Disclaimer: Before starting the actual guide, it is important to know that if you pay enough money, everything can be good, so the focus of this guide is all about min-maxing, if you spend the same resources, obviously some heroes are gonna perform better than others, so this guide will tell you exactly what should be your priority as a F2P, as a mild dolphin spender, or a whale.
The game measures your strength with a metric called Battle Rating (BR for short). Most of the time, the higher BR you are, the stronger you are. That is not always the case, but it is good enough to tell you the general direction you should be aiming at. I will explain later in which situations lower BR can be stronger.
So, what gives you the most BR? as a F2P, there isn't many options, but let's talk about the basics, you want you MAIN team always up to date with your character level, as well as their troops. Because upgrading a heros color (ranges from white, to green, blue, blue +1, blue +2, etc til red) is practically free, all you have to do is to use your energy and fight the same old battles to grind for materials and upgrade them. There is actually accuracy and evasion in this game, even though it is not very obvious, and if your heroes level is too low, you will miss most of your attacks against the enemies and lose battles that you'd otherwise win.
for baby dolphins to bigger fishes, ideally the biggest upgrades you get are GETTING GOOD HEROES (spending on getting stars for your SSRs and saving ingots for SSR+ heroes), not only their skills are much better than the normal heroes, their actual stats increases way more per level than lower rarity heroes. So even if all heroes loses their skills, they can still stat check pretty much anything.
After playing for a while though, you obviously already have an idea of what comp you have, and is in need of a direction of keep growing. This is where SPIRITS come in place. Spirits are so strong stat wise that it is literally night and day for a hero that has them and a one who doesn't. Especially for RED SPIRITS, which are given for a pretty cheap price in monthly funds, or given in the RANKED mode, which is a mode where all the heroes are the same level and same strength, and whoever wins, ranks up, and the highest rank, the CHAMPION rank, gives 500 universal spirit shards which can be traded in the shop for a random red spirit. There's more ways to get Spirits besides spending on cash packs, like World Warfare, which is a mode of PVP, but it is actually Server vs Server, by occupying territories in this PVP mode, you get points and those can be traded for spirits for your heroes. It is highly recommended to always go for RED SPIRITS instead of more yellow ones. Plus getting a 2/4 set or a full set will greatly increase your heroes strength as well. If your wallet is tight though, ALWAYS GO FOR "DIVINE SPIRITS" or "PNEUMA" ones.
Spirits is obviously very high priority, but there's more things that are universally good upgrades for anyone, like skill level. All hero has a main skill that only upgrades itself by STAR UP, and 4 passive skills that needs no upgrade. The ones that we talk about here, are those who appears in the skill tab, 4 of them in fact, sitting there, lvl 1, in need of some love. Just click on that upgrade button! The max level for a skill is 15, and you can get skillbooks from pretty much anywhere, but the main source of income for these skillbooks are from SUMMIT, a ranked PVP mode within your server. By beating people with higher or lower points than you, you get from 80 to 120 points. The higher you rank up, the more skillbooks you will get per day. They also give out strategist universal stones, which can be used to upgrade strategists.
Having good spirits and skills leveled is already hard enough, so you might wanna look at other options of getting stronger, like herbs? There's a mode called Chibi in which you get these weird herbs, when a hero eats them, they get stats. That's it, it sounds pretty straight forward, but as pretty much anything in this game, it is gated by level, so the main thing to aim for is to play everyday, or else you'd just fall behind in progression.
But enough about upgrades for heroes, that is a rather simple concept for pretty much everybody to grasp, so there is not much room for improvement for anybody after reading the guide, as long as they have half a brain. If we move on to other upgrades, it varies A LOT. Strategists? You want to spread the matrix stone as much as possible, because their weapon effects apply even if not used in combat. Strategist skill upgrades? ideally you would have 3 main strategists as World Warfare lets you have 3 teams. Beasts? Most people wouldn't spend money on them, but theres "limited time quests" for getting beast related rewards, which can be done after reset (5AM), and whenever stamina supplies come out.
Relics, a very straight forward way to getting strong. You don't even need half a brain to know that, getting relics and upgrading them will be good for your team. The game actually gives a lot of free stuff, but some of the red relics are exclusively sold in cash shops, so it's up to your playstyle and wallet how strong you can be with those relics.
There's obviously more ways of getting strong, like getting better type of troops from YELLOW TURBAN game mode, upgrading soldiers Tech tree, or even getting index points from collecting different heroes. But as long as you get SPIRITS, SKILL LEVEL, HERBS, STRATEGISTS and RELICS right, you will be a strong member to have for World Warfare Alliances.
Some more in depth concepts and questions about the game:
1. Can lower BR be better than higher BR?
Obviously yes. The thing about BR is that they measure the stats and that is it, they do not account for hero interactions and strategies within a battle. But most importantly, some BR is highly inflated but does not provide as much strength as the BR would suggest. Investing a lvl 100 RED SPIRIT on Hero Attack (DIVINE) is MUCH better than contributing the Spirit exp evenly for all 4 spirits, but the later gives more BR on paper.
2. What are the heroes I should be going for?
There is no rating heroes from a vacuum, you never get to go for 1v1s herowise in this game, so you should always think in a 8v8 escenario. Right now the most strongest heroes MUST IMPLY they can go in any team and do well, like Zhuge Liang, god on Shu teams, still better than most in any other team. Like Zhou yu, god with Wu archer comps, but still the highest dps in pretty much any other comp. Like Lubu, huge if paired with Diao Chan (strategist), but still pretty strong on his own.
There’s heroes that are very good and cheap, like Liu bei, like Xiao Qiao, like Zhang he, Dian wei, Sun shangxiang, Huang wudie, if you just aim to have a general comp that is good against anything, I highly suggest having a 4 guardian, 4 archer comp, which is very easy to build and is never weak against any comp.
3. Manual play vs using the auto-play
Auto-play in this game is actually pretty decent, most of the time if you can’t beat something with auto-play, you will have a hard time doing it mannually as well.
4. State of different “classes” in the game
Early on, light cavalry really sounds like the perfect troop, they run fast, they have high damage, and crit whenever they face the backline. With the time, most comps will have some kind of defensive measures to protect the backline, Heavy Cavalry and Light cavalry falls in strength as they have a hard time accessing the backline, while being very squishy, and Infantry is currently in the awkward state that it is good at nothing. They run slow, their dmg and attack speed are not ideal, they are not tanky, they are just there. The current meta, as aforementioned, is strong frontline of guardians (paviser) and a even stronger backline (4 archers or some advisers). Archers are currently better than advisers because their attack speed is higher, thus can impact the state of a battle more quickly, especially in coordination with Zhou yu (strategist).
5. Wu, Shu, Wei, Qun?
The game has a strong focus on GIVING PLAYERS THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE, the affinities are not strong as they might seem, and sometimes mixing different heroes that are more alike in CONCEPT than in country is better for your comp. Like different archers mashing up to create a strong backline, like Zhang Liao buffing Lu bu up at the start of the battle, etc.