When I previewed Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands earlier in the year, I came away satisfied, but with the notion that this game was going to be “just more Borderlands”.
I wasn’t exactly wrong. Set in the Borderlands universe and created using the fabric that has made the Borderlands series what it is, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is very much an extension of the franchise. But it’s also so much more. It has a personality and a fire all of its own, which in some regards makes it stand head and shoulders above its predecessors.
You see, rather than taking on the role of a Vault Hunter heading out into the wild lands of Pandora and its surrounding planets, you’re instead the Fatemaker; a key player in Tiny Tina’s Dungeons & Dragons-inspired role-playing game, Bunkers & Badasses. Everything that happens to you is dictated by your Bunker Master, Tina herself. And so, as you’d expect, the story that unfolds as you play is perhaps more zany and preposterous than anything a normal Borderlands game could throw at you. And it’s all the better for it.
Sure, the gameplay feels familiar. Guns are your primary weapons, and so you’ll shoot your way through enemies with a variety of sniper rifles, SMGs, shotguns and bazookas. Everything has a slight magical edge though; you might fire bats or fireballs instead of standard bullets. Largely, though, the weapon system is perhaps the most familiar thing about Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Like Borderlands 3, a lot of the guns have dual firing modes, allowing you to customise your output to suit. And, like any Borderlands game, you’ll have more loot thrown at you than you can possibly imagine. It’s a loot hunter’s dream.
What does differ, though, is that you can equip more armour. Along with a shield – or a ward, as it’s known – you’ll unlock slots for chest armour, rings and an amulet as you play. Each one has the potential to protect and buff you in some way. Also different is the lack of grenades in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands; instead, your character has a magical spell, determined by whichever spellbook you have equipped. They’re perhaps more interesting and varied than Borderlands’ grenades, offering various perks, enchantments and types of damage.
It’s not just your equipment that will make your character stronger. Starting out, you’ll choose a character class, granting you a signature ability and a skill tree to unlock skills and benefits from as you level up. Later into the game you’ll be able to choose a secondary class, giving you access to more signature abilities and a second skill tree. Each time you level up, you’ll get a point to spend in your skill tree, and a hero point which can be used to increase a primary stat, like max HP, skill cool down or crit chance.
So far, so looter-shooter RPG, then, with a bit more of a slant into the fantastical. What really gives Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands the edge is its fantastic storytelling, world, and voice acting. While you’re playing, you’ll frequently enjoy dialogue from Tiny Tina, and the other players at the board: Frette and Valentine. You already know how wonderful Tiny Tina is if you’ve played Borderlands 2 or 3; Ashly Burch does an incredible job of bringing her to life with a ridiculous amount of personality. But with Wanda Sykes as Frette and Andy Samberg as Valentine, you’re really in for a treat. Add to those the various characters you’ll meet over the course of the game – including the Dragon Lord, voiced by Will Arnett – and you have a fantastic star-studded cast that really allows the game to shine.
The world you find yourself inhabiting is richer and more varied than your typical Borderlands world, too. It’s huge, for one. Even after finishing the story, you’ll be left with half-unvisited maps and new areas you’ve not even entered. It’s worth poking around, because there are tonnes of side-quests to pick up and various collectibles to find. The most common of which are lucky dice, scattered throughout the world. Each time you find one, your luck level – the chance to find better loot – increases slightly, and so if you’re loot-hungry, these are worth seeking out. There are also lost marbles, scrolls and poetry pages to find, all granting you with rewards if you manage to uncover all of them.
Perhaps my favourite part of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is its Overworld. Between the game’s main areas, you’ll find yourself transported to a top-down third-person world, set out like a living table-top adventure game. While the Overworld is simply a way to move from one area to another, it also has missions of its own, secrets to be uncovered, and plenty of nooks and crannies to poke around in. There are dungeons and camps to jump into, initiating a combat sequence which will net you some tasty rewards. And as you play through the game you’ll unlock new abilities that will help you reach new areas of the Overworld. I’ve spent several hours simply exploring and uncovering as much of the Overworld as I can; it’s almost a smaller-scale game in itself.
If you stick to Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands’ main story, you’ll likely be finished in around 15-20 hours. Dig into its meaty sidequests and side activities, though, and you can easily double that. Finishing the campaign also grants access to an endless endgame mode. I’ve only dipped my toe into the ‘Chaos Chamber’, but it’s essentially a roguelike of ever-increasing difficulty; thrown into a random combat encounter, you’ll make your way through a series of rooms, gaining loot and various buffs and curses along the way. It’s not as attention-grabbing as Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands’ main campaign, but I can certainly see myself jumping in regularly, seeing how far I can get.
Not everything about Tiny Tiny’s Wonderlands is sunshine and rainbows, however. Even now, several days after launch, it has its fair share of bugs. There’s nothing too egregious, but you can expect your quest list to disappear, text to stay in your HUD long after it should have left and, if you’re player two in someone else’s game, you’ll quite possibly get frequent countdown timers to fast travel that you never initiated. As irksome as some of those issues may be, though, they aren’t enough to ruin the experience, and I’ve no doubt that with another patch or two, things will be a lot smoother.
If you don’t mind the odd teething problem, there really is so much to love about Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. The campaign will keep you glued to your seat thanks to its excellent storytelling and fantastic voice cast. And its world outshines just about any we’ve seen in the Borderlands series yet; it’s huge, and offers so much scope to explore even beyond the main story and side quests. Its endgame is promising too, offering plenty of reason to keep jumping back in. Is it Gearbox’s best game to date? Once those few bugs are tidied up, it might just be. And considering it was made under pandemic restrictions, that really is a feat.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands review – GameSpew’s score