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The Feel of a Character Class: Why We Need More Gunzerkers in Games

Having recently gotten back into Borderlands 2, I decided to create a new character, this time playing as the Gunzerker class, Salvador. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, he's basically the tank. However, stats aren't what set Salvador apart from the other characters. Whilst I will say I've dabbled as every class in the series for at least some length of time, the Gunzerker remains my favourite. Why? Because it's probably one of the best examples of a character class in an RPG feeling noticeably different, for all the right reasons.

However, it isn't just that he feels different, because the same can said of Team Fortress 2 and Diablo III. The classes in those games have a different look and feel, because of how they restrict you. You can't be a Pyro with a gatling gun or a Demon Hunter with a two-handed pole arm. In that sense, you're sort of shoe-horned into a specific play style, making them feel different, for somewhat artificial reasons. This doesn't really apply so much to the former example as much as the latter, since that's a multiplayer game in which you have to play a specific role on a team, but it's a good example of what I mean nonetheless.

The Gunzerker class in Borderlands 2 pretty much nails it. On the one hand, his skill trees seem to foster a Gung-ho play style, but it's broad enough that you could conceivably play however you want. The gun play is the core component of Borderlands 2, and your class has no real effect over how you as a player chooses to use the game's weapons. As someone who tends to favour shotguns and assault rifles in most games, this means that no matter which class I pick, I can still play that way, but with a slightly different flavour attached. The downside to this of course, is that it doesn't force me to experiment like some other games do.

There's a bit of a wide spectrum when it comes to character classes in role-playing games. On one end, you have the more flexible systems, like the one found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which allows for organic character growth, but to the point where there aren't really even classes. This system works in that you probably won't feel pigeon-holed to the point of re-rolling halfway through the game, because your character's skills develop based on how you play. Use two-handed weapons? You get better at two-handed weapons. If you fancy yourself a warrior, but you really like to dabble in a couple different types of magic, you don't have to choose. From this, you essentially create your own class, but it doesn't really mean much to me, and I almost always end up making the same kind of character when doing a re-roll.

On the other end of this spectrum, we have more rigid character classes, where the actual tools at your disposal are limited by your class. This is often seen in multiplayer titles such as Team Fortress 2 and Mass Effect 3, but also in more traditional role-playing games such as Diablo III. In these games, you have to settle for whatever appeals to you the most. From there, you can still fine-tune your character, but the feel of the character class is mostly the same regardless of how you spend your skill points. The benefit of this sort of system is that each one feels unique in some way, which gives you a more direct incentive to jump back in as a different character, to see what you missed.

Going back to the topic of this article, the Gunzerker sits squarely in the middle. On the one hand, picking this class doesn't restrict what weapons you can choose, and doesn't even offer specific stat bonuses for certain kinds of guns. However, playing as Salvador made me think and play differently than I would with any other class, even though my play style was mostly the same. The skill tree for Salvador includes both passive and active abilities, which ultimately only fine-tunes your character. The badass tokens, which carries over to all characters, does this to an even smaller degree, meaning by the time you reach the level cap, your character is a perfect reflection of how you like to play the game. You can of course, respec at any time, so the system remains flexible. The single most defining characteristic of each class is each one's respective action skill. This can complement or shape your play style, depending on who you pick. The Siren can single out an enemy, freezing them in mid-air. This makes her an excellent support class. Zer0 has the ability to turn invisible, making backstabs, and by extension, melee damage, more important. You get the idea.

The Gunzerker can dual wield anything. This seems pretty straightforward, making him the tank class, because he has such a high rate of damage per second. After all, it's hard to compete with a character class that can fire an acidic rocket launcher and a fully-automatic flaming sniper rifle simultaneously. Whilst this sounds simple at first, it can actually change how you approach the game. You'll be using your action skill a lot in Borderlands 2, so what guns you have equipped and where you equip them does have an effect on combat. Once you unlock all of the weapon slots, this class really opens up, and numerous permutations of death-dealing become available.

The different combinations and possible permutations of dual-wielded death are what keep this character class interesting. I'm constantly swapping out weapons and trying them out-even if only for one or two fights. Salvador's most defining characteristic, his action skill, makes me want to experiment, but it never pins me into a specific play style. It simply tweaks the way in which I use my play style, meaning I can mess around with a few interesting combinations. What if I have a slag gun in one hand, and a corrosive shotgun in the other? How about two revolvers? Or two machine guns? Let's mix things up a little. Put a Bandit submachine gun in one hand, and a powerful sniper in the other, adding huge chunks of damage dealt on top of a continuous stream of steady damage per second. These are just a few of the different combinations, and each quest and gunfight feels more varied and less of a grind because of them.

Needless to say, I'd like to see more classes like the Gunzerker. The character class still feels flexible, offering a great degree of freedom to the player, whilst remaining distinct from the other classes, moreso than the other classes, in fact. Playing as the Gunzerker changes how I think about playing, prompting me to experiment with the tools at my disposal rather than restricting me to certain tools. Getting tired of Boredomlands? Maybe the Gunzerker is what you need. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shoot some engineers in the face. With a rocket launcher and a shotgun. At the same time.
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About Kenneth Cummingsone of us since 5:17 AM on 03.22.2013

My name is Ken. I have a deep passion for art and storytelling, video games in particular. You can follow me on Twitter here: