Gearbox’s latest release, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, is a great bit of fan service for long time fans of the franchise. It’s out now for PC, PlayStation and Xbox, with native next gen versions for those on System S/X or a PlayStation 5. We tested it on the latter.
The first Borderlands launched way back in 2009. Time certainly flies, as it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long for us, and we’re guessing part of that is because Gearbox has been very consistent about putting out new content for their titles. They were especially prolific with Borderlands 2, for which Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep was one of the most memorable pieces of post-launch content – taking place inside a dream-like fantasy world for something truly different from the base game experience.
Wonderlands reintroduces us to Tiny Tina, who crash lands on a strange world and, to kill the time, wants to play board games with you (you can create and customize your own character) and the two bounty hunters who also happened to be on board for the crash, one of them voiced by Andy Samberg. This gaming session is heavily inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, which of course is a springboard for introducing all kinds of fantasy elements into the game as Tiny acts as a lore/dungeon master.
If you’re familiar with Tiny Tina as a character, you already know this ‘game within a game’ isn’t going to be a standard fantasy tale – Tina has a knack for the violent and insane, so expect just as many unicorns as explosions here, as you travel through her made up world and encounter all kinds of outlandish NPCs on your quest to defeat the Dragon Lord. There’s a good amount of freedom in how you approach this though, as you can choose or ignore side quests and can shape the experience by picking a Borderlands-flavored class – doing away with the standard tropes of warriors and sorcerers and giving you access to ‘stabbomancers’ instead.
When you look past the board game world, which is essentially a game map, much of the gameplay is very much like Borderlands but with a different look to it, as you dive into its looter-shooter gameplay when you hit points of hit interest. And even though many of the locations you visit as entirely self-contained, the world that this game offers is far larger than you’d expect when looking at the game board that signifies it.
Wonderlands’ fantasy template means that you get different kinds of loot here though, with things like amulets and spells rather than just your usual arsenal of weapons and gear – though some of the ‘usual’ stuff is also still there for those who prefer gunplay. This wouldn’t be a game in the Borderlands franchise without a massive amount of weapons and upgrade paths to choose from, and despite the change in veneer most existing players will feel right at home because of it.
Tonally, this is also a typical Borderlands production with some off-the-wall humor and some very interesting characters – and it’s nice to see Tina being her old insane self every now and again. It’s different enough from the mainline Borderlands games to feel unique, yet familiar enough to make it feel like part of a bigger whole. The writing’s tone may not be for everyone, but Borderlands fans will most likely love how Gearbox dials it up to 11 in some cases here.
Gameplay-wise, the biggest changes come from the change in scenery – Wonderlands doesn’t reinvent the franchise and it certainly isn’t “Borderlands 4” under a different name. That also holds true for the audiovisual presentation, which despite a different look and feel still echoes Borderlands 3. That’s not a bad thing though, as we’ve been enjoying that game ever since it launched and this new spin-off is the best taste of Borderlands since that one came out.