Among all the exhilarating first-person shooters out there, the Borderlands series stands strong for its memorable characters, hilariously original humor, and of course, the “bazillions” of guns spread throughout their sprawling worlds. I have been playing the games since arguably far too young an age and have fallen in love with many entries, especially Borderlands 2, which I’d consider one of the best sequels ever made. Though admittedly, my love for the series dwindled a bit with Borderlands 3. While the gunplay was arguably at the strongest yet, its story and humor heavily missed the mark. With that being said, I was still excited to see what the next adventure centering around Tiny Tina’s mythical world would bring. But does this fantasy venture live up to the Borderlands namesake? Find out in my review of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands!
The Fatemaker’s Quest
For the otherwise uninitiated, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands takes place upon Tiny Tina’s version of everyone’s favorite tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons, known in true Borderlands fashion as Bunkers & Badasses. Unlike her last iteration in Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, though, this edition sees the new characters of Valentine and Frette join the game alongside our character, known as the Fatemaker. As you take your first steps into the world of the Wonderlands, you must work to stop the nefarious Dragon Lord and his goal to end all things within these new lands, including everyone’s favorite diamond pony queen, Butt Stallion.
Surprisingly (at least compared to its predecessors), this simple, somewhat silly, and straightforward plot proves to be Wonderlands’ greatest strength. See, what bogged down Borderlands 3 so much was the need to take its story so seriously following how successful the second game’s story was. Though without a villain with the same strength as the well-written Handsome Jack, story beats often felt either unearned or out of place. The most robust case for this was the need to shoehorn Ava into the story despite the lack of need for her beyond emotional tension. Plus, let’s be honest, nearly anyone who played Borderlands 3 can agree that Ava was easily the worst written character of the bunch despite her half-attempted redemption arc in the DLCs.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands doesn’t have any of that baggage to ruin what is otherwise a good story. There isn’t a heap of narrative tension given that this is simply a game of Dungeons & Dragons, and it plays into that perfectly to make a story worth appreciating for its characters, not for its plot. I’m fairly certain that I won’t remember a lot of the narrative beats the game brought forward a month from now. I will remember the thought-out character designs and arcs, especially from the powerful performance of Will Arnett as the main antagonist. His roles as comedy-centric characters, such as the lead role in BoJack Horseman, served him well here, creating an antagonist that’s comedically evil yet self-aware in all the right ways.
Most surprisingly, during my review of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands though was not the story or characters being improved though, but rather the humor. In some cases, it was arguably better than any of the previous installments managed to capture despite some otherwise hilarious moments. While I won’t spoil the moments since they frankly should be experienced, the first half of the game is great at honoring jokes from previous games while introducing some new ones into the pot. The latter half doesn’t deliver as many great jabs, but a few sneak in there and garner good laughs.
Wonderlands is a testament to the idea that Borderlands games should focus less on trying to draw hefty emotions out of the player and more on having fun with its self-aware humor. Sure, the later portions of Borderlands 2 were able to deliver that serious story without harming the bigger picture, though it was arguably able to do so well when it had a solid lead to hold it up. Needless to say, Troy and Tyreen weren’t so great in that department. While Wonderlands’ villainous types didn’t quite live up to Handsome Jack’s legacy, the material given meant they didn’t have to.
A Bazillion Toys to Play With
As much as I’ve spent a lot of time trashing Borderlands 3’s plot and humor, I have to give credit where it’s due. It managed to bring the series’ gunplay forward in significant ways, making the flow of combat far more satisfying than previous games could’ve ever hoped to achieve. From the branching level of skill systems to the new movement abilities to even the increased variety in weapons, there were many more toys to play with. And as expected, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands carries on that strength while throwing a few new spells (quite literally) into the mix in a way that felt satisfying in my review.
First and foremost is the refreshed skill system, which builds upon the branching paths brought about in the last game. Similar to Borderlands 2, you’re offered six different classes to choose from, ranging from a focus on good old archery to wielding ethereal daggers to toss at your foes. The twist here is that not only does each class get two Action Skills to choose from, but they can utilize an entire other class’s Action Skills or upgrades. That includes passives, meaning that (as an example from my gameplay) a Spore Warden’s mushroom pal can fight alongside a Graveborn’s dark spell friend. While we have yet to see the full extent of this due to the game’s age, I’m beyond excited to see the build crafting players come up with. That’s not even including the four planned DLCs, which will likely increase the level cap alongside total skill points.
It isn’t afraid to borrow from its TTRPG-inspired roots either, thanks to a new Hero Stats system. If you’ve played games like Fallout before, then you get the idea here, but for the rest of you, you get an array of buffs to put points into both off the start and as you level up. These can be buffs such as Max HP, Crit Damage, Crit Chance, Status Damage, and more. Naturally adding to the build crafting, these stats prove useful in some aspects based on your character. While I arguably find leveling Max HP to be mostly useless, I’m sure a fair few disagree with me, and that’s fine
even if they’re wrong. Thus is the nature of build crafting in general.
The other big addition comes in the way of Grenade Mods being tossed out entirely, being replaced by a naturally better addition for this game: Spells! That’s right, instead of the usual grenade button to throw out an explosive ball of doom, that ball of doom can be summoned through a portal out of the sky and rain fire on your opponents. While I would’ve loved to see more fundamental differences between the various spells, throughout my review of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, I found myself using spells more than I’ve used grenades from grenade mods in all the previous entries combined. They’re far more fun, even if admittedly a fish flopping on the ground towards my enemies was quite entertaining prior.
But again, in a surprise act for a spin-off, Wonderlands found a way to be inventive with the side missions to the point that I found myself doing more than I would’ve ever bothered with in previous games. While some of them get forced on you due to leveling, which is a gaming pet peeve of mine, these side stories manage to be quite interesting due to their sprawling nature and locations dedicated to them specifically. There admittedly seems to be fewer than previous games gave, but this is easily one of those cases where less is more.
Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken
One of Borderlands 3’s other strengths came in its overhaul of the atmosphere, providing far more interesting visual and sound design than previous games offered (not that it was a huge problem). Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands opted to take the safe approach here and ultimately was the right choice. It made touchups, given it’s a newer game and all, but it mainly looking the same is fine with me. They were strong visuals, to begin with, so trying to overhaul something that did well would’ve been a waste.
Naturally, the same went for audio design, which only rarely was a problem. The weapons sound just as beefy as they have before, and music helps to serve fights and keep you engaged with whatever setting the game drops you in. Given the truly vast amount of settings, from fungal forests to ruined deserts, having that all flow almost completely smooth requires a ton of effort. There were maybe one or two areas where I wasn’t as much a fan of the music, though I feel a tad nitpicky at that point—all in all, some excellent craftsmanship to round off a fantastic experience.
Verdict: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands was an absolute pleasure to review and a pleasant surprise to see from a team that felt like they may have been losing their footing. Opting to trim the fat that was plaguing previous experiences to create a smaller but more fulfilling game was the right call, and it shows in the sheer variety and love put into its world. To top it all off, the few issues with the game are far between, letting the stronger aspects take center stage. Whether you’re attempting a Borderlands-style experience for the first time or have been there since the start, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands offers a remarkable tabletop-inspired adventure that remembers what made this franchise so special in the first place.
- The story plays into the strengths of its fantasy roots
- Humor is the strongest its ever been
- The characters are very well-written
- Doesn't try to be larger than it is
- Utilizes the best parts of Borderlands 3's gameplay
- Makes meaningful changes to the usual gameplay loop
- Side missions are much stronger this time around
- Great visuals
- Weapons sound as beefy as ever
- Music isn't always as great as it could be
- Humor isn't quite as strong in the latter half