Hardcore World of Warcraft has quickly proven to be the unlikely shot in the arm that the MMO needed. While questions remain about WoW‘s future, it turns out that going back to the game’s past and adding a permadeath feature is even more appealing than many of the MMORPG’s modern expansions. As Hardcore WoW‘s popularity goes, more and more people find themselves wondering which class they should play in order to survive this unique gaming experience.
Discussions about that topic recently reached a fascinating tipping point when Blizzard released a chart showing which classes have died most often in the early days of Hardcore. However, anyone with experience playing Hardcore and Classic WoW can tell you that identifying the best class in Hardcore isn’t as simple as following that chart. While I’ll expand on that point a bit later on, these were the main pieces of criteria I used for these rankings:
– These rankings are based entirely on a class’ ability to efficiently reach level 60 in Hardcore. While I will occasionally reference endgame content, things like Raids had no little impact on these rankings. PvP capabilities also had no impact on these rankings.
– Given Hardcore’s Permadeath rule, “survivability” ended up being the most important contributing factor to these rankings. Classes that offer a better chance to stay alive (for whatever reason and in most situations) were elevated over those who have inherent survivability issues. From there, things like damage capabilities, group contributions, and gear-dependency impacted the rankings.
– Finally, I tried to base these rankings on the presumed abilities of the average player. While I will occasionally reference the skill differences between some classes, please note that those with significant prior experience with some classes will obviously enjoy more success with them than others might.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the rankings.
Among the WoW Hardcore community, there is very little debate that Warrior is the most difficult class to efficiently level to 60. While there are a few reasons why that is the case, they are (perhaps unsurprisingly) many of the same reasons that make Warriors the most difficult class to level in the base version of WoW Classic as well.
As a melee class, Warriors are already at a disadvantage in Hardcore. Generally speaking, it’s much more difficult to survive if you have to smack an enemy in the face rather than get to pelt them from a safe distance. While most melee classes suffer from their relative inability to operate away from enemies, Warriors’ lack of escape, crowd control, effective damage-dealing spells, and self-healing abilities make them especially vulnerable. If you get in trouble as a Warrior, you have very few emergency buttons you can press to safely buy yourself an exit. Unfortunately, Warriors tend to be in trouble most of the time.
Warriors leveling struggles in Hardcore are exasperated by a few logistical issues presented by this new mode. Usually, one of the best ways to level a Warrior is to serve as a tank and farm dungeons with other players who are almost always looking for someone to fill that role. However, playing as a tank is not only extremely dangerous (especially if your party isn’t properly supporting you), but it’s generally expected that leveling tanks are going to die a few times along the way. That’s obviously not an option in Hardcore, which means that one of Warrior’s only reliable leveling methods is much more difficult to utilize. You need to be able to consistently play with a good group if you’re rolling a Warrior, and even then you’ll need to be very careful all of the time.
A fully-leveled and fully-geared Warrior remains one of the best classes in any version of Classic WoW. When it comes to Hardcore, though, relatively few will ever reach that point.
While Shamans boasted the lowest initial death rate in Hardcore’s early days, I think this is a case of the numbers being deceptive. Shaman’s low death rate could easily be attributed to many players recognizing the reasons why they shouldn’t play as a Shaman in the first place.
Shamans face a few practical problems in Hardcore. While they have access to some useful evasion and healing abilities, they are a notoriously Mana-dependent class that can easily find themselves starved for resources if they’re playing by themselves. That resource dependency is annoying in the best of times, but it’s often a serious issue when one death means the end of your run.
Furthermore, Shaman’s totems aren’t always as useful as they could be when you’re solo leveling. While beneficial, they’re not nearly as durable as proper pets, though they can easily pull unnecessary enemy aggro all the same. When your totem goes down (especially at lower levels) you often need to rely on lesser melee abilities or those aforementioned Mana-draining damage spells. Things can get really rough, really fast.
Finally, Shamans are surprisingly gear and RNG dependant, have to endure some tough class quests, and generally fall off a bit at higher levels in terms of how their power level scales. Their ability to function as healers in a party and skip town if things get bad elevate them over Warriors slightly, but it’s a close call.
I really struggled with where to rank Rogues on this list. I know that some consider them to be one of the best classes in Hardcore, and I absolutely think there is an argument to be made for their many strengths in this unique mode.
In fact, I’ll make a few now. Rogues have access to one of the most impressive crowd-control kits in Hardcore. They can blind enemies, stun them, run away from them at lightning speed, and let’s not forget their ability to turn invisible. Hell, the power of Vanish (which allows you to escape nearly any bad situation in the game) alone seemingly makes Rogues one of the most powerful classes in Hardcore.
So why are so many Rogue players dying so early? Well, Rogues are a relatively complicated class to play compared to the competition, which is naturally a disadvantage for those who are just learning the ropes. More importantly, playing as a Rogue requires a ton of patience, especially if you’re trying to acquire as many of those useful survival abilities as possible. Screwing up your skill rotation as a Rogue is always a bad time, but such mistakes can end your Hardcore run remarkably quickly. After all, despite their many abilities, Rogues are still a melee class without access to Plate armor. It doesn’t take long for a non-controlled mob to get the best of you.
Furthermore, the increased difficulty of acquiring gear in Hardcore means that Rogues cannot reliably access the crucial leveling items they sometimes rely on. Yes, a great Rogue player can control most Hardcore combat situations as well as any class. However, the skill gap this class presents is as wide as any in the game.
Druid is another one of those Hardcore classes that people seem to be divided on. Some place them near the top of their tier lists while others have them much closer to the bottom. Then again, that discrepancy kind of speaks to the upsides (and downsides) of the versatility that makes this class so notable.
In theory, Druids can often function as a tank, healer/caster, or melee DPS character thanks to their shapeshifting forms. As you might imagine, the ability to swap between those roles largely at will is particularly handy in Hardcore. Being able to change your form as needed inherently offers more options in more situations. Furthermore, Druids can effectively utilize a wide variety of gear, and they boast some fantastic crowd control and healing abilities.
Unfortunately, Druid’s “master of none” status comes back to bite them early and often. Getting a Druid to level 20 (which is where they acquire some of their more interesting abilities) can be an arduous process. Druid’s melee DPS “cat” form is not going to top most damage charts, and their caster/healing options often suffer from serious Mana efficiency issues. Yes, you can play things relatively safe as a tank, but you’re going to have to endure a slow climb to the top. That’s not a huge issue, but it is a bit of a problem when you consider that other relatively safe classes boast much greater damage potential.
The very good news is that a Druid is a nice friend to have in a leveling group, so you can certainly address some of their leveling speed woes that way. However, those going it alone will need to push past several leveling barriers.
This is an area where I really want to argue against the numbers. Actually, heading into Hardcore, I would have guessed that Warlocks would be in contention for the mode’s best leveling class. Instead, it seems that a shocking number of players are dying early and often as Warlocks.
A closer look at the data reveals a few reasons why that may be the case. Early on, Warlocks are as squishy as any of the other casting classes. However, Warlocks have it particularly rough in those early stages of the game due to their…unique playstyle. Not only do Warlocks initially lack some of the escape and CC options available to other classes, but some of their most useful early abilities require you to do things like damage yourself to gain more Mana. A player who doesn’t know how to operate the class can obviously put themselves in trouble, but even those who do understand the class may find themselves in a bad situation. Hey, that’s what happens when your best early emergency button ability often causes enemies to run into other packs of enemies.
Once you get comfortable with the class, though, Warlocks soon prove to be Hardcore powerhouses. Their pets are effectively tanks, they eventually don’t have to worry about resource generation, they can pump a ton of damage, they’re not especially gear-dependant, and they have access to irreplaceable party skills. There are few Hardocre classes that can level quite as quickly as they can.
While players are clearly struggling to get Warlocks to the late-game, they are an ideal Hardcore class from about Level 20 on.
I surprised myself by how often I kept moving Priests higher up this list. While I may ultimately be overrating them slightly, I generally feel that Priests really aren’t getting enough love
First off, Spirit Tap is one of the best leveling abilities in Hardcore. Only Warlocks have access to better resource regeneration abilities, and Spirit Tap doesn’t require Priests to sacrifice valuable HP. It just requires them to keep killing experience-granting mobs, which is obviously what they’re supposed to be doing anyway. Furthermore, Shadow Priests have always been a somewhat underrated leveling DPS option. They can solo a lot of powerful single targets, and they still have access to enough healing/defensive abilities to ensure they can function as a healer in most early group content. The power of Power Word: Shield alone elevates them over comparable classes.
Yet, one of Priests’ best Hardcore attributes is also one of their least exciting attributes: their relative lack of gear dependency. Priests can get far off of White, Gree,n and Blue gear, which is nice when you consider that fewer players tend to run level-appropriate dungeons in Hardcore. You’ll be a valuable part of those groups when you join them, but you’re far less dependent on pushing for them just to gear gear.
Priests may be on the squishier side (and they’re not your absolute best DPS option by any means) but they boast so many of the unique tools needed to survive and thrive in Hardcore.
It’s relatively easy to discuss Mage’s weaknesses in Hardcore. Simply put, they can easily find themselves in a bad spot that will lead to their instant deaths. This is especially true of those who try some of the AoE speed leveling techniques that have often made Mages a community favorite in Classic WoW. Only the bravest and most experienced players will dare to try similar tactics in Hardcore, which reduces the class’ leveling effectiveness just slightly.
That said, Mages are clearly a top-tier Hardcore class. While a Fire Mage is a viable option in Hardcore, it’s hard to justify not playing as a Frost Mage given their access to multiple “best in the game” mass CC abilities and defensive options. It turns out that being able to freeze and slow enemies while still doing impressive damage to them is a particularly valuable skill in a mode that is all about staying alive while operating as efficiently as possible.
Furthermore, while Mages often need to refill their Mana, they’re not nearly as desperate as other casting classes (and they can have nearly unlimited access to Mana-generating items). More importantly, Mages are one of the least gear-dependent classes in the game. Speed levelers have taken them to Level 60 in record time with only an inventory of Green items to their names, which is obviously nice in Hardcore given that you won’t be able to rely on consistently acquiring anything more exciting than that.
While the next two classes have a few things to offer that are slightly more appealing overall, Mages really are ideal for Hardcore.
Early on, I saw some suggest that Hunters are the worst class in Hardcore due to the sheer number of Hunters that were dying in the mode’s earliest days. Simply put, the doubters are wrong. While I admit that there are many bad Hunter players out there, Hunters are easily one of Hardcore’s most powerful classes.
It starts with Hunter’s pets. Those pets are essentially built-in tanks that are (almost) always available to you. They can easily distract mobs while you deal the top-tier damage that Hunters are known for. Those pets basically make Hardcore an entirely different game. While you can obviously die as a Hunter in Hardcore (as the numbers prove), I’m willing to bet that most of those deaths were the result of Hunters becoming a little too confident in all the things they can do so early on. You certainly feel invincible even during those early levels.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hunters boast a powerful arsenal of crowd control abilities (such as Concussive Shot) as well as Feign Death: a skill that lets you almost instantly escape the majority of truly terrible situations with relatively little risk. Again, though, it’s very much worth pointing out that most things will die to you and your pet before you ever even have to consider utilizing that option.
While Hunter’s dependency on their pets can be a liability sometimes, they really are one of the few true speed leveling options in Hardcore.
I can tell you right now that Paladin’s biggest problems in Hardcore are damage and gear. They are not top-tier damage dealers by any means, and their relative lack of the kind of pure damage options that Hunters, Mages, and Warlocks have access to is only amplified by their increased need for better weapons and armor. Ultimately, though, none of that matters too much.
First off, Paladins are defensive monsters. Not only can they eventually equip powerful Plate gear, but they also have access to multiple powerful healing and defensive abilities including one (Divine Shield) that makes them literally invincible for a brief period of time. Hardcore often requires you to solo more content than you may otherwise solo in Classic WoW, and Paladins are capable of muscling their way through challenges that would otherwise seem impossible. There is very little they can’t do on their own with a little patience and an understanding of their core abilities.
However, the biggest reason why I have Paladins ranked above Hunters and Mages is due to their often desirable places in group content. You may run fewer dungeons and group quests in Hardcore, but anyone who does run that content will likely be looking for a Paladin. That’s probably because they are a top tanking and healing option for most of the game, and they can even serve a DPS role in a pinch when called upon to do so.
Blizzard may have removed Paladin’s ability to essentially live forever in Hardcore, but you’ll struggle to find a safer or better overall option for hitting 60.
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