[Editorial] The Art of Hardcore

Video games are a wondrous thing. Whether you’re a fan of RPGs, shooters, or strategy games, you can’t deny that it’s the most immersive media you can possibly experience in this lifetime. However, when you’ve played a game for years, knowing the game front to back, you want a challenge. Over the years of gaming, people have come up with a way to challenge themselves: Hardcore runs.

The screen nobody ever wants to see. [Game: Diablo II]

There’s actually a fairly niche community of gamers that run games with specific limitations. These runs are usually known as hardcore runs; one death, game over. End of story. Since the introduction of these runs, various games (like Diablo II, pictured above) have introduced similar modes that you can activate in-game. You might be familiar with the Hardcore mode in Minecraft. Other games have these modes, as well. Blizzard Entertainment has continued their trend of implementing this mode well into their third iteration in the Diablo series. Games with this mode include Terraria and Torchlight II, among the many RPGs that have a “hardcore” setting.

The Expansion of “Hardcore” into Shooters:

However, the matter is that a lot of games have a way to challenge their players. Where there are no-death runs of games, there are plenty of other derivatives. The Halo franchise is well known for it’s “skulls,” which were introduced as mutators in Halo 2 as easter eggs, but were introduced as difficulty modifiers in Halo 3 onward. Sure, when you played the game with friends, you probably turned on Grunt Birthday Party and proceeded to watch confetti explode out of their little heads, but at the time, there were challenges tied to these little modifiers.

There were seven “Vidmaster” achievements like this. This one was in Halo 3, but a similar one was in Halo 3: ODST (Vidmaster Deja Vu). The unlock for this was actually the infamous “Recon” armor, which was Bungie-employee exclusive at the time.

The Halo Vidmaster Challenge. Everyone who has played Halo during the time of Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST know these challenges and probably despise some of them. However, our focus will be on two achievements; Annual and Deja Vu. These challenges required players to finish a single mission in the game’s campaign (see above for the achievement for each game), in four player co-op. If you complete a section of the game and take a hidden path, you’ll find a pack of four vehicles you’re meant to ride to the end of the level. However, the catch is, you had to play the entire mission with the Iron Skull on.

For those who have never played Halo, the Iron Skull is a “hardcore” modifier; if you die in a single-player mission, you restart the mission from the beginning. However, in co-op, it just restarts from a checkpoint if any one player dies. So add this with the fact that you play on the hardest difficulty in the game, you have an insane challenge truly designed for people who want to hate each other. However, I actually finished these challenges when I was younger. Before I was writing this article, I actually forgot I even did them, but in retrospect, I think these deserve a notable mention.


A Punishing Game Made More Punishing, Willingly:


Alright, so we all know my incredibly odd obsession with the Dark Souls franchise. I love being punished, really, and especially in a fair way. In Dark Souls, your deaths are because you failed to do something right. So…why are people punishing themselves by making a challenge run in Dark Souls like Level 1 runs only, or even no-death runs? Well, I was interested in finding out the answers myself, so I asked the Dark Souls subreddit for more information on what compels them to make challenge runs.

“I wanted to do better at the game,” said user DeltaSparky, who finished a shield-less run in Dark Souls. “I ended up finding a style I prefer greatly to the style I used to play before. I also learned more about the game through this; it gives you different views on the same fights.”

Among the other responses, a user by the name of Epic593 said they wanted to feel that “first playthrough” experience again. “It was not as hard as I thought originally,” they explained. “It was quite humorous having a +10 (the upgrade level) of what is possibly the worst helmet in the game.” Their challenge was playing through the game using only Pharis’ Hat as their only piece of armor.

It was enlightening, really. Originally, I was confused, but in retrospect I’m not sure why I was confused to begin with. We all have those games we’ve played to death and know everything about, and because of that we crave more from the experience. Dark Souls continues to be a popular game in the franchise because of players like these who choose to be creative with their playthroughs, making incredible success (or failure) stories. I’d like to thank those users right now for giving me insight for this article.

The Art of Hardcore, On the Internet for Everyone to See:

The main reason I was compelled to write this article.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I greatly appreciate the Dark Souls subreddit for giving me that much needed information for the previous section. However, what really interested me is a group of series made by YouTuber and Normal Boots member, PeanutButterGamer. He has a secondary channel where he primarily uploads gameplay, some of which are Hardcore series. Most of the games have a hardcore mode, like I mentioned at the start of this article, but he has done other games like DayZ and MineZ that have a one-life-to-live style as their main focus. The reason I wanted to write this article starts here; a chronicled journey through a game, where death is permanent. Each individual series is almost like it’s own story, which is why I was so intrigued to begin with.

I’m not really a person who would dare challenge themselves like this; not any more, really, but the appeal behind them is something I can understand. Everybody has their reasons; bragging rights, fun, for the challenge, or to mess around with friends. Some challenges are harder than others, but that’s really the point, right? As games continue to evolve, players will continue to challenge themselves with crazier ideas, and we’ll all be watching on the sidelines, hoping that they succeed in the end.

Written by: Tyler Busler

I'm an adept gamer with 15+ years of experience in the best and worst of gaming history. I've always believed that gameplay is the most important part of a video game in most instances. My favorite games are Super Mario 3D World, Journey, Yoshi's Island, Paper Mario, and Dust: An Elysian Tail.