First of all keep Vitality as high as possible. Then Grit. I dont advice going for Strength first. Armor and total health is allways more important then pure damage. (PvE)
Vitality. Bring it to 20 and Grit 15-20 and Encumbrance 15-20 and wearing Medium and Heavy sets. Dark Templar set is one of the best protection early-mid sets and requires medium set pieces to craft. Crafting it is pretty much easy. (Furnace-Blacksmith-Tanner-Iron/wood/Hide/Tree Bark) But it counts as Heavy set at its weight and stamina cost. So stats above are important. Then there is Stgyian raider armor at higher lvl.
Travel, build, scout and have fun with lighter armors. Fight only when you have the right equipment to fight; which is heavier armors (sadly!) and pike, bow, two handed sword combo. Keep adding more Strength and more Vitality after you get 20 grit and encumbrance. Your performance will be much better with this set up compared to a build that load strength first.
You can start with bow to pull the target (only 100 flint arrows and you dont accuracy) then swap to Pike when the target is about to reach at you, start attacking befoe it starts attacking (Stygian spear, is actually a pike, is easy to craft and pretty usefull before steel) and kill spamming right click on npcs. With its bleed and cripple effect and stunning effect it will be pretty easy to kill solo targets. You can move back 3 seconds when npcs are crippled and bleeding to fill your stamina bar and keep applying hits)
Only If you re surrounded swap to two handed sword. Focus at a single enemy and dont try to wound them all. If you lower than half health just move away. Try to lvl up the targets you can pull solo and try to kill them fast with heavy attack of Pike.
For shield style I prefer cutlass line while blocking (doesnt let you refresh stamina) and combo attack in between. Anyhow Pike and keep moving and keep spam/stunning oppoents seem to be more fluid compared to shield style.
I use food/bandage combo only after the fight is over. Also carry the ingridents to craft bandages and craft when you have less than 7-8 of them. Dont craft too many of them since the crafted healing tiems weight more. Avoid encumbered state (even yellow color) for all times when you re fighting or climbing. It kills your moving speed and stamina bar. (Combine that with lag)