I have long been a fan of H. P. Lovecraft’s work. The man himself was despicable, to be sure, but it’s an undeniable fact that his ideas had a huge impact on the horror writers who followed him. He was one of the first major voices in the genre of cosmic horror – that is, horror derived from the vast, unknowable mysteries of space. And fish. He had a thing about fish.
I go hard on all that eldritch stuff – I’ve got a big collection of Arkham Horror: The Card Game in the other room just waiting to be played again, not to mention several shelves worth of books in the genre. Naturally, then, I was ecstatic to learn that the second piece of downloadable content in the Borderlands 3 season pass would be the looter-shooter franchise’s take on Lovecraftian cosmicism.
I’m quite fond of the Borderlands series; it’s a franchise I’ve spent a lot of time in with my friends. The most recent entry (which is actually the fourth game in the main series, despite having the number 3 in the title) was a bit underwhelming in the writing department, but well-designed character classes and solid gunplay kept it entertaining nonetheless. I had high hopes that the new DLC – titled “Guns, Love, and Tentacles” – would be a solid excuse to jump back into the shoes of a Vault Hunter (the series’ term for player characters) again.
Those hopes were beyond satisfied. “Guns, Love, and Tentacles” is a fantastic piece of DLC – it’s packed with new enemies, great music and atmosphere, and interesting characters. In fact, I’d say this DLC is better than the main game (though I’m a bit biased by my affinity for the genre it’s aping).
One of the biggest strengths of this expansion is its focus on the relationship between Alistair Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs. The player is introduced to this couple during Borderlands 3‘s main campaign (though Hammerlock is a returning face from Borderlands 2), and the two are easily my favorite part of the game. We already knew Hammerlock could handle himself due to his role in Borderlands 2, but his partner Wainwright is just as big of a badass – no surprise given that he is heir to the Jakobs Corporation, manufacturers of some of the best weapons in the franchise. Not only are they both handy with a gun, they’re also a charming couple; they clearly love each other, and though they have very different personalities, it’s always clear that they’re a great pair. This DLC puts their love front and center, and is all the better for it.
The other thing working in the DLC’s favor is the theme. Borderlands is a perfect match for cosmic horror! It’s already a sci-fi franchise that prominently features ancient alien gods; it’s not a stretch to make those gods more sinister and less… shoot-able. Plus, Borderlands is a (largely) comedic franchise, while Lovecraft’s work notoriously takes itself a bit too seriously. The potential for parody is high, and “Guns, Love, and Tentacles” goes all in on it. The eldritch gods presented here are more petty than mind-bending, the bizarre alien fungi is great for making beer, and the local fisherman who gives off strong Innsmouth vibes insists that his devotion to a so-called Fish Queen is based on monarchical fealty rather than cult worship. While the by-the-numbers “wackiness” of the main game felt played out and boring, here the writing is a lot sharper – clearly, someone on staff was familiar enough with Lovecraft’s oeuvre to parody it well.
The gist of the story is that Hammerlock and Jakobs are getting married (yay!) and have picked out the perfect venue… on Xylourgos, a creepy, backwater world filled with monsters. It makes sense if you’re familiar with Hammerlock, who loves hunting dangerous creatures; Jakobs is far less enamored with that lifestyle, but is willing to go along with it to please his husband-to-be. Of course, things don’t go to plan and Jakobs ends up being slowly possessed by the spirit of a dead explorer, thanks to the machinations of said explorer’s unnaturally-long-lived wife. Ugh, weddings can be so stressful!
The hook is a bit of an odd one, I’ll admit, and it seems almost like it’s dancing around some of Lovecraft’s more, shall we say, controversial topics without actually addressing them (for those not in the know, Lovecraft was a massive racist who was firmly against homosexuality, so a story in which gay men of color are attacked before their wedding wouldn’t be out of place in his writings). That said, I don’t know if a game like Borderlands is the right place for a nuanced discussion on these topics. Besides, it’s pretty clear that Hammerlock and Jakobs are the good guys here, so it’s not as though we question where the developers stand on these issues.
From that setup, we descend into roughly 7-10 hours of cult-y goodness. There are some great new enemy designs, ranging from weird, alien bugs to tentacle-sprouting cultists. The cultists are what you’ll be fighting the most, so we should be thankful that they’ve got a variety of mid-combat voice lines, many of which are solid gold. Their dialogue runs the gamut from the expected ominous ramblings to expressing sincere regret at being duped into joining a cult (my personal favorite line, earnestly uttered by an enemy upon their death: “I hope I was spooky!”). You’ll also contend with floating eyeballs, necromancer squids, and ravenous alien wolves – there’s a lot of new stuff to fight!
It wasn’t just the new enemies that I adored, however. I was also a fan of the characters I met on Xylourgos. In addition to Hammerlock and Jakobs, former Vault Hunter Gaige – a playable character in Borderlands 2 – plays a prominent role here as the happy couple’s wedding planner. There’s also the wonderfully-named Mancubus Bloodtooth, the extremely off-putting proprietor of The Lodge, your one safe haven during the story. Mancubus might be your ally, but that doesn’t stop him from saying every sentence in the most sinister tone possible. Another favorite NPC of mine: Burton Briggs, a detective whose curse (everyone on the planet is cursed, you see) is that he can’t remember anything. He’s perpetually searching for answers to great mysteries – most prominently, whether he goes by “Burton” or “Burt.” Surprisingly, despite the overall goofiness of his situation, Burton gets a series of side-quests that actually tell a poignant and interesting story; that’s further proof that the writing here is a cut above the main game’s.
The one new character I didn’t particularly care for was Eista, a tribal leader who is obsessed with combat. His entire subplot felt oddly tacked on to me; I get that he was a subversion of the ‘uncivilized savage’ trope Lovecraft would sometimes employ (again: terrible, terrible racist!), but I didn’t feel Eista added enough to the story to justify his inclusion. He was mostly there to serve as a romantic false lead for Hammerlock, as the two share a similar passion for the hunt, but come on – we know Hammerlock isn’t going to leave Jakobs.
That does lead me to another point, though: this DLC does a good job, given the limited time it had to work with, of addressing the insecurities both men feel about their relationship. The thrill-seeking Hammerlock is afraid that he will push Jakobs away by gallivanting around the galaxy searching for adventure, while Jakobs – something of a homebody – worries that he isn’t exciting or interesting enough for Hammerlock. It’s nice to see both of them acknowledge the issues in their relationship and work through them.
Finally, I’d like to make a quick note that the overall design and atmosphere of Xylourgos is perfect for a cosmic horror story. The town of Cursehaven is appropriately dark and spooky, complete with foreboding music. The whole thing is very well-executed. There’s also a new head cosmetic for each character, all of which fit the theme quite well. I particularly like Moze’s new head, which turns her into a human/fish hybrid straight out of Innsmouth!
I should also mention that I did encounter a small technical issue near the end of the expansion. There is a segment in which you must follow an NPC through town, and on two occasions the NPC in question glitched out and wouldn’t move where she needed to go. In both instances, I was able to leave the area and return to fix the issue. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was annoying.
Though Borderlands 3 itself was a bit disappointing, “Guns, Love, and Tentacles” knocked it out of the park. It was a perfect marriage of theme and characters, bolstered by sharp writing and excellent design. Despite a few technical hiccups in the final stretch, this is still one of my favorite DLCs in the franchise to date – it doesn’t quite reach the lofty peaks of “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Peak” from Borderlands 2, but it got closer than I would’ve expected. We’re only halfway through the content promised by the game’s Season Pass, so here’s hoping that DLC #3 is even better!