Edit TLDR; flint spear, bronze buckler, troll armor, finewood bow stretch really well
I recently hit 400 hours with the game and I am reflecting on my playstyle.
First, as a nearly 40-year-old avid gamer, this game is a blast. Although our dedicated server has flagged off throughout this spring and summer as jobs pick up again post-lockdowns and as we anticipate Hearth & Home, I’ve just started two other seeds, one solo and one with my son. I’ve spent a long time in the current endgame, so I am recently reminded how fun the progression is. Maybe my reflections can be helpful to someone who is just picking it up. Maybe I can learn something new, myself.
Regarding weapon and combat progression, I find I drift the same direction every time I play. Early game, I rely solely on the spear and shield. I remember months ago someone posted a love letter to the spear, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and I haven’t looked back. First, once I figured out the throw, deer are easy enough in the early game, and the elevation jank isn’t so bothersome once you get used to it. Also, I find that a fully-leveled flint spear can last you until you get the fang spear. Pierce is such a good damage type — it rips through trolls and wolves alike. For everything else, I don’t care to have anything more than the bronze axe. Yeah, you don’t have an alt attack, but there is double damage on the third swing, it frequently staggers enemies on the second, and you have to build a bronze axe, anyway. I have not found a reason to build an atgeir or other two-handed weapons, because the axe does just fine against skeletons at lower levels, and above all, I don’t want to lose the parry block damage stat.
About the parry — if the flint spear stretches well across flint, bronze, and iron ages, I find the bronze buckler does very well in that regard, too. I rarely block unless I intend to parry, which I do almost every time I engage an enemy. The bronze buckler has a parry block stat equal to the banded shield, effectively obviating the latter in my view, especially when iron is such a critical resource. Also, since I haven’t found the mountain biome presents enemies that need a higher parry block stat than the bronze buckler (buckler seems to do fine against most wolves if you’re confident parrying; bow for drakes; rolling around golems), I can’t say I always feel the need to craft a silver shield until just before facing Moder.
Regarding armor, the troll armor is in my judgement the best armor in the game because of its stretch. While I may craft metal helms, I find I shrug at bronze and iron armor. If I can confidently clear a crypt in troll armor, and I find I can, I’d rather keep my movement speed and also use the bronze, iron, and maybe silver on other things. Even in the mountains, troll tunic and leggings seem to do reasonably well, and if I craft the full silver set it might be just to fight Moder and begin to seriously foray into the plains — or just hold out for padded.
And bows — this seems again to be based on the damage types available to me for the enemies I actually encounter as I advance. I use bows, but not as frequently as I use spear and axe in the early game and frostner and sword in the current endgame. I’m a bit meh about bows. I know they’re supposed to be overpowered, but I don’t really see it. It seems like I’m more effective and have more fun with sword and board style combat because of the parry. Even so, I rush to build a finewood bow and hold onto it until draugr fang. While the huntsman's bow is an objectively better bow, I just found I haven’t wanted or needed it, and I’ve actually never crafted one in any playthrough. Since I have fire arrows, which are cheap and easy to craft in bulk, I have a quality damage type against many swamp and mountain mobs until draugr fang, and I’d rather put the iron elsewhere.
I should say, too, that the spirit of all of this isn’t to rush through the game in any way, because maybe it could read like that. I’ve only ever played vanilla survival, so I prefer to put as many resources as possible to architecture or to other players, rather than to items that will spend the bulk of the time in a chest or mounted on a wall and don’t meaningfully contribute to my progress. As such, in the bronze age I max out the buckler and the axe and keep a level 1 pick, maybe a helm; in iron, I build and max out pick, mace, and maybe helm; in silver, the cape, fang spear, draugr fang, frostner, the helm, and then maybe the shield and armor set. Black metal in the current endgame is so abundant that it’s not a concern. I know I’m probably sleeping on daggers, but since the flint spear stretches so well in the earlier ages, I haven’t bothered with them. I tried using a blackmetal dagger, but found I still preferred the blackmetal sword or frostner for fulings and fang spear for lox.
I hope someday there may be more shield and armor options available. I would love to have a line of light armor and bucklers to progress through. It would be crazy fun to hit the plains and future biomes as a light, highly mobile, skill-centric explorer, always calculating how to avoid getting caught without stamina and solving the puzzles of large engagements.