Tiny Tina's Wonderlands - Dungeons Full of Fun
The Borderlands formula is pretty well established by now. Billions of guns, crazy characters, jokes coming thick and fast, co-op shenanigans. It is a formula that has served Gearbox well. But, it did start to feel a little stale. Borderlands 3, while fun, didn’t seem to capture the masses like the previous titles and the franchise started to lose its lustre. So the question became, how to mix it up? How would Gearbox shake up the formula enough to excite players again, but not alienate long-term fans? The answer, it seems, starts with everyone’s favourite teenage explosions expert, Tiny Tina.
For those that don’t know, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a spinoff from the main Borderlands series and was based on a piece of DLC for Borderlands 2. It features Tina in the role of the dungeon master in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, or should I say Bunkers and Badasses. Joined by a romantic hero and a slightly deranged robot (voiced by Andy Samberg and Wanda Sykes respectively) players take the role of the Fatemaker, the hero who must save the Wonderlands and Queen Buttstallion from the evil Dragon Lord (Will Arnett).
Yes, this is a silly, silly game but it is silly in all the right ways. From fourth wall breaks to Tina’s running commentary to the Dragon Lord interrupting proceedings to put his point of view across, Wonderlands is a barrage of jokes, pop-culture references and D&D love. I haven’t genuinely laughed in a game as much as I did with Wonderlands in such a long time. It is part Naked Gun, part Monty Python, part Lord of the Rings and as crazy as that all sounds, it just works. This is helped in no small part thanks to the stellar voice cast. Ashley Birch as Tina is perfect and the Hollywood trio of Samberg, Sykes and Arnett just deliver killer line after killer line in a way that brought chuckles and giggles for the entirety of the game.
Gameplay is, for the most part, the traditional Borderlands experience with a few allowances made for the fantasy setting and some twists thrown in for good measure. Grenades have been replaced by spells, locations are all spins on fantasy tropes and there is significantly more colour in the levels and enemies than previous Borderlands games. The weaponry deserves special mention here as the developers have gone wild with designs and functions. The fantasy setting has allowed for some truly bonkers instruments of death. For example, some guns are tossed away instead of being reloaded and when they hit the ground they become a three-headed Hydra that spits fire at enemies. That is just one example of how the team at Gearbox have combined guns with magic in interesting and original ways.
That said, the moment-to-moment action is pretty much the same as all Borderlands games. The basic formula is still here and if you didn’t like it in the past, then you won’t like it here. But, if you dug the shoot and loot structure then you will be in heaven. In line with the D&D theme, all of the levels are connected by an overworld map, which players traverse from a top-down perspective in between missions. While on this map there are secrets to discover, random encounters and a range of side missions to unlock. It is a fun addition to the game and really helps to differentiate the Wonderlands from the Borderlands.
Sadly the game isn’t without issues. The biggest of which is technical problems. I played on a high-end PC (i7, 3070) and experienced a range of slowdown, pop-in and stuttering glitches that hampered the enjoyment at crucial moments. With all the spells, enemies and crazy weapon effects, there is a lot going on the screen at any one time and this led to frequent framerate drops. I want to also point out though, at the point of reviewing the game, Nvidia hadn’t yet released their latest drivers to optimise Tiny Tina’s performance so this all may be rectified by release.
The other issue I had was the reliance on “arenas” for side-missions. A lot of the side activities are set in arenas where waves of enemies are fought off. Think of a similar structure to the latest Shadow Warrior or Doom Eternal. The problem is, unlike the aforementioned titles, the combat in Wonderlands isn’t tuned in a way that makes the most of arena combat. So while it is fun in small doses, by the end of the game I found myself skipping these sections entirely because the boredom had set in.
Where the arenas enjoyable is in the endgame. After finishing the story (which took me just shy of 20 hours) players will get access to the Chaos Chamber, which for all intents and purposes is a Wonderlands rogue-like mode. Players will partake in a series of arena battles that reward players with gems. These gems can be used to alter the challenges and increase the loot rarity. It is a great way to level up, earn rare loot and face some truly challenging battles. It is a wonderful addition to the game that will give players a real reason to come back after the conclusion of the story.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a game in this series without crazy classes and Wonderlands is no exception. Players get to choose from 6 classes all wholly unique and interesting. The coolest new feature with the class system is that once players reach level 15 they can add a second class to their skill set, allowing players to mix-and-match abilities to suit their needs. This means that characters in Wonderlands are much more customisable and end up feeling more tailored to each player. It is quite wonderful if I am honest and I really appreciated the extra level of customisation.
While Wonderlands isn’t a huge departure for Gearbox it does do enough to make the formula feel fresh again. The moment-to-moment gameplay is familiar but the fantasy setting, excellent character systems, wonderful voice performances and D&D trappings all combine to make Tiny Tina’s adventure a must-play for fans. The game is held back a little by some repetitive side missions and tech issues but it is easy to see these problems being resolved at launch or shortly thereafter. It would seem, in my mind at least, that a psychotic teenage explosives expert and her imagination have managed to knock Borderlands 2 off its pedestal and taken her place as the premier game in the franchise. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a blast from start to finish, one that will have you laughing out loud as you takedown anything Tina’s warped mind can throw at you. In the immortal words of Tina herself “let’s play Bonkers and Badasses, baby!”