Teenage Wasteland: Borderlands Char Dev

There’s been a lot of people asking questions about Borderland’s intricacies over in the Co-op impressions thread yesterday. Specifically, how much of an RPG it actually is. Well, the what-is-an-RPG always opens a particular can of debate, but in terms of character development, that they’ve lobbed the character skill tress online can give you a handle of the whole action/RPG mix. Here’s sneaky-lady Lilith , heavy-frenzied mouthbreather Brick, camping-bastard Mordecai and the hilariously inappropriately named Roland. And some further explanation follows…

Firstly, it’s worth noting this isn’t the whole of character development. You also have skills in individual weaponry, which increase through just use. Concentrate on a single weapon and you’ll increase its skill further, at the expense of flexibility. Secondly, there’s also quite a lot of equipment-based character specialization. As well as things like choosing weapons appropriate for your abilities, you get to plug in fancier ability sets which give you boosts in area. For example, increasing the amount of ammo of a certain gun sort you can carry. And extra slots for carrying weapons and equipment open up as you progress.

But the skill trees very much are the big steps. You get your first skill point at level five, which opens up your top level skill – which is your class-defining showing off ability, which is normally on a pretty hefty timer (go and hover over the actual trees to see the full description). Every skill point can be spent on the top levels. As you’ll see, there’s two skills in each of the leg. Five points are required at each level to unlock the abilities directly above, which are usually fancier and meatier. And… well, it’s a standard post-Diablo skill sort of tree. In other words, there’s three main builds in each of the classes, plus the ability to mix it up a little. For example, Roland could have gone and concentrated his ability on making his gun-turret become more brutal by concentrating as a soldier… but when John plays him, he actually pushed him towards the other two, becoming a support medic, providing healing and… oh no! John’s the healer again.


  1. Ian says:

    I bet John is an adept healer.

  2. Jacques says:

    Without even looking at the other characters, I can quite definitely say that I’ll be playing as Roland. I do love turrets.

  3. mpk says:

    Brick looks like my kind of guy. AND IN THE etc etc. Also, Roland hasn’t been stolen wholesale from the Engy at all has he?

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    John actually is a mix of healer spec Roland skills, apparently.

    I’ve gone for a super tanky Brick and a damage Mordecai.

  5. robrob says:

    Childe Roland to the Borderlands came.

  6. Jacques says:

    Gunslinger Mordecai does look like it could be fun too.

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    If anyone’s interesting, my two characters are a pure-brawler Brick and a support-healer Roland.


  8. Ian says:

    Lilith: I’d go for Elemental mostly, then Assassin.
    Brick: I’d probably max out the Brawler tree then add the first two from Tank.
    Mordecai: A mix between the Sniper and Rogue trees.
    Roland: Probably everything in the Infantry tree bar the shotgun talent, and the base two from Medic.

  9. Butler` says:

    Building Brick around revenge and a low Bezerk cooldown is gunna be the hurt.

    link to borderlandsthegame.com

  10. Jacob says:

    Any word on how skill respecs would work, if there are any?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Jacob: Haven’t found any. Wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t any. Diablo and similar don’t normally. We’re not talking about 100+ hours of play to get a high level character.


    • Ryx says:

      You can respec for a certain amount of money at the respawn stations.

    • WilPal says:

      It took one of the developers about 100 hours to reach max level.
      Thought that was worth pointing out. ;)

  11. Butler` says:

    they’re WoW-ish, with scaling costs based on the number of times you respec

    no surprises

  12. Butler` says:

    There’s a great FAQ thread over at a Silicon Knights community website (somewhat strangely?)

    link to siliconknights.net

  13. Flint says:

    Sniper/gunslinger Mordecai, here I come.

  14. The Sombrero Kid says:

    what’s the hand to hand like with brick?

  15. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I haven’t heard of a game character called Roland since this series on the Amstrad CPC!

    I also think RPS needs to do a Borderlands game diary titled La Chanson de Roland.

    • armlesscorps says:

      Wasn’t there a Roland or Rolando or something in one of the Dead or alive games? he wore a commando uniform i think.

    • Nick says:

      I loved Roland in Time! And Doors of Doom actually.

    • Scalene says:

      That strikes me as a bit silly – a lot of Lillith’s abilities seem to revolve around Melee.

      I elected to go for a resistant, AoE/Melee Phasewalker.

    • Marcin says:

      Yeah, I had something similar. Phasewalk, Daze while coming out with Phase Blast, melee the crap out of’em while dazed, then I put some points into bullets to handle farther away foes while phasewalk recharges. Seems like it might be entetaining.

  16. derFeef says:

    According to the forums, Brick is the underdog – so I will play him!

  17. TotalBiscuit says:

    I’m thinking of building Roland is a complete gunbeast and ignoring all of the turret talents. One has to wonder how viable that is, I’m not too keen on the idea of relying on a turret to shoot everything for me.

  18. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’d be amazed if Brick really was the underdog.

  19. neems says:

    Not normally my sort of playstyle at all, but Lilith looks really good, dump loads of points into phasewalking / cooldown / regen and become an unhittable melee monster.

    Quite impressed with the skill trees in general, more to it than I thought initially.

  20. Ian says:

    I take it Brick doesn’t get quality punching noises/captions?

    “Wiff! Bak! Kerplunk!”

  21. Shadow says:

    Interestingly, I’d likely end up specing Roland in support (like thus link to borderlandsthegame.com)

  22. Richeh says:

    Is Brick intentionally being played by Vinnie Jones?

    • Theyos says:

      Vinnie Jones in a funhouse mirror it seems, his Heavy-proportioned legs are a little distracting. Still, I wouldn’t tell him that to his face.

  23. DeepSleeper says:

    I cannot believe how many people do not ‘get’ a Gunslinger named Roland.

    Does no one read?

    • Weylund says:

      Yes. If more people read the Dark Tower series the world would be a better place.

      Or, you know, not.

    • neems says:

      I’ve never read The Dark Tower series, I guess I always figured it was as cack as his horror novels (Misery excepted).

    • Dante says:

      I do not kill with my turret, I kill with my heart….

    • Arathain says:

      The Dark Tower series is well worth a read. I happen to think it’s very good, but at least it’s very interesting. Not really typical King at all.

    • Marcin says:

      Except Mordecai’s the gunslinger. Roland here is the soldier (AR/shotgun) or support character.

  24. Weylund says:

    Wow. This actually put me off buying it a bit. Powers and MMO trees and assorted bullshit. “Ooh, I didn’t put enough points in turrets! Feeeeck!”

    If there were a demo, I might possibly. But at $50 ($45) I can buy several known-good games instead of it. I suppose that’s why you guys post these things, to help us make decisions. But damn. It looked great until this.

  25. jigsaw says:

    Don’t worry – I sure as hell get THAT reference!

  26. Jim Rossignol says:

    Weylund: don’t discount it just yet. I was surprised too. I usually get quite pissed off with level-based games, but this seems to work on account of being tied so well into the shooting part of the game.

    • Jad says:

      Well, a (sorta silly) question: if I decide to never allocate a skill point (or if it is forced, allocate them to skills I never use), and rely entirely on my lifetime training of twitch shooter skills, can I plausibly get by? Or is the leveling up that important? I know this is sorta missing part of the point of the game, but I’d like to know how flexible the whole experience is — can I ignore all RPG elements and play it like a straight up FPS, or am I forced down the hybrid path?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      As far as I can tell, it’s basically a normal shooter if you’re playing against enemies of similar level, say +/- 2. Once they’re more than a couple of levels higher you can’t hurt them significantly, and vice versa.

      It’s the level difference that determines the damage gradient, so you could ignore the skill tree entirely, which would just set the game to some kind of unintended hard mode, and still get through.

  27. Flint says:

    The skill trees are what especially attracts to me towards this game.

    Mmmm, skill trees.

  28. Weylund says:

    Thanks, Jim. The thought that the game is composed primarily of shooter elements somewhat mollifies me… but at $50 I find myself confronted by terrible visions of an expensive HG:L. I hope they come out with a demo.

    @DeepSleeper: Actually, having replied with what I did, I wanted to add that any characters created post-Dark Tower named Roland should probably not be gunslingers, especially “gunslingers” by King’s definition, not that that’s happened here. King’s character deserves some special breathing room – he’s perhaps my favorite character in literature. Except maybe Scobie or a wet-shirted Mr. Darcy. Rowr.

  29. jsutcliffe says:

    Every time I read this headline, I see it as “Borderlands Chav Dev.” As if the co-op article didn’t make me skeptical enough yesterday.

  30. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Hmm. For Roland I’d take Support and a bit of Infantry, for Lilith I’d go Assassin with some survivability from Control, for Brick I’d go Blaster with some Tank and for Mordechai I’d pick Sniper / Gunslinger.

    What can I say? I like damage. And damage mitigation. But mostly damage.

  31. Senethro says:

    Everyones builds look quite different to mine, all these nice neat 5/5 and 0/5s everywhere. The way I figure it is often the last point invested in a skill is not such a big increase as the first. Going from 0–>10% is bigger than 40–>50%. I’m happy to have the few skills I’ve identified as the big damage dealers maxed out and a scattering of points into all the rest.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      But..but.. maxing out is fun!

    • Alexander Norris says:

      More importantly, Gearbox didn’t include any diminishing returns that I could see. \o/

      Huzzah for each skill point giving you +10 percentage points to whatever the skill does, rather than 15/10/8/3/1 or whatever, which always made me feel evil (read: mechanically subpar) for not cherry-picking and which is the way that Diablo II did it.

  32. Joseph says:

    I can’t imagine going anyone but Lilith :O

    link to borderlandsthegame.com

    Leet stun+damage+melee build right there imo.

    • Butler` says:

      Check out Intuition. It’s probably one of the most powerful talents in the game until the level cap.

    • merc says:

      Yeah, I thought Lilith looks the best too, and had a similar plan, except with Dramatic Entrance instead of Striking (I didn’t think the slow + reduced accuracy of dazing would matter if you were in melee range anyway) and Silent Resolve instead of Hit and Run to protect me after I go in for the phase walk sneak attack.

  33. Alexander Norris says:

    I’m way more interested in builds that make the various classes not play like they’re supposed to. This is my horrible “Why would I want to do anything for you, except gain amusement from shooting you in the face?” Roland build, which I actually just made because I don’t like turrets and wanted a soldier-type that doesn’t rely on buildables to win: link to borderlandsthegame.com

    Mordecai without the sniper rifles (because I hate sniper rifles): link to borderlandsthegame.com

    A ranged Lilith: link to borderlandsthegame.com

    I’m not sure whether I’d like the Mordecai or the Lilith build best out of those two. I wanted to go for Lilith originally, but I’m now leaning towards the gunslinger build, since I like dual-wielding pistols. Also, the Lilith build is mechanically inferior since I don’t milk the “wated” Phasewalking point for all it’s worth (so’s the Roland build, incidentally).

    Also, incredi-punchy Brick, which is probably what most people will go for but I like the idea of never firing a weapon in a sci-fi shooter: link to borderlandsthegame.com

    • Jacques says:

      Your Mordecai looks a little like mine, except I’ll be using a few points in the sniper tree, and ignoring the pet completely.

      link to borderlandsthegame.com

      Maybe dropping Trespass if it only applies to sniper rifles.

    • Weylund says:

      Criminy. I feel like a troll. Anyway, it’s precisely this “ooh I’ve got a build” nonsense that makes me not want to play games that have skill trees. I always end up feeling sub-optimal for not following the prescribed wisdom, or like a tool for doing precisely the opposite.

    • Jacques says:

      That’s probably because the vast majority of games with skill trees aren’t well optimised, so some builds are more effective than others.

      Anything that encourages different play styles should be a good thing though, right?

    • Weylund says:

      Do skill trees encourage different play styles? Perhaps I just play games with folks who over-optimize, but I can tell you that optimizing for skill trees creates cookie-cutter play styles in my experience, right down to power / attack combos.

      And isn’t “one build being more effective than another” pretty much the point of skills, let alone skill trees? Save, say, the modded-in lightsaber stances in KOTOR, I’m having a hard time thinking of truly balanced skills in any game.

    • Jacques says:

      Having played D2, I see what you mean about optimisation, although in my experience it’s more about gear than it is skills, for that game anyway, different builds are equally effective, however there is absolutely optimal gear for most of them.

      To me, the point of skills is to allow a player to tailor their gameplay to suit their own preferences, which is always a good thing.

    • Flint says:

      Ignoring the whole cookiecutter spec phenomenon is the first step in enjoying skill trees. So what if something isn’t ‘optimal’ according to some boring gits, if it sounds fun or useful to you then that’s the skill to take! And the posts on this thread haven’t so much been tips on what to take, it’s moreso been people just sharing what they want their characters to be like/what their tastes are.

      And to join that fun, here’s what my Mordecai might look like:
      link to borderlandsthegame.com

      “To me, the point of skills is to allow a player to tailor their gameplay to suit their own preferences, which is always a good thing.”
      ^ What I think as well. The whole “you MUST select this” attitude is rather dreadful, IMO.

      And I understand that there are cases like e.g. hardcore raiding in MMOs where you do need to be a bit more careful with your choices if you wish to beat the hardest things, but that’s never been an excuse for godawful attitude when someone lets their taste do the choosing.

    • Jacques says:

      Frankly, I’m happy playing a sub-optimal build if it means I can play it in a manner that I enjoy, hence why I like poison amazons in D2.

    • Weylund says:

      The problems come in when the game is balanced toward (not *to*, but toward) those optimal builds. Which is another fear of mine when it comes to skill trees. “Well, clearly, they should have a ‘turret guy’ for this section, and a ‘healer guy’ for this boss, and of course they’ll need a ‘plumber guy’ for unclogging this nasty toilet.”

      Basically, if you’re not nailing down builds so that you know what player abilities might be present, how are you balancing the gameplay?

    • Tem says:

      @Weylund: Wherever there are options, there are going to be cookie cutter versions.

      Hell, there are actual cookie cutters to make ‘optimally’ shaped cookies. We don’t even have to refer to something special here.

      The question is if one requires a circular cookie, or not. In this case, if you take a look at the talents, there’s a lot of ways you can build in each tree. If you compare this to something like WoW, you have three main specs, and then a couple hybrids (Or more easily thought of as PVP and PvE specs). Here, you can build tanks as damage, damage as tanks, and any of them as support.

      Of course very few of us can say from experience, but it definitely appears to be a game where the skill tree is more than just token customization. If you’re that worried, wait a week after release. =)

  34. Dave says:

    I don’t get trying to plan a character before you actually play the game and get a feel for it.

    (Of course, I do that for paper and pencil D&D all the time, usually without all that much success.)

  35. Arathain says:

    Oh wow. What great skill trees. My two favourite skills by concept are Smirk (experience boost from critical hits) and Cauterize (heal friends by shooting them). I like the focus on skills activating on killing. Sounds like a good way to encourage mayhem.

  36. Weylund says:

    @Dante: Luckily, Steam performs their own special currency conversions (err, price differences? price specialness?) for me. It’s $50.

  37. Vinraith says:

    This continues to look great, and considering Gearbox’s track record (the Brothers in Arms games are brilliant) I suspect I’m going to be picking it up very soon.

  38. Tei says:

    I have the “powergamer” virus. Is beyond my control, It reduce any RPG combat system to pulp, and extract the best configurations and mix-max my skills. I just can’t stop it :-(

    The virus is very cynical, and Is tellingme that theres not reason to read these trees now. We have to wait to play the game to tell te difference. How important are shields? it seems a lot, but….really? how important is ammo? do people lack ammo often? What bound damage? are critical hits really interesting? do pets take agro? once these questions are resolved, the powergamer on me will crunch numbers and output very simple MixMax settings.
    The healty part on me is telling that this trees look fun, and that enforce teamplay of the coop variety, that is a very good thing.

  39. Yawners says:

    This still looks like the type of game that will get good reviews (89 Metacritic) and one that everyone will be buzzing about for a little over a month, then be quickly forgotten and not played afterwards.

    • Weylund says:

      I’m all for replayability, but isn’t the transient nature of gaming what keeps developers alive? Games with incredible longevity, especially bastard MMOs, suck money away from the rest of the industry like vacuum attachments on a yoga mat. We should say to publishers: “yes! publish things that can be played and forgotten, so that newer and better titles may supplant them”.

      This feeling of being entitled to HUGE! GAME! FOREVAH! is a problem.

  40. Twig says:

    Messing with these skill-trees is a minigame itself, especially when trying to imagine how it would work in the game.

    I’m looking forward to try this
    link to borderlandsthegame.com

    Seems like opportunity to make lots of sudden quick attacks and then just vanish. Me likes :)

    But could those here who have played it tell me if Morecai is soloable at all? I know that co-op is the prime aim but I really prefer going solo on Diablo II (but who knows, maybe Borderlands changes this), and I last and best coop memories come from Duke Nukem 3D. Ahem.

  41. Buemba says:

    Does anybody know if you can change the appearance of the characters? Or will a team of, say, four Bricks all look the same (I know abilities and weapons will make sure you never get two people using the exact same character, but I’m talking strictly of appearances here)?

    In such a loot-centric game it would be nice if you could roll around the wasteland wearing a super rare silly hat or a ridiculous looking medieval breastplate.

    • Diji says:

      You can change colours during the intro, I don’t think there are any appearance altering items (apart from guns of course):

    • Buemba says:

      Thanks for the link, Diji.

      Guess the color customization will have to do for now, but I hope Gearbox considers adding other ways to personalize the player models. Then again, even if they don’t there’s always the inevitable mods…

  42. Valarauka says:

    Pure-melee phasewalk + daze Lilith build (Controller/Assassin):
    link to borderlandsthegame.com
    Maximum duration increase and cooldown reduction for phasewalk, plus all the goodies for boosting phasewalk effects and melee damage; should be mad fun to play, phasing in and out of combat combined with devastating melee attacks..

  43. Lafinass says:

    link to borderlandsthegame.com

    It’s all about the bird. It’s just gonna be a normal FPS, but I get to throw a bird at people.

    • bill says:

      Why is Mordecai the Gunslinger who can throw birds at people? That’s Roland’s trick….

  44. DarkNoghri says:

    I’m still curious, having never played Diablo much. How replayable is this going to be? And how long will be a full playthrough, assuming there’s some sort of a normal campaign?

    I ask this because I’m a cheapskate, and I would like to get my money’s worth. TF2 has spoiled me.

  45. Hug_dealer says:

    enemies, loot, and landscape places like bandit camps and stuff is all randomized.

    So everytime you start a new game, or play on a new server, it will be different from the last time.

    Also there are over 100 side quests in the game. it will take close to 100 hours to get to max level of 50.

    It will take 2 play throughs to get to max level.

    At any time you can start a new game and the game will start off at the level you are at , so you will have a challenge from the very start no matter what level you are.

  46. Warren Zevon says:

    Clearly, Roland is a reference to “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” one of my greatest songs ever. Bollocks to all that “Werewolves of London” crap.

  47. An Innocuous Coin says:

    This has taken me from “curious and hopeful” to “seriously considering preordering if I can get some mates playing”. I don’t think there’s a single character among these four I wouldn’t have fun playing. I mean I even wrote off Roland as being a generic soldier, and I find out he’s also a support-fighter and the best kind of Medic possible; one that heals people by throwing grenades at them.

    Seriously; he heals! With explosions! That is the best thing. I really do hope Walker took that and found himself a proper rocket launcher.

  48. ALA the Milkman says:

    Yes very strangely. But it is a great FAQ that someone but way too much time into (maw)

  49. derfalconer says:

    I dont know if this information is floating around the net or possibly right under my nose; but does anyobdy know if the game will be supported post-release with new content and bug fixes/patches on the pc version? or is it going to go in an expansion format, if indeed they plan to continue it at all?

    • invisiblejesus says:

      It’s supposed to get DLC. Whether by DLC they mean free content upgrades, bug fixes, and other sorts of post-release goodies we’re used to from Valve and the like (cue L4D2 flames in 3… 2… 1…) or whether they mean paid XBox-style stuff, I don’t know, but if I had to bet I’d bet on the former given what we know so far. They seem to have a pretty good handle on what PC gamers expect.

    • derfalconer says:

      That’s good to know, I would have bought it regardless, at 33$ per copy when you do a 4 pack on steam even if it doesnt get content updates that’s still a damn good deal. between this and l4d2 I hope I will at least be somewhat sated until sometime next year. Also, do you have a link or source for them saying it, not that I dont trust you at all, just want to see how they worded it :P