As a part of the Borderlands franchise, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands moves in a fresher direction for the action role-playing shooter looters. Being a follow up to Borderlands 2 DLC: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, which was also released in 2021 as a stand alone game on current consoles, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands brings a new and welcomed vibrant fantasy world, with a stellar voice cast, entertaining writing and fourth wall breaking pieces that come for the unpredictable Tina herself. Although, in some aspects Gearbox Software have continued with the ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach, so Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands does include some of the less desired Borderlands’ features that have begun to feel outdated.
The over animated and hasty Tiny Tina is back, voiced by the talented Ashly Burch, as the games narrator (a.k.a. Dungeon Master) and fourth wall breaker, and with her is her own brand of the role-playing fantasy Dungeons and Dragons game called Bunkers and Badassess. Tina has also brought two friends along for the ride, hero Captain Valentine, voiced by Andy Samberg and a Robot called Frette, voiced by Wanda Sykes. It is up to the player, known as the Fatemaster to take down the villainous Dragon Lord, voiced by the Lego Batman himself, Will Arnett. It’s great to report that each actor has not just phoned in their performances and as a fan of these actors, I was pleased with what they brought to the role-playing table. Tina being the star of the show, but it is her game. Sadly, while the player has this star-studded team with them, they are physically not with the player in the in-game environments and are just voices along for the roleplaying ride.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands begins with the player choosing one of six classes, Brr-zerker, Stabbomancer, Graveborn, Spellshot, Spore Warden and Clawbringer. Each come with their own passive skills, skill attack moves and some with their own floating allies, such as a little dragon for the Clawbringer. The player also chooses their background, such as ‘Raised by Elves’ or ‘Village Idiot’ which changes starting stats such as Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom and more.
These player stats can be raised each time the player levels up and are also put into the skill tree to create new skills and buffs. How Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands mixes it up is about halfway through the campaign as the player unlocks a secondary class to complement the first one. Player’s then have the freedom to mix and match, or completely change their style of play. Players really have the choice to choose how they play, as I created a tank type character from the mixture of a Clawbringer and Brr-zerker creating very high damage output with a hefty amount of hit points, while my cooperative partner created a spell-based character mixing the Graveborn and Spellshot and was able to create devastating spells which took from his HP but spawned little aide characters and had dark magic buffs that healed him on the fly.
The traditional Borderlands’ gunplay sticks to the series roots including the traditional guns of pistols, SMGs, shotguns, assault rifles, snipers, and rocket launchers, with their thousands of random variations. The shoot and loot cycle that many love the series for is here in full swing, with players constantly switching weapons as they level up and find better loot.
The gameplay does differ from past games though as grenades are removed and replaced with spells on the LB button. Spells vary from grenade type explosions to player buffs. The strength and cool down of spells will also change on the player’s choice of class and where they have spent their upgrade points. The RB is now used for an action attack, with my Clawbringer either doing a hammer slam or hammer throw and return (like Thor), while my cooperative partner could conjure a spell-based proximity attack that damage all within a short range. These action attacks recharge at a quick rate and are consistently a part of the core gameplay. Also new is the stronger focus on melee with some classes focusing on using it more than others, such as the Brr-zerker. Players will also loot for various melee weapons, such as swords, axes and even a frying pan.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Overworld is a welcomed new addition, being a semi-isometric world map that needs to be traversed to get the Wonderlands’ different regions. The Overworld is reminiscent of old D&D home-made tables including spilt drinks and chips. It also includes many side missions, character interactions, collectables, and minor puzzles such as moving a dropped Cheeto to get to the next region.
One thing that happens all too frequently in the Overworld are Encounters. Encounters happen when the player walks through long grass, with an enemy spawning and chasing down the player. Once caught, the player is forced into an arena level and must take down enemies to return to the Overworld. While the player does receive loot for these Encounters, they grow old very quick and quickly turned into an annoyance each time myself or my coop partner triggered one. These can be avoided in the Overworld with a well-timed punch but it took us both a while to identify this as a possibility.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands’ missions and story is an entertaining one that can be completed in 15 hours if players do not see too much of the side missions. But in traditional Borderland’s fashion, it is the side missions that bring out the best stories and most laughs. Standouts for me included a hilarious Smurf’s parody that included a number of Star Wars quotes and a villain Garglesnot, that sounded very familiar to the Joker from the Arkham series (actually a homage to Mark Hamill) and another mission with an ‘well’ dressed tooth fairy that needs the player to hunt down teeth for them. Trust me, the side missions are well worth the player’s time and players will run into a few well-known Borderlands’ characters throughout.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands looks and sounds a treat. It has kept the series Cel-shaded look and with the mixture of the fantasy theme, the backdrops use a lot more of the primary and secondary colours than the bland galactic deserts of earlier Borderlands. When the mayhem really gets going, multiple explosions and the word critical flashing up constantly it creates a burst of colour, but while flashy this was not always a good thing, as with multiple players and enemies it is easy to lose who you are shooting at and what is going on in all the mayhem. I tried both the performance mode capped at 30fps or resolution mode at 60fps and I can report that everything ran smoothly with the performance mode looking slightly better.
Already mentioning the quality of the main cast, most NPCs voice actors do more then capable job as well. The sound design is also of quality, with guns sounding beefy and my action ability always leaving a loud crunch on contact. Unfortunately, the music is not memorable and at times when the player would expect it like in a boss fight, there was none at all.
The most annoying thing and has been for a while in the franchise is the UI. This is outdated and really hasn’t changed in well over a decade. For a looter where the player is constantly needing to go into their inventory and swap in and out loot it is very cumbersome. I begun dreading the tedious task of going through it each time I approached the traditional vending machine to sell my junk. Towards the back end of the campaign, I was not picking up loot unless it was of a very high value or better stats, all just to avoid the horrible UI. The map is not much better, with multiple missing or block routes not on the map. The inability to place multiple mission markers in the map, for main and side quests is something players should be able to do in 2022. All these things need a serious upgrade.
I did run into a few glitches, such as words like ‘reload’ not disappearing from the screen, all mission quests disappearing and later out of nowhere reappearing and minor clipping. None of these are game breaking and I’m sure all will be fixed with a patch.
A new addition that I feel undecided about is the 20-side dice collectable. The player can find up to 21 of these dice on each region and each time it rewards the player with loot, but the loot gets stronger with each dice, making the player find more dice for better loot. While some dice are easily found, some are not, sending the player on a collectathon just to get better loot. While some players will love this, others with loathe it.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is 4 player cooperative, with 2-player split screen, horizontal or vertical. While cooperative play is always a winner in my books, being able to sit on the couch with a mate or loved one is arguably the best way to play games. Both online co-op and couch co-op performed well, and players will be pleased whichever option they choose, maybe even bringing the family along for the adventure that is Wonderlands. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands isn’t recommended for the younger members of the family though, but with its colourful and stylised graphics and no over the top grotesque violence or foul language, it is easily one a family member could play with their children aged 12 and up.
Once all is done, the end game content called ‘Chaos Chamber’ is unlocked. This mode is like the Encounter mode, with exceptionally higher loot and XP. Earning this XP has the player level up their Myth Ranks, unlocking more for the player’s character and will be addicting for those that like a grind.