I have found that I am happiest playing basically a one-of-each arrangement:
- 1 Each, 1h using Brute/Warrior/Swordsman
- 1 Each, 2h using Brute/Warrior/Swordsman
- 2 Spearmen, I usually end up doing Halberdiers because the AOE is so effective when enemy arrangements let it hit 3+ targets
- 1 Ranger
- 1 Archer
This gives you a nice mix of abilities and lets you optimize for any cool unique you want to use; there are ‘extra’ good 1h axes and maces out there, and if you want to use Backstabbers to advance the Crime and Chaos tree you might want a 2nd ranger. I ended up with a 2nd archer because I happened across a literally ideal one (+dex and Solitary traits, the best possible starting point for archer damage), but its pretty unnecessary
This also happens to give you 10 characters which lets you have one of each profession.
The presence of uniques and certain effects makes the first copy of some character types much better. Nefti’s Axe and Ovation mean your first axe-and-shield warrior is incredibly high value, but even though there’s extra 1h axes, you’d probably rather have more 2h users after that because of how potent Recklessness + 2h axes are (Nefti’s Axe letting you have a 1h with a strong AOE + recklessness makes that first one free).
2h Brutes are awesome against humans and kind of crap against stuff that doesn’t have armor; they really shine when they can get the buffs breaking armor (especially the passive that gives them Brutality, Inspiration and resets their movement when they fully remove something’s armor)
2h swordsmen often feel weakest until you start upgrading skills, and then they pack enormous damage potential with a bit more usage limitation due to the 2 VP cost of Laceration (upgraded, Laceration can be used every other attack, so you can reliably make 3 swings per round).
I find Archers and Rangers to not be as useful; Archers can be really devastating if built well, but some maps and situations will always put them at risk of hitting your people, even with buffs to help them with accuracy, and getting the accuracy trait requires risking hitting your own people (ie taking high RNG shots). They dominate open maps, and suck in some others. Rangers, similarly, kind of suck if you don’t have a bunch of tanks out there to force things into engagement for them to backstab. I find the poison based ranger to be really frustrating and bad to use because most of the rest of the classes don’t support it that well – the Arena dagger is a real red herring, IMO, and the crafted weapons with their crit bonus on backstab are much stronger (my Ranger has over 90% crit when backstabbing).
My strategy in this game is pretty offensive – I use my tanks to engage enemies who probably can’t be killed in one hit, but that’s mostly just enemy tanks that are fairly isolated, because 2h Brutes can usually kill enemy sword-and-board users who are close enough to a 2nd target that can get caught in their AOEs and activate their armor-smashing buffs. I try to minimize the number of turns the opponent gets to take by killing things before they act and mostly ignoring them until the following round once they have acted (unless they happen to have put themselves into a spot where they can take some incidental AOE damage). This might not work on difficult combat settings; I’ve never tried them. Spearmen tend to fill in the gaps – finish stuff off, reliably regenerate VP with Valorous Support, and kill some things that managed to live at a sliver to take their own turns with Fervent Support. But man, when the circumstances align for controlled whirlwind to hit at least 3 targets (and they come up more than most aoes, because its a full circle and not a 170 degree arc), it is a devastating skill, and at 4 it hits harder than anything. Its also amazing at cleaning up relatively weak trash that tend to clump together, like rats and molerats and other tomb type stuff.
In general I think the various classes are well designed enough that there’s a strong benefit to variety – its just regularly the case that the idiocyncracies of a given map will make something more valuable than usual and something else less valuable (watching your swordsmen get all powered up by pervasive poison fields via extreme training, for instance, is sweet), and it makes for a more varied and interesting game experience.