The lights are on
Introducing new characters to a game like Borderlands 2 so long after launch can be a risky proposition. Most players have made it through the retail game and the available DLC, and the prospect of starting over with a new Vault Hunter might not be terribly appealing. Taking on a challenge like this (and asking players to invest another $10 above and beyond the Season Pass) might seem crazy. Thankfully, so is Krieg, the sixth Vault Hunter.
The protagonists of the Borderlands series aren’t traditional heroes. They aren’t in it for helping the little guy (as any Bandit Midget will attest). It’s the fortune and glory that appeals to them, and if that means helping out the local population (and robots) to get it, so be it.
Unlike the other five characters, Krieg isn’t an anti-hero, he’s one of the bad guys. Sort of. You see, Krieg is quite literally of two minds about his role in life. The poor, giant, scary bandit suffers from a split personality, with one a raging lunatic and the other a calm, level-headed foil. The writing behind him is masterful, and players will be treated to debates between the two halves at random intervals.
Krieg’s skills are not as fractured as his psyche. He clearly evokes his bandit past, charging into battle with his buzz axe active ability. In some ways, he reminds me of playing as Brick, with a couple of significant differences. Krieg can throw his buzz axe when rampaging, and each melee swipe he connects with will refill his health entirely. Unfortunately, there’s a long recharge on it (120 seconds), which makes for strategic use unless you pursue skills that can speed up the timer.
From a technical point of view, Krieg is all about risk and reward. He has abilities that reduce his shields and up his health, incentivize taking damage to reduce action skill cooldown (and allow friendly fire in furtherance of this mechanism), and automatically generate homing fireballs (which aren’t shabby for getting that vital second wind).
Krieg’s three trees allow players to take him in very different directions, but each is about committing atrocities to as many enemies as possible from either afar or up close. The Bloodlust tree borrows a bit from Gaige, stacking damage with every bullet that connects. Unlike the Mechromancer though, reloading doesn’t reset the count. Instead, the stacks slowly disappear the longer Krieg goes without doing damage.
His mid-tier skill, Blood Trance, uses the stacking mechanic to boost the amount of time he can stay in Buzz Axe Rampage. At the bottom of that tree is Bloodsplosion, which does deals overkill damage as an area of effect when rampaging.
The Hellborn tree is all about catching Krieg on fire with his own elemental weapons (fire first and then all elements later), reducing the damage he takes while engulfed, and breathing fire instead of using his buzz axe. This is the tree that causes the bandit to erupt fireballs when damaged. This tree is designed for pure tanking, but it’s one that many players will likely want to respec into later rather than move through procedurally.
The Mania tree is the most interesting and absurd of the bunch. On paper, it seemed boring, risky, and impossible to be used in solo play. I was so very wrong. Mania requires players to keep Krieg’s health down below one-third in order to be used to maximum effect.
It’s here you’ll find Feed the Meat, which drops shields and ups health. Pairing this with the Mania mid-tier skill, Light the Fire, puts Krieg in a unique state when he’s knocked out. Instead of crawling around, he can run at full speed with a stick of dynamite in hand. Detonating it in a pack of enemies deals huge damage and restores Krieg to life.
Mania is also the tree that allows players to reduce cooldown by taking damage, enable friends to help this along, and get him ever closer to one of the most insane final skills in Borderlands 2. Release the Beast turns Krieg into a Badass Psycho. One arm visibly shrivels and Krieg can wade into enemies dealing enormous damage. When the timer runs out, he returns back to normal and his action skill is automatically refreshed. The transformations can be chained as long as Krieg is under 33 percent health when he triggers his Buzz Saw Rampage action skill.
During my time with this build, I spent most of it in rampage mode dealing over one million damage each to enemies who were a few levels under me. All the while, Krieg was raving and arguing with himself. Put simply, the build that shouldn’t work or be at all enjoyable for a cautious player like me was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
You’ll be able to take Krieg and his friend out for a spin today. He’s priced at $10/800 Microsoft points and will be available on PC, Mac, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.