right? So it was kind of a nod, but nothing really official. But after that, players in the community continued to play and try to explore that hardcore play style. Hardcore is not a new concept. You know, hardcore has existed in other games, including our partner teams on Diablo, it’s an official method. So we started to see the challenge, like really taking off from the community. And we decided it was the right time to officially support it, because we saw how people were engaging with it. The team also got to engage in the mode and had some experiences. And we thought, okay, this is the time, World of Warcraft Classic hardcore makes a lot of sense. It’s a lot about the journey, you know, of leveling up from one to sixty. So that’s what really brought us now to officially release hardcore servers.”
Stone: “The only thing I would add is as Ana noted, we started playing it ourselves. We saw the magic it brought to rediscover Azeroth, with fresh eyes and that focus on the level of the journey. So we looked at our available resources, we planned it, we came together as a team to figure out what rules we actually wanted to change, what other changes we wanted to make, and now is exactly the right time.”
Q: Something you touched on there was very interesting with you guys saying that you tested the hardcore experience yourself. Were there any great stories from you guys trying out this new mode and what tips would you give to new players trying it for the first time?
Resendez: “I mean, I know Clay has a really interesting story about him jumping into hardcore and then just being a little too careful. Clay, do you want to share?”
Stone: “Yes, I was leveling up as a human Paladin. I got to level six. I didn’t run back to the trainer to get divine protection, because I was cruising, get it? I did this dozens of times. And I got to the questline where I had to go get Bernice’s necklace. Went to Fargodeep Mine to take out Goldtooth the Kobold. There were so many players playing, this was when we were testing the official realms on the PTR, and my level six character took out the level eight Goldtooth character and I was still thinking oh, you know, this is no problem. It’s one on one, no big deal. And little did I know, but two level seven Kobolds spawned right behind me. I was suddenly surrounded. And I had that moment that I feel like a lot of hardcore players are going to have where you suddenly panic. You just think, No, wait a minute. Hey, this can’t be it. This can’t be happening. And I did another stupid thing that you’re not supposed to do, where I turned my back and I ran. So they immediately stunned me. And I thought, oh my gosh, this can’t be my first death. I’m going to have to tell this to the team. Like, this is not, this is not great. So yeah, back to your question about tips. There is no danger in overleveling. Like there’s just no danger in it. I would say avoid caves and mines. And Kobolds.”
Resendez: “They are the number one NPC with the most kills in PTR. So pay attention. Don’t take a candle. I will also say to help, like Clay said, go to your trainer, don’t skip things like that. But the number one tip I will say is pay attention. Something that really happens when you start playing hardcore is you become more aware of your surroundings, like Clay said, you know, like sometimes when you’re playing World Warcraft, and you’ve leveled up many times before, you just want to go into cruise mode. But when you play hardcore, you really have to be aware of all the conditions and everything around you. So when you hit that autorun button, pay attention.”
Q: There are reports of this update appealing to new and more aged players. Do you think people who have never tried WoW Classic or even World of Warcraft in general might give this a try?
Stone: “Yeah, Gosh, 1,000%, we’ve been so surprised by players who have played in the hardcore play style, the hardcore challenge in what we’ve called the unofficial realms. We have been so surprised by the number of new players who have literally never played World Warcraft before, who have come to the game just to try hardcore. I think that’s because it adds a unique twist to the gaming experience. Like Ana said, you’re much more aware of your surroundings, you tend to level slower, you pay more attention to your spells and skills. It’s such a social experience, especially at those low levels. I mean, you’ve started out in an experience where everyone is spinning their first character, or they’ve just died, and they’ve spun off a new character because you’re going again. And it makes for a very welcoming atmosphere. Everyone plays by the same hardcore rulesets alongside you. So yeah, I think we absolutely hope that new players who have never played World of Warcraft before or classically will give it a chance. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Resendez: “It’s a great opportunity for new players to get right in. And, as Clay said, there will always be people in the starting zone. So there will always be people who can help you. Or you can watch and see what they’re doing. And just because you have one life doesn’t necessarily mean your journey ends there. There are several options. One option is to transfer that character for free to the other servers that are vanilla. So you can keep those characters going in the other environment where you have infinite lives. And the second thing is also that you only have one life, but you have many characters, you can create as many characters as you want. So you can start one, learn from your mistakes and try again. And I think hardcore is a very good opportunity for new players. I know the stakes are high, but going through that environment again that you’re so used to through a different lens, it really feels very different than when you go into the journey in the modern game, for example, or even in Wrath of the Lich King, it’s a very different experience. So I would say yeah, like, I would say come try it, you know. You don’t have to be an experienced player, you’re going to start with basic skills, level one, everybody starts at the same place. So there’s no advantage of anyone else on the server. Everybody is going to start in the same place.”
Q: And for more experienced players what do you think are the main differences they will notice when jumping into a hardcore server?
Stone: “I think, because of the hardcore ruleset, where the, the fundamental rule is, death equals the end for that character. It forces even the most experienced players to be more careful, to pay more attention to the world and their surroundings, for sure. But you know, the team also did a great job of going beyond that. And implementing new features, like the duel to the death mak’gora, which is, you know, the opt-in challenge where one player can challenge another to a duel to the death and the loser loses his character. So there are fun spins on just the basic rule set that we put in. That makes it a different experience, even for the most experienced players.”
Resendez: “There are also new challenges. You know, it’s a completely different gameplay, especially when you go all the way to the maximum levels and you start raiding, the experience really, really changes. Because before in raids it’s very common for people to die, or including wiping off a bug, and all that kind of stuff. So it’s really going to change the way you approach the game, you’re going to have to be better prepared, even better prepared for those rates and counters really understand every mechanic. So you know how to avoid those deaths. It’s really a very different experience, even for the most experienced players. Because you actually have to be aware of it.”
Q: Do you think we might see some classes being chosen less? For example, the resurrection of the Shaman will not work and some Paladin skills have also changed.
Stone: “I mean, we don’t know where the meta is going, we’ve never accurately predicted that. We’ve seen that people want to give themselves the ultimate challenge by choosing to play as a warrior. Some players consider that the most difficult class. But as you pointed out with some of the class changes we made, such as removing Paladin’s ability to bubble fires. The goal there was to create a much more balanced playing field and avoid any wild class imbalance that we would otherwise see. And you know, what’s cool about it is that choosing the quote unquote, more difficult class to play as is, is its own challenge in itself, which some players want to take on. “
Resendez: “Definitely, I can see myself being all max-level and seeing certain classes wandering around – I’m going to be like ‘how did you do it?’ My respect, you know. I think more players will decide what kind of challenge you want to take on. There are certain classes that have more tools and skills to make leveling easier or skip mechanics, right? Like, even though you can’t bubble hearth, you can still bubble and potentially get yourself out of a dangerous situation, when there are other classes that don’t have those kinds of mechanics. So yeah, I’m already thinking: I usually play a Priest, but now I’m wondering “do I really want to play a Priest hardcore? I’m already talking to my friends and I’m thinking ‘yeah, I’m going to pick a mage, that sounds really fun.’ “
Q: From the rules of engagement, it’s clear that you guys have taken a lot of consideration when it comes to gameplay and limiting unfair deaths. How do you address this from a design perspective to minimize trolls and unfair deaths?
Resendez: “So step one was to look at research from the unofficial servers, to see what happened. And step two, really, is to understand what it is that we’re trying not for people to engage in? And the most obvious is PvP engagement. We want PvP to be 100% consensual, which is why first all servers that come out will be PvE. So you will not be flagged down in PvP battles, other players from the other faction cannot attack you. That won’t happen automatically unless you go to the main series, but then you know what you’re doing when you go to be the main cities of the opposing factions. But other than that, in the common areas and things like that, it will be completely optional on a switch. So that was definitely the first thing we looked at. We don’t want PvP to be something you were doing unless you tried it, we saw different things like, for example, people trying to take a flight route, and then someone was standing next to the NPC. And then they engage in combat when they didn’t want to. So we really, really looked at all those kinds of different scenarios. What happened? Do we know everything that could possibly put you in that situation? So we really looked at that. That said, we may have missed some, so I’m always open to the community to let us know if we missed a particular scenario or something else. But the whole idea is that PvP is something you want to engage in. And like we said before with the life and death duels, we really like PvP too, right? We don’t want to remove PvP from the game. But we wanted so badly to make it an option that if you want to leave your life aside and do the ultimate duel, that kind of challenge, then you can do that.”
Stone: “One of the other things we did was the ability to participate in battlefields. We went ahead and we removed that. There was a big discussion about this in the team and we like battlefields. But unfortunately it doesn’t make much sense to put battlefields in an environment where death equals deletion, when those battlefields are tuned to allow PvP death and resurrection. So what we realized is that being able to have people queue up for these battlefields would probably just encourage engagement and have people just sit in the back waiting for the battlefield to end and then collect the rewards and move on, so that’s one of the changes we made regarding player versus player combat as well. That said, players will be able to cue for war games and those will be opt-in for players who want to engage in that kind of combat. “
Q: Just now we’re talking about PvP, you can collect a chain of ears in these duels to the death. Do you guys want to talk about this and what you get out of it?
Resendez: “I mean, it’s just a cosmetic reward. We didn’t want it to be some kind of power-up or anything like that. We really want it to be more of a, ‘hey this person really knows what he’s doing’ thing. The whole logic behind it is that there are certain cultures in real life and beyond. In history, books and things like that. In fiction, where there have been things that show if someone has defeated a lot of enemies, you know, there are badges in real life, there are medals, there are all those things. So we were like, “okay, what kind of things can we do? So we looked again at our partner teams there with Diablo and I mean, if you kill a character in Diablo, you get to loot their ear. So it was a reference to, like, ‘okay, you go to, to beat this person, you get a character from it.’ It’s a cosmetic reward. But we really wanted it to mean something. And for that, we actually added certain restrictions. You only get it if you beat someone around the same level. And we don’t really start earning them until you’re level 19. Because I mean, we didn’t want people to go around level one and duel everybody. But I’m very excited to see the challenges. You know, I heard about certain challenges, like you get an ear every level and then duel every level to maintain your streak.”
Q: Do you think there will be a difficulty spike in PvE for players beyond the constant fear of losing your character?
Stone: “Yes, the difficulty? That’s a good question. Because [hardcore] forces you to play the game a little differently, you’re more aware of your surroundings, things like that. You think a little bit more about the areas you’re going into, the quest you’re on. I think the interesting point there is that it forces you to look at your whole tool set. And there may be skills that you wouldn’t normally use as much when you’re leveling up. That you would use now to get out of difficult areas. So there may be that extra difficulty because you’re trying not to put yourself in more dangerous situations, but you may find yourself using tools that you wouldn’t normally use to compensate. So again, it just goes back to how we started the conversation to play the game a little bit differently and look at that journey with fresh eyes.”
Resendez: “To be clear, we have not made any changes to the encounters we have. All the encounters are the same as the original ones. We will also go out with all the raids open. So there will be no timeline of when the different raids and encounters open. Everything will be open from the beginning. But yes, we haven’t changed anything about the encounters. So there is still the same difficulty in that sense. But as Clay said, yes, you have to be more aware of it. I mean, one thing we changed is that we removed the debuff and buff limit. So now, when you attack a boss and you’re in a raid, everybody can use all the DOTS because they won’t overwrite any of the other DOTS. We did that change, which we hope will help a little bit with encounters, but not a specific change at any level of difficulty. I know we have Season of Mastery where we made changes to how difficult encounters were, but this time we’re not making any of those changes.”
Q: As we’ve touched on a few times, Diablo IV had tremendous success with its hardcore mode, what do you think draws people to these game modes?
Resendez: “I mean, it’s a challenge, right? It’s also the reward of being able to show off to your friends. People know what it means to achieve this, especially when other people are participating in the challenge. If you see someone at level 60, and you’re a level 20 you, you know, what it took to get there. So I really think it’s that kind of commitment. That’s always been in video games, right? Do you find that kind of difficulty levels that you can choose in different games? World Warcraft doesn’t necessarily have that where you have to choose an easy mode or something like that. But in this case, it’s actually just a harder version of it. So it’s that appeal of mastering these leveling experiences with multiple lives with higher challenge. So I think that’s something that people really relate to. And you also become very fond of your character because you really take care of it. So I feel like that, at least from my perspective, is what throws people into hardcore.”
Stone: “There’s another thing that we think about, often when we think about a version of World of Warcraft, but it’s changed a little bit for hardcore. And that’s really the memories you create, when you’re playing. Either solo leveling, or playing with groups of other people. Usually many of your deaths are usually not that memorable in modern game, or standard classic, because it happens, you know, it can happen often. Hardcore brings these experiences when your character dies that are super memorable. I mean by Kobold my story. In any other character, if I messed up like that, I would think, ‘okay, I’m just going to walk back and resurrect,’ but because it was on hardcore, and because that character is now gone, I now have this memory of that experience that I will probably carry with me for the rest of my life. Again, that panic I can vividly remember that panic in that moment of what that felt like. But it was fun. It was just so much fun.”
Q: To wrap things up, aside from Classic Hardcore, we’re going to 20 years of World of Warcraft soon, what gets you excited about what you’re cooking up?
Stone: “So we’ve announced that we’re working on a new season. It’s Season of Mastery two, it’s something different. We wanted to make sure we delineated that World of Warcraft Classic Hardcore is not our next season. The team is working hard on that. We’re excited to talk about it. I would also say gosh, I should have led with this too. The team is still working hard on Wrath of the Lich King. Of course, there is Wrath of the Lich King Classic. Obviously, there is still a phase to go. We are eagerly looking forward to participating in the Icecrown Citadel raid with fellow players. And that was just a great experience to be able to work on as well, and the player base really seemed to enjoy it.”
Renendez: “Yes, and this is just about World of Warcraft Classic. Our partner team on World of Warcraft also has very big plans.”