From Raiders and Assaults to Striders, this guide should prepare you with the basic information for how to use unit types effectively in the early campaign and skirmish. Covers Cloakbot, Shieldbot, and Rover factories and groups them into 5 main categories.
Prelude: Factories, Builders, Caretakers, and Plates
Factories produce units. You get one for free at the start of any skirmish match (and any campaign where there isn’t a pre-established base).
Then after factories there are three main ways to speed up unit building in Zero-K, as detailed in the title. Each has upsides and downsides. Note that it is not worth it to build secondary or forward factories; place the secondaries next to the existing factories to use discounted “factory plates” system instead.
How to build these three? Builders are in the top left of any factory. Caretakers are a small building in the economy tab. Plates are in the factory tab but are specially adapted when placed within a set radius of any factory (plates cannot be chained to expand the area, so what the factory starts with is the radius you get.)
Standard construction takes place at one of two levels of resource drain: 5 or 10.
Standard builders have 5 resource per sec of drain. Builders are also more expensive due to their mobility, costing 240 res per equivalent to the other construction objects. Thus builders should focus on expanding.
Factories, caretakers, and plates have 10/sec of drain. Caretakers only cost 180 res and plates even less than that at 150 res.
Generally it is best to set factories and caretakers to low priority to enable them to do excess production without impacting expansion engineers (or having to set engineers to priority build).
- Builders should realistically only assist a factory while waiting for support units. Use the “auto assist” factory setting to have them automatically do this. Builders produced about every minute or so in the unit queue will keep pace with expansion.
- Use caretakers to accelerate a single queue of production. They will also area reclaim or area assist.
- Use plates for setting different rally points and producing other special units that don’t belong at the main rally point.
For some more info on plates: https://zero-k.info/mediawiki/index.php?title=Factory_Plates
Basically, builders are vulnerable targets and you want to DPS them as much as you can.
So get fast ones. Good raiders are Rover Scorchers and Cloak/infantry Glaives which have good speed and excellent DPS for the cost.
Some raiders are just DPS support instead. This is for the Shield Bandits – they’re meant to formation move (ctrl+Rclick) with Shield Thugs, not really go around solo, although they can serve as intel gatherers.
2 Skirmishers and Riots
These are the two “special weapons” classes.
Skirmishers outrange defenses. However, while their launcher weapons deal great focused damage, they tend to be inaccurate and are best against large slow targets. Riots are just about as slow as Skirms and a good anchor for them. The typical Riot has a machinegun to put out massive damage.
Good skirms are the Cloakbot/infantry Ronin and Shieldbot Rogue, both with missile launchers. The buoy isn’t too bad.
Don’t consider the Fencer a skirm – think of it more like light artillery due to its setup animation that makes it much harder to micro.
The stereotypical Riots are Reavers which are functionally mobile Stardusts. Tank Ogres are also pretty good. Shield Outlaws are not typical riots and more of a slowing support unit, although they pair well with their Shield Thug assaultbot.
3 Assaults and Defence turrets
These units are positional anchor units (or in the case of assaults, “unanchors”).
Assaults are HP sponges but like the other are hopeless at targeting precise targets. Turrets are good for protecting point areas like extractors but hopeless at forming a wall — you’ll need mobile raiders for deterrance.
- Thugs (a key anchor unit for shieldbots in general) are extremely durable due to shields. Pair them with Felons.
- Rover Ravagers are relatively fast, allowing for fast retreats to supporting units, repairs, or just hit and run targets before reinforcements arrive.
They’re kinda crap but compared to most games they’re not actually that much more expensive per unit.
- LLT Lotus: It’s pretty standard reliable DPS. Think of it as a bandit.
- SKT Picket: A tracking burst rocket launcher like a fencer.
- HLT Stinger: for when you really need to keep everything out of an area. Kills all types but long range arty, so skirmishers that beat up their LLT cousins can go bye-bye. The Stinger dies easily to blobs of assaults though, so it’s not invulnerable.
And some lesser used ones:
- RIT Stardust: Don’t build this if you can build 3 LLTs or Reavers, but it will shred any raiders with high burst damage. Loses DPS against assaults though.
- Gauss: It hits subs, build this by water. Single target DPS is like the Lotus but it will pierce for AOE; range is somewhere between Picket and Lotus.
4 EMP/Slow, and Bombs
These units are for slowing down or snaring the enemy and come from a wide variety of classes. They vary by defensive slows and offensive slows/explosives.
Offensive slows (bombs) are fast and can chase down faster units, letting other friendly units in the main composition hit the targets or just blowing them up outright.
EMP disables a unit completely. It cannot move or fire.
Defensive slows protect structures and other areas from being raided by slowing down the enemy and reducing their rate of fire.
Note that slow and EMP “damage” affects units status HP, not their main HP. This also means that time to slow/EMP scales with the main HP of the unit.
- Cloakbot/Infantry Assault: Knight, EMP type. Very slow (as an assault) but stuns enemies in an AOE with its gun. Very effective against Jumpbots and Rover-Scorchers, for instance.
- Cloakbot: Imp, EMP type. Very fast and all terrain (can go up cliffs like spiderbots).
- Shieldbot Riot: Outlaw, AOE Slowing type. Gun can’t aim, just run the riot at the enemy.
- Shieldbot: Snitch. Fast and deals 1200 damage.
- Jumpbot: Puppy. Boing, boing! Can replicate itself on wrecks rather than having to manually produce all of them.
- Turret EMP: Faraday. Very effective against Scorchers.
For more information on slows, EMP, and lightning: https://zero-k.info/mediawiki/index.php?title=Weapon_classes#EMP
5 Artillery and other strategic units
These are strategic units with the longest ranges.
- Cloakbot/infantry: Sling. Good for taking out Stinger lasers/HLTs.
- Shieldbot: Racketeer. Vertical missile launcher. Excellent for disabling striders at fairly long range.
- Rover: Badger. Flings cluster missiles. Missiles will store themselves in mines if there are no targets to hit when they land.
Special defences have long ranges and cost a lot. But with their long ranges and durability it makes them very cost effective. It would probably be wise to defend them with AA from precision bombers if the game drags on.
- Cerberus: Artillery installation that blows up a large area.
- Desolator: Heat ray defence against infantry.
- Aspis/Aegis: It projects a shield. Everyone can build this as a static defence but it’s expensive and probably most effective in a group with Felons.
For more info on shields, see https://zero-k.info/mediawiki/index.php?title=Shield
Cloakbot: Ronin and Sling, with Reavers for support (their energy machine guns do AOE which makes them extra effective at staving off guerilla fighters) and Imp bombs against fast targets. Remember to spread the Ronins in particular out in a line to maximise their damage, as they cannot fire over top of each other. Slings will shred defences and break openings for Glaives, while the Ronins defend them from approaching enemy assaults and riots. Imps are very effective against Scorchers and other fast targets, and by getting a good angle the detonation will still catch them out.
Cloakbots cont: Special-build Glaives/Scythes as needed for raiding opportunistic targets; Glaives have a very low build time so they can defend the factory as required, but grouped Lotus LLTs will be necessary for extractors far away from the factory itself. Try not to build solo LLTs, you can afford them with how cheap Glaives are! Finally, the factory is still good into the lategame with Phantoms being excellent against Striders.
I have called Cloakbots infantry in some sections of the guide because actually not everything cloaks, and all the other units (apart from the impspider which does cloak) look like walking infantry. Cloaking is also vulnerable to fast and close combat units, like the Scorcher. You can turn off the cloak with default K, and you should have a look at the conjurer builderbot and its stripes some time, because it looks awesome with the cloak off. It does come with an area cloak which could be useful for resource nodes and turrets, but the Conjurer is still pretty much the slowest and most useless constructor though.
Rover: Scorcher opening into Ravager for blowing up towers. Masons are the fastest constructors while Scorchers are likewise very fast, allowing reaction to attacks on the map and minimising defense investment. A 5:2 opening ratio should allow a good rate of investment, but because Scorchers are much more durable than other raiders and less affected by AOE they can still be fairly effective until later into the game.
Rovers cont/midgame: Ravagers are insanely damaging and durable. Possibly with Fencer support to threaten the enemy with survivable raid damage — they outrange turrets but are not really cost efficient for DPS and need micro in a pitched engagement anyway. On the other hand of the rover selection, there is no real reason to build Rippers (this is because although they do have faster projectiles than ravagers, the Fencers have tracking). Once a strong economy has been established, reclaiming Ravager wrecks (especially with fast Masons) and going for the durable tankbot Minotaurs will play very similarly.
Shieldbot: Thug plus literally anything but dirtbags. You could potentially just start building thugs from the start and add the Bandits just after the first one. Thug balls are insanely survivable due to shared shield regeneration. Bandits, Rogues, and Felons are the mainstay DPS depending on the phase of the game and the enemy targets; bandits are good all round and also make cheap scout or anti-skirms; Rogues are good against defences and assaults; and Felons are good at converting a survivability advantage to DPS. Disarming Racketeers, Slowing Outlaws, and AA Vandals are specialist support. Additional note: use Convict constructors’ shield to keep defences and Picket towers alive.
Addendum: Shieldbots are basically walkers like in CNC Tiberian Sun.
for the campaign
You may face the AI with amphbots from time to time. They like to produce Buoys and Ducks the most, and some other stuff which I’ll describe here:
- Ducks have an AOE missile with slight homing, but pathetic DPS. They’re basically like overwrought bandits. Just stay spread out and your units should be fine.
- Buoys are skirmishers just like the ronin, rogue, or fencer. They have slowing projectiles which means that even though they are slow themselves, the best way to deal with them is actually to use durable raiders like the Bandit to chase them down.
- If the AI builds Ravagers of their own… there’s a problem. It seems the best way to destroy them is to bomb them with EMPs to stun, then outnumber them with cheap long range units to get a concave, as the Ravagers are extremely fast and deal high AOE damage against raiders and can simply run from or out DPS assaults. I’ll keep testing the tech lab map to see how this goes.
The engineer is an excellent starting option, followed by the recon. These let you make the best use of the commander’s power at the start. The engineer allows rapid economy building (especially power generators) where speed/durability isn’t much of an issue anyway.
The Guardian is basically useless to me, because even with upgrades it’s very slow and with only about 1k more HP than the weakest one, they’re not that much more durable than the other commanders.
If there are hills where the wind is greater than 0-2 on average, build wind farms. This is because in solar equivalents the expected return required is 1.0 energy per 35 metal. (essentially, consider the solar generator as two winds in economy). Winds are also the default for making a grid because two winds are about a tile wider than a single solar. But solars are good for blocking around metal extractors and can tank over 1000 damage when balled up (up to 1.9k in the best case scenario against fast firing units like glaives).
Drafted in September 2021.
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