- Bigger than an expansion, smaller than a standalone Borderlands game, but still very much a Gearbox banter-looter.
Tina Tina’s Wonderlands is set in the borderlands world, through a dungeons and dragons tabletop adventure. Well, it’s set in the borderlands view of a fantasy world, so it’s a fictional world’s view of a fictional world—which yes, gets as damn wacky as it sounds.
It’s a full scale follow up to the 2013 release, Tiny Tina’s Assault on the Dragon Keep, and man is it great to be back. Being a borderlands fan and just generally a huge nerd, the fantasy elements and more in depth role playing allows Wonderlands to break the tried and true (and somewhat exhaustive) gameplay loop of borderlands. Something about a fantasy world just makes grinding and looting feel better.
The game melds the normal hack-and-slash chaos of borderlands with a goofy table top section that allows for some much needed relief along the way.
While Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands looks like a bouncy fantasy-comedy, it plays like a Borderlands game. Specifically, Borderlands 3. Some of the guns shoot crossbow bolts and the grenades have been replaced by spells, but in the moment-to-moment it’s a typical Borderlands game—you shoot hordes of bad guys who repeat pithy one-liners, then compare loot to see if the new guns and shields are better than the old ones, then do it again.
Out March 25 on PS4, PS5, Xbox, and PC, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a spin-off born from the Assault on Dragon Keep DLC that was added to Borderlands 2 almost a decade ago. Like that expansion, Wonderlands features the same titular bomb-obssessed teenager playing as a D&D-style dungeon master guiding players through surrealist shootouts filled with shiny guns, big swords, and wacky, occasionally off-putting banter.
Fortunately, it sounds like the infusion of new magic-based classes gives it a leg up on its somewhat disappointing predecessor, Borderlands 3. The writing is also apparently less cringe-y. We’ll see. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is also the first game in the series to feature a character creator and full cross-play between platforms.
It changes so little from Borderlands 3 that I felt like I’d played it all before.
The only other real gripe I have is that it changes so little from Borderlands 3 that even with the setting being completely different I felt like I’d played it all before in the decade of time I’ve been enjoying the series already.
For example, the Goliath enemies that have been around since Borderlands 2 have the very specific behavior of entering a rampage if you shoot their heads too much. Once enraged, they run around attacking everything and every time they score a kill they evolve into a more powerful monster.
In Wonderlands there’s an enemy called the Cyclops that behaves almost identically. That’s not to say that there aren’t any surprises, but the amount of reskinned or reused enemies and ideas definitely made me raise an eyebrow on more than one occasion.
One major thing Wonderlands does change is swapping out static and distinct character classes for a system that’s much more fluid, for better and for worse. Rather than choosing one class represented by a single character with a specific roster of abilities, you’ll instead make your own and pick from a list of six stripped-down character classes that you can mix and match down the road as you unlock your second skill tree.
Now you might find you have some abilities in common with someone who picked a different class, which is in stark contrast to past games where each class has a unique role in the combat meta. That’s a good thing because it means you can make your character class your own, but a not-so-good thing because it makes classes feel samey when you’re playing with a full squad of four.
Wonderlands also adds a charming overworld where instead of running and gunning in first-person, you walk around a map as a cartoonish avatar exploring the world and finding new activities and side quests to complete.
It’s easy to navigate, and discovering new areas and unlocking new pathways in this silly board game landscape is a great and inspired way to break up the fast-paced combat and explosions with dumb gags, like one part where you’ve got to get past a cheese puff that’s been dropped onto the board by Bunker Master herself. Unfortunately, it also enables one of my least favorite parts of the Wonderlands package: combat encounters.
Being a review of a Borderlands game, I’m obliged by law to tell you about the best guns its randomized loot pool spat out for me. A sniper rifle that fired sawblades, each of which did higher damage the more sawblades were already in a target, was a highlight. The Tediore guns that don’t need to be reloaded—instead transforming into throwable explosives then teleporting a fully-loaded replacement into your empty hands—have returned, and I got one that didn’t become an explosive but instead became a laser pixie that harassed bad guys. Another summoned hydra heads that vomited poison. Which was nice.
One significant change is character creation. Rather than each class being tied to an individual character, you play as a nameless “newbie”, building a face and color scheme and choosing a voice (you can even alter the pitch, an option I haven’t seen since Saints Row 4), and then choose any class you feel like.
I spent most of my time as a spore warden, a kind of fungal ranger with a walking mushroom pet I upgraded so he farted poison. A few of the classes get NPC allies; my co-op buddy played a graveborn who unlocked a floating skull. My mushroom companion really came into his own when I played solo, reviving me when I dropped in the absence of a co-op partner. While co-op is a chaotic good time like always, having an NPC ally makes playing alone an even more viable option, and it was already a totally satisfying way to play.
I did have to revive the friendly fungus sometimes too, which got me into trouble more than once. Though actually the worst thing about him was how distracting he was. He’d hop around in the background when quest givers were talking, his floating title MUSHROOM COMPANION appearing in big white letters visible over the NPC’s face. His unusually detailed buttocks were distracting too.
The spellshot’s class ability, being able to slot in two spells rather than one, seemed underwhelming, although when you get spells that drop ice meteors on skeletons—who take bonus frost damage because they don’t have skin to keep them warm—it’s almost worth it. But the stabbomancer being able to throw a spinning melee weapon that becomes a blade tornado you can reposition around the battlefield? That’s my current fave.
Melee weapons are a new addition, but not a game-changing one. Your regular melee attack, still mapped to V for some reason, becomes a whack with whatever sword, axe, or stick you’ve picked up. They’ve got randomized stats, though nothing as wild as the guns. Same with armor, which mostly boosts your class abilities like relics do in the mainline Borderlands games, rather than providing any actual protection.
On my RTX 3080, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands ran at over 100 fps on the highest settings, though cutscenes are locked to 30 fps. The only time it stuttered was when I’d get error messages saying my connection to Shift, the network you need to sign up to for multiplayer, was down. Another message saying the connection was active would immediately follow, accompanied by a lurch. Oddly, it didn’t happen in multiplayer, but was a semi-regular occurrence when I played solo.
Like previous Borderlands games you’ll want to push the FoV up and the look sensitivity down. Weirdly, the hotspot for the left arrow on every menu slider is slightly off. You can click on the right arrows fine, but have to click sort of near but not actually on the left arrows.
Something else Tina Tina’s Wonderland absolutely aces is the masterful comedic writing. (Borderlands has always had some fantastic dialogue and world building, being one of the only games that consistently gets laughs in the middle of battles. Which is why it makes sense that there’s a movie coming out with comedic legends like Jack Black, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Hart attached.) And the writing here comes by way of a no-expenses-spared cast that would make the game worth playing even without the addicting journey. The game is led by Ashley Birch (Mythic Quest, Horizon Zero Dawn, Attack on Titan) as the titular Tiny Tina, and support features legends like Andy Samberg as Captain Valentine, Wanda Sykes as Frette, and Will Arnett as the Dragon Lord. A few other very recognizable voices pop up here and there but I won’t spoil that for you.
As someone who always wants to play as a wizard, it’s my favorite game in the borderlands series so far because I get to do just that. Add in the custom character build, and more expansive class system than the typical borderlands pre-built options with customizable skill trees and cosmetics, and it opens up a fresh leveling and growth system. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands proves that even with a game like Elden Ring out, Game of the Year designation is going to be a hot topic in 2022.
Are you picking up Tiny Tina's Wonderlands at launch?
- Waiting for a sale/ possible game pass release. (100%, 2 Votes)
- Yes, absolutely! (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 2
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a fantastic fantasy take on Borderlands’ tried-and-true looter shooter formula. As spin-offs go, it sticks dangerously close to its past successes which at times felt a bit unoriginal and some of the new stuff it tries, like procedurally generated combat encounters, didn’t pan out terribly well. Luckily, the excellent writing, hilarious performances from an all-star cast, and ridiculous combat continue to shine brightly and make this tabletop-inspired explosion-fest absolutely worth your time.
TINY TINA'S WONDERLANDS REVIEW
Our Rating - 8
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a fantasy-themed Borderlands spin-off that’s hilarious, action-packed, and ridiculous, even if it plays it a bit safe.