Borderlands 3 is not a masterpiece of narrative. Endless discussion has permeated across the web as everyone has weighed in their opinion – so I tell you what, I am glad that I only have to offer my thoughts on a smaller slice of the content pie, and this tasty morsel is known as Psycho Krieg and the Fantastic Fustercluck.
I am a big fan of the Borderlands’ post-release DLC being heavily influenced by their past characters – even when the narrative was lacking, the characters always stood out among any flat one-liners. And with each title specifically introducing new vault hunters to play as, it often meant you were left eagerly searching the game world for your old BFF.
Of these BFFs, Krieg from Borderlands 2 was always a standout to me. Representing a unique opportunity to play as what is effectively an ENEMY in the game, his characterisation as a troubled psychopath struck me as somewhat daring. So, seeing that the entirety of Fustercluck is devoted to exploring his troubled mind, I strapped in for what I expected to either be a triumph, or an unmitigated disaster.
We are fighters of the middle, the second act in the three-part MEAT play, AND I WILL WIN BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR!
The hokey narrative makes use of many macguffin-esque, hand-wavy notions of ‘yeah bugger it you can jump into someone’s head’, similar to the adventure players had in the previous games’ DLC package Claptastic Voyage. Patricia Tannis – the long term thinker of the series – has deduced that there must be some deeply rooted reason why all of the psychos within the Borderlands universe are so similar – so perhaps if we took a little trip into Krieg’s mind, we may unlock the secret of why. The reasoning is that there may be some great realisation that drives them mad, that there may be some fabled reward awaiting them all at the end of their bloodshed – Vaulthalla. Sure, I can buy that.
What we instead encounter is the twin psyches of Krieg – his ‘sane’ self, and his ‘psycho’ self. Anyone who has played as Krieg (or watched the promotional material for his release) has encountered the softly spoken, but firm tone of his sane self desperately trying to keep his bloodshed aimed only at the bad guys. In fact, Gearbox actually released an entire blog post explaining how his inner voice separates Krieg from the other bloodthirsty killers of Pandora, titled INSIDE THE BOX: THE PERSONALITY OF A PSYCHO. It was actually this post that captured my attention to what made Krieg unique – he had quantifiable depth.
I LOOKED INTO THE HEART OF DARKNESS, AND I ATE IT ALL!!!
So our Fustercluck adventure deploys a formulaic to-do list of what we must do to access ‘Vaulthalla’, with a range of game-y fetch quests that tread across twisted mindscapes that show just how Krieg might perceive the world…but the real adventure is getting to know how someone with two distinct, clashing personalities tries to cope with the frustration of his existence.
This is where the DLC shines – there is a realistic sympathy in the character writing. The plight of the sane Krieg as he deals with his far more brash, nonsensical insane persona is always portrayed as frustration, rather than any malicious hate. Some character beats hit close to home as the game highlights the very real plight that some forms of mental and emotional sickness never really ‘go away’, instead you just become better at coping with them – and that establishing a healthy support network is important. Oddly deep for a game that proudly trotted out a ‘bonerfarts’ gag, eh?
How can I snap your neck if you don’t have one?!
Beyond the sobering glimpse of personal demons, the game actually offers some unique, twisted visuals. The mindscape offers an opportunity for the Gearbox crew to roll out all manner of oddities; with landscapes made of meat, surrealist background elements – even a boss fight that is literally a runaway train of thought. The skybox of the game becomes a playground of crazy oversized elements, with giant looming psycho masks and characters dancing in the distance.
There is a realistic sympathy in the character writing
Even the manifestations of familiar characters offer a unique perspective, with twisted versions of fan favourites exploring the depths of one’s desperation to belong. Initially they came off as gags, but dwelling on their characterisations I realised that they represented a real case of neuroses that could be present in someone who felt like a social pariah. Being accepted by anyone would feel alien to Krieg, so of course he’d feel that those around him did little more than tolerate him. Thankfully, his inner voice can speak of how they really feel – and maybe clear some of that unease.
Nobody kills me but ME!
While short, Fustercluck has managed to tell a reasonably predictable story in a very unpredictable way, and it’s full of thoughtful character interactions and a smattering of visual panache. In some ways, the world on offer feels like it might have been played a little safe – the mindscape is interesting, but it never truly breaks into anything mind boggling. Yet I can’t help but feel the developers didn’t want to dilute the very real heart at the core of its story, and in this endeavour they have succeeded.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Gearbox Software
- PS4 / Xbox One / PC
- September 10, 2020