Official Hardcore Launch Night on Stitches - EU

So as I've said many times by now, I'm not really interested in playing hardcore personally, but I'm interested in the new hardcore servers as a concept and community event, because in an MMO where you're no longer getting new content, the ebb and flow of the community is what shapes the game's narrative.

With that in mind, I was looking forward to checking out the hardcore server launch last night. I thought that the go-live time was midnight in my time zone, but I was apparently off by an hour... which meant that I arrived to the party an hour late. This probably wasn't entirely a bad thing as it meant that I only faced a queue of six minutes when I tried to get into the Stitches server around midnight my time. Both it and Nek'rosh were showing as full.

On character creation, I found it a bit annoying that you have to agree to a pop-up that explains what hardcore is (and most importantly, that there are no appeals if you die) - or rather, that this pop-up appears before the server has confirmed that your chosen name is actually available. So I had to hit "agree" half a dozen times just to be presented with a "name not available" error each time. However, eventually I found something that was available and off I went.

I created a human mage and unsurprisingly, Northshire was absolutely packed. There were so many new characters spawning in at the same time that the name over my head disappeared in a giant purple blob. Even an hour in, the area was heaving, to the point that I found it impossible to kill anything. Someone commented in general chat that at least this way, they were in no danger of dying, though I found a human corpse in the hills anyway - pretty impressive to die in an area with nothing but neutral mobs.

I ran around for five minutes, having a look around and trying to tag a kobold or wolf here and there, but I simply stood no chance. In the precious seconds my mage needed to wind up a fireball, one or more melee characters would've already tagged anything I tried to attack.

I decided to log off and have a look at how things were going Horde side. I opted for the undead starting zone there, and made a warrior in order to have a better shot at tagging mobs. Things were still very busy there as well, though slightly less so I think, and being a melee character definitely helped a lot with getting the first hit in. Often "my" mob would be hit by someone else's spell a mere second after and I thought, "yep, been there, done that". I made it about halfway through the first quest before I started to question my life choices (why was I fighting people for mobs like this on a server I had no plans to stay on anyway) and decided to log off again.

For a change of pace I logged into my low-level hunter on Hydraxian Waterlords, the RP server that had previously been designated as the unofficial hardcore server. My census addon only saw a total of 30 characters online on Alliance side, though that's still more than there used to be before this whole hardcore thing took off. We'll see whether anyone decides to stay or whether the place will go back to being completely abandoned in short order, now that the hardcore players have an official home. As for me personally, I enjoyed the peace and actually did a quest on my character there before calling it a night.

The next morning I decided to have another look at the situation on Stitches. I got in without a queue and was pleasantly surprised that the human starter zone was actually playable. It was still very busy of course, but no longer in a "ten players for every mob spawn point" kind of way. When I got to the quests to kill the Defias in the vineyards, it definitely felt different knowing that an accidental overpull could kill my character for good. I thought it was very noticeable that everyone around me moved much more carefully and deliberately - none of the reckless "just barrelling through to get to my quest objective" that you sometimes see on regular servers.

General chat also continued to be relatively entertaining, with conversations such as how people thought that finding a certain colour of bag first was a sign of good or bad luck. One level one chimed in to say that their last character hadn't even made it to level ten before dying to murlocs. My own mage made it to Goldshire before I decided to log off again.

When I checked back once more later in the afternoon, there was a 40-minute queue. When I checked again in the evening, queue times had increased to two hours. Needless to say, my curiosity wasn't strong enough to warrant waiting in line for that long. We'll see what the new mode's staying power is like. On the unofficial servers people seemed to be happy to re-roll endlessly for months so I expect sustained interest here as well, but I'll be very surprised if we still have queues in a week or two.

Other people writing about the launch:


Hardcore Patchocalypse

It's a well-known truism that patch day in any MMO means chaos. New features are exciting of course, but something random is always bugged and becomes the worst problem ever for a few days, just to promptly be forgotten almost instantly the moment the issue is fixed.

Classic era should be devoid of such issues, seeing how it's a static game that doesn't receive content updates - however, as I mentioned previously, technical adjustments still need to happen sometimes and can introduce new bugs. Today's patch not only pushed the changes to the PvP ranking system live, it also laid the groundwork for tomorrow's launch of the official hardcore servers... and played havoc with era in general in the process.

Nothing was really completely broken, but there were a dozen different things going on that confused people, probably more than usual since everyone's used to things not changing on era. Chatting and grouping with people on the same cluster suddenly posed challenges, casters using wands would find their character starting to smack mobs with their useless melee weapon if the enemy got too close, and spell ranks had seemingly disappeared from the spell book (though they could be made to reappear via a Wrath-style tickbox). Talents were reset for no reason, and the talent window suddenly acquired a dungeon finder-style role icon. The general settings menu was updated to match that in Dragonflight, which looks bewilderingly different... though the thing that really bothers me personally is that the little check boxes are done in a different style than the Vanilla ones. Where's that striving for authenticity now...

Anyway, nothing's completely unplayable, and most problems seemed to be down to people's addons breaking, which is not unusual for major patches - but again, kind of unexpected for era players. Era also doesn't receive as much community support as other versions of the game, so some of those broken addons might stay outdated for a while. We shall soldier on.

As a somewhat tangential fun fact, the names of the hardcore servers going live tomorrow were revealed yesterday. There are going to be two per region, because apparently Blizzard hasn't learned anything from Wrath Classic's mono-faction servers, but oh well. Either way, what I really wanted to comment on were their names, which I thought were pretty brilliantly chosen to be honest: in North America, players will be playing on "Defias Pillager" and "Skull Rock", while Europeans will get to choose between "Nek'rosh" and "Stitches".

Defias Pillagers of course are notorious for being the most deadly low-level mob in Vanilla. Back in the day, the official Warcraft site had a "leaderboard" that showed how many people had died to different kinds of mobs, and the Defias Pillager, a low-level caster mob from Westfall that shoots disproportionally powerful fireballs for its level, was very high up on the list, right up there among raid bosses that were wiping raid groups forty people at a time. I expect the good old pillagers will claim the lives of many hardcore players as well, and that this will become the North-American Alliance server.

Skull Rock on the other hand is a cave in northern Durotar that is known to be a death trap for low-level Hordies, due to housing a mix of hard-hitting melee mobs and warlock-type enemies with pets, at a level when most classes don't really have the tools to deal with multi-mob pulls very well. I wrote about my own struggles with getting the Voidwalker quest for orc warlocks done in there in this post. I'm guessing many hardcore Hordies will meet their doom there as well, and that this server might end up being more favoured by the Horde.

Nek'rosh is an orc elite boss in the Wetlands and I guess has surprised many a unsuspecting Alliance player who found themselves sent on a mission to kill a level 32 elite when the previous quest in the chain had them kill regular orcs in the mid-twenties. But that's Vanilla for you! I'm not sure he'll get to kill that many people on hardcore since I don't think many who'll get that far will go into this chain unprepared, so I guess this name is a little less exciting than the others. I'd initially thought it was better than it was since I got my orc names mixed up and mistook him for one of the nasty named warlocks in Durotar.

Finally, Stitches is of course the high-level elite flesh golem that wanders the roads of Darkshire whenever someone completes the necromancer quest chain. While his body count probably isn't as high as that of other mobs, unexpectedly seeing this hideous giant lumber your way surely gave many an Alliance lowbie their first life-or-death scare after they innocently expected to be safe on the road. Another very worthy name for a server that's going to be all about dying at low levels.

We'll see what mayhem ensues tomorrow.


The Returning Player's Plight

It's strange to think that Classic turns four in less than a month, and even stranger to think that I've also been playing retail again (if casually) for almost three years now. I originally started playing WoW in October 2016 - add three years to that and you're about halfway through Wrath of the Lich King. By that point, the game had had a huge impact on me but was also changing a lot already.

Things are certainly very different now, as the last three years of dabbling in retail haven't felt like a big deal at all. What's also interesting to me is that I still struggle to feel properly at home there, even after three years of refamiliarising myself with it. My returning-to-retail journey has been a long and slow one, from the initial desire to just have a quick look at some new stuff and being confused by everything, to falling into a routine playing with my husband with only moderate enthusiasm for the game itself, to slowly starting to work on some goals of my own. However, even now, with me logging in quite regularly to do my own thing without the husband, just for fun, I remain somewhat detached. Even after three years, I still feel like a "returning" player, perpetually confused by the fact that things aren't the way I remember them.

This probably isn't a problem for the average person, but for me those early years in WoW really made a huge impression on me and shaped my ideas of how a lot of things "should" work. This is very apparent when it comes to classes for example. I don't think it's a coincidence that the classes I've played the most since picking up retail again are monk, demon hunter and evoker - all three of which didn't exist yet when I last played WoW in the past. (Okay, monks technically existed during my stint with Mists of Pandaria, but I never played one so I still knew nothing about them.)

It's much easier for me to accept the way a class works nowadays when I've never known it any other way. With pretty much every other class, there's always that feeling of things being slightly off, as I find myself looking for abilities that are no longer there, keep forgetting to use (to me) new abilities and just generally get confused by things not working as I remember them. It's honestly been surprising to me just how strongly some of those ancient memories are influencing my perceptions, even on classes I barely even played back in the day, such as warrior or warlock.

The world of Azeroth has also changed in a lot of ways that makes it confusing to navigate sometimes. This post from 2020 mentions a lot of them, and while I've gotten a little better at finding my way around, it's still an issue for me three years later. On the day I drafted this I was playing a Horde alt for example and found myself wondering where to find the portal room in Orgrimmar. Can you ask a guard where it is? Nope. I tried to instead ask for directions to a place which I knew would require a portal to get to, which did prompt them to mention its existence, but still with no map marker or directions. As it turns out, I had to ask for one specific location that is accessed via the portal room and that then also prompts the guard to tell you where it is.

Or there's that whole zone phasing thing. I appreciate that Blizzard didn't want to do another Cata and just remove old zones whenever they made major changes to them, which is why they introduced the "bronze dragon phases you between different versions of the zone" mechanic, but it's still sooo opaque. I remember flying to Uldum during the Fire Festival on a level 49 alt, clicking on one of the bonfires, levelling up, and having the zone phase around me, with the fires suddenly disappearing before I could click on the second one. I thought I was lagging out at first! It took several relogs and some googling for me to figure out what was going on, that the game had decided to automatically switch me from Cataclysm Uldum to BfA Uldum the moment I dinged, and that the bonfires only existed in one version but not the other.

It's these kinds of things that make me feel tired and estranged from the game. These aren't fun little secrets to uncover, just messy systems that really make you feel confused about what's going on.

The reason I've been thinking about the "returning player experience" recently is that Blizzard added a "welcome back gift" in the latest patch that can be applied to any character of level 60 or lower that hasn't been logged in for at least 60 days. This is independent of your subscription status, so it also showed up for a bunch of my old alts.

If you do pick the "gear upgrade" option, the character is auto-equipped with a level-appropriate set of gear, four 22-slot bags, and teleported to their capital city. Unless you were in BfA or Shadowlands, you also get the option to fully wipe your quest log. Any old gear, old bags, and anything you had in your inventory appear in your mailbox instead.

I tried this on some old alts just to see what it's like and... I can see it being useful. It's not been that much of an issue for me in WoW personally, but as a general rule, a cluttered inventory can indeed be off-putting when returning to an MMO you haven't played in a long time. I don't like the quest-clearing myself since I do like the way my log helps me remember where I last left off however many years ago, but it's fine since that step is optional.

The free gear is an interesting workaround to deal with the broken level scaling and the way many returning characters will find themselves way too weak to fight anything (I've found out that this hasn't just been a problem for me) but I wonder if it's enough of a band-aid. To use a personal example again, I used the gear boost on a level 10 void elf mage that I had literally just created and never played. The starter gear with which she was originally spawned was replaced by much more powerful items, and as I ran around doing my first few quests, I was effectively one-shotting many mobs. However, as my level increased and I didn't get gear upgrades from quests equally as fast, I quickly started to feel weaker again, taking us back to the same old problem of the triad of levelling, gear acquisition and scaling being somewhat broken for players without heirlooms right now.

It's nice that they're trying to be more welcoming to returning players, but at the same time I feel like this is barely scratching the surface of the kinds of obstacles you're faced with if you skipped a few expansions.


Era News: SoM Gone, PvP Changes, Hardcore Launch

Time for a short post to mention a few things happening in and around era that don't really affect me much personally, but that I'd still like to make note of here as they are milestones of a sort.

Season of Mastery Gone

The temporary Season of Mastery officially ended in February, but while the servers were locked at that point, they still showed up in game as accessible and people could go and grab their old characters to make use of the free transfer option to move them to the regular Classic era servers. Blizzard said that this option would be available "for at least three months" but then didn't specify any further.

Until last week that is, when they suddenly gave short notice that the realms were about to disappear for good in a few days. If you had characters on those servers and didn't bother to save them until now, they're gone for good now, sorry.

Based on my experience with the shutdown of the Classic era cloning service before Wrath of the Lich King, I anticipate a constant trickle of people posting on the forums and on Discords from now on to complain that Blizzard deleted their characters "without notice", or to assert that surely nothing was really deleted and Blizzard just needs to stop hiding their characters already.

PvP Changes Going Live on August 23

Back in June I mentioned that the Classic devs had decided to overhaul the PvP system on era. These changes were eventually explained on the forums in full and tested on the PTR. They ended up changing more than I expected, but all the feedback I've heard from PvPers in my circles has been positive even so.

In a nutshell, Blizzard is getting rid of both the competitive aspect of the old system as well as rank decay. The former means that your progress is no longer measured against other players, but gaining rank is simply a static honour grind with fixed values. This gets rid of a lot of nonsense that people were doing in order to game the old system. From what I've heard, the new fixed honour requirements for each rank are lower and easier to attain if you were previously on a busy PvP server, but if you were on a chill PvE server where there wasn't that much competition, you might have to work a bit harder to get to max rank than you did before. This is kind of along the lines of what I expected.

What took me completely by surprise was the removal of rank decay. There will still be weekly honour decay, but you won't be able to go down in rank anymore unless you get dishonourable kills. This means that going up in rank still requires consistent play for at least a couple of weeks, but you can basically "take a break" between working on ranks without decay pushing you back to the very bottom of the ladder. This obviously takes away a lot of the "no-lifeing" requirements of the old PvP system and makes it much more accessible to a wider audience. I just wonder whether that'll mean that we'll eventually find ourselves surrounded by Grand Marshals and High Warlords everywhere.

Oh yeah, and like it says in the headline, a few days ago Blizzard announced that this change is meant to go live on August 23.

Hardcore Realms Coming on August 24

That very same news post also contained the announcement that the official hardcore realms are meant to launch a day later, on August 24. Honestly, I'm kind of looking forward to this one now, even if I'm not planning to play hardcore myself, simply because I expect it to be a big community event involving lots of drama. That should be fun to watch.