Evil is measured in degrees in a game like Borderlands 2. Sure, the various bandits, nomads, maniacs, and psychos are nasty customers who just want to give you pain, but your playable Vault Hunters aren’t exactly innocents either. A typical day on Pandora sees any one of them gleefully murdering scores of supposedly villainous bandits without giving it a second thought. All that said, there’s something especially exciting about stepping into the blood-soaked boots of a beefed up psycho with the latest Borderlands 2 DLC character, Krieg.
You know the drill with Borderlands characters. As sharply funny as Anthony Burch’s writing is, story is sort of secondary in a game like Borderlands 2. There’s no preamble for Krieg, no necessary setup that introduces him to the game. You simply start playing and shooting at stuff, and the familiar haze of of the series’ satisfying feedback loop soon settles in: kill dudes, collect loot, equip gear, rinse and repeat.
Krieg feels wildly different compared to those that have come before though. Melee is a particular focus for the character no matter how you choose to spec him out. More than that, playing Krieg effectively is often about soaking up just the right amount of damage. Most of the time in Borderlands 2, you’re working to minimize the damage you take. Krieg, on the other hand, rewards those who are willing to engage in a little bit of stat-based micromanagement.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the centrally located Mania tree. Krieg’s “Buzz Axe Rampage” action skill turns him into a melee-focused, axe-wielding damage sponge. You can throw your axe for quick ranged attacks, but this action skill is most devastating at close quarters. The Mania tree focuses on maximizing your capabilities in Buzz Axe Rampage mode and getting you there as often as possible. At the highest level, activating it at or below 33-percent health boosts your damage output, heals you completely, and instantly recharges the action skill as soon as the Rampage timer hits zero.
The leftmost Bloodlust tree focuses instead on rewarding players for dishing out damage. Much like the Mechromancer’s Anarchy stacks, Krieg earns Bloodlust stacks as he chips away at enemy health bars. Various skills located up and down the tree boost damage, reload, and other attributes based on the number of stacks you’ve earned. Once the tree is maxed out, the Bloodsplosion skill sees every enemy you finish off exploding in an Elemental Nova attack. The explosion chains too, so if one Nova kills off another enemy, that enemy will then explode as well.
The Hellborn tree on the right is built specifically for those who appreciate the cleansing qualities of fire. Effective play in the Hellborn tree requires fire-based weapons. The tier one skills both boost Krieg’s chances of lighting himself on fire when he ignites an enemy, with subsequent tiers offering various combat benefits for fighting while engulfed in flames. Once you’ve maxed out Hellborn, the Raving Retribution skill shoots homing fireballs out at any enemies that deal damage to Krieg, but only while he’s on fire.
Each of the three skill trees brings a unique twist on the Borderlands 2 play. Mania requires constant health bar management, especially once you’ve maxed it out. The insta-recharge that you get for activating Buzz Axe Rampage at 33-percent health or less quickens the pace of play considerably. It capably captures the feeling of playing as one of the insane Psycho Badass enemies that the game throws at you on occasion. And that’s not even mentioning the Light the Fuse skill, which replaces Fight for Your Life mode with a bundle of dynamite and a self-reviving suicide attack.
Bloodlust and Hellborn both bring their own wrinkles as well. It always comes back to micromanagement. Whether you’re monitoring your own health, watching your Bloodlust stack count climb, or dishing out fire weapon damage with the goal of setting yourself on fire, Krieg requires a very careful, almost studied approach to causing mayhem. A strange dichotomy emerges: the most seemingly over the top and off the wall Vault Hunter requires the lightest touch if you’re going to play him effectively.
Of course, Krieg doesn’t arrive in a vacuum. Borderlands 2 was released on September 18, 2012. Fans have been tromping around Pandora for almost eight months now. You’ve probably beaten the game at least once. More, if you went after True Vault Hunter mode. If you’re really into it, maybe you played through with more than one character. The point is: if you’re a player who is considering a Krieg download, you’ve almost certainly seen the end of the campaign more than once.
Let’s talk about that for a moment. With Krieg, you are starting out again from nothing. You’ll be climbing through the levels, grinding out sidequests and the like, to build yourself up to the point that you can keep up with the increasing challenge levels of the main story missions. Krieg may play differently than any of the other characters, but the fact remains that he’s running the same gauntlets all over again.
This doesn’t diminish the value of this new wrinkle to your Borderlands 2 experience, but it is something that even the most hardened fan should consider. Are you ready to invest another 20+ hours into beating the game, then beating it again? Jumping into some friend’s high-level game and having them farm some boss or another to level you up helps in the sense that you can breeze past the early grind, but not everyone has that luxury.
There is something to be said for the pure joy of listening to this insane, hulking brute speak. The script that writer Anthony Burch assembled for Krieg is a mixture of re-worked psycho lines from the NPC enemies and all-new bits of dialogue that are best summed up in one word: bonkers. Voice actor Jason Douglas bellows his voice raw as Krieg, and it work in a so-bizarre-it’s-hilarious sort of way.
These observations are based on time that we spent with Krieg in a full playthrough of the campaign and a partial playthrough of True Vault Hunter mode. There is definitely a sense of burnout as the grind sets in once again. Borderlands 2 is still fun, but the sheen is gone. Loot drops are a little less exciting. Boss fights are a little less exhilarating. You’ve done this before. Then again. Possibly again and again and again (and so on) after that.
As a playable character, Krieg is great. If the Borderlands 2 itch hasn’t dulled for you at all, then you’re going to get tens of hours out of playing through the full game a few more times in your quest to max him out. Beware of the burnout though. Consider getting some friends to boost your level, at least to the point that you can have on full skill tree maxed out. Krieg is fresh and new, but diminishing returns are definitely starting to sink into Borderlands 2.