Like the Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep add-on for Borderlands 2 that inspired it, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC) is a fantasy-flavored spin-off of the normally sci-fi space opera shooter series Borderlands. But by going even further with the fantasy elements — and the tabletop fantasy role-playing game elements — Wonderlands does an even better job of being as fun as a normal Borderlands game while not being just another Borderlands game.
For those who haven’t played a Borderlands game before…
what are you doing? This is clearly not the place to start. But okay, if you insist. Normally, Borderlands games are first-person, open world, role-playing games with gun-based combat that are set in a semi-satirical sci-fi space opera universe. You have quests that are both part of and tangentially connected to the main story; random combat encounters; errands to run; a leveling up system that allows you to improve your skills or add new ones; and tons and tons of opportunities to loot the dead bodies of your enemies for ammo, money, and new weapons.
As for Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, it largely (but not completely) swaps the sci-fi and space opera tropes for fantasy ones. Hence why you fight skeletons, trolls, and other magical creatures instead of space mutants, why you have magic spells instead of grenades, why your shields are now called wards, why ammo is stored in wooden chests instead of cardboard boxes, why there’s gold coins and bars of gold instead of dollar bills, and why there are large 20-sided dice hidden in out of the way places.
In other words, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is like if Far Cry went sci-fi and was influenced by Star Trek: Lower Decks and the slut dragon episode of Rick & Morty.
As for why you’re going on this epic quest,
well, the premise of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is that Tina has organized another game of Bunkers And Badasses, the Dungeons & Dragons-esque tabletop role-playing game you played in Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stop the evil Dragon Lord while also protecting the most goodest, majestic-est ruler ever seen by mortal eyes, Queen Butt Stallion.
Which isn’t to say you play Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands like it’s a tabletop RPG. This is still a first-person shooter, after all; not a third-person, grid-based, turn-based strategy game. (The idea is that you’re imagining yourself as your character in the game world). In fact, the guns you use are still of the sci-fi variety, energy weapons and whatnot. Sure, some of the pistols are kind of half-pistol / half-crossbow, but they still shoot bullets or particles of concentrated energy, not crossbow bolts.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands also doesn’t just use the Bunkers And Badasses aspect as a framing device. Or as an excuse to give everything a wooden makeover. As with Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep, Tina constantly provides dungeon master-like commentary. But she’s also — don’t tell her I said this — not the most prepared D.M. Or the least impetuous. Hence why she sometimes decides to change her mind, and other times has to correct some mistake she made in the planning of this adventure.
This is not to say that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands doesn’t fully embrace the whole tabletop gaming aspect. At times, the action switches to the game board Tina made, with you now moving your figurine around in third person. This is mostly used to get you from one major area to another, like the warp drive and transporters did in Borderlands 3, but there are some random combat encounters as well as self-contained combat dungeons, though both usually swap the perspective, and the gameplay, back to the first-person.
Though even with all these fantasy and tabletop RPG elements,
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands still plays like a Borderlands game. It still has the frantic shooting, the endless looting, and the satisfying depth and variety. It’s not as radical a reworking as, say, Dragon Age: Origins was from Mass Effect, or Fallout 3 was from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
Which is too bad, because there are times in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands where being a little less Borderlands-ian and a little more Tolkien-esque would’ve made this even more unique. Take Tina’s impetuous nature. Most of the time when she changes her mind, and thus the world, its impact is just on the story, not the gameplay. Like when someone told her C-4 didn’t sound fantasy-ish, so she changed it to FANTASY-4. It rarely influences what you do or how you do it. Well, mostly.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands also now allows you to smack people upside the head with a sword or axe. Unfortunately, it works about as well as when you whacked people with the butt of your gun in Borderlands 3. Which is to say, not well at all. Even when you find a really good sword or axe, it never does much damage. Plus, with most of your enemies using guns or bows, you’re basically being a cliché and bringing a knife to a gunfight.
That said, some of the different mechanics in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands are ones I hope are carried over to Borderlands 4. For starters, instead of choosing a specific character who is locked into a certain class, and thus a certain set of special abilities and attacks, you now chose a class and then chose their look, their gender, their voice, and their pronouns, with full freedom to mix and match as you see fit. Which is how I came to play Wonderlands as some bad ass lady with cool powers and a voice like Dr. Girlfriend instead of as some lame dude with cool powers or a cool lady with lame powers.
The swapping of magic spells for grenades…
is also an interesting change, in part because the spells are far more varied than your grenades were in previous Borderlands games, and in part because they recharge over time, as opposed to being a resource you have to find.
It’s just too bad Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands didn’t fix some of Borderlands‘ more annoying issues. Like how some guns have so much recoil that they’re basically unusable. Or how, for every insightful or funny comment, there’s one that’s stale or obvious. And while yes, there was a Star Wars joke that made me laugh out loud, having a voice cast that includes Wanda Sykes, Will Arnett, and Andy Samberg can’t always compensate when you insist on making such obvious puns as “A Hard Day’s Knight.”
More annoyingly, while Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands does make managing your inventory a little easier than it was in Borderlands 3 by giving you a bigger backpack at the beginning, and having more fast travel points so you can more easily run back to town to sell your junk, it’s still annoying how much time you have to spend sorting through tons and tons of crap guns every time you run out of inventory slots.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands also has a problem that’s so common that I basically just cut and paste the following paragraph into every relevant review: some of the text is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading some of the menus and all of the tutorial text. Which is especially odd since this has options to make the captions bigger, bigger, and bigger still.
being annoyed by the bad guns, the clumsy sorting, and the small text hasn’t made me stop playing a Borderlands game before, and didn’t stop me from playing Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Because if there’s one thing that Wonderlands and the rest of the Borderlands series share more than anything else it’s an effortlessly fun feel, one that has you sitting down to play for an hour, but not ending for three or four hours or whenever you suddenly realize you forgot to go to work. And now you’re fired. No matter, I wanted to play Wonderlands just a little longer.