‘Borderlands 2’ and the Art of Support

I have said it before, and I will say it again: to really understand the nuance of class-based game systems, play support. The healers and strategists are the unsung heroes of multiplayer games. To play a support class is to embed yourself into deep system analysis out of simple necessity. While exclusively reinforcing your teammates can be a burden, support classes remain one of the most compelling roles in games. Until recently, Team Fortress 2’s Medic class held the title for best support class in a first-person shooter. Now, with the release of Gearbox’sBorderlands 2, Maya the Siren handily deserves our praise as an incredibly well-designed support character.

Like the rest of Borderlands 2’s cast of playable characters, Maya can actually level up, in the traditional RPG manner, three different skill trees. The Cataclysm tree focuses primarily on elemental effects, increasing her offensive capabilities. The Motion tree emphasizes crowd control and, coupled with Maya’s healing-focused Harmony trees, creates a very satisfying support-focused Maya.

While the game opens up these skills relatively slowly, Maya’s core ability, Phaselock, instantly shines. The power lets Maya hoist enemies into the air for a short time, making them effectively harmless and wrapping them in a big “SHOOT HERE” bubble. Maya really shines as a support character when she unlocks Res, a skill that allows her Phaselock ability to instantly revive fallen allies from a distance. In conjunction with Elated, a skill that heals all alies while Phaselock is active, and Restoration, which allows Maya to heal enemies by shooting them, the Siren becomes a playable looking-glass into team combat dynamics.

Playing as Maya uniquely accentuates some of the intricacies of each additional class. From Maya’s perspective, Axton, the character that drops turrets in battle, is key to combat positioning. With points in Restoration, each turret acts as a fifth immobile party member. While flashy, placing the turrets in the center of battle is far less effective than having them cover a team’s flank, particularly when they are placed near cover — giving Maya easy healing access.

Similarly, Zer0 the Assassin and Salvador the Gunzerker shine brighter if you play as Maya. Zer0’s ability to see invisible enemies when cloaked really helps Maya spot pesky stalkers that could use a Phaselock lift. Also, his ability to get in and out of combat will lift your heart when it means easier healing. Likewise, as Maya, great Salvador players stand out in their ability to grab and keep aggro while also maintaining smart positioning to up the entire team’s survivability.

While playing support Maya is mostly defensive, Gearbox deftly incorporates all the traditional shooter concerns into their support class. The team marketed Borderlands 2’s “gazillion guns”, and every one of them matters for Maya, even when they are not targeted at enemies. Good team players, no matter the class, still think about the elemental gun properties that best complement the group. Maya support players pay every bit as close attention to their loadout as others. Fire rate, accuracy, damage total, and unique properties all play a crucial role in healing with the Restoration skill. A shotgun can quickly top off allies, but the low ammo capacity and terrible range means it works only in specific scenarios. High accuracy weapons, like sniper rifles that fire in bursts, could work great for long-distance allies, while general all-purpose healing could be best accomplished with rifles or explosive rounds that have a chance of healing more than one ally simultaneously. Few players understand the game’s weapon system as well as a Maya playing support.

Playing Maya as support also demands a quick and astute reading of combat systems. While lifting enemies in the air with Phaselock heals the part, it also puts Maya’s instant revive ability on cooldown. You will also have to consider saving Phaselock for a more opportune moment, like when that Badass enemy shows up right when two allies are down, begging for help. Do you instant revive one fallen foe? Tag the Badass and pick up your friends manually? What’s your plan C? Maya support players constantly assess the battlefield with an encompassing offensive and defensive frame of mind. Weighing the efficacy of your actions becomes a constant meta-game. When you jump in, revive your allies, heal them with a spray of gunfire, and turn dramatically to fight the boss, you will feel like a master of all things Borderlands.

As I mentioned in the article ”In Support of Supports”, a well designed support class is the sign of a well designed game. Judging just by my time with Maya, Borderlands 2 is an outstanding design accomplishment. The combat system is rich and varied enough to return an outstanding support experience, even a game seemingly obsessed with that art of “blowing stuff up”. If you really want to enjoy the systems of Borderlands 2, play Maya, play support, and absolutely play with friends.