Zealot Meta (No Stealth)
If I were to suggest only a single build - for any class - to nominate as the absolute strongest, most well-rounded, highest skill ceiling playstyle with the greatest potential to carry and clutch the hardest missions this game could ever possibly create, it would be this build. Except for the last part.
There is one ability in this game that is in a class of its own, and it is of course, also exclusive to Zealot.
That ability is Shroudfield. In its current state and with the right setup, Shroudfield can make you truly unkillable.
Breaking aggro for 6 seconds every 10-20 seconds on an already very resilient and mobile class is simply broken.
No other build in the game can compete with this, so I have decided to write two separate build guides concerning Darktide's highest meta potential. One that ignores Shroudfield (this guide), and one that embraces it.
This guide will focus on creating the one build that ascends to the top of the meta purely via a player's own skill.
We create the strongest build in the game that does not rely on gimmicks, crutches, or overtuned abilities.
Just the raw potential to bring out a level of performance in a player that no other build in this game can allow.
This setup is recommended for a player who understands the more intricate aspects of the game - positioning, AI behavior, spawn timings, etc - and can reliably predict and identify the sequence of events that will unfold in any given situation. Anyone, regardless of skill, can use this build and achieve incredible success on Zealot - even in Maelstrom - but in the hands of an exceptionally skilled player, this build will ascend you into godhood. An expert player using this build should never, EVER go down to anything other than bad luck or unexpected AI behavior.
It has one and only one area that it does not truly excel in, and that is Monstrosity DPS. You can fix this by using the new and improved Thunder Hammer instead of the Heavy Sword. Your ranged weapon will be powerful enough to carry you through most situations that you would normally rely on your melee weapon for - if you are conservative with your ammo.
Playstyle and Key Features
Melee: Turtolsky Mk IX Heavy Sword | Headtaker and Rampage | +Maniac, +Flak
Ranged: Ius Mk III Shredder Autopistol | Blaze Away and Pinning Fire/Inspiring Barrage | +Maniac, +Flak or +Unyielding
Key Talents: Fury of the Faithful | Stunstorm Grenade | Inexorable Judgement | Benediction Aura
Alternative Route: Backstabber, Scourge, Enduring Fate --> | Blades of Faith | (for Crit-Bleed build, but no Stun Grenades)
The core playstyle of this build is identical to pre-class overhaul Zealot. You do anything and everything, zipping all around the area of engagement to go wherever you are needed, charging into battle with Fury of the Faithful, intercepting priority targets, and supporting your squad as a mobile human blender. You destroy hordes and obliterate elites and shooters with the attack speed boost from your keystone ability, Inexorable Judgement, which also applies to your ranged weapon.
You've heard that the Autopistol has been nerfed, but with this build, you've heard wrong.
All of your abilities are passive and behind the scenes. Your buffs activate simply by moving, dodging, and fighting normally. There is nothing to manage, nothing to think about. Play Zealot exactly the same way you played before, but now with so many incredible boons that you will feel as if you are cheating.
You retain the best features of Zealot, stun immunity, speed, burst damage, death resist, mobility. You have everything you wanted on Zealot before, but now you get even more. You are faster, stronger, more evasive, hardier, healthier, and more capable in every way. You are on steroids, you are a force of nature, and you hold great power at your fingertips. The power to overcome any problem all by yourself, no matter how hopeless it may seem.
With the exception of unique abilities locked to other classes and archetypes, you do everything there is to do, and you do it exceptionally well. So well that you begin to realize the best thing your team is doing for you is simply existing, reducing the number of enemies that target you. But use your powers for good. Protect your team, save them from mishaps, no need to be selfish when you already have it all.
You have no weaknesses, but you do have one trait that doesn't qualify as a strength.
As previously mentioned, your DPS against monsters - while serviceable - is nothing special. It will take you time to down monsters on your own, especially if you are unwilling to waste precious ammo on them. The Chaos Spawn is your single greatest threat in the entire game. If you are the sole survivor up against a Spawn and there's still an entire horde of enemies after you at the same time, you are in a lot of trouble.
Why the Heavy Sword?
The Heavy Sword outclasses every other all-purpose melee weapon available to Zealot, with the sole exception being the Combat Blade specifically used with a stealth-crit build. You have probably heard that the Combat Axe was Zealot's best weapon pre-class overhaul. This was debatable at best, but there is no longer any question now that the Heavy Sword's single target damage has been buffed even higher. The Heavy Sword decimates unarmored twice as fast as the BM Combat Axe and takes down Flak at the same speed (even with Heavy Sword's reduced Flak damage). When the buffs from this build are active, Heavy attacks can one-shot every non-Ogryn elite/special in the game, including Mutants and Maulers. Additionally, the Heavy Sword's attack patterns are very safe when spamming against large groups of enemies attempting to overwhelm you. The state that the Heavy Sword is in now post-class overhaul solidifies what was already demonstrably true. Unless you are specifically trying to melee Monstrosities and Ogryns, or farm cooldown reduction with crits, it is the best all-purpose Melee weapon in the entire game.
Q: What about Carapace?
A: You will be able to reliably deal with Carapace with proper use of the Heavy Sword's special attack, and Fury of the Faithful's armor piercing property, which retains the original effect of Chastise the Wicked's 5 seconds of ranged weapon armor penetration. Press F and Crushers go away, just like before.
The remainder of this text will be information that is mostly shared with my Zealot Meta (Stealth) guide.
Why the Autopistol? Reddit said the meta is over!
Take a look at your keystone ability in this build. Look at what it does to ranged weapons. Start running for a few seconds, whack an enemy, then fire your Shredder. If it is not immediately obvious, with these new talents, the Autopistol's fire rate is massively increased, and there are buffs to base damage being applied on top of that. It is still nearly as strong as it was pre-class overhaul when used with this Zealot build. And it still has all of the amazing mobility that is fundamental to the playstyle we are trying to adhere to. Maniacs, Specialists, and shooter squads still melt just as before. There is however a noticeable decrease in DPS against armored targets, mainly Gunners and Maulers; when encountering large groups of them, you may want to use Fury of the Faithful's armor piercing property if you intend to gun them down.
Q: Why are you still recommending Blaze Away and Pinning Fire after the nerfs?
A: Because with the absurd ranged weapon fire rate that this build enables, the Autopistol gains far more value out of these blessings than other weapons because it can reach max stacks so quickly. Its fire rate is so outrageous that Blaze Away can be considered an always-active power increase. Pinning Fire has been heavily nerfed (justifiably); however, it is still the best pick for a 2nd damage-focused blessing for the exact same reason. The fire rate and considerable DPS you already have from Blaze Away (coupled with the Shredder's still VERY good base damage) means mag dumps into groups of enemies reach max stacks of Pinning Fire almost immediately as well. The faster a single enemy dies, the faster you can switch or penetrate to a new target, meaning the value of Pinning Fire only increases the higher you can pump up your ranged DPS, which is self-fulfilled by having the blessing in the first place.
Q: Between Pinning Fire and Inspiring Barrage, which one is the better pick?
A: It is a question of damage vs. survivability. Pinning Fire is still a good power boost, but the breathing room Inspiring Barrage provides while out in the open is unmatched by any other blessing in the game. It effectively removes non-elite shooters as a threat and can save your life while cornered and alone. Because of the hyper fire rate, and the nerf to Pinning Fire, Blaze Away is now the best in slot blessing for damage. If you feel that you still have issues managing your Toughness, or simply enjoy the immense quality-of-life Inspiring Barrage provides, keep Blaze Away and swap Pinning Fire instead.
Q: What about Powderburn? I heard this is really good now that it gives a damage bonus.
A: There is a fundamental problem with Powderburn. The 20% damage bonus is only going towards enemies that can actually be suppressed. The highest priority targets in Darktide are either resistant or outright immune to suppression. We are talking about Pox Hounds, Mutants, Ragers, Poxbursters, Crushers, etc. Even if you aren't staggering these enemies, often you have stacks of Pinning Fire already active providing a power boost anyway. Powderburn just cannot compete. The bonus to suppression against shooter hordes is pointless, you delete them so fast it doesn't even matter, and often you want to charge into them to fight in melee anyway. The recoil bonus doesn't really add anything either when your talents are already improving it. Besides, we all know shooters just randomly ignore suppression anyway, so forget this blessing exists.
Q: What about Raking Fire?
A: Raking Fire is a good blessing. It's about the same DPS increase as Blaze Away when shooting from behind, and this scenario happens more often than you might think. (Dodged a mutant/hound, Nurgle Beast weakspot, flanking shooters, firing at enemies who are aggro'd on your teammates, etc) If you can't get the combo of Blaze Away + Pinning Fire, keep this blessing and swap the other blessing to Blaze Away.
Dealing with Monstrosities Solo
First, the obvious:
Want to kill monsters? Bring the Thunder Hammer. It is actually usable in normal melee combat now.
You can usually get by without a sword or axe thanks to the sheer power and utility of your ranged weapon.
For all other weapons:
Your strategy against a monster while alone is to first decide if you can kill it in a reasonable amount of time, before more enemies start to appear and overwhelm you, or before you run out of ammo. Sometimes your best course of action is to GTFO and make a mad dash to your teammates for a rescue. You are fast, you are evasive, you are using one of the best builds in the game to potentially survive this scenario, do not give up or panic. Think about where you are on the map, and where you can go that might give you an advantage. Remember that moving forward means more ambient enemies on the map will aggro you, take this into consideration when deciding to reposition.
A Plague Ogryn and Nurgle Beast are annoying, they cause area denial and place pressure on you, but you are faster than they are, and you will usually be able to prioritize more immediate threats if you are smart about how you position yourself and how you traverse the map. One of your best strategies is to lead enemies towards a location where there is a ledge you can vault over. Lure them close then jump and run like hell. They have to path all the way back around the way they came, giving you precious time to deal with other enemies, look for resources, or make a mad dash towards the respawn zone to save your team.
Regarding the Chaos Spawn:
The Chaos Spawn is a far more perilous enemy to fight as the last player standing. The deadliest aspect of the Spawn is not the Spawn itself, but rather the immense pressure it places on you that allows other enemies to have their way with you. It is extremely fast, and often right in your face. Disablers completely ignore it's collision. Mutants, dogs, and trapper nets will magically appear in front of you through the Spawn with very little warning, and often there is nothing you can do to avoid it.
Additionally, despite what recent patch notes claim, its grab attack is still VERY hard to dodge, even with a slide there is a good chance you will be grabbed anyway, it is extremely cheap. Getting grabbed of course means you gain corruption, the Spawn heals, and enemies that were chasing you now have fully caught up to you when it releases you. A Chaos Spawn's grab will be your #1 cause of death while fighting monsters solo.
Choosing to Run instead of Fighting a Monstrosity:
Depending on how many other enemies are actively targeting you while you fight a monster, and your current health/ammo situation, it might be a better idea to try to rescue your teammates rather than facing a healthy monster alone. Remember that even if the map is clear now, at any moment the game could send 10 specials at you, and the right combination of them and a bit of bad luck will easily end your run. If you decide to run, use everything you can to gain speed and simultaneously slow your pursuers down. Explode barrels, side dodge off ledges, utilize vertical drops to make enemies turn around, use your ult to charge towards ambient enemies in front of you to create distance, etc. Make sure your highest mobility weapon is equipped while on the run.
Sometimes you will reach a rescue zone and it will simply be impossible to get someone up before the monster and its buddies catch you. Even with a stun grenade on the other enemies, if the monster knocks you out of the revive animation, the entire rescue is a bust. If you stand there and keep trying, you will fail, and you will die. But DO NOT GIVE UP, there are scenarios where you can continue to just loop around and try again or run like crazy and try to book it to the next respawn zone instead, assuming there isn't some kind of event in the way stopping you from proceeding. Your teammates will be moved there when you have gone too far to save them in the last zone.
If you can reach a checkpoint door or elevator, and make it inside before an enemy also enters, you can hit the button immediately and you have just bought yourself a ton of time. It takes a good while for enemies to make their way back to you after you cross a checkpoint zone, including monsters. The precious time this buys you can save the mission if you can make it to the next respawn zone, stun everything there, and pick up your team. Make sure you have grenades and be ready to fight an entire map's worth of enemies with your team within the next few seconds. This is a Hail Mary maneuver, don't feel bad if you can't pull it off, sometimes it just isn't possible.
Catachan Mk IV "Devil's Claw" Sword | Rampage and Shred | +Flak, +Maniac or +Crit Chance
The Catachan Mk IV Sword is essentially the younger sibling of the Turtolsky Mk IX Heavy Sword. Its moveset is nearly identical, with the exception of a strikedown attack mixed into the light attack chain. If you weren't already aware, all of the Catachan swords received massive buffs in the class overhaul patch. They have gone from basically worthless to "Heavy Sword but also crits and parry". The Mk IV stands out as the best among them thanks to its attack patterns. The reason you would want to use this weapon over the Heavy Sword comes down to two things - Shred and Mobility. Its single-target damage, especially with a crit, is almost as strong as the Heavy Sword. It has better mobility, and incredible crowd-control. When buffs are at max - it will outclass all other Zealot weapons in horde-clear efficiency - including the Heavy Sword. This is the best weapon in the game for a crit-fishing Zealot build, but its armor penetration and Unyielding damage are lacking compared to other options. Even with constant crits, Maulers and Crushers will take time to down, as well as Monstrosities. The parry is EXCELLENT now (spam it against Ragers) but losing the armor penetrating special of the Heavy Sword hurts a bit.
Rashad Mk II Combat Axe | Brutal Momentum and Headtaker/Shred | +Maniac, +Flak or +Unyielding
The Combat Axe is still a great weapon for Zealot, as it is with all classes - even after the change to Brutal Momentum. If Monstrous Specials is one of the modifiers and you aren't doing the bonk, this might be your preferred pick instead of the Heavy Sword, though it is best used with a crit-focused build and Shred.
Catachan Mk III Combat Blade | Uncanny Strike and Riposte | +Crit Chance, +Unyielding
The Combat Blade is better used with the Stealth setup with crit-focused talents, and when done so, it usurps the Heavy Sword's title as the best melee weapon in the game. Even without a dedicated build, it still performs very well under any circumstance if you know how to properly use it in combat. Riposte and Uncanny Strike are your best in slot blessings, allowing you to actually deal with armored enemies in a surprisingly quick manner. The knife's special stagger attack can chain straight into a heavy attack with no windup, abuse this to maximize your heavy attack speed. You will be the fastest character in the game, but your horde clear won't be amazing. Getting trapped in a corner surrounded by enemies can be a death sentence, so be aware of your positioning at all times.
Crucis Mk II Thunder Hammer | Thrust and Headtaker/Slaughterer | +Unyielding, +Weak Spot or +Crit Damage
The Thunder Hammer doesn't need a write up regarding its purpose. In regular melee combat it is no longer a total joke, but it is still bad. You can at least defend yourself now instead of being forced to retreat against large groups of enemies. Take the Thunder Hammer if you want to obliterate bosses and don't mind sacrificing your proficiency in regular melee combat.
Agripinaa Mk VIII Braced Autogun | Deathspitter and Fire Frenzy | +Maniac, +Flak or +Unyielding
The Agripinaa Mk VIII Braced Autogun is probably the best "gun" weapon in the game, with great DPS against all the targets that matter - including Monstrosities. This weapon will obliterate elites and specials even without a damage or fire rate boost. It is a strong competitor to the Autopistol and a well-rolled one should actually outperform it in damage. Its only disadvantage is really just the low mobility and lack of access to Inspiring Barrage (and as far as disadvantages go, that particular one is massive) Take this bad boy if you aint worried bout that blue bar.
Kantrael Mk IX Combat Shotgun | No Respite and Full Bore | +Maniac, +Flak or +Unyielding
Out of the three shotgun variants in the game, the Kantrael is the only one I would recommend using. Its damage is just ever so slightly high enough to reach one-shot breakpoints on many important targets, and it's special ammo serves a unique purpose that is actually useful to you. No Respite and Full Bore are always-active damage/power increases that you do not need to think about or maintain. Deathspitter and Fire Frenzy expire too quickly to make proper use of, so avoid them. Scattershot is okay, but you really want base damage increase, not crit chance. The incendiary rounds are great for softening up large groups of approaching enemies before they get to you. They make Bulwarks a non-issue and also allow you to actively damage Monstrosities even when you are out of melee or shotshell range. For Knife Zealots, incendiary rounds can also help speed up horde-clear in a pinch.
Q: What's wrong with the other Shotguns?
A: The Agripinaa variant is far too lacking in damage to make any reasonable use of. Its special ammo is a mostly redundant ability considering ADS spread on the Kantrael is tight enough to take out enemies from across the map anyway. With ADS, Kantrael also has the option to fire highly accurate incendiary rounds at distant targets, this works equally as well and is very ammo efficient. Taking the Agri shotty is just nuking your DPS for no reason.
The Lawbreaker may seem like a good middle-ground, but the lower damage means many one-shots become two-shots, time to kill goes up - and ammo efficiency goes down, nullifying the only advantage it has over the Kantrael. The special scatter ammo is a waste of your time, you can use it to stagger groups of enemies or spread bleed stacks with Flechette, but even this is usually just inferior to fighting normally.
If you are intent on using the other shotgun variants, you should be aiming for headshots as often as possible.
Consistently hitting weak points with their extra tight ADS spread will go a long way towards your overall DPS.
Remember that the idea behind this build is speed, repositioning, and close range burst damage. You are not sitting on the back lines shooting at targets like a Veteran, you are up close and personal at all times, thus autoguns are preferable over lasguns or headhunters. The shotguns and revolver are powerful and fun to use, they perform well but the ammo count and reload times may hinder your ability to respond quickly to incoming threats while under heavy pressure as the last player standing.
Q: Why no mention of the Boltgun?
A: The Boltgun is indeed a powerhouse of a weapon that performs well on Zealot regardless of playstyle. It is a problem solver that can get you out of some terrible situations via magdumping. I personally stopped using this weapon a long time ago on Zealot, as I discovered that it's contributions towards my playstyle were diminishing as I became more skilled at the game. I eventually realized that the Agripinaa Braced or Autopistol does exactly the same thing the Boltgun does, but with much better mobility, safety, and ammo efficiency - and this is attributed to Zealot's kit already having an answer to nearly every problem the Boltgun attempts to solve.
Army of Crushers on the way? Press F and they turn into Flak for 5 seconds. Bulwarks in your face? Just bait their attack, dodge back and fire, or throw a stun grenade if there's a squad of them. Enemies across the map that need to get shot? 90% of the time your autogun can do this too, it takes a bit more time and ammo due to random spread and damage fall-off but because of suppression ruining half of your aimed shots with a Boltgun, it evens out anyway. The only thing a Boltgun will help you with is deleting a Monstrosity that needs to die ASAP, but this will blow through your ammo fast, and running out of ammo is almost as dangerous as being chased by a monster.
The Boltgun actually begins to underperform the higher you crank the difficulty. On Hi-Intensity Shock Troop with Maelstrom modifiers, there are so many threats constantly being thrown at you from every angle, the Boltgun just cannot keep up. It is too slow to pull out and reload, and its ammo disappears too quickly. It is EXTREMELY important to be able to pull your ranged weapon out in the blink of an eye to stagger or kill something about to ruin everything you are doing, like a dog about to pounce or a trapper firing while you are blocked by enemies and can't dodge. Boltgun cannot do this. You want to be FAST and REACTIVE, your ability to clutch through nigh-unwinnable situations comes down to being able to react with lightning quick reflexes to threats being thrown at you from every angle, the Boltgun simply isn't a weapon that is compatible with this methodology. There will be a dog on your head before you finish pulling it out.
Q: You said no lasguns but what about the Kantrael MG XII?
A: Do not ever pick this weapon as a Zealot while playing difficult Maelstrom missions. Yes, it is powerful while you are safely at range and picking off targets, but because of its slow fire rate, reliance on ADS, and inverse damage falloff - it absolutely will not save you when your teammates are dead and the entire map's worth of enemies are in your face and trying to kill you. This weapon is a trap, it works great when everything is going well, but performs poorly when things start going wrong.
A: Only if you enjoy being shot.
Regarding your Curios
There is a lot of discussion about what the truly optimal setup is when selecting curio bonuses. Mostly the Toughness vs. Health debate. I will offer some insight into why I think Health is the better pick, contrary to the popular opinion of Toughness being statistically better. We are also going to ignore Wounds and Stamina. Never pick Wounds or Stamina unless you are playing a meme build.
Q: Why do you think +Max Health is better than +Max Toughness?
A: When people talk about the amount of value you derive from increased Toughness over the course of an entire match, if you do the math, it adds up to less Health theoretically lost in total, since the amount of Health damage you take is directly tied to the remaining percentage of Toughness you have. More Toughness = Better Defense = Less Health Lost. Data has been compiled to support this notion, and I am not disputing it.
But people who argue that this alone validates always choosing Toughness over Health are failing to consider several concepts that I think are much more important than simply looking at the basic math.
First of all, with the new class reworks, talents give loads of Toughness and Toughness Regeneration that previously were never part of the equation. If you combine this with curios stacking Toughness even higher, yes, you can reach absolutely ridiculous amounts of Toughness. Lets sweeten the deal up a bit by mentioning that Zealot has a nice on-demand Toughness button, and the Shredder can even be blessed to literally shoot Toughness. With all this Toughness, that can so easily be regenerated, you will never be taking any Health damage, so you don't need the Health in the first place, right? Wrong. This is an erroneous assumption because stacking Toughness actually indirectly has diminishing returns, and I will explain why.
When you begin to play this game at an advanced skill level, you start to develop patterns in your playstyle that are specifically designed to avoid scenarios where you risk running out of Toughness in the first place. You learn not to stand in front of Scabs, you learn to just run away from Poxbursters when a push seems risky, you begin to subconsciously make adjustments to your positioning and tactics on the fly to keep your character out of situations where your Toughness might be depleted. You become so proficient in melee combat that you end up generating far more Toughness through attacking than you could ever possibly lose to blows from trash mobs.
You reach a point where stacking Toughness no longer brings you any value, because eventually, the only time you will be out of Toughness is going to be from incidents that put your Health at risk no matter how much Toughness you have. The overwhelming majority of damage you will take as a highly skilled player is going to come from incidents that immediately zero your Toughness. A flamer that you were unaware of clipping you at the wrong time, a Poxburster jumping out of a door you are standing next to with absolutely no warning, being grabbed or disabled at the wrong moment in the wrong location, thrown or blasted into a horde of enemies (or worse, fire and a horde of enemies).
We are talking about scenarios that you realistically cannot fully prevent from happening no matter how skilled you are. There will always be some degree of randomness at play, and sometimes, the game decides it just doesn't like you. In these scenarios where something terrible happens to you, and your Toughness is instantly gone, this is where we see the value in having more Health.
Increased Health is a buffer against bad luck. Toughness often is not.
And bad luck is the ONLY thing that should ever be causing you significant damage during a match.
Q: So if Health is better, why do you choose +5% Toughness instead of +5% Health?
A: This one is simple math, curios offer more Health than Toughness on the primary stat, making Toughness more valuable than Health when it is offered at equal values in the sub stats. To be honest that statement probably is wrong in some way but it makes sense in my brain so thats what I do.
Q: But why not just stack Health entirely?
A: Toughness is still useful. I prefer a more balanced distribution, favoring Health. A single +Max Toughness curio is fine, but I do not recommend more than one. Honestly though with the boost to Toughness and Toughness Regeneration provided by the new talents, +Max Health on all 3 curios is probably better.