Borderlands 3: Guns, Love, and Tentacles – Final Review

Guns, Love, and Tentacles central narrative is wonderfully straightforward, centering around the marriage of two central, returning characters, Wainwright and Hammerlock, the pair choosing to begin their union in the distant, frigid, icy planet of Xylourgos, renowned for its unique, unconventional beauty, and accordingly a suitable site for the proceedings. The Vault Hunter, friend to these two individuals, is naturally invited to the ceremony, and promptly travels thereto. Initially, all is tranquility and bliss, as the planet’s reputation for beauty is fast justified – gorgeous are the vistas, vast and seemingly unending. But before the ceremony can begin in earnest, disaster strikes, Wainwright succumbing to the machinations of a prominent cult existing upon the planet, their evilness, their meddling, leaving him exhausted, zombielike and completely immobile, resulting in a temporary postponement of the wedding, and introducing the narrative’s central motivation – combat the cult, and revive Wainwright so that he, and his partner, can partake of the bliss inherent to such a union. A commanding, compelling sense of urgency arises, stemming largely from the fact that both Wainwright and Hammerlock are immensely likable and endearing, boasting stirring voice acting and oftentimes showing severe sincerity and emotion. Were they dull individuals, devoid of likability, the narrative would falter, whereas in actuality it soars, despite or perhaps because of its simplicity. The road to his restoration can be winding, as more and more of the cult’s backstory is communicated to the player, but the narrative generally eschews excessive ambition, the end result being a narrative which is highly focused – here is no overreaching, and accordingly the failings which often accompany overreaching are averted. Expectantly, though, matters end in triumph – the cult is defeated, Wainwright recovers his faculties, and the marriage commences. The narrative, while excelling because of its succinctness, succeeds also by nature of its central characters, primarily the betrothed, but also other minor characters, like the entirely new Mancubus, who is suitably creepy in design and in voice acting, and in the returning Gaige, bustling with life and energy.   

In addition to this central narrative, an abundance of secondary content is also present, some compelling and riveting, others mundane and unengaging. Amongst the more engaging content is a quest thread which centers around a troubled amnesiac, memoires of the past long having left him, the player’s responsibility being the recovering of those memories, and, perhaps, the acquisition or reacquisition of happiness. Over the span of a couple of hours, this side character fast grows in depth and complexity, as he is forced to grapple with those memories, many of them trending towards the tragic. Despite these somber airs, and the fear and uncertainty he initially displays, he gradually goes to reassume a certain confidence, which is then undercut when the larger source of his misfortunes are revealed – the death of his daughter has destroyed him, his psyche fracturing in efforts to dispel the immense pain felt. This narrative thread is abounding in sincerity, dealing with rather mature themes, which are treated respectfully – the game’s signature crass humor is mostly discarded here, the game instead examining man’s relationship to the past, how man is forced to engage with that past, oftentimes inevitably tinged with darkness. And then, the game’s generally poor writing shows itself, in that these successful appeals to pathos are replaced by obnoxiousness, absurdity, principally whenever the main Vault Hunter speaks. Every word which left the mouth of the playable character, Zane, was cringe-worthy, almost embarrassingly juvenile. In almost no circumstances would I encourage a silent protagonist, as such silence dampens potential narrative strengths. But in this instance, the narrative would benefit immensely had these protagonists uttered no words, the words uttered often being inappropriate to matters at hand – as the amnesiac muses about death and the sorrow which succeeds it, Zane is cracking jokes, completely deflating the atmosphere – it is abysmal. Even if the developers decided to include a voiced protagonist, a dialing back of the apparent obnoxiousness would also elevate the narrative. Ultimately, strange tonal imbalances are in place, and a total embracing of one emotional spectrum, complete darkness or complete lightness, would result in further narrative focus, consistency. But humor abounds, the amnesiac’s odyssey, so mature and so grounded, being anomalous, that anomalous nature perhaps explaining its immense impactfulness, its potentials for emotional resonance. Other secondary content, and other secondary characters, lack this maturation, this psychological development. Consider a Viking character, who despite his relative likability and apparent bloodlust, is ultimately underdeveloped, such underdevelopment characterizing the vast majority of these secondary objects; some content is good, the vast majority of it fails, is unremarkable.      

While an imbalance of enjoyability is in place when considering primary content to secondary content, the environments comprising Xylourgos are resounding achievements, the entire planet diverse, abounding in atmosphere; it is difficult to overstate their greatness. Initially, the snowier wastes are explored, a sprawling draw distance communicating their massiveness, while all about is ice, everything tinged an inviting shade of blue; a wonderful sense of whimsicality is depicted here, with clever usage of color; it is easy to see the environment’s attraction, why precisely Wainwright and Hammerlock decided upon this location for their elopement. But it is a diverse planet, these tundra constituting but a fraction of the expansion’s many environments, some of them sharp, dramatic breaks from those selfsame tundra, boasting exotic, bizarre foliage, or adopting an overall moody, somber aesthetic. Most compelling are the more urban environments – small, quaint hamlets are explored, being completely shielded from the bitter cold, the blustery winds, boasting interesting architecture, with a sharp reliance upon wood. As perfect illustration of these brooding environments, one must consider the hub world of sorts, simply named The Lodge. As environment, it is abounding in atmosphere, the attention to detail being immense, while charm is equally abundant. The strange Mancubus mans the bar, dispensing drinks, speaking strange-yet-comical phrases, while speaking fish adorn the various walls, equally ready to dispense jokes, providing levity. The central characters congregate here, moving to and fro, and a real sense of life is achieved. The planet’s largeness is again communicated, when considering that such a construction could exist within those frigid wastelands, pointing also towards man’s resiliency, capable of surviving and even thriving in the harshest of environments, if their resolve is sufficient. Realizing the beauties of Xylourgos, these citizens capitalized upon it, leaving their imprint as seen in the houses, and in the Lodge – collectively, and particularly from an aesthetic and atmospheric component, Xylourgos meets with repeated successes, being a masterful creative expression.   

From a gameplay perspective, very few are the alterations or improvements, larger innovations being completely absent. This statement is an expected one, owing to the content’s mere expansionary status, but this expectation does not diminish frustration at these overall iterative design decisions. A slight improvement in level design is certainly present, when considering the greater emphasis placed upon verticality, the various houses scalable, only amplifying the inherent joys found in the game’s mobility systems, but this is only a small improvement, owing to the fact that the tactical freedoms inherent to elevation are rarely needed for success in combat. Indeed, tactics generally are never crucial to victory, gameplay at times adopting a more mindless approach, much opposition bested merely by the bombarding of gunfire – shoot an enemy until they collapse, and then position a new enemy in the weapon’s crosshairs: that is much of the title’s gameplay, and so it is this expansion. In a major failing, and reflecting this pervasive basicness, the newly introduced enemies require no new tactics to defeat. Aesthetically and creatively they may be excellent, some character designs suitably menacing, others characterized by the absurd, but still they are vanquished in precisely the same manner. This pervasive mindlessness, this lacking of new innovation, does not result in an unenjoyable time, however; indeed, the central gameplay systems are consistently engaging, the expansion oftentimes delightful to play, whether merely exploring or exchanging gunfire with a massive, hulking foe, threatening and menacing. The base game’s rather robust skill system naturally transfers over here, and actually having completed the central narrative, it follows I had acquisition to the more dramatic, truly game-altering abilities, the possession of these skills resulting in a certain frenetic, chaotic gameplay experience, that chaos and freneticism being wonderfully beautiful.

The expansion’s greatest gameplay successes arise when that freneticism is embraced, as is the case with the newly introduced boss enemies, oftentimes very threatening, some such engagements actually presented in increasingly elaborate stages. Shortly after Wainwright has fallen into the Cult’s grasp, a hulking, wizard-like creature is combatted, and this encounter even features basic platforming; in certain instances, the foe will becomes impervious to damage, and if left in that state for a protracted spell, will even begin to heal itself; leaping to the appropriate destination, and with great haste, becomes the ultimate objective; halt the healing process and eventually end the foe. It is demanding and it is tense, the developers showing characteristic creativity in the aesthetic construction of this opponent, and in the arena within which it is fought; triumph here was very rewarding, while more tangible rewards were present, too; accompanying the Scholar’s demise was the expected explosion of loot. New guns are included, while the overall drop rate seems improved, but none of these new weapons, at least the ones I encountered, drastically altered the game in any way, none of them opening up wholly new avenues for tactical expression – many are mere novelties, actually ineffective or highly situational. Despite clever level design which actually serves a gameplay function, and despite the inclusion of an engaging boss or two, no new gameplay innovations are in place here, the expansion being an exact replication of the base title.  

As an expansion, Guns, Love, and Tentacles existence is certainly justified, its central narrative being a grounded, human, compelling one, characterized by a certain sincerity. Anchoring this narrative are of course the pair to be betrothed – Wainwright and Hammerlock stand proud, their likability instinctively engaging the player on a deeper, more emotional level; seeing Wainwright physically brough low, and seeing the emotional lowness that Hammerlock subsequently suffers from, results in agency; the pair must be cured, their ceremony permitted to advance. In an interesting twist here, the Vault Hunter’s motivations seem more altruistic, less motivated by self-advancement, the lust for glory, riches, or guns. It is straightforward, but highly focused, a clear antagonist established from the first. The Cult, for their part, are compelling antagonists, very strange physically, while the leader of the Cult displays repeated instability, insanity, acting violently yet seeing that violence as being just. In efforts to vanquish her and the creature she lusts after, in efforts to save Wainwright, countless beautiful environments are explored, the player admiring the sprawling, rustic Lodge moment, only to be in the dreary village streets – in the dead of night – the next moment, while frigid, airy wastes also have a prominent presence – diversity is immense, and the creative successes here are similarly immense; atmosphere and moodiness abound. Despite these locations’ beauty, the gameplay which occurs therein offers nothing new or exciting; it is enjoyable but largely unchanged. This is expected, certainly – Guns, Love, and Tentacles, is a mere expression, rather than a totally new, full-fledged title – but a bit of innovation or variation would have elevated the overall experience considerably. Still, this gameplay, redundant though it may be, is anchored by excellent systems, everything found in the base game – looting, shooting, environmental navigation – being sound and engaging, if somewhat monotonous, never cerebrally-challenging, at least on a wider scale. Crucially, perfect level scaling is in place, too, in that all enemies match the player’s level upon first entering the DLC regions, preventing the experience from being pitifully easy or brutally difficult; the challenge is firm but fair, certain of the boss fights being protracted, minutes long affairs. Even if the narrative were lacking, even if the world design were uninspired, uncreative, an excuse to expand the skill tree, to knab new weapons, shields, or class mods – in short, any excuse to prolong the gameplay experience would be welcome, and the fact that this expansion is not merely a prolongation but is at times actually an improvement, again points towards the expansion’s justified existence; its appeal is immense, its level design and world-building marking its greatest successes, though a narrative of sincerity is also present. A fair length for an expansion, and possessive of its own distinct identity, the expansion is abounding in charm and in heart – it is abounding in sincere earnestness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: