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Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a Spectacular Spin-Off

An adventure you’ll never forget.

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands review

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Review

Developer: Gearbox Software | Publisher: 2K Games | Genre: Action-Roleplaying FPS |
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Series X, PS4, PS5 | | Reviewed on: PlayStation 5


In 2013, Borderlands 2 released its fourth DLC expansion, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, and captivated its audience with a deeply emotional tale of grief and loss told through a fantasy board game led by the titular teenager. Naturally, when a follow-up standalone game was announced eight years later, expectations were high to deliver an experience that can hold up to Assault on Dragon Keep’s excellent writing and memorable cast. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands not only meets these expectations but at times exceeds them, masterfully evolving the fantasy world of “Bunkers and Badasses” into a sprawling yet focused adventure that hasn’t forgotten its roots.

Using the gameplay formula refined by Borderlands 3 in 2019 as a foundation, Wonderlands makes few attempts to change the tried-and-tested mechanics that the mainline franchise has been utilizing ever since its inception. However, while still a first-person looter-shooter at heart, Wonderlands uses its Dungeons and Dragons influence to elevate the experience to new heights by tearing up the rulebook and allowing a more spontaneous and heartfelt story to be told. Additionally, the heart and soul of Borderlands is both present and at its peak, delivering a genuinely hilarious script that almost never disappoints in the 20 hours it takes to complete, cementing Wonderlands‘ status as a memorable and entertaining tale.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Image: 2K Games

A Brand New Wonderful World

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is made up of fourteen regions of varying sizes scattered around a table-top overworld which plays differently from the rest of the game. In said overworld, players control a figurine of their player character traversing the world from a top-down perspective, maintaining the first-person shooter gameplay only in specific combat encounters that can be triggered manually. As well as this, the overworld contains numerous side quests, shortcuts to unlock, and shrines to complete by collecting pieces from set encounters inside dungeons. The variety on display is enough to keep things interesting but can become tedious if too much time is spent in the overworld in one sitting.

Small-scale enemy encounters form the majority of the gameplay in the overworld, being the primary method of collecting shrine pieces, completing the less consequential side quests and clearing out optional enemy encampments that respawn over time. Many of these encounters can be completed in one or two minutes unless it’s a special dungeon with three distinct waves of enemies and a miniboss at the end. These encounters largely feel like a way of padding out the gameplay to make the overworld more of a significant location, but the rewards for completing dungeons can be quite lucrative in the long term.

Shrines are the most significant rewards in the overworld, providing substantial benefits such as permanent 10% boosts to experience and gold gain as rewards for completing the first two shrines. More are unlocked as the overworld gradually expands in scope throughout the course of the game. The overworld really shines, however, in its humour and atmosphere. The gold gain shrine, for example, is called the Shrine of Mool Ah, while the shrine that increases your loot luck is dedicated to a mysterious deity named Aaron G. Side quests are hilarious and this often becomes the primary incentive to complete them given the fairly uninspiring overworld combat. From helping an overbearing influencer spread her brand to reviving a dead pet simply because Tina didn’t want to be sad, side quests are where the true heart of Wonderlands can be found.

Various regions in the game are dedicated entirely to side content, such as Mount Craw’s goblin rebellion quest in the first act, and an impressive dedication to optional content is on display in these sections. There are four optional regions in total, each presenting a significant quest telling its own story throughout the area while also containing side quests of their own along the way. It’s easy to get lost in a side quest region for over an hour only to remember that the main story never told you to come here at all, and this made the experience even more satisfying. Numerous references and silly jokes kept the side content fresh and enjoyable from start to finish, from helping a miserable Gerritt of Trivia hunt monsters to pulling the legendary sword of Extra-Caliber from its stone.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Image: 2K Games

Familiarity and Evolution

The core of the gameplay in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is almost identical to that of 2019’s Borderlands 3, with most changes being minor in scope albeit meaningful in numerous ways. Mantling and sliding both make a return, for example, allowing smooth traversal and more involved parkour around each environment. All of the familiar weapon types are also present, changing the names slightly to fit the fantasy setting but still maintaining the core of what made each weapon brand interesting such as Torgue weapons having explosive damage and Feriore (previously Tediore) throwing the gun upon reloading. New weapon types have been added, including crossbows that deal extra damage as each bolt hits the same enemy, as well as a huge suite of dedicated melee weapons with their own swing speeds and critical hit chances.

While things feel familiar to fans of the Borderlands franchise, some of the gameplay changes have a much greater impact. Grenades have been replaced with Spells that no longer use ammo and instead rely on a cooldown timer before they can be cast again. This heavily incentivizes using Spells a great deal more than Grenades were ever used in previous Borderlands titles, and one of the player character classes chosen at the start of the game can further boost Spell power and increase the frequency of casting. Additionally, each level up now comes with both a regular skill point that is spent on class skills in traditional Borderlands fashion and a hero skill point used to increase one of six Dungeons and Dragons-inspired character stats. Levelling up feels more exciting than ever because there are more options to optimize character builds as the story progresses.

One of the most significant changes isn’t discovered until the end of the game. Finishing the story grants access to the Chaos Chamber, an all-new post-game grinding area comprised of various challenges that can earn Chaos levels for increased difficulty and better loot. These challenges take the form of exactly the same small encounters as are in the overworld, but strung together in long chains with side objectives, unique currency to spend on buffs and curses that make things even more challenging, and high-quality loot at the end of each run. Each unlockable Chaos level appears to increase enemy health by around 25%, while also increasing enemy damage, loot luck, experience, gold and more by 4% each. These stack as higher Chaos levels are reached, so those looking for a considerable challenge will find it hidden within the game’s post-story content.

Myth Ranks are another new addition, evolved from the Badass Ranks of the Borderlands franchise into something only unlocked at the maximum player level of 40. Myth Ranks are unlocked by gaining experience after the maximum level, and must be spent in clockwise order between four categories focussing on melee, spells, gunplay and companion stat boosts. This system is presumably in place to balance out the point allocation and prevent an extreme emphasis on one category over the others, and it works quite effectively in raising play stats beyond the previous stat caps in addition to providing myriad other benefits to further boost the player’s effectiveness in combat. Both Myth Ranks and the Chaos Chamber are welcome additions to the gameplay, allowing a considerable amount of replayability even after the credits have rolled.

Tiny Tina
Image: 2K Games

An Adventure You’ll Never Forget

The highest praise that can be given to Wonderlands‘ story is that it feels worthy of carrying on the legacy of Assault on Dragon Keep. Given the varied quality of Borderlands writing across the franchise’s history (ranging from the outstanding story of Handsome Jack to the mediocre and forgettable Calypso Twins), it is both refreshing and relieving to discover that Wonderlands puts a great deal of effort into telling an engaging and emotionally involved story. Though beginning as a fairly straightforward fantasy tale alongside a first act that doesn’t do anything unexpected, the story quickly evolves and becomes far more engrossing right the way to the end.

A key component of the story is character creation, and for the first time in the franchise, there are no set characters to choose from, instead, creating a completely unique player character using a set of custom tools. This process is both fun and intuitive, choosing not to overwhelm with multitudes of sliders and complex mechanics in favour of a more straightforward approach. Facial structures, ear shapes, nose shapes and more are based around pre-sets that are easy to scroll through and allow a quick and painless character creation process that allows players to dive right into the game without having to struggle through too many menus. This process is also completely genderless, referring to body types as “This One” and That One” and allowing players to choose their voice type and pronouns, making it one of the most inclusive character creators yet.

Tiny Tina herself is of course the star of the show. Wonderlands shows off her full suite of emotions, riding both emotional highs and lows during the course of the story. She is supported by two brand-new cast members, Valentine and Frette, and both of these characters contribute to the story in a variety of meaningful ways. Their views on how to handle situations often differ, and the conflict and hilarity that ensues from these scenarios allows the story to progress in interesting and dramatic directions. This is very much a character-focused story, with both heroes and villains receiving plenty of development as their motives, fears and dreams are revealed. Returning cast members from the Borderlands franchise are surprisingly few and far between, but when it does happen it doesn’t feel forced and only adds to the humour and charm of the Wonderlands.

The story itself is simple. You are a legendary Fatemaker, and your fate is to travel far and wide to the Fearamid of the evil Dragon Lord and cleanse the realm of the Wonderlands from his dastardly schemes. If this was all the story had to offer, it would be very underwhelming, but this is far from being the case. Nothing is quite as it seems, and things that appear straightforward in the first act often turn out to have a surprising amount of nuance. The Dragon Lord has much more to his character than simply being an evil overlord, and by the end of the game. he was such an engaging and enjoyable foe that he deserves to be discussed with a similar level of regard as Handsome Jack at times. It’s not a revolutionary story by any means, but it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve with marvellous results.

The Not-So-Good News

While Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands runs perfectly well on PlayStation 5 most of the time, throughout the course of the game there were a number of stuttering issues that increased in frequency depending on circumstances such as region as well as density of enemies in an encounter. This never ended up being more than an inconvenience, but it was highly noticeable and will affect the user experience until the issue is hopefully resolved in a future update. Crashes also occurred but were very infrequent, happening twice throughout a 25-hour playthrough. Aside from these technical issues, Wonderlands is a joy to play, making it even more of a shame that the experience was at times hindered by performance problems.

Wonderlands
Image: 2K Games

Verdict: The Shoulders of Giants

It was hard not to be skeptical when Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands was first announced at Summer Game Fest 2021. Assault on Dragon Keep was such a special and memorable experience that, as with many beloved games, the question of whether a follow-up or sequel is necessary or even welcome tends to be asked. The near-perfect tale of a grieving teenager distracting herself from the pain and misery of loss through the medium of board games and silly fun left such an impact that to this day it’s considered one of the best DLC expansions in gaming. How could there be another story worth telling when one of the most meaningful and emotional Borderlands stories had already been told?

Wonderlands answers this question not by trying to be better than Assault on Dragon Keep, but rather by being itself. The tagline of the game is “Be Chaotic Great”, and this describes the philosophy of Wonderlands perfectly. It’s a story about the importance of doing things your own way and having fun with friends in the process. Behind all the goofy fun and hilarity lies an adventure with a heart and soul, and it’s obvious that this was a passion project for the developers. Certain small moments and story twists gave a tangible sense of excitement, wonder, and even heart-wrenching emotion at times. Wonderlands is a rare example of a game that not only manages to be excellent in and of itself but retrospectively enhances the experience of Assault on Dragon Keep with its meaningful additions to the lore.

It is unfortunate that Wonderlands suffers from some technical difficulties on PlayStation 5, but this by no means stops the experience from being one to remember. It uses the foundation that Borderlands created while evolving it into a distinct, unique product that transcends some of the restrictions of the broader franchise. Tiny Tina’s name being in the title is by far the best decision that could have been made, finally giving one of the most engaging and well-designed characters in Borderlands history the dedicated spin-off that she deserves. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is not Borderlands 4, and this is a good thing. For fans of the Borderlands franchise and fans of Dungeons and Dragons, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is an essential experience that will be remembered for years to come.

James is a university graduate based in England whose main hobbies are history, languages, and of course video games. His favourite games are Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, and anything made by Atlus or FromSoftware, and you can usually find him on Twitter @sacGOONER63 drooling over these games and many more. You can also read his weekly ramblings about games at sacgooner63.wordpress.com if you so wish.

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