The firsts are pretty much just gambles across the board. The only one that really isn't is deep dweller, since it's basically just a straight forward fight with nothing special happening. Toss on a chestpiece and tank+spank.
- Hillock = 100% RNG (both map, accuracy and critical strike rolls).
- Hailrake for medicine chest at level 1/2, chance of getting frozen, and chance of getting swarmed.
- Fairgraves, the flicker mobs are deadly as hell in cave for the allflame, it's really only worth trying if you have leap slam.
- Fetid Pool.... God damn desyncing rhoas charging from offscreen. RNG also plays a big part with the boss, sometimes you have a huge pack near it, other times its alone.
- Old fields cave isn't bad as a ranged character. The bears hurt a lot when you're 3+ levels under otherwise.
- Dread Thicket won't happen in a 1 hour. Otherwise not too bad in a 2h+.
The Cruel difficulty ones pretty much the same except for hillock which is just who finished act 3 first since he's a gimme.
Other than that it's just do you want to gamble for an extra 2 points at the risk of 1 point later on (figure ~5-10 minute loss of time for a 1 hour, so 1-2 less total levels).
The "firsts" feed is useful for this too, if you plan on doing one of them watch for someone else to enter that area. If you're more than a minute or so behind it's probably too late.
That said, the "level" and "firsts" feeds are completely irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. They're going to be the lucky bastards who got the relevant uniques/rares off hillock and are cruising along for the first 20 minutes on easy mode and then things will even up a bit beyond that.
For one hours usually something like:
Standing strategy: Grab any chests near you as you run past.
Twighlight Strand: Run to hillock opening any nearby chests along the way grab any useful weapon/armor currency that drop. Don't ID anything yet unless it's you picked up a scroll of wisdom.
Lioneye's Watch: Buy a coral ring from Nessa for extra hp. Get skill from Tarkley. If you need a 2H sword and happened to find an orb of transmutation grab one.
Terraces: Run through only stopping to grab chests or kill large packs. If you hit level 2 unless you have a HUGE pack, just run to Mud Flats.
Mud Flats: Grab waypoint, kill packs of zombies you run across, be wary of rhoas, but generally you'll get level 3 here. Look for nests, find entrance to lower submerged passage.
Lower Submerged Passage: Kill groups of squids, ignore crabs. If you run across the waypoint head back to Mud Flats and head to Tidal Island. Otherwise look for the upper submerged passage. If you find the Flooded depths turn around and head back to the area forked off since it will be the other direction. There is also a chance of running across a large chest. if you see it grab it!
Upper Submerged Passage: Merveil's Daughters make it a little tougher. If you dodge a wave from them you can usually kill them before they'll use it again. Otherwise just kill large packs again.
The Ledge: Kill groups of enemies while running to the waypoint. Once you get there teleport to Mud Flats and head to Tidal Island.
Tidal Island: From mud flats step into Terraces, follow the water the Tidal island entrance will be right there. Find Hailrake, be careful of his ice spears and getting swarmed (zombies follow for a while, so kill them when there are about 10 following you if you were already at the ledge, a couple less if you found the LSP waypoint). Pick up medicine chest (no really make sure you grab it). Logout for free teleport to Lioneye's Watch (Portal scrolls are hard to come by). Grab quicksilver flask from Nessa, Skill Gem from Bestel for Mercy Mission, and skill gem from Tarkley from Eggs/Runes. Teleport back to a new instance of the Ledge (Ctrl+click the node on the map)
The Ledge 2.0: You'll want to farm here for a level or two. the waypoint is shaped like O>. The > will always point forward towards Rocky Climb. Head back towards Upper submerged passage killing packs. Enter USP, Ctrl+Click the ledge entrance, new instance, run to waypoint, go to Lioneye's Teleport back, etc. Rinse and Repeat for a total of 3-4 times counting the first time going to the waypoint. You want to be level 7 minimum before moving forward beyond the waypoint. When you do move onward, skip Kuduku. and avoid any chests near it (getting shotgunned by spark/nova is deadly) but do kill enemies from a bit further away if there are a lot of melee ones.
Rocky Climb: Be extremely careful here. Ideally you want to run straight through. You can pick off some packs of the hellions, just be sure to move after each dies or you'll be standing in fire. Skeletons are pretty deadly if you have to get in close range since Burning arrow basically negates your flask regen.
Lower Prison: Kill packs, find upper prison entrance. Ignore Chatters. Enemies that get resurrected by necromancers don't give experience, but they can still be worth killing the first time.
Upper Prison: Same deal.
Warden's Quarters: If you've been finding portal scrolls fairly regularly use one to teleport to Lioneye's Watch and back quick to recharge your flasks (click the center of the loading screen, you'll use the portal the second you load into LW). Run through, you don't need to read the book. Use your quick silver flasks for running through.
Brutus Fight: You *Need* 130hp at this point or you can be one shot by his slam attack. At any point if Brutus isn't throwing his chains when he is far away you should assume you have desynced and he is right next to you. Strategy for ranged characters is keep your distance, attack>take a step>attack>take a step>etc. Brutus doesn't lead his chain so he'll miss every time once you get it down. Melee characters, if you're at 250hp+ (Marauder/Templar) you can get up close and heavy strike/glacial hammer him until you take a hit or two. cliff/ledge. If you don't run across the road. The way to go is always a little gap in the mountain down in that lower area. Be careful of the goatmen in this area, as well as the hellions. Goatmen will leapslam around you and it's easy to get surrounded. Hellions will once again ignite the ground on death. You can kill over small-medium groups of them after dodging most of the leap slams though. If you come across groups of sandspitters they're generally worth killing if you don't have 40 other enemies on your heels. Ignore the big doggy. If you have leap slam, as you run across more ledges jump over them, it will cut down on a bit of running.
Ship Graveyard: More god damn Rhoas. Rhoas and the pirate ghosts aren't bad to kill. If you get cursed just run. You can follow the water to find the entrance to The Coves.
The Coves: You can follow the water here to find the cavern entrance. The crabs/spitters will curse you with vulnerability when they hit you, so be careful of that. The zombies create pools of tar when they die which will slow you down significantly. So be careful not to get swarmed. Ranged attackers shouldn't have an issue with that, and melee can leap slam out of it.
Cavern of Wrath: Be wary of the Ashen Buccaneers. They hurt quite a bit, and if you get shocked by them you'll start to take a lot more damage real fast. Otherwise it's basically Lower Submerged passage again. Generally you want to skip Amarissa, since she takes too long to kill. It's possible to use leap slam as a shortcut across bodies of water in here.
Cavern of Anger: Exploding squids. If you have a fire resist ring wear it. If you have a second, and are above 200hp, wear it. Exploding squids are deadly, there are some terrain features that can hide them. Running around a corner and into 5 of them is not fun and has ended many a run. Running past them with a quicksilver flask activated will caused them to detonate harmlessly. If it's a narrow tunnel you may get stuck on them though so this doesn't always work in those cases. Skip Ambrosia. Leap slam is still good as a shortcut in various places.
Merveil: You should be around level 12 at this point. If you don't have cold resist rings, go get them from Nessa. You'll want two ideally, marauder can get away with only 1 since they'll have a diamond skin node at this point. Two rings allows you to tank her cold snaps/spears. Ranged characters don't want to get into melee with her. Marauder/Templar can usually take a couple hits, but generally you'll want to rely on ground slam from a distance. When phase 1 is over I'll generally hop into my town portal and swap out a health flask for a second mana flask if I was only running with 1 since its a much easier fight. Clear all the squids all over the place. Then just spam your aoe on Merveil. You'll kill the exploding squids 90% of the time before they can get to you. If you get below 2/3 or so health just back up for a second. Phase 2 is easy otherwise. Loot and head for the forest.
Depending on how much time is left you need to decide what you're going to do at this point. If you have 10-15m+, you might want to head for the Western Forest killing along the way in River Crossing and Dark forest. Otherwise just farm The Forest for the rest of the race.
Some other general things to note:
- If you find a rare quality (yellow) weapon that you are using use any blacksmith's whetstones on it before identifying it (+5% quality instead of +1% when it is identified).
- Flat plus damage magic weapons can sometimes be better than rare quality with random other junk on them.
- Orbs of Alchemy should/will likely be used exclusively on your main weapon. Sometimes it's better to save it a bit for the next tier weapon. Likewise with Orbs of Chance, although they're good for boots as well.
- Other crafting items use at your own discretion. It's really not worth using exalted/chaos/GCP/etc. during a one hour unless you're really hurting for say a good weapon and you get a crappy roll with an orb of alchemy.
- Movement speed boots help a ton. I identify every boot I see and use pretty much all orbs of transmutations trying to get a pair.
- Chestpieces slow you down. Don't wear them when you're just going to running through an area, or for easy areas (farming the ledge).
- The +Elemental damage on maces applies to spells. So Mace/caster shield is as good as wand/wand for casters.
- Two-handers are generally better for short races since you only need to find one item. Duel-wielding, you need to find 2 separate items or use more crafting items.
- Keep an eye out for equipment upgrades as you go along, but keep slot needs in mind. A marauder has little/no use for blue slots for example.
- Positioning when killing enemies is important. Generally if you have a mixed group of ranged and melee you want to position yourself so that it's You->Ranged->Melee since the melee enemies will come towards you, while the ranged ones generally won't move.
- Don't worry about what other people are doing. That guy who's first place level wise is a lucky bastard who found a unique or the exact rares they needed. Most 1 hour races the top couple players are 20-30% ahead of everyone else due to RNG luck. The last solo 1H race (s1e34) the 1st place finisher had twice as much experience as the 30th place finisher.
- Don't forget you're also only competing against your class. To continue with the s1e34 example, being half way behind the 1st place finisher would have made you the #2 marauder, and the #1 marauder was still 350k (about 35%) behind the 1st place overall (909K experience).
»poestatistics.com/events/last/ is great for keeping track of how you're doing.
Keep in mind it's also not to late to grab that first unique item. Just take it easy and do a couple races up to the 3 point threshold. It'll give you a nice toy to play with. Probably the best reward of the bunch though is the Coral Ring. It's item level 100, so it'll be able to potentially be crafted with the best modifiers possible for the foreseeable future.
TL;DR: When racing do the stuff you normally do faster and 4 levels below the zone level.