This guide goes over how to beat the game on standard hard mode. This guide will use the Forgemaster as the main example, but the others will have some but not much strategic variation and this guide will also generalize some points and ideas. Do take note this guide is meant for experienced players who are having trouble beating the game on hard but have beaten the game on normal.
Definitive Guide to Hard Mode
This will go over several important mechanics that must be understood before the major ideas are discussed. First off, hard mode is normal mode on ketamine and meth. Everything that was hard at first when you started is now easy. Guess what, it's all super hard again. new enemy abilities, more enemy damage, harder early game. The learning curve for late game is basically a vertical line versus the exponential difficulty of normal. Do take note that some of this will work on endless mode.
Melee skeletons after a certain threat level now have shields which can block arrows and projectiles, not an obvious problem but they can be difficult passively. The ranged humans would have problems killing them without help from the god of choosing but they are more manageable.
Simple golems now explode on death, they aren't a big problem, but they are annoying and do slow down golem collection if you're hunting them for materials.
Big golems have the new interesting ability of a ♥♥♥ laser! Laser is a huge problem early game, but is more manageable late game. FYI, the end-game fight does include shadow golems that retain the laser ability. Keep in mind that early game they are hard to kill and even harder to stop from destroying your base. The best thing to do is send your melee units towards them early so that they don't get close to the base. Keep in mind you have to make sure you are properly handling basic enemies too, because they are very dangerous in small groups and need to be managed and kept from your buildings.
Almost all enemies are actually pretty strong now and need more hits to kill. Make sure you don't let them group up or let archers for a line since they are extremely bad for defense. Overall they have better stats so make sure not to underestimate their capability.
Threat level is a lot like colony wealth in Rimworld, mo money, mo problems. The more of a certain structure or unit you have, the stronger the enemy attacks. Early game this is usually a difference between life and death so keep that in mind when building. Also keep in mind the increase of threat level early game. Keeping threat level under 7 or 6 can avoid a first night big golem attack. The night one relic really isn't worth the risk of a lost base, especially if you're just trying to survive.
I don't have data on what adds threat level, but I do have some ideas.
Units increase threat level no matter what. This includes humans, ethereal spirits, and all types of golems. Some buildings increase threat level, but it's likely that direct defense buildings affect threat level the most. This includes wards and gear mortars, but most likely not walls and gates.
This means it's important, early game, to watch your threat level and avoid building anything that increases threat level over 6-7. Doing so will substantially make it harder to survive the first and second night. This is where you need to experiment and see what will increase threat level and properly manage it until it stops being important.
First Night Golem
Remember that the golem has a crazy strong laser that does too much structure damage to rebuild in the early game so it is quintessential to stop it before it destroys half of your base with a few blasts. Keep that major risk in mind going forward.
Some strategies to help with the first night golem if it is unavoidable:
Excavation is a general term but it refers to digging up at certain sites in order to get immediate resources. This is important throughout the game but is most crucial early game. Also this is important and non-specific for all gods.
Chests are important for early game survival. They let the character level up or build certain structures that don't increase threat level. Not doing excavations is bad for survival and is a waste of important early-game opportunity. Get at least 2-3 in the first day and the rest in the second day. There is some RNG in how many spawn near or far, but it is not that important.
First day excavations need to be managed against early building. Forgemaster has it easy, build house, assign gearmaster, build gathering building and the building auto-gathers. However, note that buildings only need to be built before night (apart from forgemaster soldier huts) so you can delay certain builds for later whilst you gather chests.
Leave the larger excavations for later. They take up too much time and usually don't have that much useful stuff. Make sure to have everything excavated by day 5 or so since it doesn't take too much time to gather everything in a few days anyway. The big cubic boxes are pretty good for resource infusions and they take priority if you can gather them faster than the excavation sites.
The smithy is a bit mixed in my opinion. It's useful throughout but it can be bad early game (especially in hard mode and) if you don't have enough resources to actually buy upgrades. I would say you may want to spend your first relic on it or a god specific structure like divine fury/purgelight cannon for sage. Otherwise I would recommend to keep it in mind to spend some resources if you already have a good defense. It is only useful if you already have a defensive structure already.
I do recommend simple things like building fortifications and mill upgrades since it stops you needing to make another mill and makes it so structures last longer and don't need to be replaced as often. Then you have to make interpretations on whether certain upgrades are more or less important.
Forgemaster's upgrades that made it so building built with a base higher level is the most important since resources are scarce and it means you don't have to upgrade building to get max ones. I think it actually makes destroying and rebuilding the structure cheaper than most upgrade cases. The upgrades that improve your defense are the first priority in general. This is another thing I will let you interpret for yourself. Also make sure to destroy them after you buy all the upgrades for space efficiency.
Items like charms are the most important for night survival. They are always useful so always have at least blade and swift charms for archer disruption. Shield charms are good but less useful in general except for avoiding debuffs like poison and rooting/slowing, but don't expect them to stop debuffs completely.
Most other items are fine to use. I would not recommend attack replacements that can be un/equipped instantly as they usually waste an equipment slot. By the way, the hexing staff almost always is bad except maybe for guerrilla skeletons.
The other weapons like stormcall staff and laser gun are alright but I've found limited success in large groups.
Foxglass chunks and stones are very good in late game and endgame since they can save a player with powerful abilities who needs to activate them twice in order to survive. Always save a foxglass stone if you find one.
Lifeglass stones, chunks, and shards are kind of mixed with me. The heal enemies, allies, and buildings. So you can actually use them to build structures faster if needed, which can be useful early game. I didn't use them in combat but they can be good in certain scenarios.
Void marble is probably the best item since it can disrupt archers, collect enemies in one place for easy combo, kill strong enemies or weaken, or pull enemies away from something important. having one is recommended.
Bone totem and sword trinket can be used to distract certain dangerous or annoying enemies early and late game. forgemaster gets the sword trinket as a spawn bonus so it can be a last ditch resort in case of overwhelming enemies.
Slime eggs are pretty useful for archer disruption and distraction. Throw a few if you get the chance. Meat shields are a viable use case for lots of summoning items
That's it for the important and/or controversial items. The other ones are uninteresting trash, obviously good, or too rare to care, so you already know their worth or they aren't something to be thought of too much..
First and Second Night Survival Strategy
First day you need to collect nearby chests and build defensive structures that don't increase threat above 6. Doing so helps with the first night but doesn't matter thereafter. You should actually build up as much as possible before the second night since the golem will come regardless. Walk the map, check the monster bases. If there is a guerrilla skeleton base then you should note that in case they spawn and become an absolute nuisance and possible game-ender. I was able to survive their attacks on hard despite their activation on day 2 but they are the worst.
These nights tend to be the scariest nights in the game; especially if the big golem spawns and you are unable to manage the enemies and your forces and you are overwhelmed before dawn. Keep in mind it may be that the big golem fight can end up leading into the next day and this is actually recommended since it means you don't have to fight the harder skeletons and can focus on the golem.
As stated the golem will come after night 1 regardless so you can focus on defense and effective defense structures. In this situation you have to focus mostly on population building an defense structures. Building something like a mill should be the last thing you do since it is an investment that only helps long term survival but it can be delayed until you are well defended, have enough extra resources, or are out of food.
If you can build walls then you should do so no matter what. They are very important for golem defense and can stop you from loosing early game. Gates are not that important as you can just open up a few holes for movement.
Proper management of threat level and unit defense can be paradoxical. You need more units to defense, but more units means more enemies and golem. My only advice is try and get by with very little on the first night and it may be useful to give yourself a few levels, however I don't know how that affects threat level so be cautionary.
If you are having trouble surviving the first or second night:
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