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Zer0 Critical Ascension

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When I look at the whole picture of Zer0 as a whole I appreciate what was done with him and more importantly, I want it to be understood that I grasp “WHY”. What Zer0 is and how the class plays, from quirks like B0re to the capstone skill that would be the major gripe about him, I appreciate what was done to balance not just Zer0 but all the other classes with respect to him. And most of all, the game as a whole took precedence when it came to iterating his Sniper skill tree.

Let me rewind a bit here…

Once upon a time, I was a freshly capped level 50 Zer0 who played melee until I got enough skill points for “At One With the Gun” and once acquiring it never looked back. I love snipers and have spent 98% of the 33 days my Zer0 has accrued using them.

Long ago I decided to push the envelope of sniping and one-shot the end-game boss… with a sniper. At around the same time as Goth posted his two-shot kill I indeed did just the same thing. The road to that eventuality showed me some things about the Sniper tree that at first made me more than a little upset.

So I figured out how to farm successive criticals off of the crystalisks in the Warrior’s lair and did my best to push my stack count so high that I could one-shot the Warrior, post the video on YouTube and win the internet. In the process of doing that I realized that getting 999 stacks was outright impossible. You see CA stacks deteriorate and disappear besides not getting crits. It seems they have a set lifespan and will be removed from the stack count.

At first, I thought they had placed a hard cap on CA based on damage output… but not giving up on the endeavor meant me going through that same process again, and again. And in doing so I saw a pattern… my stacks would degrade sporadically while actively farming criticals… that sporadic pattern matched the rhythm of firing/ reload I employ. The short timespan of CA crit to stack degradation meant I couldn’t be sure… but with a .7 FR and generously farming the ammo boxes in the warrior’s lair, I couldn’t ever break 200 stacks.

You can’t imagine my chagrin and disappointment. I literally put down the game for a week because of it. But there just isn’t another game like Borderlands.

I would have posted my findings but I didn’t understand why Gearbox did what they did with CA. It looked so promising and left so much to be desired. I drafted a thread blowing the doors off of CA but couldn’t bring myself to post it… mainly because I was LOATHE to bomb the forum with yet MORE negativity. So I shared some other snippets of my sniping knowledge in random threads… about railguns, the volcano… the pimpernel. And that info was assimilated into the general knowledge of the forum and all was well. I played the game and tried to observe the larger picture and develop what I was actually given.

You see, game development is in my opinion a very organic process. I am certain entire skills swapped between characters on the road to release. And frankly, the game that shipped was by my own estimate the right game. Given more time… maybe something would have changed but overall they did what was right.

What you need to understand is that Zer0 is the only class with a tree dedicated (more or less) to a single gun type and by association a specific style of gameplay. It was right of the devs to not force you to play Zer0 if you wanted to snipe. And having his sniper tree thoroughly outclass all other classes would have done just that.

Furthermore… downplaying the Sniper tree with respect to melee was also the right move.

Know this… toe to toe, with two skilled gamers at the controls… sniper Zer0 is overshadowed by melee Zer0. I’ve played with Goth, and concerning the speed and efficacy of melee as compared to sniping, melee is very clearly the greater. It isn’t that Goth is a more “skilled”* player. Indeed I work twice as hard for every kill I get as a sniper… It’s that the melee tree is superior by design. What’s more, I approve of that reality.

Zer0 as a class (and melee specifically) is a victory for Gearbox and the industry. Conceiving and developing to release a truly fun and viable melee character in an FPS setting where surrounded by other shooters is a landmark success in post-console development. I challenge other game developers to push the envelope of game design like GBX did with Zer0.

Getting back to critical ascension…

In its current state it just flat out isn’t a game changer. It doesn’t alter how you play. If anything it simply justifies and allows you to do what you have already been doing with greater ease. Acting as a passive damage buff and a salve of sorts for specific boss types that allow you to stack successive criticals.

I’m not sure I should say this but the biggest problem with Zer0’s Sniper tree isn’t Critical Ascension… it’s BORE. Don’t get me wrong, I exploit B0re as much as the next guy, but it only holds the whole tree back.

I love it when B0re procs and I blow Hyperius to shreds as a result, but it grinds my gears that I’m relying on a glitch to make that happen. And all it really does is make me upset about CA.

CA needs another look from Gearbox and an overhaul if anything is to be done. B0re NEEDS to be fixed, no matter how you look at it… it crashes the game sometimes. What’s more, it has to be fixed to justify what I would have Gearbox do with Critical Ascension.

Sniping in general has a long learning curve… learning your gun and the enemies’ movements means getting really good at sniping isn’t point-and-click. It’s a slow-burn style of gameplay. I manage to get up in the mix with my Pimpernels but frankly, I’m an idiot. I intentionally pursue extremely high-risk situations as a sniper… grating the brink of death as close as possible while waving my oversized gun as a giant erect middle finger to everything that wants me dead (I might have some issues…). But the reality of what sniping is all about isn’t based on my quasi (I rarely actually die) suicidal tendencies.

CA needs to make you think as a gamer… as a sniper I’m constantly evaluating 3 things… proximity to the target, power of my ordinance vs said target, and how much ammo I have. I have literally had 4 snipers equipped in Borderlands1 and now two for around a combined time of 3-4k hrs. So I’d like to think I get what it’s all about.

So when I make this suggestion for Critical Ascension trust me… it’s for the best.

CA stacks and how you acquire them are fundamentally flawed. Gaining stacks simply because of getting critical hits is far too easy to exploit (no doubt it is the major reason stacks degrade as they do).

What’s more, is that you are confined to only using snipers when working a crit stack… try equipping an SMG with 100+ stacks and you’ll see what I mean. Equipping any gun other than a sniper causes the stacks to rapidly disappear. (Evil Smasher style glitch buff anyone?)

Playing with only snipers works for me… but it points to another reason why GBX made CA behave the way it does. They didn’t want to confine the utility of the skill to people who choose to only play with snipers. They wanted it to be effective from the point of equipping the gun… NOT as a slow-burn power-building session confined to sniper-only gameplay. They apparently nerfed the long-term utility of multiple CA stacks and instead buffed the value of a single stack. That coupled with the sniper dmg buffs spread out in the skill trees and you have a viable sniper build.

Unfortunately, that process resulted in many surmising the skill is useless outside of specific scenarios.

Back to the big 3 of sniping…

  1. Proximity
  2. Damage
  3. Ammo count

Firstly, I suggest that CA stacks be acquired by critical hits that result in a kill. I’m not saying critical hits shouldn’t be rewarded… Instead, I’m suggesting that the stack degradation timer be extended… by scoring critical hits. With further critical hit kills adding a count to the stack and maxing out the stack degradation timer.

I would also impose a mechanic to make sniping interesting again… all based on the damage/ crit hit bonus that a stack actually grants… The value of a stack shouldn’t be a flat rate of 5/6% or a flat 1-3%… it should be a value that is inversely proportional to how many sniper bullets you have left. The specifics of what the percentage buffs are would need to be iterated.

Let me say that again in another way… the fewer bullets you have the bigger the buff CA provides.

But there’s a second part to making this all work… an additional mechanic as part of CA, where if you hold x with a fully loaded magazine you cash in a single stack for 10% return on your remaining ammo.

In other words, you would get 10% of your total ammo back from cashing in a stack if you had a fully loaded magazine while having zero bullets. FFS that didn’t make any more sense, did it?

The point is, the fewer the bullets you have the more ammo you get back… but if you don’t have enough bullets for a fully loaded magazine you can’t use the “cash in” mechanic… Better?

It all plays into the ammo count…

But what happens when you only have one bullet left? MAGIC

Some specifics I’ve worked out imagining this mechanic while playing:

  • max count stack timer… 3 min. similar to how the glitched portion of the CA buff still behaves.

I guess I imagine someone with a high stack going into a boss fight with three bullets… intentionally.

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