Exploring the New Skill Trees in Borderlands 3

The Borderlands franchise has traditionally given players shiny new toys in the form of new Vault Hunters as downloadable content, but Borderlands 3 has decided to buck that trend. Instead of brand-new characters, the Borderlands 3: Designer’s Cut DLC builds on the characters the game already has by giving each Vault Hunter a fourth skill tree. It’s an interesting strategy; ever since the change was announced, I’ve been curious to see how it would pay off.

With the release of the Designer’s Cut earlier this week, I finally got my answer: it pays off pretty damn well.

After the DLC rolled out, I hopped in with some friends. I initially grabbed my Amara to try her new Phaseflare ability. Amara was not a character I’d sunk a ton of time into–she was about level 13 at the start of the session–but I had quite enjoyed what I’d played of her. Checking out her new skill tree, I immediately decided to change up my build.

The new tree allows you to change her Action Skill’s element type to cryo, which lets you freeze enemies. Poking around some of the other trees, I decided to build her around a hybrid of her new one (Enlightened Force) and the old Fist of the Elements tree. The synergy on these is beautiful; Fist of the Elements allows you to convert some of your gun damage (and all of your melee damage) into the same element as your Action Skill, so you can really pour on the cold. I haven’t got much farther than that yet, as I’ve only leveled a few times so far, but before long I’ll be able to get a pretty valuable improvement to my Phaseflare. See, the Phaseflare’s whole deal is that it’s a big ball of pain that deals damage to all enemies within a radius… and Fist of the Elements includes an Action Skill mod that sucks enemies toward your Action Skill. Hopefully that ends up being as potent a combination as I think it will be!

While I rocked Amara, my friends tested out Moze and FL4K. I didn’t get first-hand experience, but from what my pals said, these new trees are solid as well. I know for certain that Moze’s new Bear Mother tree completely turned my friend around on her; while he wasn’t a fan of piloting Iron Bear, he loved summoning the Iron Cub and letting it wreak havoc. As for FL4K, I’m not entirely sure how my other friend felt about the Trapper tree. Speaking as their ally, I definitely felt like the new Gravity Snare Action Skill was useful in a fight! I could also tell that everyone in the squad loved the new Loader-Bot pet; I’m planning on using it in my own FL4K build after seeing it in action.

With those three Vault Hunters tested, that just left Zane. After getting a decent handle on Amara’s Phaseflare, I switched over to the assassin. I’ll be honest–up to this point, Zane has been my least favorite Vault Hunter (which is a bit ironic, as he’s the one I’ve played most aside from Moze). I love that he can equip two Action Skills, and I’m a big fan of his drone, but I’m not wild about either his shield or his decoys. I’ve been looking forward to the MNTIS Cannon in hopes that it would complement the drone well.

Hoo boy. Wish granted!

I fully respec’d my level 45 Zane as soon as the DLC finished installing. I decided to focus on a Kill Skill build, figuring that between the drone and a MNTIS Cannon with multiple charges, I could get a lot of mileage out of Kill Skills thanks to the Death Follows Close ability (which triggers all Kill Skills any time you use an Action Skill). This works perfectly. Just… absolutely beautifully. Pop an Action Skill and boom, suddenly I’m running faster, dealing more damage, getting a healthy amount of life steal–I feel invincible. Add to that the fact the MNTIS Cannon itself is powerful, easy to use, and has a quick cooldown, and suddenly Zane rockets from least favorite Vault Hunter to favorite hands down.

While some of the other choices in the recent DLC are questionable (I’m not sure how I feel about Arms Race), the new skill trees are unequivocally awesome. Each one offers a fun new way to play your characters and offers up lots of cool new combos with existing trees. I really hope that future games include four trees for the next batch of Vault Hunters–or, at the very least, follows the example set forth here and gives them extra skills after launch. It’s totally reinvigorated my interest in the game!

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