Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
March 25, 2022
Take a sprinkle of that patented Borderland’s insanity, pepper in some evolved FPS gunplay and looting, and add a healthy dose of lovable boisterousness spewed from the mouth of a misunderstood and bombastic young narrator. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is an exciting spinoff on the Borderlands franchise, expanding upon an idea first forged back in 2013 with Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, a DLC chapter for the largely enjoyed Borderlands 2.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands maintains the gunplay and looting found in the Borderlands games, with the same sense of irreverent humour and eye-catching cell-shaded art style the series is known for. What’s different is the context surrounding this shooter. Rather than the wastelands of an alien planet and a group of treasure-hunters seeking fortune, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a fantasy campaign told by Tina herself. It’s an adventure where the wondrous often outshines the logical, as friendships are forged through the rolling of dice and the conquering of encounters. With a new identity and an impressive fresh coat of paint, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands proves to be a more than worthy advancement over the somewhat underwhelming Borderlands 3.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands sets the scene (quite literally) in its opening moments. You’re a new player joining a Dungeons and Dragons group (known in-universe as Bunkers and Badasses), with Tiny Tina voiced by Ashley Burch as the Dungeon Master and Captain Valentine voiced by Andy Samberg and the robot Frette voiced by Wanda Sykes as your fellow players. You’re referred to fondly as ‘Newbie’ by the others, with a brand new campaign being crafted by Tiny Tina ready for you to enjoy. An in-depth and inclusive character creator lets you make your avatar and it’s here where we first see the advantage of honing into the DnD premise.
“…likely one of the most forward-thinking character creations tools available in gaming.”
Unlike the Borderlands games, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands feels like it’s your adventure. The character you make can be a lot more personalised with details adjustable down to the eye shadow. Inclusivity is built into the core of this creation tool which means more people can feel represented and heard. Removing the gender from body types and instead referring to them cheekily as “this one” or “that one” not only appeals to the goofiness of the franchise’s humour, but it cleverly avoids labels where they’re not needed. Allowing the player to choose their pronouns including a ‘they/them’ option completely independent of voice and body type further showcases that fundamental understanding of inclusivity and removes a rigid gender binary. It’s honestly superb to see and likely one of the most forward-thinking character creations tools available in gaming.
The game then plays out in a fairly typical Borderlands fashion. Played in the first-person, you’ll mow down foes with an eclectic array of randomised weaponry that colourfully bursts out of your foe’s corpse like highly destructive confetti. Each weapon will have different firing modes you can toggle between, often changing a semi-automatic weapon into a fully-automatic weapon or a single-shot weapon into a 3-burst shot weapon. The real fun comes from the firing patterns of said guns, whether it be an SMG that fires a line of ice bullets that travel in a wave and freeze enemies on impact, or whether it’s a rocket launcher that shoots rockets into the ground before they zoom through the earth and detonate under a foe’s feet. Pair that chaotic yet still very controlled gunplay with the addition of magical spells set on a cooldown and you have a really enjoyable and diverse attack pattern that keeps gameplay fresh and exciting until the very end.
Spells in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands somewhat replace grenades from the Borderlands games, with different spells performing like different grenade mods. A simple spell may shoot a magic missile at an enemy, whereas a more elaborate one may open up a portal in the sky and drop a meteor down on your enemies, which then, in turn, breaks off into smaller meteors for a secondary set of explosions. Spells contextually fit perfectly into the fantasy world that’s been created, and their use during combat is buttery smooth and oh-so-satisfying. Spells will automatically hone in or lock on to your enemies and can be cast mid-shot, meaning there’s no break to the gunplay. It’s just seamless and effortless. Not all spells are created equally, however, and it was always a bit disappointing to get a spell that’s statistically superior but nowhere near as fun. A rather minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. Melee combat feels like it got an equally sizable upgrade over Borderlands 3 as well, with different weapon drops giving different stats, and a rather generous gap-closer meaning you can take your swing from a bigger distance.
Different classes are made available to the player with the first chosen during character creation and a secondary class made available during the campaign. A class skill gives yet another option during combat with one particularly powerful tornado-based skill becoming fundamental to my personal play. Moving your way through your classes’ skill trees and strategically stacking passives with item stats means you can build toward some really powerful combinations. Weaving your class skills with spells and gunplay puts the combat leagues ahead of any Borderlands game, and it just feels better and better the longer you play.
“…you’ll mow down foes with an eclectic array of randomised weaponry that colourfully bursts out of your foe’s corpse like highly destructive confetti.”
Looting isn’t quite as evolved as combat, relying quite heavily on the standard set by the games before it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to find exciting loot after a particularly challenging encounter or randomly pop out of a chest. However, the containers that are absolutely littered across the world serve as more of a distraction than a fun gameplay mechanic. Coins and ammo can be found almost everywhere, and you’ll have to stop yourself from trying to open every single container or else you’ll be spending more time opening things than actually playing the game. Likewise, you’ll have to train yourself to stop picking up tools with a lower rarity, or you’ll be frequently stopping to drop loot as your inventory fills or making constant trips to the vending machine to sell. It all just feels a little too redundant, with a more streamlined approach no doubt helping to keep the flow of looting at the same pace as the flow of combat.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands never truly goes open-world, relying on more of a branching pathway approach. The gameplay will also thematically swap between first-person shooting and a tabletop-esque overworld where you’ll move your player token across a miniaturised yet detailed gameboard. It’s an interesting choice and one that works for the narrative concept that’s being outlined. I don’t know if it will resonate with all gamers, some may prefer not to have that constant reminder of the DnD game that’s being played, but as a novel idea that keeps this game separate from the Borderlands franchise, it fully worked for me. Not to mention the world itself is just so good looking, especially when you’re in the first-person perspective. The signature Borderlands style is still here, but the lighting, the colour, and the vibrancy and beauty of the world is on full display. It really is a breathtaking art style, with such clarity built into the aesthetics. Running like a dream, at least on my PC, there’s no doubt that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a fabulous example of both function and form.
I largely played the game solo, but dipped into two-player cooperative play to test the functionality. At first, the game continued to shine with fantastic optimisation allowing us to play with no lag, desync, stuttering, bad animations, or any other awkward problems that often accompany optionally coop games. However, we did come across a couple of unfortunate bugs during our coop sessions, with my coop partner getting a rather cumbersome visual bug and a quest bugging out on us and not letting us complete it. both problems were solved by leaving the area and returning. I’m hoping we simply got unlucky, but it’s something that is at least of mild concern.
Multiplayer runs via an always-online service known as SHiFT. I didn’t like how fundamental SHiFT appears to be in order to play this game. I also didn’t like how the only time the game would lag was when I got a notification saying I had either disconnected or reconnected to the SHiFT server. In a game able to be played solo, I had really hoped this would not be as core and unavoidable as it is. With full cross-play available at launch apparently available because of SHiFT, I’m almost ready to forgive the problems I had. Cross-play with this level of accessibility is just so userfriendly and worthy of celebration. But at least in this instance, it came at a fairly troublesome cost.
I ran into some other niggly issues on the PC as well. Small UI glitches would display things incorrectly, such as showing my minions were dead when they most certainly were not, or showing an item as unsellable when it wasn’t. Scrolling through a menu with the mouse’s scroll wheel was unbearably slow, and I’d often sell the wrong item to a vending machine because the mouse cursor wasn’t aligning properly with the selected piece of gear. These were frequent annoyances, but ultimately small oversights when compared to how lovingly polished the rest of the game felt.
“Combine those lovable characters with a metanarrative that’s constantly aware of itself… and you get a really compelling and at times smart adventure that takes you from one crazy world to the next.”
Of course, we can’t avoid talking about the game’s characters and unique sense of humour for too much longer. The Borderlands games have always been contentious with their outlandish and immature comedy stylings. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands will likely be similarly divisive, but it actually felt a little more subdued than past releases. The main characters, at least, just gave off such a likable vibe and didn’t stray too far into the realm of annoyance. This is no doubt helped by the voice casting, with Andy Samberg, Wanda Sykes, and Will Arnott starring as the game’s heroes and villain respectively. It might be unfair to bring in a pre-existing level of admiration for an actor into their new role, but it totally works in making me enjoy experiencing the story with them. It’s the side characters where things go off the rails a little more, but it happened with a reduced frequency when compared to the Borderlands games, making Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands just easier to engage with.
I don’t think the game’s narrative will blow people away, nor does it need to. But at the very least you get a heartening insight into Tina as a character and it’s hard not to sympathise with what is a misunderstood and ultimately innocent young woman. Combine those lovable characters with a metanarrative that’s constantly aware of itself and doing cool things within the context of its tabletop storytelling and you get a really compelling and at times smart adventure that takes you from one crazy world to the next. Add to this the fact that the game’s side quests are just as engaging and unique as its main quests and you start to realise just how much of a gem Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands actually is. It’s a game that goes above and beyond its history to make something creative and appealing. And even after you roll credits 25+ hours into the experience, there’s still a Roguelike endgame mode that’s surprisingly fun.
- An interesting DnD premise that allows for smart and creative storytelling
- A game evolved beyond the Borderlands franchise
- A good voice cast making for likable main characters
- Fantastic gunplay with spells proving to be a fun addition
- A gorgeous world that runs like a dream
- SHiFT matchmaking service creates problems
- Some visual glitches and lack of PC mouse optimisation
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands surprises and delights with its evolved gameplay and stunning world. There’s a confidence and charisma here that goes beyond what came before it, with spells and class abilities weaving themselves effortlessly between the cathartic gunplay. A cast of likable main characters and a storytelling technique that’s unique and smart both go a long way in creating a world that’s just fun to be a part of. Minor glitches and a rather unfortunate online matchmaking system do hurt the title, but the successes here far outweigh any inconveniences. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands stands out as a great title, even amongst the many we’ve seen already this year.