So, it is no secret that Borderlands is one of my favorite games of all time. Steam lies and says I’ve spent almost 400 hours between the two games. That is a gross underestimate. I believe I probably have finally spent more time on BL2 now than I did with BL1 and all of its DLC’s combined, and between the two games, they probably do add up to the “individual” FPS with which I have squandered the most time now.
When Gaige the Mechromancer was released as BL2’s fifth playable class, we were stoked. A coworker and I decided to try her out as a dedicated duo. Last week, we finished our second playthrough with our pair of mechros. These characters were never more than 15% of a level apart – mostly the result of spec experimentation on random mobs.
As we played to level 50 and beyond, we experimented with every imaginable character spec possible. He spent the entire time as some variety of Anarchy build and I spent most of my time in the lightning damage tree but occasionally tried heavy BFF or other random combinations. I even tried running Gaige in melee with a roid shield.
The end result is that we’ve returned to a pair of builds that are interesting and effective.
misinformation and lies
But before I get into the meat of the post and talk about Gaige’s ability options and our preferred builds in detail, I’d like to address the reputations of the class’s skill trees and how unjustly they are earned. The initial marketing information stuck and despite what I believe were admirable attempts by Gearbox to correct their initial faux pauxen (don’t ask) the impressions I hear from members of the community and other people I play the game with are dead wrong 🙂
Lie the first. Best Friends Forever is “girlfriend mode” or easy mode. With the notable exception of a single tier one ability, the BFF tree is actually just Gaige’s survivability tree. If you sink full points into BFF, you will wind up with a lot of health, a lot of hp regen, and a very durable robot capable of lasting for the entire duration of a fight – provided the two of you can average at least one kill every five seconds. BFF does almost nothing to increase your damage output. At level 50, I tried a Stern Roboteer mod (damage reduction, cooldown reduction, melee damage) and a heavy BFF build – and I couldn’t kill a blind skag puppy. Granted, I was able to stay alive to rez my friend – but the only reason he kept falling down was because he was the only one doing damage.
Lie the second. Ordered Chaos is hard mode. Anarchy is confusing. Anarchy is a dead simple effect, and with the right guns can be completely gamebreaking. With the wrong guns, it can be frustrating. But it’s very easy to understand and very easy to use. The important thing to remember with any Anarchy build is that Gaige has three skill trees that synergize very well together – you need to cherry pick a few choice abilities from the other trees to really shine with Anarchy, but don’t need very many to enjoy it initially. More on this later.
Lie the third. Gaige is overpowered. Okay, well, she is, kind of. She has more potential skew than most of the other characters to run away from game balance – but there are some strong checks to this that make her no less appropriately OP than anyone else.
That concludes the rant portion of this program. Let’s just go over each skill tree in order and discuss the abilities one at a time. There aren’t very many of them and I find most of them rather interesting.
Gaige’s action ability is summoning her pet robot Deathtrap. By default, Deathtrap has a 60 second duration and a 60 second cooldown. This makes cooldown reduction effects very obvious.
At low levels, Deathtrap is a tank. He taunts similarly to Axton’s turret or Zer0’s decoy. During the entire first playthrough, he is sufficiently durable by default that he will last to the end of his duration more often than not. DT flies around (ignoring geometry) and attacks ground targets with a basic melee attack. Additionally, he has a lightning attack that he uses to great effect against flying targets – but unlike Axton’s turret, DT’s lightning is instant and guaranteed to hit. By default, he does not hit as hard as the turret, and you have no control over where he is going to go – but he tends to stay sort of close to the player. He also occasionally glitches and attacks non-combat script targets (like the statues in Opportunity) – and once DT has latched onto a target, he does not like switching.
Each of Gaige’s skill trees contains multiple upgrades for Deathtrap that give him extra abilities – all but one of which are amazing, and I’ll get to the exception shortly. With each upgrade, Deathtrap’s appearance changes. By high level, he is capable of inflicting significant damage and is very prone to helping Gaige get second winds.
best friends forever
bff – tier 1
- Close Enough – Perhaps Gaige’s most publicly contentious ability in the game. It provides a chance for missed projectiles that hit the floor or a wall to ricochet into a nearby enemy for 50% normal damage. At 5 points, it gives your missed shots a 50% chance of hitting anyway – as long as those shots are the right kind of projectile and as long as they hit a wall or floor. If they go off into the sky, they don’t bounce, and if they are the kind of projectiles that have their own special on-collision behavior (like their own ricochet or an explosion, etc…) they may not bounce.
That said, Close Enough is essential for any Ordered Chaos build and is nice for LBT. It is most effective with shotguns or when trying to apply status effects with a high rate of fire weapon.
- Cooking Up Trouble – This is Gaige’s only reliable health regeneration mechanic, and it provides 0.4% of your max hp per second per rank as long as your gun’s magazine is full. So, with 5 points, you can regenerate your hp to full in <50 seconds. Because this ability is tied into your magazine state, it is tricky if using Tediore guns and or any Anarchy build. It synergizes well with several of Gaige’s other abilities – especially Shock and Aaagggghhh. It is most useful when combined with a gun with a very small magazine. A one-shot shotgun will have you enjoying the regen effect permanently. The effect is disabled while climbing ladders (because you aren’t holding any gun at the time).
bff – tier 2
- Fancy Mathematics – This ability improves Gaige’s shield recharge rate and delay based on her hp level. You get up to 14% delay reduction and 12% rate increase per rank – at zero hp. The ability gains you nothing while at full health, so it stands in direct opposition to Cooking Up Trouble and synergizes very well with Blood Soaked Shields. With a Calculating class mod, it is possible to get near-instant shield recharge delay with this ability when at low health.
- Buck Up – The first Deathtrap ability. Buck Up has been bugged since launch. When it works, it gives your robot the ability to heal your shields to full from 30% and is potentially amazing. When it doesn’t work, your robot recharges enemy shields and gets you killed. Deathtrap seems to prioritize this ability over all of his other specials, so picking this up also means a significant reduction in his total damage output. I have long since gotten sick of it and no longer pick up this ability any more.
- The Better Half – Another ability of questionable utility. The Better Half increases the fire rate of the bottom half of your magazine. Ostensibly, this is to provide an alternative to prematurely reloading your gun to trigger one of her many on-reload abilities (or Cooking Up Trouble). In reality, it’s points better spent elsewhere unless you are going for a sort of bullet storm assault rifle or smg build where you just hold down the trigger and hose things down with Bandit or Vladof guns. Unfortunately, it does not have any effect on the Vladof style miniguns and is useless with something like a Jakobs. If you want to be able to fire until your clip empties more quickly, you should probably just stick to guns with smaller magazines.
bff – tier 3
- Potent as a Pony – This is a straightforward ability. It increases both Gaige’s and Deathtrap’s maximum hp.
- Upshot Robot – This is Gaige’s first gamebreaking ability. Upshot Robot has two effects. The most obvious is that every time one of the two of you kill something, Deathtrap’s duration is extended by five seconds. This will never increase his remaining duration over the maximum of 60, but it does mean you can keep him out permanently as long as he doesn’t die and you keep getting kills. The second and less dependable effect is that every time you extend his duration (even if it is pegged near max), you get a stacking buff that increases both of your melee damage by 4%. I have seen well over 200 stacks of this buff in certain circumstances, but normally, it is difficult to get more than 20. Also, be aware that if your allies are getting killing blows in a multi-player game it does not count.
- Unstoppable Force – This is a straightforward kill skill. Whenever you kill something, it increases your move speed and procs a few seconds of instant shield regeneration. At five ranks, it is worth something like 16% of your total shields in regen – although I am unsure whether the regeneration continues if you take damage before the buff expires. If this ability buffed Deathtrap it would be overpowered, but as it is, it is just nice to have if you’re doing a lot of shotgun or other short range work.
bff – tier 4
- Explosive Clap – This may very well be Deathtrap’s single most damaging ability. It procs a large explosive nova that goes a long way toward clearing a room. Unfortunately, he will only use it if he is near a cluster of enemies – he won’t use it against a single boss for example. The other night, I think I saw the clap do about 350k damage against a group of unslagged targets.
- Made of Sterner Stuff – Another straightforward survival ability. This one is pretty much a no-brainer if you’re this deep into the tree. It provides flat percentage damage reduction to you and your robot and increased his melee damage output. With a Stern class mod and points in Myelin, this can easily cut all shock damage you take in half.
bff – tier 5
- 20% Cooler – Not much to say here – except that at five ranks, the ability is actually 30% reduction to DT’s cooldown. Throwing in a cooldown reduction relic and you can cut the cooldown in half without any trouble at all. With a Siren in the group and an orange class mod… you can get reduce the cooldown to practically zero. My opinion is that this ability is largely mitigated in awesomeness by the fact that it is so much easier to simply extend Deathtrap’s duration. Still, if the robot is your primary source of damage, you don’t want to spend any time without him.
bff – tier 6
- Sharing is Caring – This is one of the best top tier abilities in the game. It gives a copy of your shield to Deathtrap. And by copy, they seriously mean copy. Identical capacity and recharge behaviors. Nova, spike, roid. You name it. Well, not amp. Deathtrap doesn’t have any guns. I have seen Deathtrap wearing a Firehawk nova shield, running around burning everything. I’ve been meaning to try this out with a Love Thumper or other big roid shield and I bet something like a Neogenator would go a long way to making Deathtrap invincible. That being said, you have to sink 26 points into BFF to get this, so it pretty much precludes any significant investment in one of the other trees – and means you probably ARE depending on Deathtrap as your main source of damage.
Little Big Trouble
LBT is the electric damage tree and my personal favorite. It does a lot of damage over time and is amazingly useful in a group. The image shows an approximation of my current level 50 build. Depending on mods and equipment, several of those points may move around to maximize output – but the important things are 5 points in Interspersed Outburst and none in the aforementioned buggy Buck Up. I rely on BFF as secondary because Anarchy doesn’t impress me as much with as few point as I have left after everything else.
lbt – tier 1
- More Pep – This ability greatly increases your chance of applying status effects. At 5 points, it equates to +10% to apply any status effect and an additional +10% to apply electrocution. When hosing things down with a shock smg or similar, this all but guarantees that you will proc dots all over the place.
- Myelin – A rather straightforward shield capacity increase, this ability also provides a large amount of shock resistance – which goes a long way toward keeping your shields.
lbt – tier 2
- Shock Storm – This is kind of a strange ability in practice. Whenever either your robot kills something or you do – with a critical hit, it procs a stationary shock storm for a few seconds. I find it most useful in BFF and LBT builds – where either your robot is getting a lot of killing blows or you can actually hit the broad side of a stationary barn 😉 Ranks increase the damage the storm inflicts, but not the area – if I could increase the AoE, I would buy all five points in a heartbeat. While the effect is hard to look at, I am pretty sure that the damage from Shock Storm can proc Electrical Burn.
- The Stare – This is a straightforward Deathtrap upgrade. It gives him laser beam eyes that light things on fire. The damage is good. Similar to his default lightning attack, this locks onto targets and continues firing for its entire duration. However, unlike the lightning, he will use this against ground targets.
- Strength of Five Gorillas – Straightforward boring melee damage increase for you (meh) and your robot (yay!). By itself, this ability does not make it possible to run around punching things as your primary source of damage, and it pales in comparison to a couple of stacks of the Upshot Robot buff. If you’re using this, consider it a way to frontload some initial damage on a newly spawned robot – except of course that a newly spawned robot has all of his special attacks off of cooldown…
lbt – tier 3
- Electrical Burn – This is one of my favorite abilities. It gives your electrocution dots a chance to proc a similar burn dot on the target – which makes shock damage much more attractive against biological targets, even those without shields. You only get 4% chance per tick per rank, but if you’re using a shock weapon, you will get enough ticks to proc this ability very consistently.
- Shock and Aaagggghhh – Another one of my favorite abilities, this is a double-edged sword. Whenever you reload your gun (automatically or manually), you will proc a small shock nova. This damage is improved by all of your other +shock bonuses and I am pretty sure it has a chance to electrocute as well. The ability also works while in fight for your life. The nova procs when your reload completes – so the effect is most valuable on a gun with a fast reload rate (or if you have abilities like Smaller, Lighter, Faster that increase your reload speed). The downside of this is barrels. You will totally electrocute yourself by reloading next to barrels all the time. But when combined with a very small magazine and a quick reload? Hehehehe…
- Evil Enchantress – This is probably Gaige’s best kill skill. When you kill something, you get a bonus to all dot damage. This goes very well with Electrical Burn because the size of the fire dot is based on the size of the electrocute dot. So if the electric dot is boosted by evil enchantress and then a new fire dot procs, it will be larger than it otherwise would have been… and then the evil enchantress bonus is applied to it as well 😉
lbt – tier 4
- One Two Boom – This is a hard one. When it works, it works great. When it doesn’t work, it makes me facepalm. I spend a lot of time facepalming. Basically, your robot will charge up and throw a slow-moving purple ball at your enemies which does nothing. If you can shoot the projectile, it will explode in a very large shock nova – for enormous damage. Deathtrap also seems to prefer this ability over everything else if he has it available – so unless you can trigger it successfully he will waste a lot of time throwing the ball around. The ball is so slow that it often arrives too late or goes somewhere useless (like all enemies have died or left the blast zone by the time it arrives). My personal favorite is when he fires it straight downward into the ground where no bullets may follow. The ball is also hard to hit with nonstandard projectiles. Torge? E-tech dartgun? Cannon? You’re wasting your time. But, on the plus side, other players can trigger it for you.
- Wires Don’t Talk – This is a straightforward shock and electrocute damage increase. If you’re using shock weapons heavily (which you probably are if you’re this deep in the tree), then it’s a safe if unspectacular use of points.
lbt – tier 5
- Interspersed Outburst – This is the best ability in this tree. It has two primary effects. First, it gives you what amounts to a secondary amp shield that is only consumed when you hit an enemy with a shot – misses don’t count. Second, it slags everything. There is some concern that it may interfere with crit hits because of the way the slag damage is applied, but I can totally headshot things with it. When amp shield sniping, it not only almost guarantees slag on my enemies, it does some ridiculous damage. Ranks increase the bonus damage, but not the number of stacks – which always caps out at 5.
lbt – tier 6
- Make It Sparkle – This ability is either gamechanging or worthless, depending on circumstances. As it is, I am usually unimpressed with it, but I pick it up whenever I’m this deep in the tree because it certainly doesn’t hurt. Make It Sparkle (aside from being a bad indirect MLP reference) allows you to charge your robot’s melee attacks with one of four damage types (you can’t give him explosive). Deathtrap charged with corrosive damage is a constructor killer. Charged with slag, he basically gives you double the Interspersed Outburst. Charged with shock, he gains all of your bonus shock damage and lights things on fire.
The downsides of the ability are twofold. First, you must charge him with a bullet every time you summon him (it doesn’t remember betweeen uses), and some guns are better at applying this effect than others. Second, it is very easy to accidentally change his assignment during combat. Let’s say I’m using a corrosive rifle and I want my robot shocking things. The combo works fine… until he runs in front of my gun. Thankfully (or unthankfully, depending on how you look at it), other players cannot change your charge selection by shooting your robot.
Ordered Chaos is the glass cannon tree. It gives you the potential to output stupid big numbers at the cost of ranged combat utility and ramp up time. This image shows the core of my friend’s build. Not all points are allocated, as he changes those around with his mod, but this is the main build (ex, I think right now, he has points in Potent as a Pony because of his class mod).
The important cross-tree synergies are a Close Enough + Anarchy + a one-shot shotgun + Cooking Up Trouble and Myelin + Bloody Shields.
oc – tier 1
Tier one of Ordered Chaos is interesting in that it only has five points. If you want to progress in the tree, you are forced to invest fully in these abilities.
- Smaller, Lighter, Faster – 4 points. Increases your reload speed by 6% and decreases your mag size by 1% per rank. Mag sizes are rounded down, so the gun will always have a reduced magazine size (by at least one bullet). It is worth noting that when using guns that cost multiple bullets per click, you will still be charged for all ammunition used – even if the display does not indicate it. So a Maliwan pistol with a 10 round mag that costs 2 shots per click will display a 9 round clip under this ability, but will still cost 10 rounds to empty. The reload speed is the real bonus here, and with class mods, it can get amazing.
- Anarchy – The tree’s bread and butter. Anarchy works under a very simple principle. Every time you reload your gun automatically while “in combat” and every time you get a killing blow on an enemy, you gain one point of Anarchy. Initially, this stacks up to 150 points. Anarchy has the effect of increasing your gun damage output by 1.75% per point while decreasing your “accuracy” by the same amount. So, with one point in anarchy, you can potentially build up to +262.5% damage at the cost of some sort of unmeasurably strange accuracy penalty.
If you ever manually reload your gun (or happen to use a bugged gun), you will lose ALL of your accumulated stacks and go back to hitting like a mere mortal again. If you go into fight for your life, you will rapidly lose anarchy points until you either die (and lose them all) or get back up.
Certain gun types are more or less effected by the accuracy penalty. Those that lob solid projectiles, for example, are much less effected than regular bullets. Generally speaking, it is pointless trying to hit anything at range once you have more than 50 points of Anarchy – though scopes mitigate the penalty. Anarchy plays very well with Close Enough – enough so that I consider Close Enough a requirement.
Without going into much more detail here, there are two main modes in the Anarchy cycle – generating stacks and abusing them. While building stacks, the most important thing is a gun that reloads quickly for not much ammo. While using stacks, the most important thing is a gun that melts faces off quickly because you’re going to be taking a lot of fire trying to hit things.
oc – tier 2
- Preshrunk Cyberpunk – A must have if you want to really experience all this tree has to offer. It increases your anarchy cap by 50 per point, up to a total maximum of 400 stacks. That’s +700% damage. Of course, you will often fire in a 90 degree arc from where you’re pointing, but with a big fat shotgun and 5 points in Close Enough, half of those bullets will still hit something even at range… and only wind up doing 4x their base damage. Boo. Hoo.
- Robot Rampage – A Deathtrap upgrade. This gives your robot a whirlwind melee attack that hits everything in range for meaningful damage. Of course, if you’re heavy Anarchy, it’s nothing compared to your gun damage, but if you’re augmenting a heavy BFF or LBT build, it has the potential to do a lot. One downside of the ability, it is very loud.
- Blood Soaked Shields – This is another broken ability. Whenever you kill something it recharges your shields by 20% per rank at the cost of 1% of your remaining hp. At five points, it will completely top off any shield with every kill, but drains your health much more tangibly. Of course, if you have abilities that improve as your maximum hp decreases (like Fancy Mathematics)… that’s not a bad thing. It is impossible to kill yourself directly with this ability. It also works very well with turtle shields (because the hp penalty and slow recharge rate are rendered moot) and amp shields (because an anarchy amp shot probably killed something somewhere and resets your amp). You don’t need full points in this to make it worthwhile, one or two points is pretty significant. Similarly, it also works well with nova shields as a sort of life insurance policy. One point in this ability is enough to guarantee full shields upon recovery from fight for your life – which sets the nova back up to fire again.
oc – tier 3
- Annoyed Android – This one is kind of strange, it increases Deathtrap’s movement speed by 7% per rank, guaranteeing he can spend more time in melee. Its primary usefulness in an Anarchy build is that your robot winds up soaking some damage that would otherwise have been pointed at you. In a robot build, it means that Deathtrap can punch many many things.
- Discord – Discord replaces the manual reload effect of Anarchy. Instead of losing all of your stacks at once, you start burning stacks (at about 1 per second) in exchange for a dramatic gain in hp regen, fire rate, and accuracy. Reload again to switch back to normal. While fine, we have not found the buff to be enormously worthwhile but the accidental reload insurance is invaluable.
- Typecast Iconoclast – Gives you 6% per rank chance of gaining an extra anarchy point every time you gain one. The net result at five ranks is essentially 130% anarchy generation rate.
oc – tier 4
- Rational Anarchist – A kind of underwhelming ability. Rational Anarchist gives you 25 stacks of anarchy whenever you would gain one from zero. It’s a good way to get started again, but loses any value while you manage to maintain >0 stacks. My friend does not use it, preferring Typecast Iconoclast and “not dying” to keep his anarchy up. Also, the point that would otherwise be spent here could be better spent in something with a more consistent effect.
- Death From Above – Another kind of strange ability. DFA allows you to spend anarchy points by shooting things in midair. The result is a large explosion. As it is somewhat hard to control and the damage output may not be worth the cost in anarchy, it is a learned skill. If you don’t pay attention to it, you’ll occasionally just do large amounts of damage. Mix with Shock and Aaagggghhh for maximum random aoe.
oc – tier 5
- The Nth Degree – Makes every 9th-5th bullet that hits a target (depending on ranks spent) to bounce and hit another nearby enemy for full damage. Close Enough bullets can proc Nth Degree and then hit for full original damage. One point in this ability is amazing (+11.1% damage). Five points is an ammo conservation mechanic (+20% damage). If there is only one enemy around, this ability will not proc, and if you miss with all rounds fired it will not proc either.
However, as an example with a 20 round shotgun, you can Close Enough blindly at an enemy in cover and expect 10 of those rounds to hit for roughly 5 rounds worth of damage. Maximum points in Nth Degree could make 2 of those 10 rounds hit another target, bringing your effective blind fire damage up from 5/20 to 7/20.
oc – tier 6
- With Claws – The final anarchy sink in the tree, this is a unique melee override skill in that it does not have any cooldown. It gives you +0.6% melee damage per anarchy point and lifedrains a variable percentage of the damage dealt. Each use swings twice and costs one point of anarchy – whether or not you hit something. Of course, if you’ve got enough anarchy to make the attack really matter – why aren’t you just shooting things with a gun that is guaranteed to hit because you’re at point blank? The lifedrain is potentially nice – but of questionable utility. Still, I’ve not played with it much yet, so I’ll have to give it a serious try – I’m liking the idea of using it with my Law & Order.