Having recently gotten the Achievement for completing all of the Left 4 Dead campaigns on Expert difficulty with my gaming crew, I figured I’d share some tips while the game is still fresh on my mind. These tips will be useful on any difficulty, but I recommend studying them carefully if you want to tackle Expert.
I’ll break the tips up into various categories: General Tips, Dealing with the Special Infected, Weapons, and the Expert Finales.
1. Prepare for the Long Haul
While playthroughs on Easy or Normal will take less than an hour to complete a campaign, on Expert it will generally take half an hour to complete one of the five acts in a campaign. For planning purposes, expect the finale to take about an hour, and give your team half an hour for each of the other four levels. That means three hours to complete a campaign on Expert. This is practically an MMORPG raid. Make sure everyone is on board because on Expert, the moment someone leaves, the run might be done.
2. Never go Idle
The moment you go Idle once throughout the Expert campaign, you will not get the Achievement. I’m not sure how long it takes to go Idle, but I’ve definitely gotten it a few times by accident. One of my friends says it’s about 30 seconds, and if you’re just opening up your friends menu to reply to a message, that may be all it takes to put you Idle and kill your Achievement. It sucks the way it was implemented, but there are certain benefits: everyone will always be paying attention all the time.
If you do need to take breaks to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, the best way is do it between stage loads or if you are dead. When you’re dead, you can’t go Idle. If you are alive and one of your teammates needs to take care of something in an Emergency, kill him yourself so he goes to the Death screen and you can just rescue him in the next closet when he’s ready to play again. *corrected by Frijolie – it looks like you can go idle at any time and still get the corresponding Achievements as long as you’re not idle when you finish the campaigns.
3. Turn on Closed Captioning
It is available from the options menu. Once you turn it on, you will often be alerted with text on the screen whenever there is a Special Infected in the area. No longer do you have to be like, “Was that a hunter I heard?” Now you’ll see text on your screen like “Hunter growling” or “Smoker coughing”. You’ll even see stuff like “Incoming attack”, which refers to a horde about to rush you or “Tank Death”. Apparently the Tank makes his own noise when he dies, and it’s useful to know the moment he dies so you can heal up/prepare for the next steps.
4. Designate the Group Leader
On Expert difficulty, it is imperative that your squad of four stick closely together. The easiest way for this to be adhered to is to have all of the players follow one member, who should be holding a shotgun. The shotgun player should be up front, and almost always crouching and off to the side in a path or tunnel to allow the other team members behind him to get shots in. Shotgun holders should never be behind SMG/Assault rifle holders.
If you have a particularly carefree bunch, threaten them that if they get in front of you as a shotgun holder, you will shoot them. You may have to follow through on your word once or twice, but they will stay behind you for the rest of the game. And remember – if you’re in front, crouch!
5. Look for Choke Points
If you play the levels enough times, you should start seeing the best places to fall back to when an incoming horde comes after you. The choke point is necessary for survival – especially on Expert difficulty, because with regular Infected doing 10 damage a hit, you’ll be killed fast if you’re stuck in the middle of an empty street and they swarm all around you from the forest (think Zerglings surrounding a Marine, if you’re a Starcraft fan). Look for doorways, dead-ends, etc. where you can be certain that the Infected can only get to you by the only entrance you’re guarding. Examples of this include the doorway in the garage room at the start in the last act of Death Toll (a horde always spawns as soon as you step onto the street) and the broken down car carrier not too long after getting out of the train safe room on the last act of Blood Harvest. In all four finales, the only way you’re going to survive on Expert is to hold out for the 10-15 minutes in a suitable choke point (while leaving to kill the Tanks and coming back to re-setup at the choke point).
6. Use First Aid Kits Effectively
On Expert difficulty, people will be downed a lot – so much that every player will basically see black and white in the game at some point (means you’ve been downed three times, and if you get downed once more, you will die). With supplies being as limited as they are in Expert, it’s recommended that first aid kits generally only be used once a player sees the black and white. Using a first aid kit when in black and white resets the counter, so you can be downed three more times again before dying for good. There are exceptions to this general rule, since if you’re almost dead you will be limping and slower. There may be points where you can’t afford to limp, and must use that first aid kit before you hit black and white.
7. When to Use/Give Pills
It’s better to use a first aid kit before pills, as pills are an instant use and can be used in combat if needed while the first aid kit can only be used when the coast is clear. Save pills for emergency in-combat situations. Also, you will come across pills more often than first aid kits on Expert, so when in doubt during a combat situation if it is an emergency or not, go ahead and down them as their use may actually save your team.
One thing to beware of is giving pills to another teammate. When you switch to your pills and hand them to a teammate without telling him, he may accidentally use them if he’s firing his weapon. This is because when the pills are handed to a new player, it automatically switches whatever he is holding to the pills, so if he thinks he’s about to fire his gun again, he’ll instead down the pills. So give him a heads up if you’re going to hand pills to someone.
8. Killing Teammates Before the Safehouse
If your team is near a safehouse and some members have barely any life left, consider killing them. This is because they automatically spawn with 50 health the next chapter once your team enters the safehouse. If one teammate is bleeding out at 15 health, it’s probably worth it to kill him since he’ll start with 50 health and not be stuck still bleeding out once the next chapter starts. By killing him before the safehouse, you allow him to get further in the next chapter before actually using his first aid kit.
The only reason you may not want to kill him is if he’s holding an upgraded weapon, like the assault rifle or auto-shotgun, or an item like pills/molotov/pipebomb/first aid kit. If it’s not possible for the remaining survivors to carry the killed guy’s gear into the safehouse, it might not be worth killing him off for. It just becomes a circumstantial decision – I think it’s worth it to kill off a dying teammate and losing his pipebomb, but I don’t think it’s worth it if he were to lose his assault rifle and we were in one of the earlier chapters. (On the final chapter of each campaign, upgraded weapons are available at the start and holdout safehouses so I would kill him then.)
Edit: Carlos notes in his comment below that it’s probably wisest to actually kill the dying teammates in the safehouse. That way, when they die and drop their items, the items will remain there when the next level loads so the killed teammates can simply pick them up again next level and nothing will be lost. I haven’t tried this myself, but it sounds like it would work. The closest I can say I have come to testing something like this is that I have carried gasoline tanks between levels. Apparently anything that is in that safe room by the end of one level will still be there at the start of the next, regardless of whether you are holding it or not. So yeah, consider killing the teammates once they enter the safehouse. Just make sure you do it before you close the safehouse door or the next level will load.
1. Meleeing is a Must
At any choke point, your setup should be two guys at the front of the choke crouching and only meleeing, while the two guys behind them standing and shooting. After a few melee attacks on Expert difficult, the regular Infected will die but the main goal of doing that is really to prevent any of them from getting close enough to attack any of you. Two guys up front meleeing while two guys in back shooting at a chokepoint means no one on the team will take damage.
Meleeing also has many other benefits. You can reload while meleeing (hit the reload button, and just start meleeing and the gun will get reloaded automatically as you melee), and it does no friendly fire damage to your teammates. On Expert, friendly fire damage is turned up very high (one shotgun blast to a teammate and he will be downed) so whenever any Infected are amidst your group, it’s in everyone’s best interest to melee instead of trying to fire at them and hitting your teammates. To save a teammate from a Hunter, melee the Hunter off him instead of shooting him so you minimize friendly fire damage. You can even melee the tongue of a Smoker off a teammate!
2. Auto-shotgun versus Assault Rifle
While the auto-shotgun has some pretty good distance, its main benefit is a lot of damage at close range while the assault rifle’s main benefit is decent damage at medium range. This makes the auto-shotgun ideal for fighting Tanks, while the assault rifle is best with common Infected. (Their baby brothers, the shotgun and SMG, are the same way). When in doubt, balance your team with 1-2 auto shotguns, 1-2 assault rifles, and 0-1 hunting rifles for general play, but change it for more specific scenarios. If you’re going to fight long distance, ditch the auto-shotguns and kill the Infected at mid-range before they come close, and if you’ve decided to take down a Tank with weapons, have all four players equipped with auto-shotguns. The assault rifle does minuscule damage to the Tank.
3. The Hunting Rifle has its Time and Place
The hunting rifle’s role is pretty limited, as it only really shines in long distances. Keep that in mind: LONG DISTANCES. This means it should not be picked up in closed, indoor spaces, even though the bullets can penetrate multiple zombies at a time. Your rate of fire is just too slow compared to an assault rifle. The hunting rifle is ideal if you are setting up on the dock for the Death Toll finale, the roof of the No Mercy finale, or at a corner of the airport on the Dead Air finale where the Infected come at you from far away.
Your group should have one (if any) holding a hunting rifle at most. Realize that if one of your teammates is going hunting rifle, his main objective is attack the Smokers first and foremost, before they get within range to grab your teammates. Also, if you are setting up in a finale with a teammate holding the hunting rifle, make sure that the assault rifle holders focus first on the common Infected instead of trying to help pick off the special Infected in the distance. Not only does this defeat the purpose of having a player with the hunting rifle and his scope, but if the assault rifle player is shooting for distant targets, who is going to help hold the flood of common Infected running towards your party? Certainly not the guy with the hunting rifle.
4. Fire is Your New Best Friend
When I first started playing Left 4 Dead, I adored the Pipe Bomb. Back then, I didn’t understand what the Horde attacks were or how to effectively deal with a Boomer, so the Pipe Bomb was the easy solution. Just throw it and all common Infected problems are solved! Well, if you want to get through Expert, you will have to make the jump from Pipe Bomb to Molotov. With adequate choke point coverage, the Pipe Bomb becomes unnecessary, because even if you get vomited on by a Boomer, the choke point melee setup will ensure that you will be fine.
Molotovs become a necessity on Expert not just for the tanks, but because they themselves can help create choke points for you when you have none. If you’re stuck somewhere where you can’t set up at a choke point and have common Infected running at you from two sides, throw the Molotov on the ground in one direction and now you only have one side to defend.
This tip also means making use of the red gasoline tanks. Whenever you see one on Expert difficulty, always take it with you. On lengthier finale levels like Death Toll and Blood Harvest, it’s actually recommended to carry the gas tank all the way to the finale holdout to deal with the Tanks because often times (especially on Blood Harvest), when you get there, there’s nothing to light the Tank on fire with. I’m not a fan of the other canisters, as their damage is immediate and I can’t judge the damage distance effectively, but the red gasoline tank I will never leave behind since it can not only burn tanks, but create choke points.
Dealing with the Special Infected
1. Hold Your Fire if Vomited on by a Boomer
You’re blinded so if you start shooting, there is a high probability that you will friendly fire a teammate. On Expert difficulty, that may mean death for them. Your number one concern should not be to attack, but to move to a good choke point area so your squad can deal with the incoming horde effectively. If you must attack, use only melee while slowly sliding back in the direction that you came in so that your teammates can kill the horde that will come after you. After all, the horde of Infected are coming after you, not them, so they can get all the free shots in they want.
2. Evading the Witch
If I remember correctly, I think it’s possible to actually walk by the Witch if you don’t want to try to one shot her with the shotgun. Even if you’re close enough to attract her attention and she eventually gets up, if you’re gone from the scene before she’s fully up she will not know what to do and just run around doing nothing until provoked. Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a team member within eyesight of the witch when she’s fully up and will incur the Witch’s wrath. Just keep flashlights off and don’t fire and you will most likely be able to sneak by the witch even if she looks like she’s sitting right in your path. The key is to just be out of eyesight before she’s fully up.
On Expert, the Witch’s single melee swipe will instantly kill her target. But after that, she will not go for anyone else and simply run around and then run away. That’s all you need to remember. Don’t even bother trying to kill her after she’s taken down one of your teammates. In fact, on Expert, it’s actually preferable to come across a Witch instead of a Tank, because with the Witch, it’s a set “1 guy dies” trade-off versus the Tank, where it comes down to what you have to fight him with (and on Expert, it’s usually not much).
3. Slaying the Tank
There are two ways of dealing with the Tank: killing him through direct damage or lighting him on fire and letting him burn to death. One common error that players make is not realizing that the two should not be mixed. While it makes more common sense that if the Tank is on fire and you’re shooting at it, the damage from your weapons and him being on fire should stack. They don’t. In fact, when the Tank is on fire, he takes no damage from the burning at all. It simply puts him on a timer where once a certain number of seconds have elapsed, he will just die (the number of seconds is higher based on difficulty level).
Thus it’s key to decide whether you’re going to attempt to kill him (make sure you all have auto-shotguns at Expert level) or you’re going to light him on fire and everyone scatter to wait until he dies. The lighting him on fire and running is generally the more acceptable strategy on Expert difficulty, because on Expert, fighting him head on generally means he will kill 1-2 teammates. Keep in mind that the Tank will generally down a player, and follow up and kill that same player. Use this to your advantage. This means that once that teammate goes down, the other three need to get as close as possible to the Tank and unload their shotguns on the Tank while he pounds the downed player to death. With some luck (and accuracy), you should be able to kill the Tank on Expert difficulty before he kills off a second team member. Be careful to not stand directly opposite another player when you all go in to kill the Tank – auto-shotgun friendly fire will definitely occur.
1. No Mercy – Rooftop Finale
I believe this one is the hardest of the four finales in the game since tanks can knock you off the buildings completely to your death. Consider any of the following areas to hold out in: underneath the ramp, in the closet right next to the gun rack, and on the rooftop of the highest part of the radio building. With the ramp or closet holdout, make sure you have guys constantly meleeing and with the rooftop, make sure to melee any zombies trying to climb up. When it’s time for the first Tank, light him on fire (there should be plenty of Molotovs on the rooftops of this finale) and run around until he dies. Then get back to the choke, fight the waves, burn the second Tank, and make your way up the ramp to the chopper. Throw a pipebomb on the way to the chopper and you should be home free.
I’m partial to the rooftop holdout more myself since it is an elevated position with a chokepoint (it’s in fact very similar to the dock holdout on the Death Toll finale). Get up on the rooftop above the chaingun platform and you can kill any Infected trying to get to you by the time they are on the chaingun platform. With gasoline tanks and Molotovs, it’s even easier as you can just light the whole chaingun platform on fire and nothing will be able to get up to you. Have one guy with one hunting rifle and the other three with assault rifles. The hunting rifle guy primarily watches for Smokers that try to leap to the rooftops of the distant buildings while the assault rifle guys shoot who they see and melee any Infected when they try to climb up the front. Wait up top for the tank to come up, burn him, jump down the building and run around until he dies and get back up to set back up for the second half and repeat until helicopter arrives.
2. Death Toll – Boathouse Finale
On this boathouse finale, I’m aware of two different places to make your “stand”: the bathroom and the dock. In the bathroom, you have two guys ducking and meleeing while the other two guys are on the sink and toilet shooting whoever they can. When it’s time for the first Tank, throw the Molotov in the front doorway (should be plenty around the house), and run around the house until he dies. Then set back up in the bathroom, burn the second Tank when he comes, and run to the dock for the boat pickup.
This was the finale that my crew and I played for several hours to get the “Untouchables” Achievement, and we basically used the same strategy to beat it on Expert. With this one we had one guy with the Hunting Rifle (make sure you grab it at the start of the level since there is not one in the boathouse), and the rest with assault rifles. All four are set up at the dock, with the guy holding the hunting rifle on the right (when your group is on the dock and facing land), two assault rifle guys on the steps, and the third assault rifle guy on the left. On the dock, the Infected pretty much either run down the dock towards the group, or climb up the left side of the dock. The assault rifle holder on the left side focuses on the ones trying to climb up, while the two assault rifle holders on the stairs focus on any Infected that try to run down the dock, and the hunting rifle holder on the right watches for all the Smokers that try to creep down the left side (while helping with the Infected on the dock as necessary). When the Tank comes, light him on fire before he gets onto the dock (by either shooting a red gasoline tank on land or pitching a perfect Molotov) and then have all four of you jump into the water and head for the boathouse. Once you get to the boathouse, you can quickly grab more ammo and run back to the dock. By the time you’re back at the dock, the Tank should be dead. Keep in mind that even if the Tank is lit and jumps in the water, it may look like the fire was put out but he will still burn to death. Repeat with the second half of finale and you’ll be aboard the boat in no time.
3. Dead Air – Runway Finale
The Dead Air finale was the first one we completed on Expert, and I believe it is the easiest. Because the area is so big, there are several areas to hold out in which allow you to safely take the Infected out from a distance. Some people like the corners of the airport but my preferred strategy is still the truckbed holdout, which worked just fine for us on Expert as it had on Advanced. Basically, all four of you get on the truckbed nearest the fire by the chaingun. Have two auto-shotgunners watching the back of the truck (where the four of you entered the truckbed). Their role is to simply melee anyone trying to climb onto the truck. The other two should be facing the front of the truck with assault rifles, killing any Infected that try to climb up the sides of the front of the truck. The Infected cannot climb up the sides of the truckbed, so they are forced to either climb up the back, where they will just get meleed off by the two shotgunners, or the front of the truck, where they will easily get picked off by the two guys holding assault rifles. Make sure that all four are crouched, so neither Hunters nor Smokers can get you. It’s pretty silly to see Hunters try to climb up the back of the truck, but that’s what they’re forced to do since they can’t physically jump and land on the truckbed. You should take no damage with this holdout strategy.
When it’s time for the first Tank, you should ideally make use of the plane that you are fueling to escape. Light him on fire, then run to the opposite side of that plane. Crouch and you can see his (burning) feet and if it looks like he’s going one way around the plane, just walk the other way. He cannot climb over the plane, so you can always keep the escape plane between him and your squad. Once he’s dead, go back to your corners on the truckbed and hold out for the second half and repeat for the second Tank before escaping.
4. Blood Harvest – Farmhouse Finale
Blood Harvest is probably the most difficult finale simply because you almost always have to fight a Tank on the way to the farmhouse and a horde while trying to go through the cropfield. That and there’s usually no Molotovs or gasoline cans to take on the Tanks so you have to sort of get lucky that you get to the barn and with two gas tanks or find Molotovs in the barn. There is often at least one red gasoline tank on the way to the farmhouse, and it is recommended that you kill the Tank with auto-shotguns so you can save the red gasoline tank for the holdout.
There are a few places to hold out in this finale. You can try one of the closets in the bedrooms or the bathroom in the house, but do not try to holdout in a bedroom itself since the windows can be broken into by the Infected. The other place to holdout is the second floor of the barn, which is how we ended up beating it.
For the second floor of the barn holdout, we had two guys meleeing at the hole on the side while the other two monitored the Infected trying to climb up the ladder area (those are the only two ways into the second floor of the barn). What’s funny is we actually beat Expert with an AI player this way, as it was able to come up to the second floor and do the holdout with us. That holdout setup should yield little to no damage, and when it’s time for the Tank, light him on fire and run into the house, go up to the second floor, jump out a window, and get back to the second floor of the barn. By the time you’re back the Tank should be dead. Repeat again for the second half and jump onboard the transport that arrives.