Borderlands 2's second downloadable content character, Krieg the Psycho, is set to release next week. While each of the characters have been nicely differentiated, Gearbox faced a new kind of challenge with this character. How do you create a player character that actually feels like the series' most iconic (and extremely aggressive) enemies?
The answer, naturally, was to push the player towards non-stop manic action.
"One of my core design philosophies with Krieg was, if there's any skill in the game that encourages you to stand behind a rock and not be fighting, we're cutting it. It does not belong in Krieg," creative designer Paul Hellquist told Shacknews. "Everything has to drive the player to stay in combat as much as possible. Again, that's to put the player in the shoes of the guy who has no regard for his own health and safety, and just wants to annihilate everything."
That idea manifests itself across three skill trees. Two of them, Hellborn and Mania, focus on subverting our expectations and turning normally harmful occurrences into helpful ones. Hellborn rewards you for being set on fire, and many of its skills add a small chance of setting yourself on fire in the normal course of combat. Hellquist said savvy players will probably find themselves capitalizing on it more by choosing more fire weapons and abilities that cause fire in the hopes of catching ablaze themselves. Mania, similarly, rewards you for taking damage, especially to your core health. One ability in this tree causes shields to charge slower, which means more health damage and greater rewards.
The third tree, Bloodlust, is much more subtle. Though Hellquist told us that it's meant to be gun-centric, it relies mainly on a stacking mechanic, much like Gaige the Mechromancer. "We really liked some of the stuff that tree did and some of the design space it opened up," Hellquist said. But for Krieg, they made two significant changes. The stacks are based on the amount of damage you do, rather than simply doing any damage at all. More importantly, the stacks themselves decay if you're not fighting, which force Krieg out into the open to constantly grab more kills.
Because of this subtlety, Hellquist expects Krieg to appeal to experimental players. "Krieg is targeted more at players who love to investigate the intricacies of skills and find the best possible build," he said. "This guy more than anybody else, do not be afraid to re-spec. It's a tool at your disposal. I think some players feel like, 'oh, it's a failure if I re-spec, I made that decision.' With this guy, it's not required by any means, but because he's a little bit trickier to find the connections, you might have some missteps before you start to feel it."
Krieg's action ability, which puts a distinct focus on melee, certainly does make you feel like a bloodthirsty psycho. Though I could only explore a little of the Hellborn tree, I found that hitting his action skill and charging towards enemies was immensely satisfying. Melee was always a last-ditch effort in my other character builds, but Krieg made me look forward to charging up my action ability so I could bash at enemies wildly once again.
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That wildness does raise the question, though: why does Krieg even care? Gearbox plans to release a short film to explain his connection to Handsome Jack, but his motivation mostly boils down to an element that writer Anthony Burch calls Krieg's "inner hero."
"We came up with this idea of an inner voice for him that sometimes manifests itself in the battle dialogue. There's a really low chance, anytime he says anything, that instead of being crazy, hulked-out angry guy, he has the voice of a sane human being that is basically trapped inside Krieg," Burch told us. "So it's like the 1% of him that's still sane is trying to steer the other 99% that is completely insane to do the right sort of behavior -- by right I mean, kill bandits instead of babies."
The two added that the inner hero apparently realizes it can't stop Krieg, so it just tries to point him in the right direction. More importantly, only the inner hero is even aware that he exists. Krieg is too crazy, and the other Vault Hunters never hear him speak. "Not even Krieg knows [the inner hero exists]," Burch said. "He just hears this buzzing and he's like, 'what the fuck is that?'"
So in a way, the player is the inner hero: wielding a vicious madman like a weapon against the less reputable denizens of Pandora. Krieg may still be a gun-slinging Vault Hunter like the rest, but his skills and story make him a unique, unsettling addition to the cast.