One life to live #41: The Diablo 3 Hardcore Grind

Two nights ago my first character hit 60 in DiabloWikiHardcore. I did it with a mix of public games and a lot of solo. I was elated,but now with 45 hours in and at max level more concerned about what comes next. The journey to 60 and concerns after this milestone after the bump.

It all started with my DiabloWikiWitch Doctor. After rushing through soft core on my monk I shifted gears into a new class. From my beta play through I knew I liked it and was curious what the later levels had to offer.


Coming back to beta content was very weird. It was hard to get used to picking things up, since now it actually mattered. I was quickly surprised and how much more difficult that content actually was. Not that I was rushing to use my health potions, but each battle did present a chance of death. After downing the Skeleton King I was free to see what lies beyond the beta, and needless to say I was impressed.

The game is paced so well that I never really felt the need to go back to over level anything. I quickly found myself in act 4 sitting at level 31. I was playing blind through normal so each boss was something I had to figure out as I went in. For the most part there was few surprises: stay out of pools of stuff, use health pools if available, and damage the boss. However, as I commented before, each boss had a great thrill to it since i knew I had to beat it, or it would beat me.

Diablo was the first fight my DiabloWikiSpirit Vessel passive kicked in. I had almost forgot I had it until then. My heart was racing and I had to do some kiting, some skill switching on the fly but in the end I progressed to Nightmare.


I knew it was going to be tough but the first champion pack I encountered Had me running back to town. Vortex and Arcane. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back and after leaving the game I knew I needed upgrades. The DiabloWikiAuction House was my savior and I set about using some of my hard earned gold on a new weapon and armor. With my new gear in tow I set about again following the game’s pace. I ventured into a handful of public games but as they tapered off (and I got frustrated with players going AFK) I settled back into going solo.Eventually at 52 I found my way back to Diablo. This time went better, I knew what to expect but it still wasn’t easy( and I haven’t been back since). I continued to run in Nightmare until 55 when I set off for Hell.


Once again I had champion packs scaring me off, and had me running to the AH. I progressed through Act 1 and stopped at Act 2. It was at that time I noticed my xp gain would be a lot easier and carry less risks if I simply did DiabloWikiWretched Mother quest runs. Averaging about 70k experience per run and taking only 3-5 minutes to complete it seemed silly not to. That area has no elites, no champions and no distractions. So I cheesed my way to 60. Which now has me thinking what next?

In Diablo 2 level 99 was never really the goal. I just wanted to get to a point to farm well and build my other characters. However Diablo 3’s system requires you to hit that level cap in order to get there. All the best weapons and gear are at that level cap. You can’t have the best possible character at level 50, you need to reach the max level. I recall with each Diablo character having the goal of getting to 42 to use Bonesnap and then goals for future gear after that. If you didn’t get to the point you were going it was okay because the next could have a chance to hit those lower benchmarks. Diablo 3 lacks that system, It seems as if any character that isn’t 60 isn’t worth it. Now I’m not arguing that the amount of time to reach max level is a hell of a lot shorter but as a result it becomes a grind to 60, a rush to the end game, something about that seems off to me. I’m still playing, I still love the game, but this feels like a big departure.

How has your journey been to 60? What are your thoughts on the DiabloWikiDiablo III Hardcore end game?

One Life to Live covers the Hardcore play and life style in the Diablo community. It is written by Xanth and published weekly. Post your comments below, Follow me on Twitter @HCXanth or contact the author directly. For all the archived news about Diablo 3 hardcore check our Archives!

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20 thoughts on “One life to live #41: The Diablo 3 Hardcore Grind

  1. I find the item system so far a bit vanilla, although it is a smoother progression compared to DII.  You reference Bonesnap, and such an item would tripple or more your damage output compared to what you had before.  Now in DIII upgrades make things doable, not trivial.

    The level 60 cap has a different effect on end game.  Say I had a character in inferno Act III, and through my trials I had collected 1 spare complete set of Act III gear.  Lets also surmise I died in Act III.  Now when I hit level 60, I can throw on my Act III spare gear, and pick up where I left off, less the completing of Act I and Act II.

    In summary, the road to 60 will always need repeating and some farming to atain, but each inferno Act may only need to be repeated once on a new character to get back to where you were.  It is like completing Nightmare on DII at level 70, then BAM, you are now level 88 in Hell. 😮

  2. My barb (apple autocorrect turned it into ‘my baby’, glad I caught that) has the same issue. I run into this massive wall every time where I need upgrades to get around. My philosophy has been that once I need potions I need upgrades. But what I find missing is a middle ground. Either doing act 1 again is too easy and act 2 is too hard. Where’s Act 1.5?

    Things are so expensive on the auction house (and without commodity trading it seems impossible to reliably make money) that I have just kind of quit the game for a bit to do something else for a while. Something else! That seemed unthinkable just a week ago, but here we are…

  3. Congrats on 60, Xanth. I’m taking my time, only 36 and just started NM.
    D2 had a very quirky type of progression, when you think about it.  Any number of imbalances and exploits (countless hours standing outside of Harrogath gaining XP) existed, and yet we loved the game and played it until it hurt.
    I’m sort of glad to hear you had an easy XP run to level 60.  You found it, you deserve to benefit from it.  Assuming you’re more powerful you can start to farm Act 4 (according to Blizzard, to gear up for Act1) and maybe attempt Inferno?
    What do you think Inferno looks like for us mortals?

  4. Also, these super expensive items on the auctions will go to the RMAH on the action house on softcore and definitely sell. Glad we don’t have that to go to on HC 🙂  

  5. grats xanth on 60.  I applaud you and others like you who do first time boss kills in hardcore mode.  I’ve got 2 hardcore chars.  a lvl 30 barb and a lvl 28 wizard.  I just can’t bring myself to fight a boss I haven’t seen yet tho.  The idea of losing my char due to unfamiliarity is too painful to think about.   So I hop on my SC witch doctor and preview the fights.  

    How has everyone found specific mobs?  The lunatics scare the hell out of me on my barb.  Sometimes you just don’t see those buggers around a corner.  And since a single one can take me to half health, they are pretty damn hair raising.   The other one I forget the name of, but its the ground tentacle dudes.  Those things hurt.   

    I never played hardcore before.  Not sure what has me doing it in D3.  I think its a combo of wanting the achievements and all your articles.   

    • Heralds of Pestilence? Yeah they are nasty. Also the Soul Eater things that lick you.
      I find it’s really hard to go back to SC after you get a taste of hardcore.  Even if it’s painful to lose chars!

    • First time boss attempts on HC are such an absolutely incredible rush!  Even the 2nd time on NM + gets the heart pumping on overdrive.

  6. I’ve loved the hardcore progression so far: Zandrix Barb Lvl 22 got popped in act2 Normal to Fallen lunatics who went bang. ChiRaux Demon Hunter Lvl 52 got killed in act 1 hell by the skype monster which switch to the front and minimised diablo just as we were engaging champions packs. Alt tab back to see your deeds of valour will be remembered. ChiRauxTWO Demon Hunert Lvl57 Still going in act 1 hell. Hardcore mode is great i really enjoyed playing with friends but public games are so hit/miss that its not worth the risk. But playing solo sometimes leaves you at the mercy of the connection monster. Several times people in our party have just dropped with no reason and we have to camp them till there char safely leaves the game. You just dont get that in public games.  Some of the champion packs can be a little feisty, when i had just got into hell found a wretched mother yellow champion Horde / invunerable / arcane… who kept spitting more mobs out in the end we had to run as we could not get to the boss to dps down. overall im happy. going to level some alts up as i dont want a massive drop off till my next level. 

  7. Just lost my level 57 monk last night in Act 2’s Shadow Realm dungeon.  Been playing HC pretty much exclusively with a friend who has a Witch Doctor.  Of all the horrible things we overcame, it was just a ‘Waller, Horde, Reflects Damage’ combo that got me.
    My death had me thinking of all the things that could have gone differently;  Different skills that might have saved me, or if I had made it to 58 and had the Near Death Experience passive, or if I had just played the fight a little bit safer, etc.
    Buuut I  let myself get surrounded and all my abilities were on cooldown.  Been a ton of fun though, and I have already started back up with another monk.  I never got big into HC in Diablo 2, but it has become the only way for me to play in D3.  Softcore just doesn’t have the same excitement.  Congratulations on 60 Xanth.

  8. Ultimately I think Hell (and by extension, Inferno) are a little bit wobbly on balance.  Honestly, NM and the 30s/40s is pure fun to progress through, and then you hit Hell and the fun grinds to a halt.  I think it’s that once you reach Hell, everything takes a lot longer to kill.  In particular, the boss packs just require too much time and kiting space to take down.  And it’s not like gear at 52-53 will make a big difference; the biggest improvement that you can make is getting a few more levels so that you can buy a new set of gear from the AH, and the damage-taken functions will be tilted in your favor.
    A lot of the HC folks I’ve talked to are employing the same strategy: overlevel the content by running the first quest in A1.  Not exactly the most fun strategy to execute.  

    I’m looking forward to Blizz rebalancing the game in Hell now that they have gobs of playtest data to work from.  I’m sure they can fine-tune it so that it’s just as awesome as Nightmare.  Just a matter of time and effort.

  9. Thank you for the Wretched Mother quest, I was doing it for a while in the last couple hours. I was just in the beginning of nightmare act1, and leveled from 33 to 39, and also bought some new items. I think it’s gonna be safer to proceed  😉

    edit: The game on normal was fairly easy I think. I was excited before Belial, but turned out he wasn’t hard to defeat at all. However, I got the Trembling Vault event for the first time with my HC, and I didn’t know what’d happen if I can’t find the exit in time. I thought my character will die in that case, but I went in anyway. Thinking that I can die here if I don’t find the exit fast enough and fighting elites in the meanwhile was pretty exciting experience. I found out later that my character wouldn’t have die if I ran out of time.
    Also, I got caged 2-3 times whilst fighting Diablo, but it wasn’t a big deal. I think nightmare should be just a bit harder than normal as I can see now. Hell will be a different story I bet, I’ll stop playing when I reach lvl60 and defeat hell (my friend told me he buys me a bottle of champagne if I ever get to 60 with a HC) 🙂

    • Yeah i also came across the Trembling Vault the one time i played coop, and not knowing whether you die if you don’t find the exit.  Was pretty hair raising, didn’t find the exit.

  10. Congrats, Xanth.  I’ve enjoyed hearing your takes in your column and on the podcast.  I am a softcore player as i don’t get too much play time and the thought of losing a character…well, it would break my heart and probably cause me to quit.  I have a lot of admiration for you hardcore guys, though.  Keep up the good work.  

  11. As someone progressing inferno on HC, I am having a BLAST.  I hit the “wall” after act 1, and was about to kill off my character out of boredom.  I wanted more…   so my suicide mission was to see how far I could get my under geared monk into act 2.  After about 4 hours and defeating Magdah, I was instantly re hooked.  I once again WANT to farm, I WANT the better gear, I WANT the challenge to come back to me.

    The magdah fight had my heart racing, my hands shaking… I was fine letting my character die, UNTIL I made it into her chamber… going into the fight thinking it will be like any other difficulty, a cake walk.  WRONG.  WRONG.  WRONG.  And immediately, I didn’t want to die… I wanted to live, I wanted this rush even more as I progress to save that one person, and eventually the big boss himself.  

    Hardcore Inferno is that addrenline rush I never recieved in Diablo 2…  I love it! 

  12. First HC died at the age of 38 due to lag…the only major bout of it that I’ve had. There was something really crushing about losing my first HC character, which I had been so careful with, to lag. I really wish Blizzard would implement some sort of HC safety net that protects against this, something that jerks your character from the game if the connection is lost or something. Probably won’t happen, but as someone who long-defended the online-only requirement, this gave me some second thoughts.

    • June 5, 2012 at 14:43

      When I played on the open PVP server (nagafen) on EQ2 people used to exploit the lag mechanic by unplugging their router when a fight got rough and plugging it in again 10-20 seconds later to escape combat. This type of exploit would run rampant if Blizzard implemented it. 

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