May 10, 2013 at 8:07 AM ET
As much as gamers are loath to admit it, video games can be incredibly repetitive. No matter how many thrilling explosions and gigantic monsters you pack into a first-person shooter, the core gameplay mechanic — shooting things — doesn't really change. And while this may prove perfectly palatable for a tightly-framed Michael Bay-esque romp through "Call of Duty" or a moving story like "BioShock Infinite," a 30-plus-hour campaign like that of "Borderlands 2" quickly becomes mind-numbingly monotonous. That is, without the right set of tools to keep the game feeling invigorating.
This is why I'm so excited for Krieg the Psycho Bandit, the second post-release playable character that developer Gearbox Software made for "Borderlands 2" and much-needed breath of fresh air for the game. Or, rather, a much-needed dose of insanity to keep the hybrid shooter/role-playing game feeling as harried and chaotic as it should be.
Fans of the acclaimed "Borderlands" series will already be well-versed in psycho lore. But for the uninitiated, they're a stock bad guy pulled straight from post-apocalyptic classics like "Mad Max" — shirtless knife or dynamite-toting maniacs who hurl themselves at the player with reckless abandon while yapping nonsensical soliloquies.
While psychos have been an important part of "Borderlands" ever since the first game was released in 2009, they've never been available as a playable character. But come May 14, "Borderlands" fans will finally be able to hurl themselves at bad guys with reckless abandon while yapping nonsensical soliloquies.
Anthony Burch, the writer of "Borderlands 2," told NBC News during a recent play-through with Krieg that he was envisioned as a "high risk, high reward" character. Like the rest of the psychos that people the vast world of "Borderlands 2," Krieg is, well, crazy. Or, as Burch put it: "We wanted to give players skills that let them be more like a psycho themselves."
Playing Krieg definitely feels like you're going a little crazy. But that's a good thing. Rather than pushing players into a standard advance-then-retreat kind of gameplay, all of Krieg's abilities propel him into an increasingly frenzied state. "Buzz Axe Rampage," Krieg's core "action skill," makes him run around slashing enemies left and right with his titular gory weapon of choice.
But the craziness doesn't stop there. Rather than simply beefing up his damage or hit points, Burch said that all of Krieg's passive abilities and additional superpowers (pyschopowers?) make the player "want to take damage." "Free the Beast" transforms him into an even larger and more domineering force (the technical term is "badass psycho") during rampages. "Light the Fuse," meanwhile, replaces the game's standard "fight for your life" mode to let players chuck sticks and dynamite and eventually blow themselves up when Krieg's health has been depleted.
"Within five seconds, I just hit myself in the head with my buzz axe, almost killed myself with dynamite, and transformed into a badass psycho," Burch chuckled as he walked me through a frantic firefight.
Staying true to "Borderlands" tradition, it certainly felt badass and psychotic. But the closest comparison that came to mind when playing Krieg was the vanguard class from BioWare's excellent space opera "Mass Effect." Like Krieg, the vanguard gives players risky maneuvers like a head-first charge that essentially slingshots the character across the battlefield, abandoning any semblance of a tactical position but recharging his or her health in the process. Jumping recklessly into battle like this is disorienting, but after playing 30-odd hours of measured gameplay who really wants to stay crouched behind cover anyways?
""I don't like taking cover," Burch said as I detonated myself amidst a cluster of fellow psychos on the screen in front of us.
Unfortunately, Krieg also stays true to another "Borderlands" tradition by making his most interesting abilities inaccessible until players have devoted even more countless hours to leveling the new character up. Current fans certainly won't mind this. But for newcomers to "Borderlands 2," the sheer vibrancy of Krieg's psychosis still manages to shake up the game's potential for monotony.
Krieg will be available for $9.99, or 800 Microsoft points. Watch a sample of his gameplay below.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at email@example.com.