Hardcore is a game mode that was introduced to the Diablo franchise in Diablo II and which has since become emblematic of the series. It's been enabled in other RPGs as well, but is still unheard of in most titles and MMOs.
Hardcore characters are identical to normal/regular ("Softcore") characters in every way but one; when a hardcore character dies, that's it. There is no resurrection, no restarting in town. They're mortal, and are gone forever when they die, along with all the equipment they were using (barring "loot" by friends), everything in their inventory/cube/stash, etc.
The game is identical when played Hardcore or Softcore; the monsters, items, skills, drop ratios, etc are all the same. The only change is the mortality of characters. To thrive at hardcore requires dedication and resilence, and successful hardcore players have a different mindset about the game.
Many players find Hardcore far more exciting than regular, "death is just a minor setback" Diablo II, but it's not for everyone. Most casual players don't try hardcore, at least not more than once, and people with a poor online connection, low game skill, or who don't react well to stress or high tension are not likely to take much enjoyment from it either.
- Hardcore is set to return in Diablo III. Read what little has so far been revealed about it in the D3 wiki.
In order to create a hardcore character, check the Hardcore box on the character creation screen.
Hardcore characters can never interact with softcore characters in any way. HC and SC chars can not join the same games, and the economies are kept entirely separate. There are separate ladders for HC and SC and, perhaps surprisingly, the top characters on the HC ladder are generally as high or higher level than SC chars, at least in the early rush to level 99. (This is partially because the experience penalty for dying at the highest levels is crippling enough to knock a softcore character out of the level 99 race, albeit not as permanently as it would a HC character.)
Hardcore characters' names appear in red on Battle.net, and they are eligible to appear on the Hardcore ladder. Other than the name, HC chars are identical to normal characters. They do not have special character graphics or different item graphics; just red names in the chat channels.
Dead hardcore characters are an interesting case, since they turn into ghosts. They remain in the character selection screen until deleted, but can not be played. If the dead character was created on one of the realms, that character can still be selected and used to log onto Battle.net, where they will appear as a ghost, just as in the character selection screen. They can not join or create games; just chat in the channels.
When your hardcore character dies (and it will happen, sooner or later) you will see their corpse lying there, just as you do from a normal character death. The difference is that there is no option to restart in town. Instead the screen prompt says, "You have died. Press ESC to continue. Your deeds of valor will be remembered."
Until you hit the ESC key, your character will remain lying there, and you can chat just as though you were still alive. Most players take the opportunity to blame lag, curse the B.net gods, or threaten the PK that killed them. If you were playing with a friend you allowed to loot, do not leave the game. Wait until they have cleaned off your corpse, since once you leave the game you die in, that's it for that character. They can never join or create a game again.
When you do hit ESC, you will find yourself back in the Battle.net chat channel, as a ghost. The character will remain on your character selection menu, and will still show up on the ladder, unless/until you delete them. Most realm players delete their ghosts, since the ghost is taking up a character slot on that account, or because they want to reuse the character's name. (Although some players instead create a new character of that class with the same name and a Roman Numerals after it, like they're naming a King or a Pope. Dianazon, Dianazon_II, Dianazon_III, etc, for instance.)
Just like other realm characters, hardcore ghosts will be removed from the realms after 90 days if you do not refresh them by logging on during that time.
There is one way to save the items your dead character had equipped (but not items in the stash, cube, or inventory). Hardcore characters can set other players in their party to "loot," which will enable those characters to pick the equipped items off of their corpse. This option must be selected before death, and there's no way to make other players return your items, but if you're playing with friends or you think the potential charity of strangers beats 100% certain item loss, it's worth a try.
The danger, of course, is that knowing they can pick clean your corpse might spur maleovelent thoughts in the minds of some players. They might be tempted to try to PK you, or to monster trap your portal or waypoint while you are in town, etc. Beware of scammers! Tricky players sometimes pretend to be on your side against a PK, when they're secretly in league with the PK. They will try to get you to fight, or ask you to help them fight, while actually planning to get you killed by the PK so they can then loot your corpse and steal your items.
Blizzard North created a disclaimer players must agree to if they are going to play Hardcore, and while it's painful reading after a death to lag or a disconnect, it's a useful reminder of the stakes hardcore players are taking on.
- Note: Blizzard Entertainment is in no way responsible for your Hardcore character. If you choose to create and play a Hardcore character, you do so at your own risk. Blizzard is not responsible for the death and loss of your hardcore characters for any reason including Internet lag, bugs, Acts of God, your little sister, or any other reason whatsoever. Consult the End User License Agreement for more details. Blizzard will not, and does not have the capability to restore any deceased Hardcore characters. Don't even ask. La-la-la-la-la, we can't hear you...
Hardcore characters get different titles when they defeat the game on each difficulty level.
Diablo II hardcore character titles:
- Normal Difficulty: Count, Countess
- Nightmare Difficulty: Duke, Duchess
- Hell Difficulty: King, Queen
Diablo II Expansion hardcore character titles:
- Normal Difficulty: Destroyer
- Nightmare Difficulty: Conqueror
- Hell Difficulty: Guardian
Playing Hardcore requires a different mindset and approach to the game. The monsters, items, skills, drop ratios, and everything else are just the same as always, but the penalty for death is absolute. Most Hardcore characters play a bit more cautiously, and this care is incorporated into the character build and equipment. Hardcore characters generally have many more hit points, worry more about their resistances, and have to sacrifice some killing power as a trade off.
Playing styles must be modified as well. Rushing madly into huge mobs is not a good idea, and although most HC players engage in dangerous activities such as herding the cows into mega-clumps on the Secret Cow Level, they must be aware that any small mistake, or a few seconds of lag, can (and will) end that character. Forever. There are old and bold hardcore characters, but there are far more ghosts created along the path than happy survivors in that eternal sunlight meadow.
Besides game tactics, it's unwise to play hardcore when your internet connection is laggy or prone to disconnecting, and even real life issues must be considered. Every hardcore player knows someone who has lost a character to something absurd; a power outage, distraction by a crying baby, a cat leaping into your lap just as you catch an Iron Maiden curse, a dog kicking out a power cord, etc.
Such fates go with the territory, and players who can't accept the inevitability of doom and defeat, and who don't find their successes enlivened by the specter of grim fate, are not ones who should play hardcore.
Muling and Redundancy
On a more practical level, hardcore players should mule items as soon as they can, and should try to build up a warchest of useful items.
The real success for a hardcore player is to get one character up to a high enough level that they can start to do successful item finding runs. The loot from those runs, even if it's just Nightmare Mephisto, will add up and be useful to distribute to lower level characters. Eventually hardcore players will accumulate equipment equivalent in quality to softcore characters, but it's generally a wise idea not to put too many eggs in the same basket. The wise hardcore player spreads around his best items, charms, runes, etc. It's not smart to risk losing all your best gear on one character.
Another useful technique is to maintain mules not only for high level gear, but for starting and mid-level equipment too. When playing hardcore you will wind up making a lot of new characters, and if you can stock the fresh meat with basic low level gear; some simple set and unique items to use early on, a decent weapon like Khalim's Will, low level charms to add elemental damage, something for life/mana leech, etc, it will really make a difference over the first 15-20 levels.
Dying by accident is the most aggravating way to go. Every hardcore player can tell stories about characters lost for the stupidest reasons, and laugh about them... eventually. Dropping a level 85 character since you didn't want to "waste" a full rejuvenation potion when you still had 75% of your hit points is a very painful way to learn, but when hardcore, it's wise to always keep your hit points as high as possible.
Even though most hardcore characters will never dip below 500, and will seldom be in danger, the one time disaster strikes, thanks to lag, a Might, Extra Strong, Extra Fast boss pack, several Stygian Dolls in a cluster, Iron Maiden from out of nowhere, or anything else, those extra few hundred, or even few dozen, hit points can make all the difference.
Hardcore characters usually have better equipment, top to bottom, than softcore characters. The top level items aren't as common, since they regularly vanish on dead characters, but while few softcore players bother to gamble much, or to make sure their character's equipment doesn't leave any glaring holes in their resistances, most hardcore players are more diligent. Taking some extra time to gamble and to get to 75% resistance, instead of just figuring 50% is good enough, is often the difference between a surprising close call, and a shocking death.
Hardcore players tend to be more meticulous and painstaking and precise, and if the prospect of adding up your total stats every time you find a new item, knowing where the break points are for your faster hit recovery, making sure that even your poison resistance is at a reasonable level, fills you with dread, then hardcore might not be for you.
The Hardcore Graveyard
While Diablo III is going to introduce the Halls of the Dead, an in-game UI feature that will display dead HC characters in an Armory style display, there was no such feature in Diablo II. As a result, dead HC characters took up one of the eight character slots on a Battle.net account unless/until they were deleted. This forced players to delete dead characters eventually to clear our space, which could be a sentimental moment for a player.
With no lasting memory on their own computer, players went to lengths to record their characters "deeds." Fansite Diabloii.net launched a Hardcore Graveyard in mid-2000, just weeks after the game's release. It presented screenshots plus captions that shared various useful details about the tragedy:
- Character Name, Class, Level, and Realm/SP:
- Location of Death:
- Cause of Death:
- Greatest Regret:
- Famous Last Words:
- What Could Have Prevented This Tragedy:
In the years since then, players have maintained other such graveyards.