Borderlands 2 has only been out for three weeks, but it’s already time to re-roll, so call up your buddies and start a new character, namely Gaige, the Mechromancer. Announced back in August, the loot shooter’s fifth playable character is out a little bit earlier than expected, available free of charge to anyone who pre-ordered the game and for a few extra bucks for those that didn’t. How does Gaige compare to her Siren, Commando, Gunzerker, and Assassin vault hunting companions? She is, as Gearbox promised, both more user friendly and technically complex, depending on how you approach developing her skills. Gaige is also arguably the best character to use for solo play.
First, Gaige’s special skill is calling in her giant robot pal, Deathtrap. Think of him like a floating torso of destruction, all arms and anger. Gaige’s skill tree Best Friends Forever—described over the summer as “girlfriend mode,” much to the Internet’s ire—is mostly made up of skills that augment Deathtrap. One skill lets him refill your shield once its been depleted, another lets him do an enemy-clearing shockwave attack by clapping his hands. In beefing up this skill tree during a demo of Gaige last week, I found that Deathtrap made playing without actual partners a lot more manageable than the other classes. Deathtrap’s more versatile than the other classes skills, and more aggressive a combat tool than Axton’s turrets.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, is Gaige’s Controlled Chaos skill tree, a series of skills built to satisfy the number-fiddling perfectionist player. The core of this tree is that Anarchy skill. Anarchy works like this: As you shoot enemies, Anarchy is stacked from 1 to 250, as indicated by a little icon at the base of the screen. Each stacks increases damage dealt, but takes away accuracy an equal amount. By the time it’s stacked to 250, even the weakest gun can become a destroyer. The rub is that you can’t manually reload a weapon without resetting the Anarchy stack back to zero, meaning fights are a taut balancing act. Rush into a throng of enemies to make up for your lack of accuracy with a high stack can lead to success, provided your ammo clip is full, but you might be stuck reloading at a crucial moment. Further skills in the tree like Discord, which does let you reload but eats up five Anarchy stacks, can make the tree even more intricate.
In my playthough, I mixed these trees to try and find an optimal solo experience. The benefits of a beefed up robot companion to make up for the absence of human partners coupled with the deeper strategy of Anarchy maintenance makes for a damned exciting Borderlands 2 game, and one that is distinguished from the existing classes. Is it different enough to warrant a purchase? Possibly only for diehard fans. For anyone getting the character for free though, Gaige is a lot of fun.
One note: Her character design is a little ridiculous. Take note, Gearbox: Your fans are going to cosplay as your characters. It’s inevitable. They are nerds, you are nerds, it all works out. Gaige, however, looks like a caricature of the average gaming/comic/anime convention goer. Does she really need the rainbow-colored pixel graphic lunchbox on her belt? You’ve already got that audience on lock down, you didn’t need to actually build them into the game!
Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into it.