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Review: Borderlands 2 – Gaige the Mechromancer DLC

Gaige is marketed as a class that both inexperienced and veteran players will enjoy. Also, you get a pet killbot. Let’s find out if she’s any good.

I like Gaige as a character a lot. Her visual design is atypical of female videogame characters and very cool, although her default skin is undersaturated. Her backstory, told via ECHO logs, is entertaining, although not available in-game. Her voice actress is wonderful, although her screams when Gaige takes an elemental DOT are extremely unpleasant (this could just be my own aversion to the sound of young women screaming in pain, but others have the same complaint). This is a fairly accurate summary of my opinion of the DLC: it’s excellent, but…

The DLC itself adds nothing but Gaige. There’s exactly what you would expect at minimum, and nothing else. There are no bonus head or skins for those with special editions or for those with a Borderlands 1 save. There are no ECHO logs of her in the game itself (they can be found on YouTube for free, but it would’ve been nice if they were in game somewhere). Fortunately, what is there is good.

Gaige herself is a fun character. Her shouts are vaguely meta, and convey an impressive amount of character. Her “aww, but I want ’em both” and “number number numbers, math math math” when examining loot are less annoying than Maya’s “they both have pros and cons…”, but this is a personal preference. A number of her skin names reference band names, and her skill names reference Community and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. There’s a lot of geeky fanservice here, and not the kind that involves the male gaze.

Deathtrap, the kill bot that Gaige can summon as her action skill, is cool, fun and effective, if a bit derpy at times. He is insanely powerful at the lowest levels, reasonable in the 20s and 30s and still useful at in endgame play (more useful than Axton’s turret, but less useful than the others). A number of skills grant him new abilities and most, if not all (there is some uncertainty over one or two skills, and a few overlap), affect his appearance. The capstone ability in each tree changes his head, and the other skills add armor plates, spike or blades to his body.

As an aid for newbies, he works well. For more experienced players, he’s more useful as a tool than a weapon. Deathtraps AI is wonky at times. He’s generally sufficiently aggressive, but occasionally will fail to notice enemies attacking him from ten feet away. This appear to happen mostly where enemy AI pathfinding is unconnected and happens extremely rarely (I encountered it once per ~10 hours). He has an electric attack for fly enemies, which he uses on static enemies as well. He’s also fond of attacking those shock cactus things, barrels and Jack statues with it, even in favor of the guys shooting him. He’s also fond of using his laser, which does massive damage to a single target, on the weakest enemy on a group. Long story short, Deathtrap’s AI needs work. It’s generally good enough, but when it fails it fails in ways that are annoying rather than ways that are funny. A common request is for the ability to command him to focus on a target. Personally, I would suggest making it so using the action skill while pointing at an enemy cause him to attack it (or defend it if it’s an ally) until it’s dead or you tell him to kill something else and have holding down the action key dismiss him.

Tali is unimpressed by Deathtrap's ability to render in front of things he is behind. Also, that is my very favorite gun.

Like everyone else, Gaige has three action trees. Best Friends Forever is largely aimed at newbies, Little Big Trouble is for intermediate and Ordered Chaos is for “hardcore” players. Gaige has quite a few more one point skills than the other characters, which I like. Awesomely, almost all builds are viable. Whether you want to go all in one tree or spread out over all three, it’ll work. It’s a pretty impressive piece of design.

The Best Friends Forever tree is largely about buffing Deathtrap and increasing player survivability. Don’t think of it as just the newbie tree though; A number of skills synergize very well with Ordered Chaos skill. Close Enough allows for up to half of your missed bullet to ricochet and hit enemies for half damage anyway. It’s quite popular with Anarchy users, as it helps cancel out the insane accuracy penalty. Cooking Up Trouble grants you health regeneration when your magazine is full. I quite like using it with Blood Soaked Shields, which depletes health. Buck Up, which is supposed to allow Deathtrap to restore the shields of a friendly target, is often used on enemies. And on you while you’re in Fight For Your Life mode, which is unhelpful. The skill is largely useless and counterproductive with Deathtrap’s AI in the state it is now. Upshot Robot increases Deathtrap’s duration and both of your melee damage as long as keep killing fools and stacks almost without limit. However, it doesn’t increase Deathtrap’s health, so he’ll most likely die not much longer after he would’ve been dispelled. The capstone skill, Sharing Is Caring, grants a copy of your shield to Deathtrap. The current consensus is that it definitely works with Nova shields, but Amp and Spike shields are iffy.

Little Big Trouble is mostly about Shock damage. The first two skills, More Pepe and Myelin are generally considered underpowered. The Stare adds a fiery laser to Deathtrap, but contrary to the description, it is for single targets, not many. Shock Storm, which creates a Shock AoE whenever you get a critical kill or Deathtrap gets any kill, has too small of an AoE to be useful. Shock And “AAAGGGGHHH!” creates a Shock AoE around you whenever you reload, and would probably see a lot more use by Anarchy users if it wasn’t so deep in the tree. One Two Boom, like Buck Up, is currently crippled by Deathtrap’s AI. It allows Deathtrap to fire a Shock orb, much like the secondary fire of the shock rifle in Unreal Tournament. The Shock orb often ends up being shot in unhelpful places, like the sky. Interspersed Outburst sounds very useful, but I never hear about anyone using it. Make It Sparkle is much the same story.

Ordered Chaos is all about one skill: Anarchy. If you have Anarchy, ever kill or automatic reload (while in combat) will give you one Anarchy stack. Each Anarchy stack grants you +1.75% gun damage and -1.75% gun accuracy. Anarchy stacks cap at 150 by default, but that is increased by 50 for every rank of Preshrunk Cyberpunk you have. Preshrunk Cyberpunk can be boosted to ten ranks with class mods, for a total of 650 Anarchy stacks. Manually reloading eliminates all Anarchy stacks, and going into Fight For Your Life rapidly depletes them. As does exiting the game. Ordered Chaos is for hardcore players, and not just in skill level; to get the most out of Anarchy you need to be able to play marathon sessions, not a little bit at a time. Which is most unfortunate for those who are like shooters and are very good at them, but have other commitments. Anarchy has other issues. If you’re not the host of the game, every time anyone reloads will count as you reloading. So if you enjoy playing with friends, you better host or not use Anarchy. This, Deathtrap’s derpiness and the negative money trading at launch suggests that Gearbox does not have the best programmers/QA guys in the world. Making games is a lot harder than it looks, so I don’t want to sound like and asshole, but I’m really curious as to how things like this made it into the release versions.

Smaller, Lighter, Faster increases reload speed and slightly decreases magazine size. It only has four ranks, so you’ll need it and Anarchy to go any further into Ordered Chaos. A Gunzerker with ammo regeneration will be your best friend. Robot Rampage allows Deathtrap to do a spin attack thing, and is probably his highest single target damage ability. Unless that target is moving, in which case Deathtrap will spends a few seconds spinning and hitting nothing. He will then proceed to make the spinning sound until he finds another target or his timer runs out. It is an extremely annoying sound, especially since he follows you while making it and there’s no way to get rid of him early. Blood Soaked Shields is probably my favorite ability. Each level restores a percentage of your shields at the cost of a percentage of you health when you get a kill. It goes all the way to 100%/5% at level five. When paired up with some form of health regeneration, like Cooking Up Trouble or Discord, the cost is almost totally alleviated. It combines nicely with Amp and Nova shields, and allows you get much closer to enemies to counter Anarchy’s accuracy penalty. Discord increases accuracy, fire rate and grants health regeneration at the cost of Anarchy stacks. It’s biggest bonus is preventing an accidental wipe of all your Anarchy stacks, as it is triggered by manually reloading. I personally don’t care for it that much. Death From Above causes your shots to be AoE while in the air at the cost of Anarchy stacks. It doesn’t really do all that much extra damage. The Nth Degree allows for every 10-[skill rank] bullets that hit an enemy to hit another enemy. There’s no way to increase the skill rank about five, unfortunately. With Claws overrides your melee attack with one that attacks twice, dealing bonus damage equal to .6% * your Anarchy stacks and restores some of your health at the cost of a single Anarchy stack. If you like melee, this is the skill for you.

Overall, I really like Gaige. Like everything else here though, it’s with a but… Deathtrap and Anarchy, the two core things about Gaige the Mechromancer, are really buggy. Not unplayably so for me, but they bugs that are there could easily render hey key features unusable for others. In addition, $10 is a lot to ask for this much content, especially since a story DLC is slated to come out at around the same time for the same price. At $5 this would be a solid Yes, Go Buy Now. At $10, and this buggy, it’s a much more conditional recommendation. You should get Gaige the Mechromancer if the price tag is acceptable and if the bugs don’t seem like they’ll bother you too much.