Start strong, blaze through the early game and set yourself up for success in Nightmare.
The best early game hero deck IMO is: Apprentice, Huntress, Monk, EV-A.
Save the Squire for later: leveling new heroes in Nightmare Survival takes a fraction of the time and he’s a really good tank in the mid-game which I consider all of Nightmare and the Massacre campaign, but the other heroes are far more useful early game. If you really want to include the Squire though, swap him in for the Huntress. I used her the least but came to rely on her toward the end of early game and her crowd control traps are practically mandatory for mid-game.
The EV-A is the strongest active hero for early game. She has the highest jump height, can drop a decoy to help you get out of trouble, has great HP scaling and can use huntress AND apprentice weapons. Playing a hero actively during the combat phases gives you a 30% damage bonus (known as the active builder bonus) on any defenses you build with them, and you’ll want to build a whole bunch of her defenses early game.
The EV-A’s proton beams are busted.
Make big X’s or slant a single 5 DU beam through every lane, drop ensnares in the middle of them once you have some range on your monk and that lane is good. This alone will carry you through the medium and hard campaign if your beams adequately cover the enemies path, which is outlined by little purple tracer lines in each lane.
If an Ogre’s coming, add a wall at the end of the beams – check the spawn door to see where the Ogres are coming from, almost every campaign map has at least 1 wave 5 Ogre. A reflect beam can help too, they can be 1 DU and reflect back all enemy projectiles.
If you really want to play it safe and you’re not sure, just wall off the crystals. It’ll give you time to deal with the enemies you didn’t account for with your build.
If the lane or choke point is short or it’s a corner, add an explosive trap. They hit hard and have a big blast radius but they’re more high maintenance than the proton beams until you have better stats. They’re also useful near your walls for in case enemies are slipping past or surviving your proton beams.
If you have the DU to spare and your EV-A is over level 20, buff everything with an overclock. If you plan out your lane a bit, you can buff everything with a single 4 DU overclock beam. More damage for everything, more range on the traps and auras, and armor for the wall.
Flameburst towers hit hard and do splash damage but they can be attacked and some enemies are immune to fire damage, use them if you can put them somewhere safe.
Once your Apprentice is level 15, use Deadly Striker Towers for killing Ogres and bosses. They have insane range, hit really hard, never miss and shoot through walls. Stash them behind stuff, around corners or anywhere safe. They’re very fragile.
Strength drain auras can make lanes safer by reducing the damage enemies can do to defenses. It’ll also strip away elemental immunity from enemies, making flameburst towers and other elemental defenses more effective. Every defense mentioned here so far aside from flameburst towers deals physical damage so don’t worry about elemental resistance: nothing is immune to physical damage until Massacre difficulty. Ensnare auras are poison based so keep in mind there will be a few enemies who are immune to them too.
These are the main defenses that I would suggest for use in early game but if you want to experiment: darkness and gas traps can be useful as additional crowd control, magic missiles are cheap physical damage with good range, and the Squires spike blockades and harpoons are great defenses if you want to experiment outside of the meta. It’s possible to solo the campaign from level 1 with just a Squire. I would avoid the rest of the defenses for now as they’re either very situational or far more useful later on.
Upgrading the same defense multiple times costs increasingly more mana nut increases their damage, duration and health the same amount each time. Start with upgrading your damage dealing defenses once or twice since it’s the best value. Keep your walls at level 1 and use the upgrades to quickly repair them as needed. Ensnare auras, Strength Drain auras and other crowd control defenses are a low priority for upgrades, only upgrade them if they don’t have enough health to make it through the wave and you can spare the mana.
My recommendation assumes you’re following the meta I outlined earlier. If not, feel free to experiment.
Adding points to your defense stats is your main priority at the start. You get free stat points for leveling that you can move in and out of your stats however you’d like, most of your stats will come from these points early on. The first few dozen points or so in each stat are weighted really heavily compared to the following 100 points. Each stat has diminishing returns: adding additional points results in smaller increases the more points you already have. For example, you’ll see a greater increase in range on your towers from the first 40 points of range in your Apprentice than you’ll see in the following 200 points invested. The earlier points give you much more value, this is true for every stat. I’ll give recommended ratios for stat investment on each hero but they are by no means set in stone.
For the EV-A, put most of your points into power and some into fortify. Ignore range and defense rate until you start using Overclock beams. Even then, keep those stats at a small fraction of your power and fortify. Range does nothing for protons and walls. Defense Rate scales really poorly so a few points go a long way. Power scales much better for DPS on protons. Fortify will add HP to your walls and protons, making them easier to maintain. If you’re having a hard time keeping your protons alive for a whole wave, you need more fortify. An easy ratio to follow while you’re using lots of proton beams for damage with some walls is 4 power:3 fortify. When you start using walls more and protons less as you’re shifting into mid-game, go with something like 5 fortify:3 power:1 range:1 rate. The power then becomes more for the bonus on your overclock beams.
Stat priority for the Huntress is very similar to the proton focused EV-A except range actually makes a difference for traps. Power is the main stat, followed by fortify to get more charges on her explosive traps. An easy ratio to follow for her stat investment is 3 power:2 fortify:1 range. Feel free to stop adding fortify though if you have enough charges on her explosives to last an entire wave or two. A few points into defense rate isn’t a bad idea but it’s a really low priority because going heavy into defense rate means you’re sacrificing range or power to burn explosive traps down faster, making them harder to maintain. The points are better spent elsewhere. Fortify also adds duration to gas and darkness traps, should you choose to use them.
For the Monk, go heavy on range right away. Auras start out really small but get bigger fast. I recommend sticking with only ensnares with the occasional strength drain aura in the early game, neither of which benefit from defense rate so it’s safe to ignore. Fortify is the next most important stat after range: if you’re having trouble keeping the auras alive for the whole wave, add fortify. Ensnares and strength drains don’t need much power to be useful, just add a few points here and there. An easy ratio to follow is 4 range, 2 fortify and 1 power. If you want to use electric auras, you’ll need more power and some defense rate.
Range and power are equally important at first for the apprentice, followed by defense rate. After the first 35 points or so, scaling on range drops off really hard. An easy ratio to follow would be 2 power, 1 range and 1 rate after 35 range. If you’re placing your towers well, they won’t be getting hit so you shouldn’t need any fortify but it’s not a bad idea to put in a few points here and there. The same principles can be applied to a Squire’s harpoons if you’re using them, though he would need fortify if you wanted to use Spike Blockades too.
The casting stat effects how quickly your heroes can build, repair and upgrade defenses. If you’re playing the campaign with hardcore off and don’t have a build timer, it only matters for your active hero since you’ll have as much time as you’d like to build with your other heroes during the build phase. With a build timer though, you’ll want every hero to be able to build quickly. By the end of the Insane campaign, I wound up with 40 casting on each hero. Add some points to it here and there if you feel like your heroes are building too slowly, especially if you’re playing campaign maps with hardcore enabled.
For your active hero, some points into attack will go a long way. When I was farming the Summit on Insane to hit level 70 and unlock nightmare, I had 50 points in my attack stat and it made my weapon do way more damage. Add a few points here and there throughout your play-through so your active hero can do more damage.
Make sure you go to your auto loot filters and check every box when you first start so every piece of gear gets auto-looted, that way you don’t have to run around and pick everything up manually.
Just equip whatever gear you find at first but you’re mainly on the look out for defense stats. Every piece of Miner has a point of power on it so just put it on whoever at first since everyone benefits from power. Your EV-A is the main priority early on so give her the best gear.
After running 5 or 6 maps, you’ll start to accumulate a lot of items. You’ll want to start putting together matching sets for everyone to take advantage of the bonus. I would recommend against putting everyone in miner even though it’s guaranteed to have power. Militia is guaranteed to have attack and Guard is guaranteed to have vitality, both of which are very useful to have on your active hero. Having a set of either on your EV-A with good defense stats would be great. Primitive is guaranteed to have agility which improves movement speed but hard caps at 100 and Ancient is guaranteed to have skill which scales with your heroes ability. It’s best to diversify which sets you have your heroes wearing so you can take advantage of as many good pieces as you can while still maintaining the set bonus. Any piece of gear can roll with any stats so just put together sets with lots of high priority defense stats for each hero.
It really doesn’t matter who wears what since armor stats are all RNG outside of the guaranteed stats on each set and most of your points will be coming from rune power anyway but, if I had to recommend a set for each hero based on those guaranteed stats and I had good pieces for every set, I’d say: Put the EV-A and Apprentice in Guard or Militia since they are the best active heroes in early and mid game. They would both benefit from having attack or vitality. Put the Monk in Ancient because later on you may use him as the active hero for his tower boost ability that scales with skill which is guaranteed on Ancient Armor. Put the Huntress in Miner because it’s guaranteed power and that’s her main stat. Finally, save the primitive with the best hero stats, mainly attack, vitality, skill and boost, for your first dedicated DPS or Tank hero whenever you make one. All that said, it’s better to just go through all your drops every 3 or 4 maps, use the best pieces from every set across your heroes and sell the rest.
Armor comes easy early game and you’ll be swapping out pieces pretty frequently. As such, it’s generally not worth spending gold to upgrade armor beyond the first few points until you’re about ready to break into Nightmare. Upgrade points on your armor get progressively more expensive so don’t waste your gold on maxing out early game armor. Save it for a weapon instead.
If you’re playing through the campaign, before every boss fight I’d recommend putting a point or two into your best armor pieces on each hero and dumping the rest of your gold into a good weapon or upgrading your current weapon. In my opinion, the best early game weapon is a staff with an upgradeable projectile count and high base ranged damage. When you’re picking your first staff to invest in, just pick the one with the highest base ranged damage that you’re also able to upgrade the projectile count on and level that one. Just level projectile count whenever it’s unlocked. With each additional projectile, your DPS potential goes up by a lot. You’ll have to fight at mid-range to land all of your projectiles but the DPS is worth it IMO. If you want a safer but harder to find option with less DPS potential, go with a minigun or a paintball gun that you can upgrade the fire rate on and apply the same principles. The biggest problem with going that route is that you won’t be able to give the weapon to your Apprentice if you want to run him as the active hero when you start moving away from protons and toward DSTs as a primary damage dealing defense. Not only would the Apprentice then give the active builder bonus to the DSTs for better damage, he’s also able to overcharge all defenses aside from auras with his secondary attack while his hero boost is active, giving them much faster attack rate. This makes him a far better support hero than the EV-A.
Start with the campaign, I would recommend playing through on medium if you’re on console or a gamepad, new to the franchise or new to the genre. If it feels too easy, just switch to hard. You don’t have to finish medium if you don’t want to and hard isn’t that much harder. Feel free to toggle hardcore on but I’d recommend keeping it off for the boss maps at least. I’d stay away from playing rifted until Nightmare. It’s significantly more difficult and you’ll need a ton of rifted runs in a bunch of different maps to really take advantage of the rewards. It’ll really drag out the early game and I don’t think it’s worth it but give it a shot if you want an extra challenge.
After completing the hard campaign, the entire insane campaign is unlocked. From here, you can do whatever you want to hit 70 but you’ll need a level 70 hero and to beat The Summit on Insane campaign to move on to Nightmare. Personally, I enjoyed playing through the whole campaign on Insane and then farming the boss maps on Insane campaign for more gear until I hit 70. The victory chests after killing the bosses guarantee accessories: Brooches from Alc Labs, Bracers from Throne Room, Pets and Masks from The Summit. Instead, you could farm any of the endurance game modes: Pure Strategy, Survival or Mix Mode, with Ancient Mines being the easiest to push deep waves on. The endurance game modes are a bit boring on Insane in my opinion and would probably take a while longer but it may be easier and you’ll get better gear if you can finish Ancient Mines Survival on hardcore than you would farming the Summit or Glitterhelm Caverns on hardcore campaign. A mix of both would be fine too.
Either way, once you hit 70 and beat the Summit on Insane, you’re ready to take your first steps in to the mid-game: Nightmare!