Which is better depends on the battle played and other factors, like party. They are also vastly different, and if you can afford it - can play both and switch depending on per-battle preference. Generally speaking swords are for solo, chains performs better in party - both due to aggro.
After completing a battle you will be rewarded with gold, loot, experience and AP (short from Ability Points). After completing the first story you will be asked to train Combat Mastery, which is available in Skill window (bound to [V] key by default). As your level rises up, more and more skills and abilities will be available to training - keep an eye on those. Learning may cost gold, but rising up the ranks require AP. In Vindictus there is no such thing as skill build - even thought there may be recommended order to train them, eventually you can learn and max every single of them.
My recommendation regarding skills:
* Learn everything and rank up anything required to unlock all skills
* Keep Armor and Weapon masteries at maximum rank available, so you can use higher level items
* Increase Smash Mastery and Critical Hit to minimum rank A
* Increase Battle Respiration if you are having stamina issues (stamina is required to perform actions - attacking, dodging and so on)
At certain levels, as well as from battles or stories, you may receive better equipment. While in town, you can compare items by holding [SHIFT] key over the item in inventory (default key is ). In your NX inventory there will be also Level-Up Pounch, which contains various rewards - including free sets. Make sure to remember about it and open as you progress.
If you already have another character that is at least 60 level - I suggest to get full Chieftain Armor set and enhance it up to +8, which will provide some extra damage for your character. Doing the same for Blood Prince set is also advised. It should be enough by level 60, where you will be given free set for that level.
3.3 Gaining levels and extras
Upon reaching 40 level, AP Shop is unlocked at NPC Ernass - old man in Colhen Inn. Scroll down and buy VIP capsule, which provides various benefits, including extra stats and EXP & AP gain boost. If any of your characters contain a VVIP capsule - you can use it even earlier, as it's account wide and boosts up both EXP and AP gain.
Fastest way is to progress main story only in the story mode mentioned earlier. At some point you will have to travel to another city - Rocheste Castle. From level-up gifts you will receive Resellian's Wings, which allows you to teleport to one of preselected locations. You can use it to save time on travelling between points.
By the time you will reach Season 1 Episode 6, your level will be already around 60, which is already higher than the battles you are about to do. All Season 1 battles have no bigger level than 60, which means you will effectively slow down in level progression. So here's the deal:
* If you are not in hurry of getting levels, or intend to continue playing the character - continue the main story, even though it will be slower for a while
* If you are all about getting level as soon as possible - start doing Season 2 battles as soon you unlock them (65+ level)
You need main story progressed to unlock several important things in the future, that's why it's recommennded to take the first option.
What is it about these "seasons" anyway? Vindictus is story-based game, so parts of content are split onto seasons and episodes (season 3 also contains "chapters" to group up the episodes). Each season varies a bit from the other in various aspects, and what you need to know from this pespective is - season 2 gives more EXP than the previous one.
Both Season 1 and Season 2 have battles that are known as "ex-raid" - battles that used to be raids, but no longer are considered such, so players can proceed on their own. These are usually short, as you start the battle right at the boss place and fight them. Season 2 ex-raids are good source of experience, if not the best. Here's a list of those battles I recommend to do to speed up leveling:
* A Ruler's Refuge - Lakiora (70 lv)
* Devil in the Water - Kraken (70 lv)
* Memory of the Past - Havan (70 lv)
* Death's Shadow - Executioner Pantheum (70lv)
* Into the AByss - Juggernaut (77 lv)
* Desolate Malina - Ulchas (77 lv)
* Gates of Hell - Lavasat (77 lv)
* Burning Temple - Druid (77 lv)
* God of Death - Cromm Cruaich (77 lv)
Just repeat these battles as many times as possible until you reach 90 or bigger level. Keep in mind if a battle has significantly lower level than your character, rewards will be reduced, becominng less and less effective. It is recommended to do these battles in party, preferably with a stronger friend to significantly speed up the process.
If you followed main story, another option would be to do "Autumn Reed Bed" and "A Friend Once Lost" story battles (yes, those are unlocked during main story only) from Season 3.
If you have a truly powerful friend to help you out, starting from 90 level you may also go to non-canon battle named "Abyssal Arena". You will gain from half an level to two levels per battle, depending on your current level. It's also good place to get AP and Transformation Points, as each floor is rewarded separately.
4. Belle specific tips
* While sprinting, hold right mouse button to charge up Rushing River. You can use it as fight initiation, but is also effectively speeding up movement throughout the areas.
* Use LLRR (Wildfire and Flare-Up skills) and to to wipe out group of normal enemies
* Use LRLRR (Brush Fire + Broken Cleft + Gaping Chasm) and LLLR (Broken Cleft + Gaping Chasm) to deal massive damage to bosses
* Use Deforestation to for group of enemies and as counter attack while boss attack.
* Absorbing damage with Deforestation skill will increase it's damage, which is represented as yellow numbers. You must have 5 stacks of Nature's Might to use it. Aside from icon, there will be a sound and hands will start glowing when it's available.
* Deforestation consists of 3 parts: the spin, the first and second overhead attack. It's required to time [TAB] to use the following attacks. The last one also requires SP.
Transformation is something you will experience during the main story, and will have to make a choice later on. First, at the end of second episode (in Hoarfrost Hollow) you will transform into a Dark Knight. Then, in following episode (Ainle location) you will transform into a Paladin. There's a story behind both transformations and their role in the world. Not much is known about them in general.
Older players may remember that there are differences between the transformations and that there's only limited amount of points that can be spent on transformation skills. This is no more - they have been reworked, and now the differences are marginal. Most obvious is the theme, first form transformation animation, other orbs functionality (Dark Knight's slow and steal enemy stats very little; Paladin's orbs pertificate normal enemies) and second form of transformation special ability (Dark Knight's Fissure temporarily lock enemy in place, even boss; Paladin's Conviction gain a shield that acts somewhat like extra temporary HP).
Please note that this is not transformation guide, but as the differences are marginal - truth be told it's up to your taste. This choice cannot be reverted, by none other than special item for real cash.
6. Ending words
Since updated known as Rise, Season 1 and 2 battles are considered "tutorial" by the community, meaning they were changed to be fast and easy, soloable by most players. Season 2 ex-raids may be difficulty to some. Real game starts with Season 3 and you may have significantly harder time progressing. I recommend reaching 90 level before starting Season 3 story, as you will be given free set for that level. Lastly, do not start Corrupted Queen raid on your own - use Quick Battle (default hotkey is [K) to find or create party.