Short guide to help you make the best of the limited xp resources of hard mode.
Guide to Hard Mode
Hard Mode and You
Hard mode halves the xp you gain from killing enemies and generally increases enemy resistances and damage. Of course, the level difference between you and enemies also applies as a positive or negative modifier to damage taken/dealt. Enemies with 8-10 levels more than you are a real hassle to deal with, and since you’re cutting yourself from the xp earned from embracing, this is going to become more and more common the further you go into the game. The question is how you beat that.
Gaining XP and Timing Your Level Ups
In Hard mode you still gain full xp from story progression, healing people, and hints. Find everything, grab everything collectible, talk to the citizenry and do their quests. Try and kill the enemies you find. While they only give 2.5 xp each (rounded up), their drops are pretty good, either as good and expensive crafting materials, or as random junk you have 500 of and which can be sold for money.
Levelling your agressive skills results in a big damage spike, which can considerably help you early game when crafting components are limited. I recommend spending just enough xp to reach the level requirement to upgrade your offensive skill and then dump thousands of xp into the skill for a big damage spike. With your limited resources, keeping one agressive skill at the maximum level is the most you can do, and by the endgame you probably won’t be able to afford the last level anyway, so I don’t recommend learning two agressive skills. If you truly need it, there is a respec option, first time is free, then it starts costing 250xp and goes up from here.
For active skills you have the choice between three agressive skills, three ultimates, two tactical skills and two defensive skills, as well as your healing skill, each having two variations when you upgrade them to the third level. I recommend choosing only one skill of each category and sticking with it.
- Claws: While other skills open up different forms of damage, Claws do the same old melee damage as your weapon. This skill does deal aggravated damage, but most enemies heal through bite attacks and they’ll pretty much fully regen from that even through your aggravated damage if they manage to bite you. The real advantage of Claws is that it is a quick stamina-less attack, which is especially important early game with your limited stamina pool and doing a quick claw attack followed by a dodge is almost always safe. If you run out of stamina while bashing enemies and cannot dodge, throw a claw attack. Most of the time enemies will stagger and your stamina will start to regen during the animation. The upgrade to this skill is either more damage and added stun, or a very limited blood gain and reduced cooldown. I prefer the spam version (more on that later) but pick whichever.
- Bloodspear: Opens up Blood damage. I tend to find the damage really lackluster, but enemies will often be charging at you so you can expect to skewer multiple opponents. Not much to say here, just a good ranged attack. For the upgrade, you either get a bigger spear or multiple spears. The toughest encounters are almost always bosses, and they rarely have flunkies so I’d choose the bigger spear every day of the weak.
- Shadow Mist: Opens up Shadow damage. The skill is a bit tricky to use, unlocking enemies to summon the shadow area at your feet is going to be a useful trick. That being said, landing the skill isn’t that difficult, wait until the enemy is almost in range to start his attack, invoke the skill, dodge sideways and done. You can wail at the target, staggering it with both your melee attacks and the added damage from shadow when it pops out. Bosses tend to jump around and out of the area of your skill, so either be careful with your timing or just stop their movement with Coagulation. The upgrades are either a bigger explosion, or a damage over time option. Be careful, the damage over time will pop Coagulate even if its damage is real low. The damage over time option is better if you can limit enemy movement, so unintuitively it works better with Blood Barrier. Cast the barrier, drop the mist, and just wail on mobs with melee attacks hoping that your barrier holds. I still prefer the bigger explosion though.
All in all, these three skills are very serviceable. Pick the one you like and stick with it, it will serve you well.
- Rage: The only “trap” skill. This skill will kill you. It cancels your lock, has a slow animation to start and to recover from and while it attacks five times, subsequent hits on the same target only do half damage (so even 5 hits on one guy only does twice the damage of hitting him once). Avoid, avoid, avoid.
- Abyss: Probably the best of the lot. Cast the skill and wail on the target while it can’t defend itself. Even for just the immobilization this skill is worth it, the damage is just the cherry on top. Be careful though, you cannot deal stun damage to the target while it is in the animation.
- Blood Cauldron: This Ultimate is really valuable for the few bosses that summon flunkies. It also traps enemies in an animation after a few seconds so do wail on them at that point. Again, nothing to say here, it’s just a good ultimate.
Ultimates have egregious cooldowns but cost nothing and besides Rage they will serve you very well in your endeavors. Don’t hesitate to use them. That being said, they’re serviceable from level one and since the best part of blood cauldron and abyss is the stagger, you may want to leave them at level 1 and spend your xp on other things.
- Spring: The old reliable. It has a blood cost and a full 10 seconds cooldown at level 1 and in one upgrade path. I find this skill pretty damn useful. It allows you to reach backline enemies instantly and without spending any stamina, allowing you to have enough for your combo and then to dodge out of the way again, enabling a hit and run playstyle that will serve you well with most common enemies. For upgrades, I would invest enough to have the 5 seconds cooldown and leave it here. The added stun damage from one upgrade path I don’t find particularly useful, but Spring’s quickness compared to off-hand stun weapons could be valuable, as well as the auto-bite if you often stun enemies at range through a gun.
- Shadow Veil: The stamina drain surprisingly isn’t that much of a big deal. Out of combat this skill will let you open up most fights with a bite, which is great. And the fight will probably end before you get to use this skill again. One upgrade path takes out the blood cost and reduces the cooldown, the other lets you deal more damage after you break stealth. The later is more useful if you already opened up with a bite by sneaking to an enemy normally.
All in all, these skills are pretty low priority. I would put 2 levels in Spring and be done with it, but these skills are pretty cheap so if you see a tactical advantage here, don’t hesitate to invest in them. If you do choose Spring, I recommend getting the second level early, it makes for a big difference.
- Coagulate: Stopping a single enemy at range for a few seconds is actually pretty good. Use that time to wail on his buddy, or draw his allies away from him and then Spring to him to give yourself the time to kill him. The blood gain upgrade gives you free blood and is the safest way to farm blood, for example when you’re facing a new boss and you’re not exactly sure when it is safe to approach him. The longer duration upgrade gives you all the time in the world to kill his buddies, or lets you breathe a bit during bossfights, letting your stamina regen and your cooldowns end.
- Blood Barrier: This shield ability is better than ever. It won’t work against certain things, but if you like heavy weapons with slow animations, this ability may be your only way to finish a combo with the damn thing. The damage upgrade is a very different ability, it adds a pretty hefty blood cost but halves the cooldown period and lowers the numbers of absorbed hits before the skill ends. The other path blocks a third attack and then increases the duration of your protection. Both are really good, you can’t really go wrong here.
Whichever skill you choose, I’d grab the third level, and possibly invest in the fourth if you chose the damage upgrade for the blood barrier and leave it here. The second level for Blood Barrier is pretty good, but you can leave Coagulate at one until you’re a bit less tight on xp. I do prefer Coagulate since Blood Barrier makes you feel more invincible than you really are, and on Hard mode this will kill you.
- Autophagy: Long cooldown for the little healing you get. Most bosses deal huge amounts of aggravated damage, slashing your healing ability in half. I would leave the skill at level 1 or 2, but there is an argument to be made for raising it to level 4 on the immediate healing path for a whole lot more healing with halved cooldown. Later bosses deal huge amounts of damage over time, which can kill you through your healing if you otherwise left Autophagy at level 2.
Passive Skills and Skill Priority
Most passive skills offer the same boon at most levels, but the price to raise them keeps increasing, making them progressively less bang for your buck. Compared to active skills they cost a lot less, and they’re the main way to fix your xp to just reach the next level with as much xp remaining as possible to buy the next level of your attack skill.
Health/Stamina/Blood skills: Health is fully linear, always giving you +50 health per level. There is no breakpoint and with the ludicrous amount of damage a single attack will do to you, you want to raise that. Later in the game the need for more health abates somewhat. Stamina is really important and unlike Health, does have a break point, specifically at the +100% endurance mark, since it is a 25% increase. Stamina is extremely useful, do invest in it. Blood is a bit of a complicated case. You gain 5 blood points per level in the skill. Meaning that you need 4 levels in it to squeeze one more cast of Shadow Mist for example. 5% is the worst increase ratio out of these three skills and while you will use a lot of blood, gaining it back is easy. You can live without raising this skill, but if you need to spend xp to level up and other skills would cost too much, (or your playstyle warrants a higher blood total) it’s not a bad deal either. Side note, Health is a hard +50 health instead of the percentile increases of Stamina and Blood because level ups do increase your Health total. The more you know.
Bite skills: I initially slept on those, and I shouldn’t have. An unupgraded Bite deals 25 damage, heals for 100hp and gives 30 blood. Stunning enemies is a thing you will be doing a lot of, so getting something out of these stuns is very good, especially the cheap lower levels. Hard Biting has an irregular progression, but getting to 600% damage is cheap enough. Fast Regen and Big Thirst are linear. While Fast Regen is cheaper, the increase in hp healed is too small in my opinion. Big thirst’s worth depends on the blood cost of your usual skills, getting enough in one bite so you can use your usual strategy is pretty good.
Gear skills: These skills are pretty much at the bottom of my priorities. The 9mm Parabellum shoots three bullets at once, so if you use it a lot and find yourself constrained by your amount of bullets, getting enough bullets to get one more burst can be worth it. Maybe. For syringes, I recommend not using them against normal enemies nor the first couple of times you’re fighting a boss, but if you’re starting to have the patterns of the boss down, don’t be afraid to use them. The ingredients to craft them are mostly plentiful, and money is not a problem, so don’t fall in the trap of never using them. That being said, finishing the game in hard mode without ever using them is perfectly doable. In most cases, 2 syringes of each type is plenty, but the upgrade is cheap.
So with all that, what should your priorities be?
Your aggressive skill. Always. You can leave Autophagy and your defensive/tactical/ultimate skills at level 1 for most of the game (though some really benefit from level 2). Put the bulk of the rest of your xp in passive skills, Health, Stamina, Hard Bite and big Thirst do a lot of heavy lifting here. With the leftover xp you can raise your other skills to taste. You will still reach level 26 on a No Embrace Hard mode run and possibly more if you avoid missing hints. It’s not enough xp to invest in multiple aggressive skills, but it’s more than enough to go on a shopping spree or two when it comes to passive skills.
Combat in Hard Mode
Hard mode will teach you to hate Vampyr’s dodge. It is deceptively easy to get blocked on the environment, and killed in a corner. Enemies also pivot 270° like nobody’s business and often reach a lot further than you think. Some enemy attacks come out faster than your one handed weapon strikes, and some enemies do enjoy hyper armor on many attacks. This makes defensive plays difficult, especially since dodging drains your limited stamina and on hard mode killing enemies requires more attacks, straining your stamina reserves even more. There are relatively few enemy types in the game and they only have a few patterns each, for most non-boss fights, your main problem will be their numbers and the environment. There are also relatively few bosses, but most deal ludicrous amounts of aggravated damage and unless you really invested in it, there is no way Autophagy will be able to keep up.
Work on your timing and sense of distance, the later being more important. You usually have more reach than your enemies and your attacks have a big step-in, so start your attacks out of their range and go from here.
You have access to a few weapons, one-handed, off-hand, and two-handed. Do not hesitate to enhance weapons, you’ll get more than enough crafting parts, and money is rarely a problem. I recommend upgrading the following:
Hacksaw/Dragonsbane/Saber (eventually): Fast one-handed attacks, deceptively long reach on the Saber. You can upgrade these weapons for a mix of damage and blood, or going full blood gain on the Hacksaw. A distressing number of enemies are awkward to attack with two handed weapons due to the attack speed, and the blood gain on the one-handed weapons will allow you to use some skills without letting up on your attacks. This is your bread and butter, and there is nothing wrong with fully upgrading the Hacksaw you get early on. The hatchet could be interesting, but 3 stun per attack is just not enough.
Liston knife/dagger: Blood gain, blood gain, blood gain. These weapons attack extremely quickly, stagger, and replenish your blood. Excellent.
Stake/Truncheon: Vey slow attack speed. This will screw you over if you mess up your pacing. The stamina consumption is also huge. Unless you have Blood Barrier, do not bother attacking twice in a row with these, you’ll get hit and interrupted. Early on, even without any skill investment, stunning enemies restores 30 blood, nothing to scoff at.
Scythe/Any 2-handed weapon with Parry: This right here is your defensive option. Enemies in this game are very rythmical, making parries easy after a few tries. Even if you mess it up, you’ll still stagger your enemy, either back off to regen stamina, or sneak a hit in (or a Claw attack). Even mis-timed parries will stop enemy attacks in their tracks if you did it too early, you can use this to shut down teleporting skals (at a high stamina cost). This is my boss killer. Read the patterns, parry, sneak a hit in, bite. Repeat. After some testing you’ll learn what exactly you can do between boss attacks before you have to parry again. Learn the timings and repeat until the boss falls. This weapon is also a godsend early game against skals. When they take their parry stance, attack them normally, wait a tiny bit and then parry. When they jump at you for a bite attack, hit them with a parry when they’re in the air. Parries will work against all melee attacks, grab attacks, dashes, you name it. As long as your parry is well-timed, you’re safe. I find it a lot more reliable thand dodging, especially against bosses.
Guns are optional really, but there is nothing wrong with using the Parabellum or any kind of pistol or shotgun. Pistols are your nice ranged option with some stun damage, while Shotguns are more akin to Claw attacks, a quick stamina-less blow. Use them when a fight is really down to the wire.
Different Enemies Are Weak to Different Strategies
Some enemies have really low stagger resistance, others have very low stun resistance, and while most bosses will force you to hit and run (or parry and bash), mini-bosses are souped up versions of normal enemies. They may kill you in 1-2 hits and take an ungodly amount of time to kill, but some enemies simply do not have answers to some strategies.
As an example, a quick dagger hit followed by a Claw attack (with lowered cooldown), rinse and repeat, will come out extremely fast, cost barely any stamina, will generate as much blood as you need or more, and may endlessly stagger lighter enemies. Some mini-bosses at the end of the game are a real threat, but this will entirely shut them down.
Bigger enemies will be able to avoid the stagger, or start an attack with hyper armor, you just need to find what you can get away with, one dagger hit followed by a Claw attack? If you need to dodge in and out between each attack, this may not be worth it, you might as well bring out a stake, hit the enemy until they’re one hit away from being stunned, empty your blood pool by spamming Claw attacks, and when you’re almost out of stamina, land the stun, bite them, regain health/blood and even stamina, and repeat.
What goes for you goes for the enemy. Blood Barrier doesn’t protect you from aggravated damage? That means Claws will go through an enemy vampire’s Blood Barrier too. Claws also go through enemy parry stances too.
Don’t try to mash attack after being hit by an enemy to hit him back and stagger him, your attack will be slower than the next hit in his combo. Dodging away is the way to go.
This is why I recommend upgrading different weapons, sometimes regaining blood through a quick and safe attack is the way to go, sometimes enemy openings between attacks are awkward for a 2-handed weapon. Bosses are designed at being good at roll-catching you, but parrying them is easy.
Die and learn until you get through.