Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is exactly what I was expecting it to be: Borderlands with a fantasy-themed coat of paint. It stands out from the series more than Assault on Dragon Keep – the stellar Borderlands 2 add-on that inspired Wonderlands – yet is undeniably still a Borderlands game. If you liked the previous, mainline Borderlands games then you’ll almost certainly enjoy Wonderlands too.
Like Assault on Dragon Keep, Wonderlands is set in a game within a game. You take on the role of a player character in a campaign of Bunkers & Badasses, the Borderlands universe’s version of Dungeons & Dragons. Tiny Tina (voiced by Ashly Burch), one of the Borderlands series’ most beloved heroes, is your Bunker Master, and acts as the storyteller throughout your adventure. You aren’t the only player, however. joining you on your quest are Valentine (Andy Samberg) and Frette (Wanda Sykes) who are waiting for their spacecraft to be repaired and passing the time with some B&B. Your mission is to defeat the evil Dragon Lord (Will Arnett) and bring peace to the land.
The equally talented and funny voice actors are easily the biggest win for Wonderlands. Burch is as great as ever as Tiny Tina, and even though the supporting cast is one of the smallest of any Borderlands game, it’s probably the strongest. Samberg and Sykes play off of each other so well, and their commentary throughout your shared adventure is consistently hilarious. Best of all is Arnett’s Dragon Lord, who is easily the most memorable Borderlands baddie whose name doesn’t rhyme with “blandsome tack.” There’s a particular part about his role in the story that doesn’t quite make sense, or at least isn’t explained well enough, but he’s just so damn entertaining that I had a hard time holding it against him.
Another change-up from the Borderlands formula is the way you build your character. Instead of choosing between one of four specific characters with different skill trees and skins, Wonderlands goes full RPG and lets you customize your hero’s appearance to your liking. Hairstyles, eye colors, ear sizes, nose placement, it’s all up to you. You can make the a handsome hero, a hideous horror, and anything in between. Skill customization sees a similar level of flexibility, as you can mix and match any two of the six classes’ skill trees to create hybrid classes that can complement each others strengths or alleviate their weaknesses. My current build combines the Spore Warden’s damage buffs with the Stabbomancer’s critical hit boosts and raises my gun damage to often comically high levels.
Yes, you heard that right; despite the fantasy setting, Wonderlands still has (a bazillion) guns, and most of the typical equipment that Borderlands is known for. They may be renamed – shields are now “wards,” class items are just “armor” – and they may look a tad different, but most of the gear in Wonderlands works pretty much the exact same way it did in Borderlands 3. That’s hardly a complaint though, as the arsenal of medieval firearms are a blast (heh) to use. The only real change item-wise are spells. Instead of grenades, which I found to be borderline useless in Borderlands 3’s endgame content, spells are rechargeable abilities that can completely turn the tide of a fight. There are so many variations too, and not just in elemental damage types, but in delivery methods too. Bolts of lighting, meteors of ice, and dark magic-spewing hydras, oh my!
The other really big change is the addition of an overworld, an extra map that you explore throughout the story to find all of the game’s fantasy-themed biomes, and is sprinkled with optional dungeons, stat-boosting shrines, and collectables. Sadly, those collectables are the only real flaw in the game. I’m fine with collectathons in video games, but the fact that some of them influence your “luck” stat in Wonderlands is fairly frustrating. Farming bosses in Borderlands for specific weapons and gear has always been something I’ve loved about the franchise, but forcing me to go find other items in order for those bosses to have a solid chance of dropping their higher rarities of loot? Not. Cool. At. All.
However, once I went through the arduous task of increasing my luck to a serviceable level, I found what might be the best endgame content in Borderlands history, the Chaos Chamber; a dungeon of randomized encounters that feature all enemy types, purchasable, temporary modifiers, and boss fights against previously vanquished foes. Beating increasingly challenging versions of the Chaos Chamber allows you to make the main game more challenging as well, thus letting them drop more powerful weapons. I spent a few hours doing Chaos Chamber runs today, and I can easily see myself spending dozens more. I only wish you didn’t have to unlock each new difficulty one a time, as my character immediately vaporized everything in the first five or six Chambers, earning useless gear in the process, and having to run through them all again so my second character can earn top tier loot feels like an unnecessary time-sink.
However, with all said and done, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a great addition to one of my all-time favorite gaming series. It changes enough to stand out, but stays mostly faithful to its strongest, most enjoyable gameplay mechanics, and retains the zany, unmistakable Borderlands charm and humor fans know and love. Here’s hoping that this spin-off is only the beginning of what could be a whole new franchise.