Surprise: Borderlands 2's Mechromancer Will Arrive Early. And She's Great.

Illustration for article titled Surprise: Borderlands 2's Mechromancer Will Arrive Early. And She's Great.

Don't you just love having a pet?

In the first Borderlands you could satiate your need for a cuddly companion by playing as Mordecai, the sniper expert who was always accompanied by Bloodwing. Depending on the skill tree you chose, Bloodwing's abilities ranged from deadly to unfairly deadly. I went for unfairly deadly. It was awesome.

So far in Borderlands 2, though, the closest thing you could get to cuddles is Axton's turret. The turret is something of a stand-in girlfriend. But regardless of Axton's cute nicknames and weird love for her, the turret isn't comparable to something more personified.

Enter Deathtrap, the hulkish amalgamation of hovering metal scraps that whispers ominous catch phrases while doing your dirty work. Gaige—the character you play as who controls DT—is a Mechromancer, and Deathtrap is your science project turned bodyguard.


Gaige herself feels like a cross between Lilith—with her red hair and spunky attitude—and Tiny Tina—with her small frame and the whole "being an insane genius" thing. Deathtrap makes her a very powerful character, maybe more so than any of the other four vault hunters.

Gaige is a strong, versatile character and a welcome addition to the new set of vault hunters in Borderlands 2. She even adds to the enormous list of easter eggs already in the game, which a cursory glance at her skill trees will prove. She's like an outspoken, pixie Pippi Longstocking with a can-kick-ass attitude. And she has a giant, fearsome robot on her side that can shoot laser beams at her enemies. But really this new class is all about the mech component, as your coolest skills will at least in some way involve DT. And that's wonderful, because he feels like my big, cuddly, bear bodyguard and I love sending him to slaughter anyone or thing that stands in my way.

Illustration for article titled Surprise: Borderlands 2's Mechromancer Will Arrive Early. And She's Great.

This is also the first time developer Gearbox is introducing a character whose skill tree can be specialized to accommodate the needs of a less skilled first-person shooter player. The Best Friends Forever skill tree focuses on alleviating the stress of damage to your health, shields, and even crappy aim. You can train Deathtrap to regenerate your (and your teammates') shields, and you can program your guns to ricochet bullets off the ground where you shot it to bounce to the enemy where you meant to shoot it.


As an experienced first-person shooter player, I still found the tree entertaining and useful without being too hand-holdy. The benefit of regenerating health on a full magazine isn't so far from how I chose to spec my siren, Maya, to heal under certain similar met circumstances.

That's not to say that Gaige, the Mechromancer class, was built as a strictly introductory character. In fact, she's simultaneously the newbie class as well as the hardcore class. The Ordered Chaos skill tree is a bit more complicated to understand, but gives the player more to consider in the midst of murdering bandits and bug creatures.


Let's dig into this skill tree a bit.

Do you get in the habit of reloading your gun immediately after a firefight cools down? I tend to do that, to be at my most prepared for the next firefights that I'll surely face. But with the Ordered Chaos skill tree, you'll want to reload as little as possible. If you let the magazine empty and reload itself automatically, you'll gain a stack of something called anarchy. This means that your accuracy is slightly lowered, but your hit damage is slightly raised. Continue to let your gun reload on its own, and you gain more anarchy stacks, meaning further decreased accuracy and further increased damage. By the time you start racking up until the 80s, 90s and more, you'll barely be able to shoot Face McShooty point blank in the face. But when you finally do, you'll do upwards of 1k damage [update: I should mention this was at a roughly level 20 character who was doing far less damage].


Or you can specialize the anarchy tree to use up anarchy stacks for a buff that increases accuracy and fire rate for your weapons. But you'll be continuously sacrificing your stacks of anarchy while that's activated. So instead of conserving the stacks to rack up the damage you can do, you can opt to let the stacked anarchy give you these buffs. Best of all is that you can turn anarchy stacking on and off by simply changing up how you play based on your needs.

The in-between skill tree—Little Big Trouble—is all about elemental damage, particularly shock damage. It was my instinct to play with that tree first, because I like to wrap enemies in slag and shock them with electricity. I built this tree to include a shock wave, which sends out a circle of electricity around me every time I would reload. I'd get into the habit of running up to enemies while reloading to make use of that skill. Many cackles were had.


Perhaps the niftiest detail that Gearbox included with the duo is that depending on how you spec Gaige, Deathtrap will be adorned very differently. He'll have blades on his back, and stickers on his chest that reflect which tree you've decided to upgrade your Gaige in.

Illustration for article titled Surprise: Borderlands 2's Mechromancer Will Arrive Early. And She's Great.

Remember how in my review I said that your Maya may be different than my Maya? That variety in a single character I attested to goes even further for Gaige. You can specialize her and DT to the point of playing in a completely different style.


Playing with the noobie tree, I hung back more to let Deathtrap regenerate my shields and ward off threats. I'd shoot at ceilings above where I knew enemies were so that my bullets would ricochet to shoot them. Playing with anarchy, though, I had a happier trigger finger, thirstily hunting for my next target. I'd play a minigame with myself to see how high I could get the stacks up to (it's sometimes hard to resist reloading on instinct). I also opted for a shotgun with a smaller magazine, that way I'd be reloading a lot more often and therefore building anarchy stacks a lot quicker. That middle skill tree that focuses on elemental damage forced me to keep the extra damage possibilities in mind. I'd have to remember to use a certain weapon or rely on a certain ability (like reloading) that I loaded up with extra damage.

The selection actually makes me a little nervous, wanting to play a combination of all three at once. Decisions are hard, guys.


But once you make your decision, one thing will remain true: Gaige is a tough chick, and her companion Deathtrap even more so. He can be a little slow to catch up with you (though that can also be upgraded in a specific skill tree) but he can float up to reach places you can't. And he stays out on the field with you for a long enough while to wipe out plenty of enemies. Sometimes too many enemies. Like when he killed a boss before I could even go up and look at it in its ugly face. I wanted to see its ugly face first! But you know what, Deathtrap? I wouldn't have it any other way.

The final raspberry (I don't like cherries as much) on this cake is that Gearbox decided to release the DLC early. So while it was originally slated for an October 16th release, players on all platforms—Xbox 360, PS3, PC—will be able to download the Mechromancer by the end of today (October 9th). And you should, because she's great.

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I find this DLC rather annoying.

From a personal standpoint, I really like the design of the character. And I really like the skill she has. So why am I annoyed?

Currently, I'm on my second playthrough of this game. Level 46, heading up to 50 so I can go and smash that ultimate boss thing, and then I can put my feet up and rejoice, having done pretty much all there is to do with my Siren. I have almost worn this game out. Ready to hang my boots up.

And now, two weeks after release, we get a character who I would have loved to have picked for my playthrough as DLC. So I can... start the whole thing again? I haven't got another eighty hours to throw at this while there are other games I have unfinished.

New missions, great, something fresh. But a new character to play the same game for a third (and fourth?) time? It just grieves me a little knowing that for the sake of two or three weeks we could have had this option from the start.

Still, new character to play as for free. If I bother to play the game again from the start then I'll give her a go.