These are no-frills, bare-bones notes I’m taking whilst playing 2012 shooter-looter video game Borderlands 2.
They’re mostly here to help people who understand the game’s concepts, but aren’t too good at shooter video games.
There’s a similar article for Borderlands.
Zer0 is the character that requires the best reflexes and accuracy. Let’s rule him out since this guide is for so-so players.
Maya is often considered the best starter, thanks to her phaselock power. But for clumsier players, Axton (with his turret) and Gaige (with her robot) are also good choices. And Gaige has a whole mechanic that relies on her aiming poorly.
Once you reach Sanctuary — the base city — there’ll be a quest to access a stash, to transfer gear between your characters.
You can freely change your character’s appearance. These “New U” stations also allow for redoing your skill points.
Most characters have an accessible-from-the-get-go skill to regenerate health. I suggest this as your first skill buy, as it makes the game flow better. Exceptions :
- Krieg. He needs to kill while in a rage to regain health. Run-of-the-mill health regen will have to come from a class mod, which isn’t common.
- Maya. Her healing only works when she kills a phaselocked target. But this is usually trivial, and her phase lock doesn’t have much downtime. Finding a health regeneration class mod for her is also easy, so you can keep one in your bags.
The health regen is particularly useful after a Fight For Your Life down state. With it you don’t have to find, pay or carry healing supplies.
Proposed early skills – Maya
Maya has a smooth power progression and scales well.
Sweet release 5 pts (for heals), Foresight 5 pts, Immolate 4 pts, Helios 1 point (so it can be boosted by class mods – more upside than a fifth point in Immolate would), Cloud Kill.
Cloud Kill does a lot of damage on Normal, so we were aiming for that. We’re also interested in Ruin, so starting with the Cataclysm tree made sense.
Maya can find powerful Cat class mods, which add up to 108% damage to SMGs. Solo Mayas are thus encouraged to chiefly use SMGs. So raise your ammo capacity accordingly.
Proposed early skills – Gaige
Gaige is a strong starter, though she tapers off a bit in the endgame. She soon becomes able to do massive damage, regen her shields and deploy a potent robot helper.
Cookin Up Trouble 1 pt, for regen.
Then close enough 5 pts, and Smaller Lighter Faster 4 pts. The goal is to prepare for switching to an Anarchy-based gameplay.
Then Anarchy 1 pt.
From there points in blood-soaked shields, for durability.
The traditional approach with Gaige is to get her a coach gun – a powerful two-ammo one-shot Jakobs shotgun. Cookin’ Up Trouble is thus always up, you can’t accidentally reload, and a coach gun is used point-blank anyway.
And even if the coach gun you’ve got is getting underpowered, Anarchy stacks will fix that.
Proposed early skills – Salvador
Salvador likely is the most powerful character in the endgame. But he’s also the most reliant on powerful firearms and scales up slowly.
Before the late 40s he’ll be a bit underpowered. And even after that span you need to choose weapons wisely (a Rubi in the off-hand, and a low-magazine auto weapon in the main).
Approach #1 – Gunzerk
Hard to kill 5 pts, Inconceivable 5 pts. Those are robust durability/regen and ammo economy skills.
Then Last Longer 5, Steady As She Goes (a solid tier 3 one-point-wonder) and I’m Ready Already 4 (to get Double Your Fun earlier). A solid gunzerking base, heh ?
Salvador is even simpler to play if you get two full auto weapons as your gunzerking ordnance. You then simply keep both mouse buttons pressed to blaze away. Avoid Jackobs weapons which requires many clicks.
OTOH, the gunzerk approach means you have to get in close, and until you have solid healing weapons that’s dangerous.
Approach #2 – Not gunzerk
The alternative is to play carefully as a pistolero, placing shots. And keeping gunzerking for regen and emergencies.
This works better if you run a pod of characters (see below), and can thus funnel good pistols toward Salvador. But good pistols seem more common than other drops.
Hard To Kill 5, Quick Draw 5, I’m Your Huckleberry 5, Money Shot 5, Inconceivable 5, Lay waste 1. At which point you have to start investing in gunzerking abilities you’ve been avoiding so far.
Proposed early skills – Axton
Axton feels OK, nothing special. The turret used to be a good selling point for less skilled players, but Gaige’s robot is a stiff competitor.
Preparation 5 pts, for durability/regen.
Then Sentry 5 pts and Willing 5 pts, so we can get Scorched Earth. The rockets certainly help with problem-solving.
We’re investing into Guerilla because Double Up is an important talent.
This approach encourages conservative tactics, since everything so far is invested into shields and the turret. Stay at range ! And don’t enter a tough fight with your turret still on cooldown.
Proposed early skills – Krieg
A melee Krieg is the least reliant on finding good firearms. On the other hand, his skills array to do that takes a while to mature. So he’s not the easiest to level.
Blood-Filled Guns 5 pts, Taste Of Blood 5 pts, Blood Bath 5 pts.
The goal here is to use lots of grenades to carry Krieg. Since IME it takes longer for him to reach a robust level of power. Grenades à gogo, including homing transfusion ones, certainly make things easier. So don’t forget to invest eridium into your grenades capacity.
This basis will allow Krieg to reach 25 without too much hurt. At which point you start using a Law in melee, and another character gives Krieg an Order shield (more below).
It’s one thing I did to write the characters up. You might consider if, well, you’re a maniac.
The idea is to create the full roster you wanna play (I did everybody but Zer0). And always switch between characters in a given order, from most powerful to least powerful. Say, play them for 60 to 90 minutes, then switch to the next character down the list during the next play session.
The idea :
- You can efficiently dispatch gear among characters. So you’re less likely to get stuck when you run into something that’s difficult for you.
- Some quests can have unintuitive bits. Here, they’ll still be fresh in mind and you won’t lose time. That goes double for quests with a timer, or with big ambushes, or with hidden stuff. And to choose where to blow long cooldowns.
- If a quest reward is a must-have for one of your characters, then you’ll have your pick of rolls.
- No need to keep exceptional but low-level equipment to twink. All your characters have outlevelled it.
- If you farm a bit (say, before going UVH) this gear will be usable by the entire pod.
These are the Normal, True Vault Hunter (TVH) and Ultimate Vault Hunter (UVH) modes. You need to complete the main story in one difficulty mode to unlock the next.
To do Normal, I’d suggest simply following the main story, plus all the side quests that pop up. That’ll make you level 34 or so as you wrap the storyline.
(An optimal Normal playthrough drops some quests to go faster. But here we’re doing everything to learn the game and the difference is but a few levels.)
Keep in mind that most things do not level as you do. So the low-level areas (and their vending machines) normally stay low-level. The stuff in Sanctuary (including the slot machines at Moxxi’s) does progress, but only as plot missions do.
Don’t forget to glance at your mini-map for bangs. Quests aren’t generally hidden, and bangs are visible mapwide. But bounty boards, NPCs, etc. can offer new quests when you don’t expect it.
In the same vein, note that your quest logs will sometimes have an “undiscovered” listing. There are secrets areas, but not secret quests per se.
A few quests also appear upon killing an ordinary-looking opponent. Usually, they drop a quest-giving ECHO recorder.
Once you have Wilhelm’s power core, talk to Lilith and do her quest (and the follow-up) before turning the power core in. This is a more convenient order.
The Stalker of Stalkers quest can be done along with Scooter’s quests in the Fridge. It’s more efficient that way.
The clan feud storyline is, well, terrible. But the Hodunk boss at one end can drop a remarkable submachinegun, the Slagga. You don’t need a Slagga on Normal, but make a note for later.
In the Caustic Caverns, a short distance North of the minecart you need to push for a quest, there’s an interesting cave wall.
When you get kegs of Rakk alcohol, you’ll have a choice between a so-so sniper rifle (since it’ll likely be low-ish level by the time you get it) and a particularly neat pistol that can heal you.
When you look for the Bane cursed gun, you’ll enter a whole new zone with several long quests, which may be one level or two above your own. So do Rocko in Thousand Cuts first, then the Opportunity quests, then the Bane.
When you return to the Thousand Cuts to see Rocko, the Slabs camp won’t have enemies. There’s a lot of chests in it, so if you’re a bit short on weapons doing a few runs before closing the quest may help. IME on Normal half the stuff is level 20 (meh) and half is level 25 (good).
Pacing — Normal
As in BL1, the amount of xp you get isn’t buttery-smooth. Doing every side-quest will leave you a bit over levelled at times. This becomes apparent in the early 20s.
I’d still stick to doing them all during the Normal playthrough. That way you know what to expect and what the rewards are on TVH, and can make informed choices. Also, this guide is for players with so-so skills, so being a bit over-levelled is good to handle the harder bits.
IMO you can skip the arena “quests” (the ones with successive rounds) unless you’re interested in a reward.
Pacing — True Vault Hunter
Having been through Normal, you now have a good idea of the game’s structure and its best rewards. Which is important, since the TVH playthrough has to be strategic.
You want to :
- Kill the Warrior not too long after level 50, without levelling past that.
- Keep certain quests untaken until you are level 50.
The first is because, in the third game mode, everything will level with you. But you can’t find better gear than level 50 in TVH mode. So if you’re significantly above 50, in UVH you will face tough foes but have obsolete equipment. Which isn’t good at all.
The second is because once you reach level 50, all quests that haven’t been taken yet automatically become level 50. With level 50 rewards.
Thus, at level 50 you need to have a shortlist of optional quests you kept in reserve for that character. Because you want a level 50 version of the reward.
Say, the Rubi, or having the Hodunks from Clan Feud around to get a Slagga, or the Deadly Bloom shield, or the Morningstar sniper rifle, a Law bladed pistol, a Hammer Buster from McNally (Bane quest), a Creamer or Hail from the arena events, the Infinity pistol from Doc Mercy…
Grabbing relatively early rewards from the DLCs can also be a good idea. Typical examples :
- Unkempt Harold pistol from Torgue vending machines.
- Sand Hawk SMG, Jolly Roger shotgun, Scarlet Pimpernel sniper rifle from Captain Scarlett missions.
- Magic missile grenades, Bee amp shield from the Tiny Tina DLC.
Gear in BL2 quickly becomes obsolete.
What was good three levels ago will now be thrash, though this effect is less pronounced for higher-rarity equipment. But even a nice Legendary weapon will be about equivalent to a well-rolled common gun that has 7 or 8 levels over it.
It goes fast. You’ve got this cool legendary shotgun you’ve found, you’re getting real used to it… but it actually was a bad roll and a handful levels later, white rarity stuff you’d vendor without a thought is getting competitive with it.
The description of the weapons is also… meh. So do not hesitate to empty a mag or two to get a sense of how it behaves. How fast the projectiles go, whether it’s auto, burst or semi-auto, what the reticle looks like, etc.. Having the bullet decals on and shooting at a wall helps visualise the ballistics.
And if there’s special red text, you’ll have to hit the wiki for an explanation of what it actually does.
As explained in a Sanctuary tutorial quest, many enemies have a marked resistance to some damage types. Shooting stuff with a yellow health bar using a corrosive weapon is *way* more efficient than with a fire weapon.
Since opening your in-game menu pauses the game, you can use your electrical assault rifle to kill the badass’ shields, pause to open your inventory, switch to a fire assault rifle in the same slot, and attack its health bar.
Before you reach Sanctuary, few opponents have robust shields and fewer still have armour. So fire weapons will overperform. Later on it’s the most limited element, but on Normal difficulty bandits seldom have enough shields to make fire a bad choice against them.
Another common practice is to keep a high-damage rocket launcher (preferably with a good magazine size) in your last weapon slot. You switch to that in Fight For Your Life mode, blow up some minor opponent, and switch back to normal weaponry as you revive. Don’t forget to reload the launcher once you’re safe !
The settings, on PC, have a tick box for aim assist. If you’re none too good at shooters, it can help. Especially when lining up a headshot.
In the early stages of the game, when your character doesn’t have too many skills, good weapons will make things easier. And there are guaranteed ways to find some.
Early on, after reaching Sir Hammerlock, sniper rifles are the safest approach. Crouch, aim, headshot, engage from a distance since your character is still fragile. The Bad Hair Day quest from Sir Hammerlock has a guaranteed, good sniper rifle as a reward (don’t take the shotgun, because Claptrap is always wrong).
When attacking bandit camps and the like, thinning opponents out with a sniper rifle remains the best option in most cases.
In Frostburn Canyon, there’s the Lascaux SMG. Take a right, take the slope down, take a right into the tunnel, then take the left branch of the tunnel. They’re in one of those white puddles. When you aim down the sight, the Lascaux fires a lot of bullets in a specific pattern. Against large targets, it performs remarkably well since the extra bullets will hit.
Open all ’em boxes while you’re in the Dust. There’s a chance you might find a Gwen’s Head pistol.
The Splinter Group quest from Patricia Tannis will get you an excellent shotgun as a reward.
The tea party optional quest from Tiny Tina will give you a pistol with a potent corrosive effect. And you get it right before a stretch of the game where corrosive weaponry is a huge advantage.
Circa level 20, there’s a smal murder investigation quest in Sanctuary. The Law pistol you get as a reward is an exceptional melee weapon for Krieg (and Zer0, I guess). It has a remarkable synergy with the otherwise meh Order shield you get from a later, similar quest.
Circa level 20, Marcus offers a quest about his safe. Handing the documents to Moxxi instead means getting a Heart Breaker. This fire shotgun can significantly help Krieg, provide Salvador with a source of healing while gunzerking, help Axton recover while the turret is taking aggro, etc..
Take the time to open containers, piles, lockers, etc.. It dramatically increases loot compared to just looting enemies.
This approach will also mean you get more money than you need. But if you can’t find good gear, the extra money means that you can :
- Always look at the promoted equipment in vending machines. You’re unlikely to find awesome stuff, but solid stuff does show up.
- Play the slot machines at Moxxi’s pub in Sanctuary (and elsewhere). The odds aren’t good — they’re slot machines — but if you *really* can’t find something good… Prizes also include skins and Eridium.
Still, there’s a point where having dollars becomes semi-pointless. So, even if you’re a complete packrat/money hoarder like me, don’t put too much effort into looting small-ticket items.
An NPC named Michael Mamaril *rarely* shows up in Sanctuary. Talk to him if you’re lucky enough to spot him. He has distinctive light grey mirrorshades, and often has a metallic blue spinigun on his back.
Whenever you’ve defeated a quest boss, look around. There’s often a red chest on the way out, but it may be slightly hidden.
If you run into a room sealed off by an electric barrier, follow the electrical cables back to a switch or fusebox.
MIRV grenades (for area saturation) and homing grenades (which aim themselves) are among the easiest to use.
Teslas are even better.
Transfusion grenades are also great for durability during long fights, unless your build favours shields over health. They’re even better to survive fights where one hit will almost kill you. Say, badass fire threshers, which produce a huge fire nova as they erupt from the ground.
Badass ranks are nice to have. But they’re not the cat’s unforsaken roar, as we’re bound to say around here. Improving everything by a small amount is useful, but unless you play BL2 for hundreds of hours the % bonuses will remain in the single digits.
Even in Normal difficulty, familiarise yourself with slag use. You don’t *need* it yet, but it certainly can make fights against high-durability targets (such as Constructors) much quicker and thus safer. The harder the game gets the more slag is a thing, until it becomes indispensable in UVH difficulty.
Do switch weapons. Alternating between at least two weapon types allows for much healthier ammunition management.
Every month or so, the publisher releases SHIFT codes. These passwords can be entered in the game menus for access tokens to a special chest near the Sanctuary fast travel. Just Google Borderlands SHIFT codes for where to find them.
*If* you intend to play intensively, SHIFT codes are prolly best kept for the very endgame, so the weapons don’t get outlevelled. That would be level 80 OP2 or something like that.
But if you’re not too great a player, there are enough codes that it’s OK to have a go at the chest if/when the game starts consistently beating your arse.
Source of Character: Borderlands video games.
Writeup completed on the 15th of December, 2020.