After spending a sizable chunk of time with the other two characters, I wonder why we hadn't seen them earlier. Zero and Axton in Borderlands 2 are responsible for some of the most stylish and exciting combat options I've seen in the game.
I was locked away for two hours with Borderlands 2 gameplay designer Randy Varnell, the sherpa on my journey. To give me a taste of more powerful skills, my characters were leveled to 25. Axton, "the accessible guy" Gearbox set up for shooter fans who may not be too familiar with RPGs, wasn't exotic enough for me; I wanted the ninja.
There were plenty of points available for me to spend and traverse Zero's three different skill trees. Zero's special skill deploys a hologram decoy before he disappears behind his fancy suit's cloaking feature. A timer counts down from ten seconds, and the longer you wait to attack – either with shooting or melee – the bigger the damage boost. And while in this cloaked state, enemy critical hit spots are highlighted for easy planning.
Oddly, Zero played a lot like Lilith from the original Borderlands. The similarity comes from this cloaking ability: it can be used as a panic button to quickly escape a desperate situation; it can be used as a straight-up offensive attack; it can be used as crowd control, to put a pack in disarray while your cohorts flank and go in for the kill. There's a lot of variety here, compounded by any other skills you dump points into, which add their own little folds and uniqueness to your character build, and that is the role-playing genre's richest reward.
Near the end of my time with Zero, I was wielding a pretty powerful shotgun and a devastating automatic pistol that had some serious reload and fire rates, compounded by fire damage for those unarmored bandits. And as Varnell supervised my session, offering sidebars and comments on my loot collection, the thing I came back to in my head was that he had described Zero as being a good sniper character. This was a suggestion I had completely disregarded.
I found the same to be true when checking out Axton. While significant strides have been made to make his turret – the main skill of the soldier class introduced with Roland in the first Borderlands – as ridiculous as possible, his support and complementary skills offered the same opportunities to completely customize the character I wanted. But dat turret.
I couldn't help it. I made the turret as much of an offensive powerhouse as I could. Early on this meant improved fire rate and damage, ultimately graduating to additional barrels and a side pod that released volleys of missiles. Eventually Axton gets another turret, stacking all of the first turret's features.
But my favorite thing about Axton is the "Longbow" skill, which lets him stick the turret anywhere in the environment. This means on walls, ceilings, rocks, the tops of huts and all kinds of weird places. "Longbow" also gives Axton the ability to throw a turret really far – if you're on a hilltop and see a group of Skags far below, you can deploy the turret right into the thick of the den and watch it go to work.
That's a lot of what makes the Borderlands experience so unique: gaming the system and taking skills to extreme plateaus. Getting access to those final two characters have shown what possibilities I'll have when mixing and matching them with friends. What if myself and three friends all used Axton and threw down eight turrets during a boss fight? Would it work? How quickly would we destroy the beast? I really want to discover the answer.