If you’re a fan of Borderlands, or just looking for a good dungeon crawler to play, then Tiny Tina’s Wonderland is the game for you.
Although it may seem like a simple reskin of Borderlands 3, there are plenty of new features and improvements that make this game worth playing. The shooting and looting loop is as fun as ever, and the humor is much more consistent than in the previous game.
However, if you’re getting bored of Borderlands’ formula, then I wouldn’t recommend picking up Wonderlands. The structure of the game has barely changed since the original Borderlands, so it might not be what you’re looking for.
If the notion of a “What if Borderlands, but with D&D rules!” sounds strangely familiar, that’s because it does. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep was a DLC expansion for Borderlands 2 based around the same concept, and this is a near-direct follow-up set after. In fact, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: A Wonderland’s One-Shot Adventure has just been re-released as a standalone title. It doesn’t matter whether you play it or not; you’ll know what’s going on without playing it.
Of course, let’s start with the basics; Tiny Tina, along with two of her friends named Valentine and Frett, has crash-landed on a planet while waiting for rescue. Tina decides to bring out Bunkers & Badasses, a role-playing game with a lot of weapons that just happens to be set in the Wild West. Tina creates her own campaign in which you must fight the malevolent Dragon Lord, as voiced by Arnett, the voice of Batman from the Lego Batman movie, as a nameless rookie. How do we know he’s bad? He chops off the magnificent, most amazing, and prettiest pony’s head in all of existence: Queen Butt Stallion. The bad guy has to die clearly.
I had hoped that Wonderlands would be more edgy and dark in its humor, avoiding the subjects that the Borderlands series is known for. There’s always been a dark comedy lurking behind the fart jokes and insanity in Borderlands. Tiny Tina, for example, is a hilarious illustration of this; she’s a completely broken kid who had undergone an immense amount of trauma and wound up dealing with it by adopting a mad persona.
Over time, the more tragic aspect of Tiny Tina has been pushed into the background, and in Wonderlands, it’s barely even addressed; nevertheless, despite the coarse humor, there are no curse words. That’s because, unlike all previous Borderlands games that have received an M rating, Wonderlands gets a Teen rating.
Let’s be honest here: an age rating on a video game doesn’t immediately improve the writing and humor. The idea of Wonderlands being rated Mature doesn’t make it any more funny, but it does limit the jokes somewhat. The writers themselves poke fun at it several times, noting that the hundreds of Pirates you encounter drink Soda, not rum. In my opinion, the game does not feel as much like a full-fledged Borderlands game as it does previous entries in the series. It also lacks some of the same trademark humor that has been characteristic of this franchise since its inception. With more cooperative play and less focus on exploring, Tiny Tina’s Wasted Potential is a far better fit for younger gamers than its predecessors were. As a long-time Borderlands fan, I did miss the black comedy and adult jokes in this release. The game is rude and crass, which was where much of my enthusiasm for it stems from.
But the good news is that despite the ESRB’s rating, the writing is far superior to Borderlands 3’s cringe-inducing efforts, although it still falls short of the highs set by its predecessors. The tone is lighthearted and enjoyable, and most of the jokes land favorably, however, there’s a feeling that the writers are just flinging joke after joke at you without giving you any rest. The story is also a little on the self-referential side, cramming in subtle and not-so-subtle references to just about everything from the Monkey Island games to role-playing clichés. It relies on it a little too much, though, forgetting that referring to anything isn’t humorous in and of itself.
Tiny Tina is in top form as the insane, erratic, and loud Bunker Master. Ashley Birch provides the voice of Tina once again, and her role as Aloy in Horizon: Forbidden West was somewhat flat. She puts everything into voicing Tina and would have fooled me if I hadn’t known beforehand that she was playing both parts.
Tina is likely to be as divisive as ever. Her wild behavior, loudness, and tendency to end every statement with a YELL can be quite charming and amusing, or totally irritating. Her voice plays a crucial role in the Bunker Master’s job of narrating activities and even altering the planet in front of your eyes. If you found her annoying in the past games, you may wish to skip Wonderlands entirely or just lower the volume. However, if you’re one of the many people who find her distinct brand of insanity charming, this game is for you.
Valentine and Frett are secondary characters who appear in and out, parodies of D&D players. Although Valentine isn’t the brightest knife in the drawer, he is a fan of the idea of being a hero, and he is more guided by his emotions than Frett, the Robot. These two reconciling their two very different approaches provides a great lesson for all D&D players: there’s a time for rules and a time for winging it.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Wonderland’s narrative, and I especially liked the Dragon Lord, who gets a lot of words and backstory. Arnett seems to be having a blast voicing the character, and it shines through in all of his lines. What I’m trying to say here is that the tale accomplishes its purpose; it provides a bare minimum of plot explanation for everything while also eliciting a chuckle or two, such as when Torgue violently destroys the entire ocean.
The artists and animators who have stretched their abilities and raided the color box appear to have benefitted from the D&D concept. The settings are vibrant, colorful, and full of fascinating views of ransacked pirate ships or villages that have been lifted into the air by a magic beanstalk. There are several interesting elements in the levels, as well as some enjoyable opponents. Enemy variety is insufficient for the game’s scope; basic skeletons make up the majority of it.
The game surprisingly ran well on my Ryzen 4800 and the aged but still kick-ass GTX 1080. I had everything turned up to maximum, and I didn’t notice any significant framerate drops. The only problem I encountered was stuttering in windowed mode, which the game would occasionally switch to when first starting it up.
This is a Borderlands game through and through, with all the same drawbacks and strengths as its predecessors. This ends up being just as much of a liability as it is a benefit because, on the one hand, the shooting is still lots of fun and the weapons feel fantastic to use. After that, you’re probably going to die a few thousand times over. It is highly unlikely that you will survive the entire campaign on your first try (or even attempt). But hey! You may still have fun with a game like this if you put in the effort, and I’ll show you how further on. What awaits during your journey through Unholy Heights? There are thousands of skeletons and pirates and other cannon fodder who will happily charge at you with all the intellect of a goldfish attempting to solve a math problem, eager to be shot down amid a barrage of colors, explosions, and special abilities. There are still mountains of guns to loot and analyze. There are still heaps of pop-culture nods, dumb jokes, and nonsense for you to read and chuckle with.
Given the plethora of fantasy cliches, I was a little disappointed that Gearbox stayed true to their guns. In fact. You could be fighting goblins, climbing beanstalks, and battling an evil Dragon Lord while wielding an assault rifle or a shotgun, in general. A few weapons get a little more glamorized, such as pistols with crossbow parts or a shotgun with a bubbling cauldron of crystals, but I believe there was much more space for Gearbox to go creative and embrace the fantasy element rather than sticking to the franchise’s usual style. A handheld trebuchet that shoots flails perhaps?
The guns are still enjoyable to use, and they’re well-balanced. There is no longer a way to improve weapons, so if you find something you like, it will certainly be discarded after an hour or two, but with so many different gun models shot at your face, you’ll undoubtedly discover something else to fill the huge hole in your heart. Then wielding that boomstick to kill stupid opponents is satisfying, stress-relieving fun.
The new spell system adds a little bit of variety to the mix by swapping out grenades for spells. You may loot a wide range of magic abilities, such as meteoric fireballs or intense auras, in this D&D reskin. It’s not like these additions provide much gameplay value; it’s simply another ability with a Cooldown. However, throwing out spells is still enjoyable, and when combined with your class’ specialty, it provides you with lots to do. If you pick the spell-casting class, you can really hurl magical projectiles quickly, and even equip two spells at once.
In terms of class distinction, things have gotten a few improvements, owing to the fact that you no longer pick a predetermined character with a fixed class. When creating your own custom character, you may select from six different classes, but you can also adopt a second class later on. It’s not feasible to max out both skill trees since you only have so many skill points available, but it’s a lot of fun to mix and match your skills. Then, near the end of the game, you may swap out the secondary skill tree at any time to play around with it. I really like this alteration to the system because it allows for a lot more experimenting and varied play styles in terms of whether you want to go after elemental damage or buff spells or concentrate on your companion dishing out more hurt.
There has also been an effort to improve the melee combat. You may now obtain new swords, hammers, and axes with their own characteristics and special perks, and the fighting skills have a slew of bonuses for hitting people in the face. Actually, I believe that constructing a totally melee build is feasible. However, that would be a pretty boring way to play because there’s just one button for striking things, so doing so for 15+ hours is probably going to get monotonous. Plus, in a series about stockpiling weapons like some sort of military dragon, why would you want to?
The strict adherence to the Borderlands game template is perhaps the most significant problem with this, as we saw in the first game and which has barely changed in the years since. It’s a little vexing that Gearbox hasn’t advanced their quest-making methods for decades, despite the fact that so many games have come and gone. The story’s writing team does a fantastic job of disguising the tasks with interesting themes or concepts, such as when Tiny Tina is attempting to complete a quest while Valentine and Frett are distracted by an unimportant NPC. These portions are fantastic, and most of the side missions are good, but I found myself growing bored with the same basic structure over and over again. There aren’t any. It would have been nice to include a few surprising pieces or turns to make things seem new and exciting, but there aren’t any. I get the impression that I had a good time playing Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, yet I can’t recall anything in particular.
The new overworld, like the previous games, is constructed similarly to that of classic D&D campaigns. It acts as a connecting link between all of the objectives and is full with ruins and dungeons to explore. Your character’s head becomes a bobblehead; there are shortcuts to discover and even a few abilities that allow you to return and access previously inaccessible locations or collect special loot dice that boost your chances of finding valuable gear. The new Combat Encounters are self-contained arenas full of monsters to fight, essentially condensing the whole Borderlands concept into a few rounds of combat. I enjoy some of the smaller overworld elements, such as fallen Cheetos serving as barriers or soda rivers that neatly convey the idea that the overworld is a genuine D&D map. It can’t be denied that the overworld adds nothing to the game in and of itself; after all, it’s just a hub world with a different camera angle – but I still appreciated its inclusion for what it was.
The shooting and looting in Borderlands have always been its two major pillars. The first game was advertised as containing “millions” of weapons, and that number has only increased thanks to the game’s ability to combine distinct parts to create new bullet-spewing equipment. Most of the time, this implies minor statistical variances and elemental properties, but it’s not uncommon for it to produce interesting results. There are also the new legendary items, such as a screaming Banshee blade or the Queen’s Crey, which can call frost meteors. Hunting down valuable loot, obtaining slightly superior gear that fits your build, and the thrill of a Legendary emerging from a chest are all as pleasurable, gratifying, and addicting as they’ve ever been.
However, when it comes to the rainbow showers of weapons, armors, abilities, and trinkets, I must confess that Borderlands has gone a bit too far. With the introduction of lootable spells, armor, and cosmetics there’s now more gear than ever before coming from foes and chests alike; all offering minute changes in stats. I soon found myself ignoring almost all of it, only pausing to investigate the purples and legendaries, and maybe the odd blue. The rest remained on the floor, like a carelessly discarded handful of Skittles destined to be thrown away. I don’t believe there will be that many die-hard fans who will go through every single drop, but I feel like the typical person would be similar to me and overlook the bulk of it, in order to save hundreds of hours of their life. Perhaps I’ll be alone with this viewpoint, but I think Gearbox needs to reel down the loot a little so that it starts to seem valuable again.
I’m really not a fan of how the game manages cosmetics. It’s nice that bad guys constantly drop new tattoo designs and colors for your custom character to use. However, it is aggravating to have them take up room in your inventory if you do not remember to go in and open them. All this in mind, cosmetic collections are a waste of time and money. When you have hundreds or thousands of cosmetics, they take up a lot of room until you finally toss them out. It’s an ill-advised game design that takes away essential inventory space in a game all about hoarding things like a rampaging vacuum cleaner. The obvious answer is that cosmetics should be added straight to your collection. Simple, right?
It’ll take you 10-15 hours to finish the game, and if you want to complete the numerous side-quests and challenges that dot the overworld and major areas, it’s certainly going to be double that. There’s a decent amount of end-game content after that, in which you may participate in the Chaos Chamber fights. These are a sequence of arena fights against a variety of foes, with curses and blessings being picked up between rounds. A currency is gained during the journey that may be used to obtain loot, with new kinds of gear not seen in the rest of the game appearing along the way. It’s a fantastic method to extend gameplay time without detracting from the overall experience.
Borderlands 3 is a fantastic addition to the series, with more shooting and looting than ever before. Although there may be too much loot for some players, the game still offers an enjoyable experience that can last for dozens of hours. The end-game content is also well-done, providing extra challenges and rewards for players who want to keep playing after finishing the story. Whether you’re a fan of Borderlands or not, this game is sure to please.