The Mechromancer hasn't had it too good so far, born into the midst of the Girlfriend Mode PR disaster, and then released, somewhat ahead of schedule, with little fanfare. There's also the question of adding a fifth class to a game that works rather brilliantly with just four. Cool name aside, do we need Borderland's latest leading lady?
Yes, I think, and not just because of the fact that her name is a pun that often has me giggling to myself in the middle of the night. An hour or so with a fully levelled-up Mechromancer suggests she's an intriguing addition, and I'm excited to take the class for a proper spin when the first batch of downloadable content drops.
It's hard to tell where the mech ends and the human begins: visually, Gaige the Mechromancer is a kind of robotised cartoon teenager, except nowhere near as miserably awful as I've just made that sound. The pigtails and the valley girl quips are entirely homo sapien, while the cyborg arm belongs firmly to the world of machines. Wander into fire from a corrosive weapon, as I like to do on occasion, and it seems to sting a little more than usual, maybe as a result of all that extra metal.
Luckily, there are pros as well as cons to being down with the droids. The Mechromancer's action skill is the ability to summon Deathtrap, a floating robo-buddy tank thing who potters around the battlefield drawing fire, delivering perks, and handing out all kinds of misery to your foes. Deathtrap's summoned with a wonderful Disney Villain skyward thrust of the arm, and, although he initially feels like a mobile melee spin on Axton's glorious turret, he's his own beast, with his own tricks.
A good number of skills in the Mechromancer's three trees are devoted to making you love Deathtrap, in fact, allowing him to restore an ally's shield if you're feeling generous, or letting him produce sudden fiery blasts and a nasty roving laser if you're after something a touch less pleasant. He can chuck weird orbs of energy for you to then shoot for massive explosive damage, and his stand-out trick - unlocked at the very end of the Little Big Trouble tree - sees him borrowing the elemental effects of any special weapons he's shot with, giving him a little extra oomph when it comes to laying the smack down. A phrase I can't believe I just used. I know, I'll make up for it by slyly throwing in a gratuitous reference to someone highbrow, like Constantin Guys, before we're done.
Little Big Trouble's mainly interested in offensive stuff, incidentally, allowing you to summon electrical storms following a critical hit, or boosting elemental attacks after a straight-up kill. Ordered Chaos, meanwhile, is largely concerned with Anarchy, a new resource that builds as you deal damage and completely drain clips, making your bullets deadlier but your guns less accurate. It's cancelled completely if you manually reload. That's until you unlock Discord, however, a skill that only triggers when you manually reload, boosting accuracy, fire rate, and health regen. Discord eats away at Anarchy, of course, and the relationship between the two should provide some welcome tactical complexity to the character. It's far too nuanced to get a genuine grip of in 90 minutes of running around shooting, especially if you're thick like me and there's no blackboard handy on which to scribble equations. Oh, and there are reports from PC users that it may be a little buggy at the moment, too.
Finally, the Best Friend Forever tree is taken up with health and shields and funny little asides like bullet ricochet perks. It's famously the one designed to make less skilled players like me a bit less of an imposition on team-mates, and its most immediately useful element is near the middle of the tiers, allowing you to extend Deathtrap's lifespan with each kill, while granting you a lovely melee boost for as long as he's around.
Even when he's gone, however, his cooldown is relatively short. With all his neat little gimmicks, you'll find yourself thinking of him as a genuine AI ally rather than a weapon to deploy when things look bad. Like the Mechromancer (and like Constantin Guys, right?) I think you'll enjoy hanging out with him - even if eight quid initially seems a little steep.