The next Borderlands experience is quickly approaching as the series ditches treasure hunting on an alien planet and adopts a narrated dungeons & dragons quest. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands iterates upon the Borderlands franchise, taking a beloved character and DLC from the second game and fleshing them out into a much larger experience. It comes at the perfect time, with a level of franchise fatigue making the most recent mainline Borderlands game the least interesting of the trio, at least for my tastes. With fresh ideas and a new premise carrying Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands forward, this first-person looter shooter has a lot to offer.
We were lucky enough to get an opportunity to test out the game with a limited preview, and the first thing we noticed was how tonally appropriate this felt as a Borderlands game. Divisive in its use of humour, Borderlands 1, 2, 3, and now Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands are all unwavering in their approach to goofy shenanigans. It won’t be something loved by all gamers, but for those fond of the Borderlands brand of humour, you can rest peacefully knowing it’s gone untouched. If anything, it’s more prominent, as the charmingly immature voice of Tina as the game’s narrator cuts through with enough frequency to keep the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy alive.
I like seeing Borderlands in this light, with the series leaning on its D&D roots in such a literal way. It adds a new flavour that’s quite refreshing and allows the game to lean into its ridiculousness, now easily explained by the creative imagination of a wild young woman. The format also allows for returning characters to come back and play new roles, as though they were actors. One such example is the love-them-or-hate-them robot mascot, Claptrap, who played a fairly minor role in the preview we got to play. His deliberately annoying persona carries through in familiar ways as he bosses the player around with unwarranted confidence and self-appointed power.
I can’t say every joke in the Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands preview landed, but at least there’s a familiarity to the charm. What’s looking to be less divisive is the game’s combat, which feels like the best the series has seen so far. Still present are the boat-load of different guns with fun attack patterns that drop with enough frequency to keep things lively. Gunplay handles exactly like you’d expect, with arcadey yet accurate shooting allowing you to pump round after round into your foe. It’s a little bullet-spongey, sure, but there’s still that power fantasy feeling that’s so important. What’s new is the introduction of magic and a deeper melee system that sees close-combat weapons given the same amount of love and uniqueness as their ranged counterparts. Melee combat feels a lot better in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, something which I’m sure comes as a great relief to those who like to default to the “Brick” style of character.
The magic is where things get really fun. Appropriate for the fantasy D&D setting, magic abilities sit on a cooldown and can be cast between bursts of bullets as if they were grenades from past Borderlands games. Of course, we all know that magic is just more fun than grenades though, something Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands leans into as fantastical and satisfying spells rain down on a group of foes. The combat just works well here and I can see just how vastly different combat can feel depending on your loadout. We never got a chance to play cooperatively, but at least for single-player, I can confidently say that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands feels good. There’s a level of competency to the gunplay that’s very impressive for a pre-release game.
“…constantly engaged with a new character and their silly hijinx… each more bombastic than the last.”
Outside of combat, the general flow of gameplay will feel quite familiar to Borderlands veterans. The game has linear sections and areas that open up with a more open-ended design as well as branching paths. Questing plays a big role in giving motivation for moving from one area to the next, constantly engaged with a new character and their silly hijinx. In the preview alone we met too many characters to list, but rest assured they are plentiful and each more bombastic than the last.
Looting and gear are as Borderlands as it gets. Coloured equipment and weapons burst out of corpses in a fountain of celebration, and chests and containers litter the world, ready to be opened for money, ammo and more. Vending machines allow you to sell your junk with randomly generated gear inside. It’s in this area where you can see the Borderlands DNA alive and thriving. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is undeniably a Borderlands game and will appeal to that very same audience. Whilst some evolutions were definitely made, some others are still yet to be made which is a slight, if expected, shame. Opening container after container and getting mostly ammo you don’t need is a chore. Making this process quicker would help keep the flow of looting to the same standards as the flow of combat, but admittedly it’s a rather inconsequential nitpick in the grand scheme of things.
What Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands offers is a Borderlands experience that has evolved with a new setting and better combat mechanics. It’s the kind of game you’d easily sink hours into alongside friends, with each individual paying a different amount of attention to the characters and dialogue depending on their varying engagement levels. If the preview is a good representation of the full experience, I can see this one being a lot of fun. That’s if you like the Borderlands style of humour, of course.
It was great seeing Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands in its pre-release state, and something that’s only increased my personal excitement for the game’s full release. For those interested in playing the game for themselves, it’s set to release on March 25, 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Find out more on the game’s official website.