This isn’t some mindless rabble of orcs.

“These are…zombies!

It’s no secret to my friends that I’ve been playing a lot of L4D2 lately, and in particular, the Helm’s Deep survival map. I’ve beaten it twice now, and wanted to confer a little bit of my strategy, parts of which I figured out on my own and other parts of which I learned from experts who fought alongside me as we battled to outlast the night and live to see Gandalf’s arrival. The events of the map follow that of the movie pretty closely, so I’ll try to use those markers as guidelines.

Fall back! FALL BACK!

Part 1: The Main Wall

You’re situated atop the main wall as the music reaches its crescendo, at which point zombies begin streaming out of nowhere, rushing the wall and your position. I find the best strategy here is for your entire team to congregate with the L4D survivors, which has the consequence of virtually guaranteeing all the common infected will make a beeline for the ramp to your position. However, since they are all going for the same chokepoint, it should be fairly simple for you and your six teammates to lay down a wall of suppression fire.

The special infected, and tanks, are (as always) the wild card. The special infected–in particular: hunters, jockeys, and smokers–will try to loop around your position by climbing the wall near its middle. An effective counter-strategy here is to have one or two of your teammates concentrate exclusively on picking off these special infected (from the same position on the wall as everyone else, so as not to bring common infected with them), and let your other teammates continue mowing down the hordes of common infected.

Hang onto throwables! Try to make it to the point of the wall breaking without throwing a single item; when the wall does break, use the boomer bile to draw the zombies away while you shift your defensive positions.

On-screen message says it all.

Part 2: Broken Main Wall

Around the 4-minute mark, the main wall will collapse in the middle. Simultaneously, a turret position will open up just behind it (where Aragorn and the elves made a stand). You and your teammates need to make haste for this position, using the two turret guns to mow down any tanks and special infected that come through the broken wall. Keep everyone congregated around the turrets.

While this is happening, have one or two teammates ensuring that the area in the broken wall endures constant immolation. Gas tanks, fireworks, and molotovs are of paramount importance now. Keep that fire going, and all your turret gunners will have to worry about are tanks and special infected. It gets pretty intense here: tanks will occasionally break through in pairs, and if the fire goes out while you’re bringing them down, you’ll be overrun by common infected.

Around the 7-minute mark, an announcement will appear that you need to fall back. Obey it immediately, using a pipe bomb or two to draw the zombies away while you retreat. Make for the winding staircase that is behind and to the left of the turret placement. Try to bring a package of fireworks with you and place it at the base of the steps.

You can see the winding staircase behind the elves.

Part 3: Top of the Stairs

This is a relatively minor objective, but as in any survival campaign, even a couple of minutes is precious time, and you can do that here. The top of the staircase is an excellent hold-out position, and behind some boxes at the top are several M-60s that will be immensely helpful in that regard. You’ll have to outlast a tank or two to really push the timer beyond 9 minutes, which is the minimum I would suggest.

When the tank reaches the bottom of the steps, light up the fireworks that you hopefully left there. That will, at the very least, keep other infected from following the tank while you focus on bringing it down. Make sure you’re also paying attention to the wall on the side of the staircase: zombies and even tanks will climb it!

Once you pass 9 minutes, or simply cannot hold out any longer, go through the passageway and, in particular, the wall of fire: this will insta-kill any zombies (including tanks) that follow you through it, at least for the time being (more on this later).

Part 4: Hold the Gate!

In my opinion, this is the trickiest part. You need to hold out until near the 15-minute mark; no small task. Make your way from the passageway to the top of the encampment that overlooks the battlefield; bring every single gas can you find along with you. Your objective here is to hold the bridge that winds up to the main gate, and keep the zombies from battering down the gate.

The best strategy here is to have at least one person down right behind the main gate, picking off any zombies that make it through the walls of fire that the other three teammates will be unleashing onto the bridge. Rotate responsibility of throwing the next gas can/fireworks box/molotov, so that the other teammates can run to find another throwable before it’s their turn again.

Most important: do NOT get pulled out onto the bridge! There is absolutely no way to save you if that happens. To mitigate this risk, cast the fire as far out onto the bridge as you can, and immediately pick off any smokers you see that break through the flame. Also: the gate itself is extremely fragile, having somewhere near 100hp. Chargers in particular will smash through this very quickly, so be quick about picking off any zombies that make it through the fire on the bridge.

If you make it until the 15-minute fallback order, see if you can hold out until the gate falls. Again, the longer you can hold out, the easier it will make your next fallback.

There will be a witch in this doorway, be careful!

Part 5: The Keep

Falling back from the gate takes you into the Keep (though not before disposing of a witch you literally cannot avoid; have any teammates with shotguns take her out, otherwise be prepared to save a teammate in the heat of the retreat). At this point, you have access to a single turret gun and the supply closet you’re initially in before starting the map. Once more, throwables are a premium: tanks will start coming faster than ever, and you need to keep the choke point thoroughly immolated to keep from being overwhelmed.

To help with this, make liberal use of the M-60/incendiary ammo combination. If you’re adept enough with the controls, use the weapon to light any approaching tank on the fire, then drop it and switch to a conventional weapon to drop the tank. Repeat to maximize the weapon’s ammo. Also, have someone hop on the turret whenever a tank shows up, but otherwise use it sparingly; if it overheats, there won’t be enough time for it to recoup.

You have to hold out here until the 26-minute mark; a very tall order, so you need to make your fire bullets and molotovs and M-60s really last. Regular ammunition is unlimited, so try to use those as your primary weapons, and the M-60s and turrets in special cases. Use pipe bombs to draw infected away while you regroup, and keep the choke point lit up.

If a tank is coming through the door, hold down the trigger.

Part 6: Horn of Helm Hammerhand

If you can last long enough in the Keep until light begins pouring in from the windows, you’ll hear Gandalf’s voice reminding you of his promise to come with aid. At this point, abandon your holdout in the Keep and make for the stairway. Don’t worry about putting up a defense unless the hordes are right on your tail, in which case use throwables or the boxes of fireworks stashed at the bottom of the winding tower staircase to buy you some time.

Get all four teammates to the top of the tower, where you’ll find Gimli ready to blow the horn.

Part 7: The Charge

This is it: the grand finale. You’ll be given 30 seconds to restock in peace, and I strongly recommend at least one teammate have (and lead with) a chainsaw. Melee weapons will be crucial here, given the speed with which things will start moving. You’ll find yourselves back in the Keep as King Theoden’s inspiring speech reaches its apex, at which point Gimli blows the horn and your team makes its charge for Gandalf’s position.

Chainsaws grinding and melee weapons flailing, make your way (as a single unit!) out the gate you defended earlier, down the bridge, and onto the flatlands in front of the broken wall. Gandalf will appear to make his charge, but you should expect one last push from the zombies, so you and your team need to find a good place to make one final stand. I would recommend the top of the staircase you retreated to at the end of Part 2. Zombies will not continue to spawn at this point, so your job is to hang on long enough to dispatch all the remaining infected.

Part 8: The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over

Once you’ve cleaned the map of infected, victory is yours!

"Would be nice if you'd have arrived, say, 30 minutes ago."

As this is a Survival map, it only ends with the death of the Survivors, so you have a few options: duke it out with each other for “supremacy”, or have a contest of who can throw themselves off the top of the tower with the greatest style.

A Few General Points

  1. Use throwables wisely. This is the difference in winning and losing, and why it’s so much easier to beat this map with human companions than with NPCs. Gas cans, fireworks boxes, and molotovs are absolutely crucial in sealing off chokepoints from the hordes of common infected while you deal with the tougher and more dangerous special infected and tanks. Likewise, boomer bile and pipe bombs are phenomenal misdirection tools to give you and your team precious seconds to regroup or fall back to a new position.
  2. Have well-defined roles. Each step along the way has some unique twist, so don’t fall into the pattern of everybody on the team doing their own thing. On the main wall, make sure somebody’s picking off the special infected before they can attack your team’s flank. When holding the gate, make sure somebody’s picking off any zombies that make it within striking distance of the oh-so-fragile gate. On the final charge, have someone who is armed with a chainsaw.
  3. Communicate! This cannot be overemphasized. Hopefully you’ll already have some practice with this from the campaigns, but it reaches a whole new level of importance on this map. Planning needs to be done in advance: know what each of you is going to do next, where you’re going to go, and how you’re going to get there. Keep tabs on each other’s responsibilities, especially in terms of maximizing the use of any throwables you come across. Having one guy on a turret gun while another lights up a chokepoint seems straightforward, but this game breeds players that love to rush into mortal danger, and having four people do this at once is a great way to get overwhelmed.

And on that note, here is something not-quite zombie related.

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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