The Borderlands series has established a looter-shooter formula that became the mold for so many games that came after it. Off the heels of 2019’s Borderlands 3, Gearbox Software takes the iconic series in a slightly different direction with Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. This spin-off sees players on a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired adventure within a fantasy take on the Borderlands world. While it still plays incredibly close to what we’re familiar with, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands does enough to feel like a worthy entry in the Borderlands saga.
Time to roll for initiative
In Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, players take on the role of a newcomer to an adventuring party. Instead of actually going out into the treacherous world of Borderlands, you’re instead playing a game of Bunkers and Badasses, which is essentially Dungeons & Dragons inside Gearbox’s universe. The game is being run by none other than Tiny Tina, who serves as the shepherding hand throughout the story.
In true Dungeons & Dragons (and Borderlands) fashion, players begin the adventure by rolling their character. Tiny Tina’s character creator allows the player to fully customize their appearance with an impressive range of features. You’ll then pick a class, which is where we first begin to depart from the Borderlands familiarity. Instead of Soldiers, Sirens, and Gunners, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands features classes like the Stabbomancer, the Clawbringer, and the Spellshot.
Each class has a Class Feat and two Action Skills. The Class Feat is essentially a passive ability that actively aids you in battle, such as the Graveborn’s Demi-Lich companion. The Action Skills are manually-activated abilities that recharge over time. Both Class Feats and Action Skills can be upgraded and tweaked to best fit your playstyle.
There are also base stats that influence a player’s combat abilities. For example, Strength will scale your Crit Damage percent, while Intelligence scales your Spell Cooldowns. Each level awards you points that can be allocated among the different skills. It makes sense to prioritize certain skills depending on your class, but the game gives you free reign to distribute them as you please.
Multi-Class is an option, which allows players to get the best of both worlds in taking abilities and traits from different classes in order to make the perfect build. With a wide range of customization options and ways to build your character out, it’s unlikely that any two players in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands will have identical characters, and that’s awesome. It plays beautifully to the D&D theme that’s present throughout the game.
Putting the “RP” in RPG
The Borderlands games have always charmed with their goofy characters and sense of humor, but it feels like Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands takes all of those ideas and turns them up to the max. Tiny Tina herself is beloved for her quick-witted humor and unpredictability, and that’s on full display in this game. Just like in the Assault on Dragon Keep DLC from Borderlands 2, she serves as the narrator for just about everything that happens in Wonderlands.
Sitting in the Dungeon Master chair, Tiny Tina also has direct control over what happens in the game, whether it be a unicorn materializing out of nowhere or a valuable item appearing just where you need it to be. Her quips and commentary as the voice of God over the story had me constantly laughing out loud, as Ashly Burch is as dazzling as ever in the role. The character work extends beyond Tiny Tina as well, as the adventuring party also features Valentine and Frette, voiced by Andy Samberg and Wanda Sykes, respectively. They bring a vibrancy to the roles that made me feel like I was playing with a group of actual players even when I was riding solo.
Throughout the story, players are chasing after the villainous Dragon Lord, who is played by Will Arnett. In addition to being another hilarious character to interact with, the Dragon Lord also serves as commentary on the classic tropes of bad guys in D&D as well as Borderlands games. He stands out as one of the more notable villains in the series.
A familiar fight
The combat in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands puts a fantasy spin on the Borderlands formula, but it’s more or less what we’re used to. Players still use guns that are outfitted with different stats and abilities that make them unique in battle. There are also spells and wards, which add to the pool of gear that players can mix into their loadout.
In true Borderlands fashion, there are a seemingly endless number of weapons to be found, mixing and matching all sorts of damage types and special bonuses. One of my favorite weapons throughout my playthrough was a scoped shotgun that siphoned health from enemies upon damaging them. I spent a lot of time tinkering with my loadout to find the best weapons and spells that complemented my class and abilities.
The classic Borderlands-isms also expand to looting and world exploration. Each area is packed with chests, vaults, and boxes with ammo, health potions, and gold to be snatched. I was really hoping to see a new looting mechanic that plays better to the D&D theme, but that's not the case. Though it’s not necessarily bad, it’s these aspects that make Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands feel like Borderlands 3.5, instead of something wholly unique.
To loop things back to combat, a lot of engagements just feel like more of the same outside of some pretty cool new aspects. While I’m a fan of the Borderlands format, it would have been cool to see Gearbox take the Dungeons & Dragons theme and use it to try out some turn-based systems. That said, the action-RPG approach is tried and true.
Frolicking in a fantasy
The cel shaded art style of Borderlands lends itself well to fantasy, and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is better because of it. The world is gorgeous, with stunning castles, expansive dungeons, and wavy green hills. The creatures and enemies are also a nice change of pace from what we see in the previous games. The endless waves of goblins and skeletal warriors stand out as prime examples.
The music and sounds of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands are also bathed in fantasy elements. Whether it be the sound of a spell crackling through the air or swords clashing against one another, the game has a unique identity from an audio standpoint.
The music complements the adventure in a meaningful way, providing tense and epic tunes during boss battles and other combat scenarios. In the quieter moments, the music is calmly festive, like something you would hear faintly in the background at a tavern.
Your turn to roll
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a thoroughly enjoyable spin on the Borderlands formula, but it’s still very much a Borderlands game. Fans of the series will surely enjoy the new spin-off, but don’t expect to be the one that finally grabs you if you haven’t been a fan of the franchise up until this point. Either way, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands does enough to solidify its place among the better entries in the Borderlands franchise.
This review is based on a digital Epic Games Store key provided by the publisher. Tiny Tina's Wonderlands launches on March 25, 2022, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Steam, and Epic Games Store.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
- Excellent character-building options
- Drenched in humor and silliness
- Clever usage of D&D tropes/mechanics
- Cel shaded art style is a great match for the fantasy setting
- Gets bogged down by classic Borderlands tropes
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