Elden Ring Vagabond and Hero beginner's guide: Become a Strength juggernaut

Elden Ring
Elden Ring (Image credit: Windows Central)

Melee combat has always been the bread-and-butter of FromSoftware's fantasy action RPGs, and one of the best ways to engage in melee combat has been to create a build centered around the Strength stat. With their massive health pools and high damage potential, good Strength builds are truly a force to be reckoned with in both PvE and PvP.

This hasn't changed in Elden Ring, and if you're a newcomer to the game looking to create an effective character with the Vagabond or Hero class, making a Strength build is a fantastic option. Here are some valuable tips, pieces of information, and strategies that will allow you to become a devastating Strength juggernaut with Elden Ring's premiere melee classes.

This article avoids general spoilers save for the weapons list at the bottom. Note that while this article doesn't cover everything, it does encompass the basics, as well as plenty of advanced information.

Elden Ring: Guide to Vagabond, Hero, and Strength combat

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

Whether you choose the Vagabond or the Hero class, your biggest advantage in Elden Ring will be your ability to get in the faces of your enemies and lock them into combos with your melee weapons. Whereas Dexterity-focused classes like the Bandit or Samurai dish out the pain by landing critical parries and backstabs or by striking foes rapidly, the Vagabond and Hero excel at using Strength weapons to deal slower, but larger and more consistent chunks of damage. Strength weapons also typically "hitstun" enemies, preventing them from evading follow-up attacks.

As you may have guessed, leveling up your Strength is very important when building your Vagabond or Hero. Not only does Strength increase your damage significantly when you're using weapons that scale with it, but it also allows you to wield heavier armaments like greataxes, heavy shields, and other large and powerful tools.

You should also level up your HP and Endurance as well. You'll need lots of HP to be a brawler so you can take some hits, and a good amount of Endurance will give you the stamina you need to absorb incoming blows with shields or effectively roll away from attacks. Endurance also gives you a higher maximum equip load, allowing you to wear heavier armor without being slowed down.

Elden Ring (Image credit: Windows Central)

Elden Ring (Image credit: Windows Central)

Top: The location of the Zweihander. Bottom: The location of the Limgrave Tunnels.

Unlike the spells you should quickly get while playing as the Astrologer and Prisoner classes, there aren't many specific items in Elden Ring that you should hunt down right away as a Strength-focused Vagabond or Hero. However, something you should definitely get as soon as possible is the Zweihander, which is a powerful Strength weapon that will carry you through Elden Ring's early game. You'll find it within the Isolated Merchant Shack in the western Weeping Peninsula area, located south of Limgrave.

Once you have the Zweihander, you should upgrade it with Smithing Stones to improve its damage. These upgrade materials (and all of the various tiers of them) can be found all throughout Elden Ring's open world, but are especially common in mines and tunnels. An easy one you can explore right away is the Limgrave Tunnels dungeon, found in the northern portion of the lake to the east of The First Step Site of Grace.

If you started as the Hero, you'll also want to track down some good armor since the clothing you start with doesn't offer much damage protection. There aren't many sets of armor available in the game's opening areas, but enemies you kill can drop their armor. Additionally, once you kill Margit the Fell Omen and gain access to the Roundtable Hold hub area, you can purchase the Knight armor set from the Twin Maiden Husk NPCs there.

Elden Ring: General melee tips for Strength users

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Now that you understand the basics of Strength combat, have a nice Zweihander, and are equipped with some good armor, you have everything you need to begin tackling the Lands Between. While our Elden Ring melee combat guide goes more in-depth on every facet of melee combat, you can read on for more advanced tips and pieces of information that will help you understand how to be effective as a Strength user.

Important melee mechanics

As a Strength user, the melee mechanic that's core to your success is Poise. This value is what determines your ability to finish your attacks without being staggered out of them by the enemy. Therefore, you'll want your Poise to be as high as possible (you can check its value in the Status menu). There are two ways to increase your poise; using heavy armor and wielding large Strength-focused weapons. You'll need a lot of Endurance to use both, but if you do, it basically ensures you'll never get staggered.

Another mechanic you should abuse as a Strength character is stance breaking. This happens when an enemy's stamina is broken or their invisible "stagger meter" is built up from consecutive hits, and it allows you to land a critical hit that does massively increased damage. All types of melee fighters can stance break, but it's much easier to do with Strength weapons since they do huge damage per hit, especially when you use charged heavy attacks.

If you're planning on using shields in your build, another mechanic you should know about is guard countering. To perform a guard counter, block an attack and then immediately heavy attack. You'll launch a special counterattack that does tons of extra damage. This move also often leads to a stance break, allowing you to follow up with a crit.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

It's also important to note that when you use your weapons two-handed, your Strength stat is temporarily increased by 50%. This not only leads to greater damage, but also more of a chance to stance break and stagger enemies or a boss. In situations where a shield isn't helping you much, you should two-hand your weapons.

Alternatively, you also have the option of Power Stancing your weapons. This automatically occurs when you equip a similar type of weapon in each hand (for example, two greatswords) and allows you to attack enemies with both of them at once when using the left bumper (L1). While you won't get the 50% Strength bonus that two-handing one weapon provides, you will do better overall damage per second.

How to fight as a Strength character

While Dexterity-focused melee characters should stay agile and quickly weave in and out of combat to take advantage of their faster weapons, Strength combat is all about standing your ground and repeatedly clobbering your enemies. Backing away gives your enemies a chance to recover from your attacks, so plant your feet and trust in your Poise. You can take down the vast majority of Elden Ring's enemies in this way, though some require a more nuanced approach.

Whenever you encounter an enemy that dodges your initial attacks or begins using an attack of their own that you can't interrupt (this is typically what bosses do), you have two options:

  1. Block the attack with your shield and respond with a guard counter.
  2. Dodge roll out of the way and then follow up with a few attacks of your own.

The former approach works well on standard enemies, while the latter is generally how you should fight larger enemies and bosses. Do note, however, that blocking a lot of attacks and using guard counters is viable in many boss fights if you have an upgraded greatshield and lots of stamina. If you plan on dodging, you'll need to make sure you have a medium load since a heavy load will slow you down and make your dodges effectively useless.

Generally, you should avoid using your heavy attacks unless the foe you're fighting is distracted by a player you've summoned or your Spirit Ash Summons. This is because they're much slower than light attacks, and while you'll usually still be able to finish them thanks to your Poise, you'll often take some hits in the process. In situations where you can safely use them, charged heavy attacks are a fantastic way to stance break.

Elden Ring: Best Strength weapons and equipment

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Throughout the Lands Between, there are many different weapons that scale with Strength. As you journey, you should be on the lookout for these large armaments. In general, you should be looking for greatswords, greataxes, greathammers, and other large weapons. However, there are some smaller and less cumbersome Strength weapons that are effective as well.

If you plan on blocking with a shield, you'll also want to get your hands on a good medium or greatshield that offers 100% physical damage negation. Upgrading this shield will reduce the stamina damage you take when blocking hits, which is an important part of playing Elden Ring this way.

Below, you'll find a list of some of the best Strength weapons and gear that you can get your hands on in Elden Ring's opening hours (in addition to the Zweihander). These items will serve you well into Elden Ring's late game as long as you upgrade them as you progress.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
ItemTypeLocationUsage
MaceHammerCan be purchased from the Twin Maiden Husks at Roundtable Hold for 800 runesThis weapon is a relatively lightweight option that still does great damage and is excellent at stance breaking. (Requires: STR 12, DEX 7)
ClubHammerSold by the Nomadic Merchant for 600 runes. He's located southeast of the Coastal Cave dungeon in Limgrave.An alternative to the Mace that does less damage but swings faster. (Requires: STR 10)
Large ClubGreathammerCan be found south of the Forlorn Hound Everagol in Limgrave, surrounded by demi-human enemiesA heavy, but powerful early game Strength weapon that does fantastic damage and stance breaks most foes easily. (Requires: STR 22)
GreataxeGreataxeFound in the chest in the back of the carriage that occasionally travels through Limgrave near the Waypoint Ruins.A strong alternative to the Large Club that swings faster, but does a bit less damage. (Requires: STR 30, DEX 8)
Bastard SwordGreatswordCan be purchased from the Nomadic Merchant along the eastern side of the Weeping Peninsula area, south of Limgrave.A great alternative to the Zweihander that has less range and damage, but a faster swinging speed and lower stat requirements. (Requires: STR 16, DEX 10)
Golden HalberdHalberdDropped by the Tree Sentinel miniboss near the Church of Elleh in Limgrave.A phenomenal weapon for Strength/Faith hybrid builds. Does excellent damage and can buff you and your allies with extra health and damage when using its weapon art. (Requires: STR 30, DEX 14, FAI 12)
Brass ShieldMedium ShieldDropped by Stormveil/Godrick Soldiers seen using it.An excellent shield that fully blocks physical damage. It also boosts your guard by quite a bit, resulting in less stamina damage taken while guarding compared to other medium shields. (Requires: STR 16)
Wooden GreatshieldGreatshieldFound in Stormveil Castle, within a gatehouse in the heavily-guarded courtyard leading up to the boss fight with Godrick the Grafted.The lightest greatshield in the game. Great if you'd prefer more stability than a medium shield, but don't have the stats for the Gilded Greatshield. (Requires: STR 14)
Gilded GreatshieldGreatshieldDropped by the Stormveil Knight wielding this greatshield in the Gatefront Ruins in Limgrave.This heavy metal greatshield is incredibly effective and is without question the most protective shield in Elden Ring's early game. (Requires: STR 36)

Elden Ring is finally here, and it's available for $60 on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC. It's one of the best Xbox games you can play right now if you're a fan of challenging RPGs, and we strongly recommend it.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.