A Beginner's Guide to Hardcore

This is a guide intended for beginner hardcore (HC) players, and for those thinking about adopting the HC play style. It is not intended for advanced players. I hope this guide may encourage more people to try HC.

There are some very minor story spoilers in this guide. Back out now, if that bothers you.

What’s the TLDR?

The guide covers these topics:
1. Why is a noob like me writing this guide?
2. What is HC?
3. Is HC better than softcore (SC)?
4. Is HC more fun than SC?
5. Am I going to die in HC?
6. OK, I am going to die. Will Blizzard ever resurrect my dead Hero?
7. How do I resurrect my Hero myself?
8. Why will I die?
9. How do I deal with death in HC?
10. A levelling approach that works for me
11. What level do I need to complete Normal difficulty?
12. What level do I need to start Nightmare difficulty?
13. What’s the best class?
14. What’s the best follower?
15. What’s the best build for class XXX?
16. Is it cheating to …
17. Should I do multiplayer (MP) in HC?
18. Some miscellaneous tips

1. Why is a noob like me writing this guide?

Yeah, seriously, I haven’t even completed Nightmare ... WTF do I know? Simple answer is that before I started HC I was looking for the kind of information I’ve set out below, so I’m thinking it might also be helpful for other newbies. The information is based on my own experience, and also on stuff gleaned from my own Internet searches.

2. What is HC?

You know what HC is, or you wouldn’t be here. You know that in SC Diablo you can resurrect at your last check point, whereas in HC you’re dead for good.

Here are some unique features of HC that may not be known to you:

(i) When you die, you lose all items on your dead Hero. That means everything that’s equipped or in the Hero’s inventory. It doesn’t include stuff in your stash.
(ii) When you die you lose all items on your followers, including items on followers at the camp. So if you have any camped follower with good equipment, you might want to put that equipment in your stash until you hire them.
(iii) All your HC Heroes share the same stash and gold, but they don’t share your SC heroes’ stash and gold.
(iv) All your HC Heroes share the benefit of the HC crafting training you’ve done – again, not shared with SC Heroes.
(v) The HC Auction House (AH) is separate from the SC one, which means (owing to the smaller HC player base) there are not as many items for auction.
(vi) Blizzard says the real money AH will not be available for HC Heroes: I guess it would be too much hassle if an item paid for with real money were destroyed due to a server crash.
(vii) There are some special HC Achievements.
(viii) You can only multiplayer (MP) with other HC Heroes.

3. Is HC better than SC (are HC players better than SC)?

Of course, we all know that HC players are mature, wise, patient and helpful people, unlike their whiny, stupid, abusive, six year old SC counterparts. ;-p

But seriously …

No, HC is not better than SC, it’s just different. Essentially they’re different play styles, requiring different approaches and goals. One is not inherently better than the other. In some ways, SC players may be more skilful than HC players because they can afford to experiment with riskier builds and tactics. HC players, on the other hand, have to rely on solid builds and a patient approach, if they want to live a long and healthy life – but HC players may be more skilled at running away.

4. Is HC more fun than SC?

Let’s be clear, there is one BIG downside to HC: your Hero can die permanently, and it may not even be your own fault; it probably wasn’t your fault. Can you handle this? If you can’t there’s no point in playing HC, because you’re heading for a world of pain.

Paradoxically, that BIG downside is also what makes HC so enjoyable and addictive. If you can find a way to deal with the fear of death (and the reality of death), playing HC is an absolute revelation.

In SC, when you’re fighting Diablo, your main worry is that if you die you’re going to have to reload and do it all over again. Damn, that’s several minutes wasted!

In HC, when you’re fighting Diablo, you cannot afford to fail. Once you start any boss encounter in HC, you cannot legitimately quit (unless you reckon you can survive the 10 second d/c period). This means there’s no second chance: if you die, you’re leaving the room in a demon’s lunch box! This gives the play in HC an intensity simply not found in SC.

After playing HC for a few hours the constant fear of death wears off, as you begin to get used to surviving. But every time you see an elite mob, especially when they turn up unexpectedly while you’re fighting something else, it’s no longer just a game: you’re fighting for your life, because all that time you invested in your Hero will be lost if you get it wrong. Your senses are heightened and you have to play as well as you possibly can. SC has nothing to match this feeling.

5. Am I going to die in HC?

Probably. Almost certainly.

Most HC players say you will die eventually. Whether that’s true depends on how risk averse you are. I think it must be possible to play with a style which is so risk averse that you will never die due to your own poor play. But there’s still a risk of death for reasons beyond your control (e.g., disconnection).

6. OK, I’m going to die. Will Blizzard ever resurrect my dead Hero?

- No.
- “But the death wasn’t my fault…”
- Tough!
- “But surely if Blizz kills my Hero with its crappy servers, it will rezz me?”
- Nope!
- “Waaaahhhh, I want my Hero back!!!! Blizzard u r teh suck!!!”
- Have you thought about SC? Or perhaps a psychiatrist?

7. How do I resurrect my Hero myself?

This one is easy: you just go to the create character screen, select the same class and gender as the Hero who just died, and type in the same name. Diablo 3 will then allow you to create a level 1 hero who looks identical to the dead one (apart from the gear). How cool is that? Now all you have to do is to level it back up to the same level you were at before death.

Sometimes I wonder what the hard in hardcore is for ;-)

8. Why will I die?

Here are some common causes of death (CODs):
- You rushed things
- You were tired
- Lack of experience with the mobs attacking you
- You were drunk
- You were careless
- You didn’t notice that pack of elites had the “We will pwn you” affix
- Your sucky Internet company d/c’d you
- You gave your brother/sister/best friend your account details …
- Blizzard’s wonderfully reliable servers somehow dropped and killed you
- Your mommy unplugged your computer because you hadn’t done your homework
- Your gf/bf unplugged your computer because … (fill in the gap yourself)

Some of these CODs are your fault; they’re wholly within your control; with care, you can stop them happening again; with extreme care you might stop them happening in the first place.

Other CODs have nothing to do with you: you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and you wind up dead. This is when the urge is strongest to go onto the boards and make a post titled “F**K U BLIZZ I QWIT!” Please don’t, but if you do, can I have your stuff? ;-)

9. How do I deal with death in HC?

This is perhaps the most important question for anyone thinking about starting HC. What put me off HC initially was the thought that all the hard work I put into a Hero could be wasted owing to circumstances totally beyond my control, like a server failure.

I've read posts by seasoned HC players saying, “Death by disconnection is a part of HC. If you can’t deal with it, don’t play HC!” Or “HC is about the journey, not the goal; enjoy the time you’re playing.”

You can’t argue with either of these statements, but they don’t quite address the point that after you have invested a lot of time in a Hero, most people will inevitably form an emotional attachment to it, and be absolutely gutted to see it die, especially if the death occurred for reasons out of their own control. Also, after you’ve spent a lot of time playing, there is an inevitable boredom about having to restart the game right from the beginning

In the end, I overcame my fear of dying in HC, by thinking about it like this:

(i) First of all, my main goal is no longer simply about continually improving and advancing a Hero (as in SC). It is also about levelling my Hero as far as I possibly can. If I die at level 50, then my next goal is to reach level 51 and beyond.
(ii) One of the nice things about Diablo 3 is that your stash and crafting-training survive your Hero’s death. So instead of just thinking about equipping my Hero with the best possible gear, I want to equip my stash with the best gear to enable me to quickly run through the content again should a Hero die. That way, death of a Hero is simply the temporary loss of a tool. It’s set-back, rather than a game breaker.
(iii) Finally, I level more than one Hero at a time, which reduces the heartbreak if one dies. Which brings me to my next point …

10. A levelling approach that works for me

This won’t work for everyone, but the way I’m now playing HC is to level one Hero of each class “simultaneously”. I’ll play one class for a few quests, then switch to the others to get them to the same level. Once they’re all at the same level, I’ll start a new quest with the class which has the highest DPS, in the hope that they can find some better stuff for the others.

The advantages of this approach are:

- You get very familiar with the content, which helps give you the experience and confidence to survive.
- You learn how each class works.
- If you loot any equipment suitable for a different class, you can give it to another Hero. This helps to give you a good chance of finding decent stuff without using the AH.
- If one Hero dies, you still have four others, and you can start again with the one you lost.

I’ve also found a modification to this approach works well. When you’ve killed the Skeleton King with all five classes, select your favourite class as your main Hero and give it extra levelling time, to keep it at least 1-2 Acts above your other characters. That way, you’ll get some absolutely superb drops for your lower level characters.

11. What level do I need to complete Normal difficulty?

When you’re starting HC, I recommend you explore every part of each map and do all the side-quests and dungeons you can find. If you do this, at least on normal difficulty, you will almost certainly be at about the right level for all the main quests and bosses.

If you follow this advice, you will be at around the following levels at the end of each Act.

Act I – level 16
Act II – level 26
Act III – level 31
Act IV – level 33

So what level do you need to complete each Act safely? Well, the levels stated above are certainly adequate - I’m a pretty average player, and in SC I’ve completed Act IV at level 30 with under 2000 health and under 400 DPS without ever dying to Diablo – but I wouldn’t risk that in HC.

For players new to HC, I believe you will survive comfortably, any class, solo or MP, provided you have the following numbers (which are readily attainable without using the AH):

Act I – level 17; health 1,000; DPS 70
Act II – level 27; health 3,000; DPS 200
Act III – level 31; health 3,500; DPS 250
Act IV – level 33; health 4,000; DPS 400

You’ll most likely be fine with stats lower than these (e.g., you should comfortably complete Acts I-IV one level lower, and Acts II-IV with 500 less health). However, there is no money back guarantee if you fail! The bottom line is this: if you’re not confident you can take the next boss, farm for another level or two. The time you spend farming will be less than the time spent re-levelling.

Will this gear level enable you to survive a d/c in the middle of combat? Not unless you’re very lucky, but what gear level would? Seriously, if you’ve geared yourself to survive a d/c, the game would likely be so trivial and boring as to be unplayable.

Fyi, the only bosses that scare me in Normal level HC Diablo 3 are these:

Belial (Act II) – if you don’t move quickly enough out of his bombs, you can die quickly.
Iskatu (Act IV) – kill him before the adds overwhelm you.
Izual (Act IV) – don’t let him freeze you when you’re low on health.

12. What level do I need to start Nightmare difficulty?

Nightmare difficulty is beyond the scope of this beginner’s guide, but it seems only fair to give some guidance on what you need to start Nightmare safely.

I’ve read posts by people saying you need 6,000 health and 900 DPS before you should venture into HC Nightmare. If you have the funds to buy the gear on the AH, or if you’re prepared to spend time farming for it, you’ll destroy everything easily at the start of Nightmare.

However, in my own experience, it is quite sufficient to start Act I Nightmare with the stats I gave for completing Act IV Normal, i.e., level 33; health 4,000; DPS 400. This is ample to get started, but you will need to take it slowly and make sure you get geared up before you go too far into Act I Nightmare. If you want to play it safer, you could farm Normal Act IV until you get your DPS up to 500-600.

13. What’s the best class?

There’s some doubt about whether melee classes such as the monk and barbarian are viable at Inferno level, but that’s beyond the scope of this guide (perhaps this complaint will be moot after the 1.0.3 patch). At normal level, all classes are perfectly viable. My own favourite is the monk, because it is an absolute blast to play, and has great healing abilities. And that self-resurrect ability is fantastic (ok, I lied about that!).

14. What’s the best follower

So far I haven’t found there’s much in it, and none of my Internet research suggests otherwise. For my ranged classes, I like to use the Templar, because (1) he can heal; and (2) more importantly, he can often block the enemy’s path to me. For melee classes, I prefer either the scoundrel or enchantress – they’re both equally viable. Don’t forget to gear your followers – you need every advantage you can get.

15. What’s the best build for class XXX?

That’s beyond the scope of this guide. At normal level there are a wide variety of builds that will work, and you should be fine with whatever you prefer. I recommend you enable “Elective Mode” in the Gameplay Options, but you don’t actually need to it to beat Normal difficulty.

If you’re new to HC I suggest you focus on builds that use healing and defensive abilities. I also recommend you use a shield, unless you have other gear that substantially increases your DPS.

Playing normal level, I look for the highest DPS possible with my weapon, then stack a mixture of vitality and my prime stat on everything else. Don’t go overboard on vitality – the levels given in section 11 should be more than enough.

16. Is it "cheating" to …

- Use the AH?
- Get someone to boost me though levels X-Y?
- Use ability Z to skip past mobs?
- Farm the treasure goblin?
- Etc., etc.?

Look, Diablo himself (herself?) cheats. One of Diablo’s main affixes is the “Disconnect” ability. Diablo knows he can’t own you while you’re on-line, so he disconnects you, then beats the crap out of you in the ten seconds before your Hero is logged out. When you’re killed by disconnect, you die and you can’t have your Hero back. Your death was a cheat!

So I take the view that anything the game allows you to do is fair play, as long as it’s not an exploit (by which I mean using a feature which is against the rules, and would get you banned for using it), and as long as it doesn’t directly hurt other players.

I wouldn’t recommend power levelling your Heroes until you have at least got yourself to a reasonable level without power levelling, otherwise you may not develop the skills needed to keep yourself alive.

17. Should I do MP in HC?

If you have friends you trust, go for it! Otherwise, I’d stick to solo, with one exception:

When starting a new Hero you could try MP with people you don’t know: you won’t have much time invested in your Hero, so it doesn’t matter if you die. This might also be a way to build a group of friends you trust, if you don’t already have them.

Note that you can’t loot dead players in MP Diablo 3.

18. Some miscellaneous tips

Here are some tips that didn’t really fit anywhere else:

- In solo play, by default you can pause the game by pressing ESC. You can’t pause in MP.

- Always pause before leaving your computer or ALT-TABBING to the desktop. Better still, exit your current session before leaving your computer or ALT-TABBING to the desktop!!

- When starting a new session, be wary of selecting “Resume Game”. Instead, consider restarting the current quest from the beginning with “Start Game”. This should always start you at a safe place (if anyone disagrees, let me know). You may have to repeat some content, but that’s no bad thing in HC! For me, this is very important, because I usually find the game laggy for about 30 seconds after I start a session. Of course, there are many times when “Resume Game” will put you in a safe place, but ask yourself if you’re sure before you do it.

- Approach the maps systematically, always leaving yourself with a clear explored escape route. Note that occasionally mobs will spawn in an area that you thought you had cleared.

- Keep a close eye on where the health globes are. Try to leave some behind you, so that as you move forward you have a place you can retreat to and gain health.

- Disable “Allow Quick Join” in the Social Options. You don’t want people joining the game when you’re not expecting it.

- Be very careful when inspecting your items or changing your abilities while in the field - I wouldn’t go so far as to say never do it, but then it hasn’t gotten me killed yet.

- The treasure goblin. I’ve seen plenty of advice to the contrary, but I like to go for them. The trick here is to get on the far side of it, so that it runs into cleared terrain. Do not follow it into unexplored terrain – that’s asking for an early permadeath.

- Be careful when opening resplendent chests, as there is often a mob spawn while you’re busy drooling over your treasure.

- If you’re suffering from lag, or you have any reason to believe your connection is unstable, do not play HC until the problem goes away. Some say it’s too risky to play HC at all right now – that the servers are too unstable. I’ve been d/c’d three times in over 150 hours played, fortunately not while in combat. There’s a risk, but I’m prepared to take it.

- You can join HC chat by typing “/join hardcore” in the chat window.
A good idea.

Your viewpoints will change quite a lot once you hit hell, and especially so when you hit inferno. For example you said that fear of death begins to wear off. That happens until you complete Nightmare. Once you hit hell, it's a lot harder and every time you see an elite mob you'll be kiting (unless you got super lucky that they have no good abilities).

The best follower is objectively the Templar. Why? He can tank. Edit: He can heal you, stun and regen you.

The damage done by followers is pathetic past normal, such that it is negligible. This might change if you're choosing to power level other people on NM Kulle when you've got an uber follower.

Nice start.
07/06/2012 03:32Posted by TheBestName
The damage done by followers is pathetic past normal, such that it is negligible

Just another case of someone that forgot to gear their follower, pay no attention.

My enchantress has around 1800 int with some quite basic level 55-58 int gear and her AoE dot hits for 20k/tick, which is more than I can say for my Barbarian..

Anyway, nice post mate.
The followers are very useful if not neglected. I find the templar with his healing skills particularly useful early on.
Good guide, me like. There is just 1 minor detail I'd change:

5. Am I going to die in HC?

The one and only correct answer to that question is: YES!
Even tho i don't think of my self as a newbie to HC, then i had a great time reading your guide! was both fun and enternaining to read :)
Good job writing this!

edit: requested sticky.
07/06/2012 04:34Posted by Abu
The damage done by followers is pathetic past normal, such that it is negligible

Just another case of someone that forgot to gear their follower, pay no attention.

My enchantress has around 1800 int with some quite basic level 55-58 int gear and her AoE dot hits for 20k/tick, which is more than I can say for my Barbarian..

I wanted to test out what you said by "basic level 55-58 int gear". So she ended up with 800 intelligence and a spare staff I had in my stash. She does around 300 damage. That's basic, right?

So either I misinterpreted you or I was originally correct in saying that they're not that potent unless you have some pretty uber gear (for your level of course).
Great guide. Hope it will attract more players to the HC community
This is just an opinion... but...

07/06/2012 02:07Posted by Osito
14. What’s the best follower?

Simply put, none. I never considered this until I lost 3-4 characters in act 1 of nightmare because my followers attacked monsters that were off the screen when I wasn't ready for it. This is less of a problem if those monsters are white, or you are ready for it, but you cannot control the follower's actions making him a loose cannon.

In my experience, the follower adds little to the game except to be a tank for you when you need it, even then he can die and a swarm of death will come rambling your way.


This is also the reason I use a no-summonlings build for Witch Doctor. I call him a Witch Kiter.
Thank you very much for this guide!! Just what I was looking for!
Fun read at the same time educational, I agree with you especially on the monk case, I just have unexplainable love for it. And with the nightmare thingy, if you are playing a monk, start nightmare as soon as you finish Diablo, at least I've done that 2 times with no trouble.

Requested sticky since it's a lot of writing and a good read!
Nice guide, sticky please.
Nice stuff for our new HC recruits indeed :)

A While ago I posted a list of Golden Rules for Hardcore, for your viewing pleasure ^_^


> Run a quick check on your bandwidth status before you go online. I prefer to run a batch file to release my IP address, a DNS flush and renewal of my IP which I often execute before going online to play Diablo 3

> Don't log on if you have little time to play because you will certainly rush things. If your game time is limited try to plan sessions or mini-sessions.

> Make sure to have undisturbed game time. Use a schedule if you must. Turn off your phone, wait for that pizza to be delivered first, wait for the kids/wife to go to bed, finish your homework first, and so forth.

> Is your state of mind right?. Are you tired, grumpy or under the influence of drugs or alcohol? These are example of big importance if you want to be successful in HC.

> Know and acknowledge your own limits, your own strong and weak features.

General gaming

> Always keep an eye on your bandwidth status (thank you Blizzard for adding a simple indicator!). Know the behavior of your spells. When lag does occur you can tell from subtle differences when casting specific spells or performing typical actions.
Remember you can now cast anything in Town to test things ;)

> Dictate your own game speed. Once you have found a comfortable pace that suits your play style stick to that. Never stall or rush outside your comfort zone, particularly in coop games.

> Knowledge is power! Learn from your own experience and try to remember your encounters with (new) mobs and bosses to understand their base skills, and where they may spawn. Waiting for others to pave the way may work for some but bear in mind: you don't need to read tactics upfront to become a good HC player.

> Never retreat into unexplored terrain. If possible always try to create a clear area you can use to retreat if needed.

> Bite the bullet. If you are cornered then stand your ground and fight! In most cases you have a better chance of survival when you return the pain to mobs instead of feeble flee attempts. When you then die you will most likely regret the fact you did not try to kill them first.

> Collect and keep a spare set of starters gear for specific classes. You will be glad you did in case you die, which most likely will occur at some point on your first few HC characters.

> If you need to go AFK for a moment take a portal to Town no matter what.

> Routine is your enemy, not your friend. Same goes for overconfidence.

Diablo III Specific

> Don't go AFK after the game loads when "Start or Resume Game" is clicked. If you do not remember your last Checkpoint then you may find yourself dead or dying when you return from the toilet, holding a cup of coffee in your hand. Be warned!
Perhaps this is an example of Blizzard's poor sense of humor; Checkpoints in Hardcore... O_o

> Greedy? The Treasure Goblin is not worth it... no really, it is not.
But you can make life easier if you start your attack from behind in such a way that he runs to the area you already cleared. Use your stuns, snares, frosts and what not.

> Be prepared for Boss fights. Some fights start immediately upon entering the zone. Got the right skills selected? Is your gear checked? Cool downs ready? Potions on standby?

> Never forget that Elite and Champions use random abilities. Certain combinations are really deadly. You better know what you are doing when you pull multiple packs.

> Understand how the game mechanics work. What contributes to armor, defense, resistances and how much vitality is required for what ever you want. Never assume but stick to the facts.

> Always remember that Normal is just to warm you up for the higher difficulties.

I find this post very well written, same goes to Dazzed above me :)

Thumbs up to you guys!

Thanks for this guide, sticky requested.
I'm fairly new to HC mode and this guide gave me some useful hints.

I am also looking for people to play HC with, all my friends are SC and I always play HC alone. Feel free to add me.
At the moment I only have a lvl 28 Wiz, my main SC toon is 60 Wiz so I know the class already, I think that's a huge advantage.
Haha, yesterday I lost my first HC character (53) because I was not very concentrated. It was one of the best gaming experiences I've had in a while haha. Probably not for everyone though :D
15/06/2012 10:57Posted by Gevurah
Haha, yesterday I lost my first HC character (53) because I was not very concentrated. It was one of the best gaming experiences I've had in a while haha. Probably not for everyone though :D

:D I know the feeling ~_~
First of all, very nice post!

For me this game was always about HC, i only played SC the first 10 levels because it's required. Boy was Belial a surprice for me the first time around on my barbarian..... My dps was so low that he put his hands in the grou d for the bombardment segment 3 times! -.-;
Anyways, as so many have said: you will die, it's part of the experience. If you cannot cope with it being bad luck/not your fault/yur tupid mistake, then HC is not for you. Oh and imo In the long run, there is no real way for SC economy to work, as there is no real loss of good tiems,where as in HC there is a natural loss factor. You just cannot cycle all your previous great gear thrugh ah again ;)

Sofar i have a 58 dead barbarian, undrgeared for hell act 2 sewers, plus i messed up my escape when a champion pack of 5 extra health, desecrator, plague snakes boxed me in, and mawed me to death before my leap was back up.
And a 54 wizard, chain frozen for the 8 or so secs it took the firechain, frozen, waller champion pack to mow him down.
The later i regretted, as i had just updatd four armor bits for him, but oh well ;)

Good luck to all new and old HC players!
Thanks for the positive replies :-)

Having now had my first HC death, I thought I should at least add that the above guidance will not help you if you're basically as unskilled as I am, and also confirm my view that Izual is the hardest boss in the game. Just took him on in normal difficulty with a DH with health of 4500, DPS of about 550 and armour around 40% (well above what I stated above). As I tried to put some distance on him, he froze me, teleported (or charged?) to me, then hit me once removing 80% of my health (that surprised me!). I healed, he summoned his adds, game starts lagging a bit (although I'm not blaming the lag), and I'm dead. Took him 15-20 seconds at most.

Weird, because I beat him previously with a DH having less than half that DPS and health. I think I was probably just overconfident: I thought I was too well geared for him to kill me. Oh well, at least I followed my own advice and still have other HC characters to play :-)
+ Turn off sticky keys in windows! This is very important since that function is On by default and it will switch you to the windows desktop, just like the windows-key. The difference from the windows key is that sticky keys generally activates when you are cornered in hard combats, because that's when you use the keys a lot...

To see if you have sticky keys on or off press "shift" five (5) times when it is safe (*duh!*). If a window pops up -choose settings and turn it off!

Requested sticky. Awsome post!

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