Along with Dan Chiappini from GameSpot's Australian team, I recently had an opportunity to play through a lengthy demo of Borderlands 2--the same demo that PAX East attendees will be able to get their hands on later this week. Dan and I played through the demo's two zones cooperatively using the only two characters that were available; Dan played as Salvador the gunzerker, while I played as Maya the siren.
Before jumping into the first of the two zones, titled The Wildlife Preserve, we were told that our characters were already at level 20 but that none of their skill points had been spent yet. Job one, then, was to check out the skill trees and settle on one of three specializations. Surprisingly, none of the skill trees in Borderlands 2 (or at least not in the pre-alpha version of the game that we were playing) appear to have anything to do with specific weapons. (Regardless of which character you play as, you're proficient with all of the weapons in Borderlands 2's extensive arsenal.) Rather, skill trees can be used to augment your chosen character's special ability.
Like Lilith, the siren from Borderlands, Maya has a special ability that's the same regardless of where you spend your skill points. Lilith's ability was a phasewalk that simultaneously made her invisible to enemies, immune to damage, and significantly quicker on her feet for a short time. Maya's ability is very different; her phaselock lets you temporarily encase an enemy--even a really big "super badass" one--inside a bubble that hovers a few feet above the ground. Enemies are unable to do anything while phaselocked, but are still vulnerable to attacks. Furthermore, depending on where you spend your skill points, the phaselock ability can have a number of other beneficial effects. The first time I specced out my siren, for example, I put points into the harmony skill tree's "sweet release" skill so that enemies killed while phaselocked would drop healing orbs that homed in on players.
By pouring a lot of skill points into the harmony tree I was able to make my siren a pretty effective healer. "Restoration" gave me the ability to heal other players simply by shooting them, "elated" caused all players' health to regenerate anytime an enemy was phaselocked, and "res" let me resurrect downed teammates by using my phaselock ability on them. Other, less-healer-oriented options on the harmony tree included "mind's eye," which increased my crit and melee damage; "recompense," which gave my shield a chance to regenerate anytime I took damage; and "wreck," which increased my rate of fire with all gun types when I phaselocked an enemy. Abilities like these will surely make the harmony siren a great character to have on your team, but since only two of us were playing on this occasion, there were definitely times when I felt that points spent to deal extra damage might have been more beneficial.
Heading into the second zone, Caustic Caverns, I opted to put all of my skill points into the cataclysm skill tree, which, in massively multiplayer online terms, would be considered the DPS spec. The abilities I chose to put most of my points into included "flicker," for an increased chance to cause status effects; "immolate," which added fire damage to any shots that I fired when down and trying for a second wind; and "cloud kill," which caused my shots to leave behind acid clouds that were harmful to enemies for around five seconds. Other noteworthy abilities on the tree included "foresight," which increases both magazine size and reload speed; "helios," which caused a fiery explosion anytime I killed a phaselocked enemy; and "ricochet," which gave my shots a chance to bounce around multiple enemies for a short time anytime I got a kill. In short, I became far more effective in combat.
I didn't have a chance to mess with the third skill tree, labeled "motion," but it appeared to focus on survivability, and since some of the skills improve Maya's movement, I suspect it will be the tree that most closely resembles playing as Lilith. Something similar to Lilith's phasewalk ability would definitely be welcome, since among the impressive array of new enemy types on show in the demo were a number of wormhole threshers covered in spikes that, after emerging from the ground, have an almost irresistible ability to pull you toward them. Other memorable enemies from the demo are too numerous to detail here, but you can see some of them in action, plus hear Dan and me discuss them in our Borderlands 2 video preview.
Borderlands 2 is currently scheduled for release in September. We look forward to bringing you lots more coverage of the game in the coming weeks and months.