Swords, sniper rifles and stealth in Gearbox's anticipated shooter.
The Assassin class is basically the ninja of Borderlands 2. He runs around the battlefield with a sword and can slice into enemies from stealth for colossal critical hit bonuses. He's the class of choice for someone that wants to do crazy high burst damage.
Like the rest of Borderlands 2's classes, the Assassin's skill set can be tailored to your preferred play style. Want to concentrate on close-up strikes? Long-distance sniper shots? You can with the Assassin, which according to Gearbox is the only class with a clearly defined weapons preference. If you really like sniping, it sounds like the Assassin could be a good choice.
The character customization system is built around a primary action skill. The Siren phaselocks enemies, the Gunzerker dual-wields weapons, the Commando spawns a turret, and the Assassin tosses out a decoy and enters into a temporary stealth state. As the Assassin -- named Zer0 in Borderlands 2 -- levels up, you can activate new skills to modify the functionality of the stealth state, which from the sounds of things has some interesting timing-based gameplay elements built in.
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But first, here's a bit of story detail on Zer0 the Assassin, courtesy of Jeramy Cooke, art director at Gearbox for Borderlands 2. "The cool thing about Zer0 is you don't really know where he's from or what he's all about just yet. He's definitely a bit of a mystery and that's on purpose…an interesting note about Zer0 is his real name is not Zer0. That's what everyone calls him because every time he assassinates someone he displays a zero on his faceplate so he's just known as Zer0." If you watch the recent trailer closely, you'll see a few other emotes pop up over Zer0's faceplate, including a smiley face 50 seconds in. When he does zero damage on a crotch shot just after that in the trailer, it doesn't mean he's doing no damage. "The zero is more of his calling card," said Paul Hellquist, creative director on Borderlands 2, hence the '0' in his name. "He's definitely dealing damage in that case," added Cooke.
Though Zer0 uses a sword often in the trailer, the blade isn't an equippable item. You won't swap out swords the same way you swap out guns. Instead, the sword is his basic melee attack, but its effectiveness in combat can be enhanced. There's actually reason for the lack of sword customization built into the fiction of Borderlands 2, called 'digistruction'. "Digistruct is our term in the Borderlands universe for this ability of having like a digital blueprint that can then be built, you know, on demand," said Hellquist. "That's how our cars appear in the world and a lot of things in the game are constructed in this way…when you pull your guns out they digistructed out of their holster. Hopefully people will finally get to really realize all this kind of cool technology we invented. In fact even Claptrap has a digistruct module. If you've ever seen his little tray pop out of his chest, he's got a digistruct module in there."
In terms of Zer0's sword, "The blade actually digistructs," said Cooke, "It's somewhat like a lightsaber. The handle exists on his hilt and when he pulls it out the blade digistructs for the attack."
It's especially easy for Zer0 to close in on enemies thanks to his action skill, Deception. "He can deploy a holographic decoy of himself onto the battlefield," explained Hellquist, "then he goes into a predator stealth kind of mode where he can move around on the battlefield while the enemies think that he's where his decoy is. This allows him to maneuver around the battlefield and do tons of critical strikes." While in stealth mode Zer0 isn't invulnerable – grenades and other form of splash damage will still injure him – further distinguishing it from the phasewalking ability of the original Borderlands' Siren.
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Most interesting is when you decide to attack from the stealth state. If you attack before the stealth timer expires, you don't deal quite as much damage but the cooldown on entering stealth again is reduced. The longer you stay in stealth, the more critical damage you do, so timing an attack right as the stealth timer is about to expire ensures you'll land an especially devastating hit. This seems like it could be particularly useful against bosses and in co-op, giving you the equivalent of a rogue-like backstab. Zer0 is "definitely more single target focused than any other class," according to Hellquist.
Other bonuses applied during the stealth state ensure big damage. "When he launches his decoy out he gets this special vision and all the enemies are highlighted on the battlefield," said Cooke. "They glow bright blue and all of their critical hit locations are revealed. So this allows the assassin to find out where crit locations are on bosses or take a very, very careful shot." Using this critical hit overlay in combination with the last-second sniper rifle or sword strike could be very useful, possibly making the rest of your co-op players jealous after they see how much damage it inflicts.
One of Zer0's more notable skills is called Be Like Water. "It's this really interesting dichotomy of guns with melee," said Hellquist. "What it does is every time you shoot an enemy it increases your melee damage for a few seconds and then every time you melee someone it increases your shoot damage for a few seconds, so it encourages people to switch back and forth and do this ninja dance of gun to sword to gun to sword. It's a really neat and fun skill."
As it turns out, Zer0's decoy ability isn't solely for distraction. It can also be weaponized. "There's a skill in his cunning tree called Unforeseen," said Cooke, "that allows you to make your holographic decoy explode when you become visible and it deals shock damage, so it's a cool way to disable people's shields from a tactical standpoint. If you're fighting enemies that have a lot of shield, one of the neat tricks is run in, gather a lot of aggro, drop your decoy and then run out and immediately break stealth. It'll do a big AoE shock and damage every one's shields and then you can kind of take them down more quickly." It's easy to see how that might be especially useful in a co-op game, as you can pull off a move like this and let your teammates clean up the group of mobs after the blast.
For snipers and anyone who likes to see enormous damage numbers pop up when they strike an enemy, it sounds like Zer0 the Assassin is going to be worth checking out. Expect to hear a lot more about Zer0 and the rest of Borderlands' cast of classes as the release date of September 18 approaches.