Borderlands includes four character classes, each with unique skills, abilities and back stories. As a character gains experience and levels up, their basic statistics, such as health totals and accuracy, will increase. Each class also has three unique focus skill trees to develop. There is also an accessory item type specific to each class. The four classes are:
- Mordecai - The Hunter, who has skills that enhance Sniper Rifles and Pistols. He sends his pet Bloodwing to attack enemies from above. The 'Bloodwing' is an AI-controlled aerial unit that will operate semi-independently of the hunter. Sniper tree: improves sniper abilities; Rogue tree: improves special ability; Gunslinger tree: improves pistol and melee abilities.
- Roland - The Soldier, who is well suited to using Combat Rifles and Shotguns. He can deploy an automatic Scorpio Turret to attack enemies, which operates independently, allowing the soldier to hide behind cover or attack enemies while his turret attacks enemies. Infantry tree: increases effectiveness with weapons particularly combat rifles and shotguns; Support tree: increase Roland's defensive abilities with shields, and improve his Scorpio Turret's cooldown, increase its burst fire count and allow his turret to support the Soldier and his teammates by constantly resupplying their ordnance; Medic tree: abilities that allow the Soldier to rapidly replenish his health and his allies' even in the midst of heavy combat.
- Lilith - The Siren, who has advantages using SMGs and Elemental weapons. Touched by ancient alien power, her ability is 'Phasewalk': She can shift into a different dimension and become invisible for a few seconds, and when she enters or exits that state she releases a shockwave of energy which damages nearby enemies. Controller tree: improves survivability and disables foes; Elemental tree: improves her ability to use weapons and inflict Elemental damage; Assassin tree: increases lethality with weaponry and melee combat.
- Brick - The Berserker, who loves to do nothing more than pound enemies with his fists. Other than that, is a master of blasting his foes with explosive heavy weapons. His ability is 'Berserk', in which he uses his fists to pound his enemies to death, and gains large increases to his survivability and speed to achieve that end. Brawler tree: increases melee damage capabilities; Tank tree: massively increases toughness and survivability; Blaster: improves explosive damage and abilities with weaponry, especially Rocket Launchers.
Borderlands 2 redraws the playing field with a new set of character classes that players may select from. The original cast from Borderlands return in supporting roles.
The Borderlands 2 classes are:
- Maya - The Siren
- Salvador - The Gunzerker, who can unleash a wild barrage of gunfire as he launches into a gun-waving battle frenzy. Brawn tree: Focuses on physical toughness. Gun Lust tree: Increases weapon stats and grants various abilities. Wrath tree: Stat bonuses and abilities tied to simultaneously wielding a gun in each hand.
- Axton - The Commando
- Zer0 - The Assassin
- Regardless of mentions about weapon preferences, all characters may use any type of weapon throughout the game. For example, Roland might have a need to use a sniper rifle for long-range targeting, or the Hunter could certainly use shotguns against close range targets. Also, regardless of aforementioned "ideals" for each character, all of them have skills which allow for great variations in gameplay. For instance, Mordecai, with certain talents taken and various benefits from COMs and weapons, can deal isolated melee strikes equal to or even greater than Brick in some cases. However the preferences refer to abilities that improve effectiveness with particular weapon types, like Roland's Scattershot, Mordecai's Caliber or Brick's Wide Load.
- The main characters are often referred to as "Vault Hunters" in the story, due to the their role in the course of events as soldiers of fortune seeking the Vault and its rumoured treasures.
- In the mission Wanted: Dead!, displayed text from each character highlights their individual personality traits. Lilith's cursive script is signed off with a kiss mark and dots her "I"s with hearts, Mordecai uses a hasty scribble, Roland prints plainly and neatly in capitals, and Brick's writing is a barely legible and child-like scrawl.
- The classes all have three skill trees, which allows them to become more powerful characters as they advance in level.