Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep, the Borderlands 2 DLC that inspired Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, surprised me with a heartfelt story about grief. Perhaps that experience shaped my expectations for the worse, but Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a game on the verge of telling an emotional story, but never quite commits. The story centers around Tiny’s latest campaign through Bunkers and Badasses with her newfound friends Valentine, Frette, and you.
The setup is simple, the Dragonlord has been resurrected and is trying to absorb all of the soul energy in the Wonderlands, because that’s what evil villains do. While the narrative of the quest never really shifts during the campaign, the game constantly hints at more emotional beats for Tina, without ever letting them breathe. The emotional reveal comes late in the campaign and by the time it hits, it isn’t given the room it needs to really land. There are so many moments towards the end of the game where it almost deals with Tina’s grief, almost deals with Tina’s fear of being alone, and almost deals with Tina’s guilt, but instead, all of that is left to be background noise for the game’s silly campaign. While it is narratively disappointing, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands does breathe fresh life into the Borderlands formula.
Gamifying the game
Borderlands is a series about absurd humor, bad jokes, and finding as much loot as humanly possible. With Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands taking place within a tabletop RPG, many of these aspects are turned up and improved in ways that wouldn’t be possible within the “real” world of Borderlands. This manifests itself in the overworld of the Wonderlands, which exists like a tabletop, with a bigheaded version of your character exploring it. This cuts down on the number of in-between areas in the game, and the actual dungeons and maps are bigger and more fleshed out as a result. It also introduces other mechanics, like small round-based dungeons and random encounters, which give you short bursts of action and a chance at getting some quick loot.
This open area also lets you find tons of characters giving side quests and provides a way to naturally find some of the side areas. The main quest of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is shorter than other Borderlands games, but this is more than made up for by having multiple massive areas that are dedicated exclusively to side quests. The game also has multiple types of collectibles, with the main focus being on lucky dice, which award better loot luck, and shrine pieces, which will activate shrines that offer permanent bonuses. The only downside to this overworld map is that your character moves far too slowly, discouraging exploration. There is a shrine that boosts how fast you move around the world map, but it still isn’t very quick.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands manifests its tabletop setting in other smaller ways, like having constant commentary, both in-campaign and meta, from your trusted advisors and Tina. All three of them keep the story moving and provide plenty of jokes and comments to keep things from getting dull. Unfortunately, during some side quests and during chaos chamber runs, all three of them have nothing to say, which leads to a quiet and at times boring experience.
Exploring the Wonderlands
Taking place in Tina’s fantasy world, the environments of Wonderlands are far more colorful than the dreadful planet of Pandora. The forest, ocean floor, and desert environments are all bright and vibrant environments, full of fun characters and grand adventure. While the environments included in the game all hit on different fantasy biomes, it feels like there isn’t as much variety as I would have hoped. Each area is much larger than some of the maps in previous Borderlands games, but in a world where there could be anything Tina comes up with, it feels a tad bland. The biggest contributing factor to this is that there are two ocean floor sections back-to-back, followed by back-to-back desert areas. While these areas have some aesthetic differences, they still feel too similar.
The other downside to the main quest is that it never really surprises you with what needs to be done. There are hints that the Dragonlord has more influence over the game than he should, but that never manifests in a meaningful way. Tiny gives you the goal of reaching his fortress and defeating him early in the game and once you complete that, the mission is over. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands misses multiple opportunities for twists and reveals, instead maintaining a fairly straightforward plot.
The game does hit the mark in many places, however. The gunplay feels incredibly smooth, especially with the added focus on melee attacks and the addition of spells. Spells take on the role of grenades in previous games, but there is a far greater variety of both element types and effects. I constantly wanted to try out different spells to see how they functioned. Some guns receive a fantasy twist, with some pistols and rifles coming in the form of crossbows or shotguns that shoot out magic waves. These are mixed in with some regular weapons, but show up enough that you don’t feel taken out of the fantasy world.
The new class system allows you to pick up a second class after advancing through a few levels, giving you the opportunity to mix abilities together to create powerful combos. I combined the Spellshot and Stabbomancer classes to create a build where I was constantly casting spells that consistently dealt extra critical damage.
The Chaos Chamber
Instead of having a final raid boss or a new game plus mode, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands endgame mode is the Chaos Chambers, which provide a series of dungeons, some randomized, some not, where you can earn special rewards. These dungeons also let you increase your chaos level, which increases the difficulty of enemies both in the Chaos Chambers and the rest of the game, so you can have better loot drops.
The Chaos Chambers are enjoyable enough, but suffer from some of the same issues as the dungeons in the overworld. You will quickly begin to recognize which of the set maps you are on, taking away the sense of randomness the chamber is supposed to have. Another issue is sometimes the enemies don’t behave in the way you would like or don’t attack quickly enough. In one room you can be constantly under attack, without a moment to breathe. In other rooms, you have to keep running around trying to find enemies, because they either aren’t spawning in fast enough or don’t seem to know where you are. These issues make for an uneven experience in an already draining and quickly boring endgame.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is without question the best Borderlands game to date. The shooting feels precise and the fantasy weapons and equipment feel more like D&D than Borderlands, really leaning into the setting of the game. Given a focused setting and topic to riff off, the jokes feel more consistent than in previous games, especially some of the more meta or off-the-wall bits. The Wonderlands are colorful and full of interesting and fun characters.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is also a shorter experience, one that feels like it had to rush to a conclusion, never quite delivering on the big moments it sets up for. There are teases of a more emotional story, one that explores Tina’s flaws and regrets, but chooses to let that stuff hang in the background. For a fantasy world that could be anything Tina comes up with, the environments could use more variety and locales. In short, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is an enjoyable entry in the Borderlands series, but never quite hits the highs it’s aiming for.
7 / 10
|+||Gunplay is the series’ best and mixes in fantasy elements seamlessly.|
|+||Makes big changes to the Borderlands formula while still scratching that itch.|
|+||Uses the tabletop game setting to deliver strong jokes and moments throughout.|
|–||Sets up multiple emotional character beats, but doesn’t quite deliver.|
|–||Feels a tad rushed in the end, both for the Dragonlord’s story and the campaign as a whole.|
|–||Chaos Chambers don’t provide a great enough experience to grind through the endgame.|