Decisions, Decisions: Borderlands 2 Skill Trees In Full

By Andrew Smee on September 10th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

I could put points into things all day long.

At first glance, you wouldn’t expect a big loud shooty bang bang game such as Borderlands 2 to be the type who wears a pocket protector and hangs around for the after school mathlete competitions, and yet here it is, polishing up its statistics term paper. The Borderlands 2 character class skill tree is available online for your perusal, allowing you first to see exactly which class gets what abilities, and secondly to get down to the all-important task of minmaxing stats and specialisations.

The first thing to notice is that there’s been a mild shake up of class abilities. Zero, the Assassin, is a combination of both Mordecai and Lilith from the first game, taking both Sniper Rifles and invisibility crit attacks respectively. Maya, the new Siren, leaves Lilith’s DPS behind and becomes more centered around support, as she turns out to be the team’s only healer ontop of all the enemy stunlocking she’ll be getting up to. That leaves Axton reliant soley on his turret, whereas previously Roland was able to act as a Medic. And finally Salvador remains the ballistic equivalent of Brick’s tanking and pure damage.

Which is all to say: It’s the same, but different. Most of the abilities are exactly the same baseline, incremental improvements as seen in the first game, from the yawn-tastic Increase Shields to the confusing bullet speed buff. Which is to be expected, of course.

The interesting thing about the skill trees turns out to be the difficulty in choosing the upgrades, moreso than the previous outing. They’re much more divergent, especially across each of the three trees individual to each character. As the tool shows, even if you level up all the way to level 50, you still won’t be able to spec more than one high-tier skill, and with the three to choose from each so potentially game-changing it’s an impossible decision already. Let alone the sacrifices I had to make to get down that far at all – the first build I made I barely passed the first branch before I ran out of points.

For instance, the high-tier skills for Axton allow his turret to either fire a massive enemy debuff, create a nuclear explosion on deployment or allows the player to deploy two different turrets entirely. In which case do you take the teleporting turret upgrade? The ability to stick them to walls and ceilings? Those are precious points you could be putting towards survivability in extreme fight-for-your-life situations, which as any player of the first Borderlands knows, becomes part and parcel of the flow of combat. Tough decisions to be made all round.

Which is all to say: looking good.

Borderlands 2 is set to release next week, September 18th in the US and the 21st for the UK.

No Oceans, No Borders.

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60 Comments »

  1. AmateurScience says:

    Can’t wait for this! Alas it coincides with the week before the deadline to end all deadlines so it will have to wait a little while.

    Still, I am excite!

  2. Revolving Ocelot says:

    How many people will go Bloodshed Zer0? Too many. Far, far too many.

    I’ll probably play Salvador just to be a hipster stand out from the crowd. Also, he can be a Sexual Tyrannosaurus.

    • GiantR says:

      Zero melle seems like the most awesome of the bunch

      • HisMastersVoice says:

        Yeah, Bloodshed looks like all sorts of fun.

        • Hidden_7 says:

          Lies! Borderlands is all about the guns. Sniping Zero for me all the way, with probably more Cunning than Bloodshed. I played Mordecai in Borderlands 1 though, so that was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but the perks in this one seem absolutely devastating. No potentially gamebreaking shield ignoring, but in return several useful looking perks that give you tools for, and bonuses from, playing like a sniper, as well as some interesting ones that synergize well with teamwork (extra damage from behind, or on otherwise distracted enemies? It will be like playing a ranged rogue).

          All in all I couldn’t be more excited for this game. Me and a friend played it through together twice with all the DLC, over 200 hours I’ve sunk into Borderlands, and Borderlands 2 seems shaping up to provide a similar experience.

    • tetracycloide says:

      I think it’s easy to overlook that all but one skill in the ‘sniper’ tree is about getting critical hits and dealing tons of damage rather than actually using sniper rifles. Seems like a high accuracy shotgun could pair up well with decoy and sprinkled in melee attacks to trigger some additional bonuses.

  3. Buemba says:

    Disappointed by Maya’s skill tree. Lilith was my favorite character in the first game, but Phaselock seems like a poor replacement for Phasewalk (Plus I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that it won’t work on bosses).

    Think I’ll go with Salvador this time.

    • hbarsquared says:

      From the ability description: “Some enemies cannot be phaselocked and instead instantly take damage.” So there you go, no phaselocking bosses. Pretty unsurprising, pretty much all bosses since the beginning of time have been immune to crowd control.

      • origo says:

        Well, actually in some games bosses can be manhandled. One of them could be Vindictus, where one of classes can use wrestling moves on boss monsters by taking them down.
        But anyway, phasewalk was a lifesaver during some hard fights, where you can activate it and run around in ethereal form to a safer spot in map while regenerating health.

  4. Choca says:

    Last time I played, getting the nuke on turret deploy and the longbow turret was great fun on the Commando.

  5. TsunamiWombat says:

    I want to go pure sniper Zer0, actually. Though i’ll prob end up playing Axton and spec to buff the character rather then the turret.

    • Strangerator says:

      Same here, that critical ascensi0n looks really potentially broken if it does what it says. But that whole tree looks great. Especially like B0re, with the potential of one shot-two kills and finding out where the critical areas are on every enemy type.

      • darukaru says:

        Critical Ascension stacks 999 times?!

        If there’s another gun like the Dahl Penetrator (fully automatic sniper rifle) in this game, and enemies with large critical hit locations,… I’m salivating just thinking about it.

        Even still, it’s probably not as broken as Trespass was.

  6. Suits says:

    Okay, mine is finished http://imgur.com/UntB4

  7. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    GIRLFRIEND MODE ARGUMENTS GO

    • The Random One says:

      The Mechromancer’s skill tree isn’t up yet!

      And I’m not letting my girlfriend play as her! She’s all mine!

      Actually I don’t have a girlfriend!

  8. fish99 says:

    I much preferred the Solider to the Hunter in B1 (played the whole game through inc NG+ and DLCs with both), mainly because with just 2 players (the other a siren) I was constantly getting hit while trying for headshots (which you needed to do high damage) as the hunter, which was just frustrating. Seemed like the class was designed for sitting in the back of 4 players with some bricks and soldiers in front of him occupying the enemies. The hunter was oddly the squishiest too.

    Think I’ll just go for solider again.

    • Strangerator says:

      Though some cautioned against it, I decided to do a full on Bloodwing specialized hunter. Once you get a decent class mod to increase damage and number of targets, Bloodwing is insanely broken, and it has a pretty quick cooldown. Went the pistol route instead of sniping, since Bloodwing has shorter range (and sniping solo isn’t always the best plan).

      Early game is tough, when BW only attacks one target at a time, but the payoff by midgame is hilariously overpowered! The stun effect is actually useful as well, as it allows you to pop off some easy headshots.

      Fun fact: kills by Bloodwing yield weapon experience for whatever gun you are holding.

      • Ksempac says:

        Actually, solo sniping was a very good choice, because Trespass, the ultimate sniper skill, was just completely game-breaking : it allows you to bypass shields completely, which means enemies relying on shields had no chance at all, you could totally ignore electrical weapons and go for high damage fire or corrosive weapons, etc. Cumulated with all the skills boosting damage on headshots, there were very enemies that could come close to you (basically, only the few that rely on health rather than shield)

        I actually one-shot “by mistake” the boss in the canyon from the bottom of the canyon, because he was annoying me with his long range turret, and I thought he was simply a random goon instead of the actual boss

        • fish99 says:

          I dunno… just saying my experience was I died a lot more as the Hunter (vs Soldier) and found getting shot constantly as I was lining up headshots a bit trying. Also with elemental damage the Siren could nearly match the Hunters sniping damage without even needing to get headshots or even hit enemies (they could just shoot the floor near an enemy), and the Siren had the hugely overpowered phasewalk that always got them out of trouble. Soldier could also be good with 4 different guns, whereas the Hunter, you were pretty much tied into sniping everything.

          • ZephyrSB says:

            A masher, pestilant defiler and the gunslinger tree.

            That is all.

          • tetracycloide says:

            Actually with the right sniping com and build the siren could outperform the hunter in terms of raw sniping damage, even ignoring elemental effects.

        • nimzy says:

          I one-shot that boss in quite a different fashion, playing as a typical Blaster Master Brick. I was carrying a rocket launcher and noticed the boss was in a stationary turret. So I sat at the bottom of the hill, pulled out the rocket launcher, and blew up the turret without taking a step further into the encounter.

          Felt kind of like getting a hole-in-one playing miniature golf on one of those extremely eccentric courses with obstacles. Only, you know, the obstacles in this game try to kill you.

  9. Hug_dealer says:

    I was a it disappointed that the skill trees havent evolved much at all from the first.

    I am pretty sure everyone would simply prefer to have no classes, and be able to pick and choose skills as they level up.

    I think it would be awesome to have at level up 4 random skills appear, with the option to pick one, or increase an existing, allowing for somewhat freeform character building, but also random enough that no one will ever be the same. Multiple playthroughs would create entirely different characters.

    Oh well, the game will be awesome in spite of the lackluster skill trees.

    • Kollega says:

      Technically, “4 random choices at each level-up” is the new Badass Rank system, which is not deciding primary skills, but gives you permanent buffs that carry over to any character you make. It’s also near-infinite.

      • Hug_dealer says:

        everyone gets those same skills, and you can earn them all. There is no decisions to be made there, just do all the challenges and get all of them.

        • tetracycloide says:

          I don’t think you understand how the system works. The choices aren’t the same, they’re random, and you can’t just ‘get all of them’ because they’re unlimited.

    • CRAYCRAY says:

      My biggest disappointment is that we still only get one active ability.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Same here, especially with some being as lame as they are. I was a soldier in BL1 and almost never used the turret because the cooldown on the thing was just too damn long and it was just generally boring to use. I picked the class because I wanted his weapon selection and was saddled with a skill I didn’t give a damn about. Just threw all points at passives and on-kill abilities and forgot about the stupid turret. Of course that made the game rather monotonous but then again the turret wasn’t exactly variety either.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      I’d much rather have classes. I like classes. I don’t know why class-based seems to be taking such a beating these days. Classes are great! They (when done well) represent a set of potential roles you can fill, that you are uniquely good at over other people you’re playing with. They encourage teamwork as every player plays to their strengths and relies on their teammates to account for their weaknesses.

      It also makes replays interesting because right from the start you’re occupying a different role, a different way of thinking about the game, and and picking different skills.

      When you just make everyone pull from the same big pool of skills you end up with everyone trending toward the squishy middle. You tend to just maximize efficiency in the most straightforward way that seems apparent, which tend to result in a fairly decent and samey jack-of-the-important-trades. Certain skills become must haves that every character will have, and replays start to feel very familiar as you either pick what you think is best, which will result in a lot of similar choices, or you actively go for something different, which tends toward doing a lot of second choices, which is an odd way to build a character.

      The end result is that everyone feels very samey and all rolls end up coalescing into an undifferentiated “put damage into the enemy.”

      It reminds me of the observation of Bioshock, where for a lot of people it felt pretty mundane, because you just went with simple effective tactics, because that was what worked. There were out there fun zany things you could do, but they required more effort and usually didn’t have a noticable in-game payoff. Games are, at their core, challenges, and most players will attempt to solve the challenge, which means playing in the most efficient way possible. This is completely natural, and to be expected.

      The trick for designers is to make that most efficient way fun, and interesting. I find class based systems are a good way of doing this. By picking out certain tactics and abilities, and separating them, so that you can never have all of what you want, but instead have one or two of what you want and a few things you wouldn’t have normally looked at, it forces you to use those things you wouldn’t have tried, because after all, those are the tools available to you, and you find yourself conceiving of and using tactics that a) you probably wouldn’t have used otherwise and b) hopefully are quite fun.

      Put another way. Due to the way most games are balanced (it’s a rare one that really gets this right) for any given set of tools, there tends to be one, or maybe two, most efficient ways to utilize said tools. Players, being given a challenge and a set of tools, which naturally, as is to be expected, try to maximize efficiency in overcoming that challenge. That’s simply how games are played. So, if you give one big lump of tools, there will likely emerge one or two most efficient builds, that people will gravitate towards with only minor deviation based largely on how effectively they have run the numbers. If you split that pile of tools up, you are going to get a new most efficient build for each pile of tools, so more diversity, assuming these sets of tools are reasonably balanced against each other (which is a lot easier to do than balancing every element individually in a big pile).

      The more classes you have, the more diverse playstyles and character roles you have, even if technically there are no more skills in the class based system than you would have had were it not class based.

  10. Vandelay says:

    “Which is all to say: It’s the same, but different. Most of the abilities are exactly the same baseline, incremental improvements as seen in the first game, from the yawn-tastic Increase Shields to the confusing bullet speed buff. Which is to be expected, of course.”

    This was my main complaint about the original game and something I wish they could have looked at more. They could have at least offered a different ability to start each tree or a mid-tree ability that could mix things up a little more.

    Only on my phone, so can’t really get a proper look (can only see the soldier at the moment.). They look to have gone a step in the right direction, but seeing as everything else about the game is going full pelt at resolving the weaker sides of the original, it is a bit disappointing that they could not have brought some more interesting skill choices to the table.

    Still can’t wait for it though.

  11. reggiep says:

    I’m sick of skill trees. I don’t want to sit down and plan out my decisions. I want to experiment to find my ideal build. Doing that requires me to work against a skill tree like this. Diablo 3′s system of abilities that level up automatically with you is far superior to this.

    Having said that, I’m still looking forward to this game. It’s never been particularly about the skills anyway. It’s all about the guns.

    • Kollega says:

      You could always just buy a re-spec. That was cheap in the original, and will be cheap in BL2. It’s not perfectly “organic”, but it works.

  12. Strangerator says:

    I am loving the new skill trees. I see a lot of complaining about how it’s mostly passive buffs and not enough active skills, but that’s why the first game was so successful to begin with. This isn’t an MMO people! MMO’s NEED all of those acitve ability buttons to keep you from dying of boredom while you “select a target and wait for it to die”. In a shooting game you worry about cover and battlefield tactics, where to throw grenades, etc. Having an excessive amount of “active skills” would detract from the shooter aspects in my opinion.

    Also, every skill tree now has some form of “action modification” skill on the third tier that changes the action skill or melee attack or alters gameplay in some way. The new trees are definitely tastier than the old, I just hope 50 isn’t the level cap!

    Aside – does anyone know if weapon experience is in? I rather liked picking weapon specializations.

    • Konork says:

      The cap is 50, and weapon experience has been replaced with the Badass Rank system.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Borderlands 1 certainly could have afforded more active skills, it wasn’t exactly asking much of you except pointing at heads and holding the trigger down.

  13. mrwonko says:

    I like what they thought of for Salvador, the only one I paid proper attention to so far. Extra damage on the last bullet in the magazine combined with increasingly fast shooting and reloading while Gunzerking? Or faster weapon switching, with increased damage on the first shot after switching and insta-reload of unequipped weapons on kill? How about both? Looking forward to playing this game with my friends, lots of fun will be had. :)

  14. Njordsk says:

    Pistols. Pistols. Pistols.

    • Andy`` says:

      I had a revolver collection in Borderlands 1. A revolver for every occasion. Most fun I ever had in that game, and when I had to ditch them all because I’d levelled up and couldn’t find replacement revolvers I was very very sad.

      If I can’t resurrect my beloved revolver collection I will cry a little.

  15. Calabi says:

    These things always annoy me. Why give you a choice where your forced to put in a skill point. Seeing as I’ve gotta pick it in order and there’s very little choice. Can I just not pick all the skills before hand and then the computer auto put them in as I go along. I dont like this skill system at all.

    • Ksempac says:

      Because constraints make for interesting trade-off “yes this skill is not as good as that one, but if I choose the first, I will unlock a better one later on” “Yeah but there is also that third skill that could combine with the second one” etc.

    • tetracycloide says:

      You get more and more choices the more points you put in a tree though. At 0 points you only have 2 choices, at 5 points you have three, and at 10 or more you have 4-5.

  16. Cytrom says:

    I know it’s wild but i kinda expected more than one actionskill per class in borlerlands 2. I guess controllers don’t have many buttons to spare…

    Also, dual wielding should be a default ability for gunzerker rather than an actionskill.. could have gone with something more creative for the action skill.

  17. Jad says:

    All this complexity reminds me of how the co-op focus of Borderlands 1 irritated me. I’m the kind of player with RPGs who really likes to agonize over every skill-tree decision, compare every weapon dropped against my current one, read the story text, etc. Yet in co-op it was always so hectic, go-go-go that if I paused to do any real “RPG” style stuff I felt like I was slowing my teammates down or getting left behind. I don’t want to feel like I have to study up this skill tree beforehand, either. In singleplayer I could take all the time I wanted to do that, but singleplayer felt lonely and boring in the first one.

    I know that lots and lots of people play Diablo-style games multiplayer, so maybe I’m just odd. But when I’m playing co-op, particularly fast-paced action-style games, I prefer simpler mechanics that allow you to just, you know, play a game with your friends without worrying too much about too many details. Basically for FPS co-op, I’d rather play Left 4 Dead than Borderlands. Maybe 2 will change my mind though.

    • KDR_11k says:

      The hectic nature of MP was the reason I played through the game singleplayer and found it predictably boring. Didn’t help that the game had serious problems with lag (no surprise with the Unreal Engine 3) and my character pretty much REQUIRED getting the last shot on an enemy to trigger all the regenerations and stuff, having an ally finish enemies off made the game significantly harder as I lost most of my abilities.

      • Hidden_7 says:

        Yeah, I played it with just the one other friend, so it was pretty easy for either of us to go “hey wait up a sec, I want to compare some guns/check some skills.”

        Also co-op characters should be specced differently from SP characters. There are skills that are better suited to working with a partner, and ones better suited to working alone, and “on kill” skills are definitely the latter. If you’re going to be playing the game largely co-op you don’t load up on “on kill” skills. Just like it looks like Zero has a lot of skills that take advantage of distracted enemies, or enemies with their backs turned that you probably wouldn’t lean on so heavily if you were playing SP, but would be killer in MP.

    • Primar says:

      Depends entirely who you play with, I suppose. Me and my group of friends were perfectly happy futzing about in cars and jumping on each other while someone spent a bit of time sorting out their skills or inventories.

    • fish99 says:

      Play with people you know.

  18. DeathCarrot says:

    Zer0 with mostly sniping with a bit of bloodshed, thanks. Found Mordecai’s Bloodwing to be a bit lacking but Zer0′s stealthy melee is right up my alley.

    Anyone know of a place where I can get it for under €50 (Finland)? Pre-order bonus not important.

  19. socrate says:

    im not expecting much more then more borderlanding in 2 but i enjoyed the first one alots i really hope it keep me interest…..they should really stop with the crappy DLC though other then general knoxx the DLC were a total rip off in borderland and they weren’t that fun at all most of the time just giving you more of the same old

    expansion need to make a come back badly

  20. Zyrxil says:

    As skill calculators go, this one is functionally crappy. You can’t right click to refund single points, and you can’t generate a link to a finished build. Honestly though, I don’t expect anything well thought out from Gearbox. I definitely wouldn’t have picked it up without the big Greenmangaming weekend discount. It’s not going to last more than a month of co-op.

    • JoeGuy says:

      They said it will get updated soon and you can link build idea’s to your friends. So with all things recently Gearbox, you just have to wait a bit longer than you expected :)

  21. Saiko Kila says:

    No more heal-shooting? They add area effect for the turret and no healing? They dropped a ball here. I’d love to play a humanitarian bomber here, soldier was my favourite class in the first game.

  22. HeroJez says:

    I reckon with the talents, traits and what have you, the uptime on Gunzerking will be close to 80% on a geared player. That’s not bad. Although it moves from largely active to almost passive! Haha..

    Still… it’s probably worth a bash. So bloody and brutal, though! The Daily Mail will be after us. :o

  23. Metonymy says:

    Welcome to 2 days ago RPS.

    In a way, I’m glad that the skill trees seem a little boring, it’s evidence that they really put a lot of work into making sure the individual skills are all effective without being overpowered. Lilith especially had some unnecessarily strong talents in the first one.

    Another nice thing about them, is that each tree seems to be distinct, and have a viable playstyle, something that was not the case originally. You can also skip the skills at the bottom of each tree, and get lots of gun related talents.

    All around, a little boring, but looks like it could offer good replay value.

  24. elevown says:

    I just saw the borderlands 2 TV advert- done with real footage- was rather naff lol- like a bunch of fans in bad cosplay!

    Whats up with using a cut down version of the fantastic wimoweh trailer or the dubstep one? Dunno why they want to wste the time on naff acting and costume trailers with no footage.

  25. eleven0911 says:

    Glad to be here and see this. Thank you very much for sharing.
    Juice making machine

  26. Chaz says:

    I played Brick in the first game, and leaping into a crowd of mobs with a full on berserker rage and smashing them in their faces is what made the game for me.

    Actually this time around I quite like t he look of Maya the Siren. It’s worth noting the the cooldown for her Phaselock ability is only 13 seconds compared to the 40+ seconds for the other characters abilities.

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