Gaige the Mechromancer is unlike any other character that we've seen so far in the Borderlands universe. The playable foursome that shipped with the sequel all have common ties with the original game's Vault Hunters, but Gaige and her pal Deathtrap strike out in an unusual direction.
I got to witness this for myself firsthand in a recent two-hour hands-on demo, and I'm here now to share some of what I learned so the pros among you can get a sense of what to expect as you introduce Gaige to Pandora. Consider the following a primer. I didn't get to advance all the way through any one tree, though I did flip through the higher-level options and form some ideas about how I might want to proceed.
Gaige’s Action Skill - Summon Deathtrap. Think of the robot as a mobile, smart-mouthed, melee-focused version of Axton's turret. Call Deathtrap to the battlefield and he'll zip around, putting the smackdown on your enemies with his claws. An onscreen timer -- again, similar to Axton's turret -- indicates how long your robot pal will stick around, though unlike the turret there's no option for calling him back early.
Just like the other classes, the new Mechromancer is built around three skill trees. The left-most option, Best Friends Forever, is the infamous "girlfriend mode" tree that you might have heard about. In reality, Gearbox designed BFF to ease FPS newcomers into the Borderlands experience, though there are elements here for advanced players to take advantage of as well.
Take Close Enough, an early skill you'll encounter in the tree. Equip it and you'll have a chance for any bullets that ricochet off of a wall, floor, or other surface to automatically seek out and strike an enemy, for reduced damage. Additional points in this skill up both your chances of making contact and your damage potential.
You can clearly see how this might help a new player, but there's value to a skill like Close Enough for more advanced players taking aim at enemies cowering behind cover or carting around shields. Intentionally fire at some surface behind a protected enemy and you can essentially flank them -- admittedly, at reduced damage -- without changing your position.
The middle tree, Little Big Trouble, is built around imbuing both Gaige and Deathtrap with the ability to deal out shock damage. I spent the least amount of time tooling around with this tree in actual play, but there's a lot of potential here for elemental-minded DPS players. Your top-level skill unlock allows you to shoot Deathtrap with an elemental weapon to make him deal out that type of damage with his melee attacks.
The right-hand tree, Ordered Chaos, is the one that I think most of the advanced Borderlands players will zero in on, as it introduces some unusual new mechanics in its complementary Anarchy and Discord skills. What's potentially cool here is that you unlock the potential of both of these skills roughly halfway through the tree, meaning that a level 50 pro could conceivably max out an entirely different tree and skill take advantage of the Anarchy/Discord combo.
Anarchy is the very first skill in the Ordered Chaos tree, costing just one point to unlock. You're actually forced to take it to proceed, since it's companion skill at the first level maxes out with four points invested. Not that you'd want to skip it, since that's the reason you're following this path in the first place.
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With the skill equipped, you earn "stacks" of Anarchy each time you score a kill or completely drain and then reload an ammo clip. You can see how many stacks you have in a little icon that appears just about the XP progress bar. For every stack of Anarchy that you've accrued -- and this number can climb into the hundreds -- you receive a small damage boost and a small accuracy penalty.
The other part of the skill combo is Discord, which you can invest in before you reach the halfway point in Ordered Chaos. With Discord, you nab bonuses to accuracy and fire rate, as well as health regeneration, for reloading before your weapon's clip is completely exhausted. There's a catch though: you can only receive Discord's benefits when you've got Anarchy stacks banked, since turning it "on" with a premature reload causes those stacks to slowly drain away. A second premature reload while Discord is activated effectively turns the boost you receive -- and the Anarchy drain -- off.
A very unusual push-and-pull emerges between these two skills. Your Anarchy damage boost can become very impressive, though the higher it climbs, the more you'll have to engage in close-range combat due to the accuracy penalty incurred. You'll undoubtedly take damage as your stack count climbs, at which point it's helpful to back off, activate Discord, and trade some of that Anarchy for health regen and improved accuracy. Once you're all healed up, you simply turn Discord off and start building up Anarchy stacks again.
Those who take Ordered Chaos up to the max level can also enjoy Anarchy bonuses as a melee override, with your Mechromancer spawning claws similar to Deathtrap's, earning both damage bonuses and health regen based on how many stacks are accrued. That said, with Anarchy and Discord both unlocking early on in the tree, there's equal value for endgame players to use Ordered Chaos as their "secondary" tree, since you can effectively unlock both of these skills with BFF or Little Big Trouble maxed out.