Tiny Tina provides shooting and looting with all the high-fantasy trimmings. Borderlands spin-off Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is pure magic. Our review…
In between randomised item drops and multiple character classes, anarchic shooting may be the main course in all Borderlands games but there’s always been a happy side helping of high-fantasy RPG tropes, too. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a standalone spin-off (of another DLC spin-off) almost 10 years in the making, one where the hierarchy of those two sub-genres are reversed – or so it seems upon first glance. Because while Gearbox’s latest initially appears to breathe new life into the D&D concept by blending in swords and sorcery with the franchise’s irreverent humour and gunplay, in reality this is Borderlands 4 in all but name. That said, providing you know what you’re in for, this is easily the best this cell-shaded FPS series has looked and felt to play.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the sheer creativity of the weapons. From snow-powered hand cannons to assault rifles that can shift between full-auto and grenade launcher mode, no combat scenario – either played alone or with up to three others – ever need play out quite the same. In fact, if anything, character abilities have only gotten crazier with the swerve into full fantasy. Take grenades, for example: they don’t exist anymore. Instead they’re replaced with magic spells that vary from casting a fire bird projectile all the way up to summoning a giant ice comet that slams down into enemies. These spells combine with the Borderlands formula’s already diverse character class options to result in a shooter that prioritises fun and invention above anything else.
Guiding you through this hero’s journey is, of course, the titular tyke herself, acting as excitable Dungeon Master for this in-universe game of “Bunkers & Badassess” that you and your party are taking part in. Watching, say, a giant dragon suddenly be replaced by a gauntlet of goblins at the whim of Tina’s will formed much of the joy in Borderlands 2’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep DLC, so it’s nice to see the curveballs return in full force here. The narrative refreshingly never takes itself too seriously in all these ways and more, which is exactly what you want when inhabiting a kingdom where a rainbow unicorn is the queen and Will Arnett’s villain, Dragon Lord, is constantly chewing scenery. Handsome Jack has finally met his match, in that last regard.
Customisation is also much improved in Wonderlands, mainly due to the switch from having four pre-established vault hunter characters in favour of a completely original hero. You then have six classes to choose from, ranging from the frost-infused Brr-Zerker to a toxic specialist in the Spore Warden. Sure, it’s only really two character-specific abilities that make any true impact on how you might approach battle scenarios, but it’s still another layer of appreciated personalisation that helps this spin-off standout from being just another Borderlands attempt.
The new overworld portions leave a lot to be desired, though. In an attempt to further mimic the look of a classic tabletop game, as the story progresses linearly your party will move from location to location as chibi-fied versions of each hero. This works to help sell the fact that events are playing out in Tiny Tina’s shrunken-down imagined universe, but doesn’t really add a lot to the shoot and loot formula outside of offering a bit of a respite from typical gunplay and letting you view the interconnected campaign map from an overhead perspective. However, other new fantasy-influenced touches like collectible dice that affects your luck with randomised weapon drops, work far better.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands fully delivers on the promise first made by Gearbox nearly a decade ago in one of the Borderlands franchise’s best DLCs. The Dungeons and Dragons-themed environments are exciting to inhabit, the arsenal has never been more creative, and the voice cast do well to add grandeur to this otherwise madcap journey about a hapless party trying to save the world. It doesn’t do things differently enough to win over players who know that this humour and style of play isn’t for them, but that doesn’t take away from it being the most polished entry into this series yet.
The character creator tools are far more flexible than ever in Wonderlands, offering different levels of voice pitch and several varied body types to help make this adventure feel truly like your own. That’s alongside the ability to select two genders entitled “this one” or “that one” in a mature attempt to be inclusive.