How Borderlands 2's Mechromancer adds difficulty levels to the game

A look at the new "Mechromancer" class in Borderlands 2.

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Borderlands 2 doesn't let you choose from difficulty levels. Players are expected to deal with the game's various difficulty spikes by teaming up online, or grinding and soldiering through. This limitation is what makes the new Mechromancer class stand out as such an interesting addition: Gaige's skill trees replicate a more traditional difficulty scale.

Gearbox lead designer John Hemingway created a stir when he referred to one of the skill trees as "girlfriend mode." But indelicate phrasing aside, he was right that the skill tree seems custom-tailored to serve as an "Easy" mode. What Hemingway didn't mention was that the other two skill trees function as "Medium" and "Hard" modes, respectively.

"Best Friends Forever" comes equipped with skills, stat boosts, and abilities that are actually a bit overpowered compared to the other classes. This felt more akin to the first game, wherein certain classes could be made into wrecking balls. Gaige has that feel from the start, that one player can easily lay waste to a massive field of enemies. While it's an odd choice for the imbalance with other classes, it recaptures the feeling of empowerment from the original Borderlands. You could choose upgrades from this tree at random and still probably exit the menu a pint-sized murder machine.

The "Ordered Chaos" tree is just the opposite. It offers a series of complex trade-offs, requiring detailed stat-tailoring that would probably turn off some players. The "Anarchy" skill is its centerpiece, which itself sacrifices accuracy for damage with every stack earned.

The middle-tier, "LittleBigTrouble," is a more reasonable alternative with an emphasis on elemental damage. It's not under- or overpowered, but a nice way to experience the new Deathtrap ability.

Having already played through the game for review and therefore used to a mid-level challenge, I dabbled in both extremes. I experimented with the Chaos tree first, which made the robot companion Deathtrap more of an aggro-target than much of a help in battle. He was tasked with distraction while I usually relied on a trusty shotgun--because if I'm getting increased damage for lowered accuracy, I might as well use a weapon that requires me close the distance anyway. When I respec'ed to the BFF tree, Deathtrap was a better tool to do my fighting for me while I stood back with long-range weapons and picked off stragglers.

That said, even early in the game it's easy to see how Deathtrap can break some encounters. He made short work of Boom Bewm almost single-handedly. When I came in contact with Captain Flynn, Deathtrap whittled him down to a fraction of life before vanishing and I simply had to finish the job. I have to imagine that four coordinated Mechromancers would be able to sleepwalk through the game.

Maybe that's the point. The Borderlands series isn't so much about proving your mettle as it is about having fun and collecting loot. Gaige might make the game easier, but that also means it's more accessible. And by hiding difficulty levels inside a set of skill trees, Gearbox has made a smarter, more customizable method of variable difficulty.

Editor-In-Chief

From The Chatty

  • reply
    October 12, 2012 1:45 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, How Borderlands 2's Mechromancer adds difficulty levels to the game.

    A look at the new "Mechromancer" class in Borderlands 2.

    • reply
      October 12, 2012 1:56 PM

      Cool idea, I guess. But there doesn't seem to be any guidance toward this fact.

      Meaning that if I am a novice player, first I would have to figure out that the Mechromancer is probably for me. And then I have to identify which skill tree is "easy" mode. But since the game doesn't recommend this path for novice players, its blind luck 1/15 chance (5 characters * 3 trees) if I would pick easy mode.

      So I'd probably choose wrong and throw my controller at the wall after getting repeatedly skull fucked, then tell all my casual gamer friends this game sucks.

      I mean I get the intent, but with no presentation around this intent, you'd have to read this article to know this is how it works. And that's just sort of odd for a feature targeted at less experienced gamers.

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        October 12, 2012 3:56 PM

        You assume that players will random assign skill points into a tree and not make any decisions about how to play that tree after reading the description.


        You, as a player, read what the skill does and what bonuses you want. If you read the Anarchy tree skills and decide 'Wow, that seems kinda hard/stupid to keep going with', you probably don't have the skill to make that tree work as intended.

        Essentially, they are encouraging you to judge your own skill.

        Besides, if it's not working for you, respecing in BL2 is easy and cheap.

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          October 12, 2012 4:11 PM

          If you read the Anarchy tree skills and decide 'Wow, that seems kinda hard/stupid to keep going with', you probably don't have the skill to make that tree work as intended.

          That's a loaded assumption.

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            October 12, 2012 4:22 PM

            Oooh this skill has a very pretty icon!

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            October 12, 2012 4:47 PM

            I saw the Anarchy tree and immediately thought overpowered. So far it is incredible so, but oh so fun. The MLP tree looks like it was built around the game playing for you.

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      October 12, 2012 3:38 PM

      Not entirely true. The "difficulty levels" in BL2 come with how you chose to level. Try power-leveling with Gaige, using any skill-tree, and you'll still hit a brick wall when the story quests are 2+ levels above your player level.

      The first playthrough of BL2 is "normal mode", with the NG+ straightening things out to "cerebral challenge" level.

      I'm not finding Gaige over-powered at all. The wonky pathfinding of DT & long cooldown make her just as challenging to play as any of the the other classes.

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        October 13, 2012 10:18 PM

        Yeah, I was kicking ass in normal mode but NG+ requires a little more strategy. I'm really enjoying it.

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      October 12, 2012 11:15 PM

      Shame I won't buy this until I can confirm it isn't going to erase my Badass Rank and all of my customisation options.

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        October 13, 2012 1:10 AM

        Why would it erase your rank and customization options?

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          October 13, 2012 1:12 AM

          To clarify, I don't think the issue is from the DLC itself, but a bug that exists within the game already.

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        October 13, 2012 3:04 AM

        As far as I know, this issue has already been fixed.

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          October 13, 2012 8:54 AM

          All I've heard is that prior to the DLC, some people had the issue, and upon installing the DLC, more people had the issue.

          I'm not desperate for it, still enjoying my Siren and she's only L26. Also I just got X-COM. So I can afford to wait for a fair while...until I'm sure.

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      October 14, 2012 2:05 PM

      Just copy your save data. Thats what I do every nght when I am done playing.