Review: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

Gearbox Software’s Borderlands series has offered quite a few characters over the series’ duration, which has allowed side story campaigns to be spawned based on them. The one that seems to stand out the most is Tiny Tina, who is an immature and unstable thirteen year old that has made appearances in most of the mainline games. Having had her own DLC in the past, Gearbox felt confident to give Tiny Tina her own full game. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands sticks with the core Borderlands experience, but expands on it and provides a new experience that may actually surpass the mainline Borderlands series.

Rather than taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, but obviously in the same universe as Borderlands, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands sways towards a fantasy RPG world. Tiny Tina is playing a D&D-like board game as she’s the dungeon master of the board. This is her world and her game as she plays with you, the newbie known as the Fatemaker, Valentine and Frette. Valentine (Andy Samberg) is a solid character with funny moments of dialogue as he’s basically a knight or paladin in the story. Frette (Wanda Sykes) is an android that likes to call out Tiny Tina on her shenanigans. The villain is the Dragon Lord (Will Arnett), who is hulking and scary and almost Skeletor-like, but brings the humor with his lack of seriousness and good dialogue. The actors fit the characters and help with adding humor to the game.

While Tiny Tina is running the story, this ultimately gets interrupted by the Dragon Lord seizing the game. Outside of the setting, everything about Borderlands is present here in its core game design. There are plenty of missions and a ton of interesting characters you’ll meet. Most are forgettable, but there are a few here that stand out that we’ll hopefully see in the mainline games going forward. The humor is improved as compared to Borderlands 3 with less-cringy dialogue and more timing-based jokes. A lot of the times I laughed came from my own character’s dialogue.

There are a few things that separate Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands from Borderlands. While there are still a ton of guns, some groups have been replaced with crossbows and other fantasy RPG weapons. Arcane and dark magic are also introduced to the series on top of the normal fire, frost and poison. There won’t be any running around the drab environment of Pandora and while Borderlands 3 did introduce new and cool locations, Tiny Tina’s Wonderland doubles down on this with not only its settings, but also its enemies. Skeletons are a main component and it almost feels like a nod to Army of Darkness. You can actually shoot the heads off of some enemies and they won’t stop coming.

The bigger changes come with the incorporation of spells. What’s missing are grenades, but the varying spells can either be cast around you, fired multiple times or once at enemies, or can even bring down an asteroid for massive damage. Spells are fun and provide quick access to offense when you run out of ammo. Melee weapons also play a bigger part as these fall into the same category as guns for close combat. Better melee weapons can be obtained with varying attributes that allows for deeper combat. Rings and charms slots can also be unlocked to add even more stats for your character.

Rather than having a set character designed to a specific class that may not fit your fancy, the focus on Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is customizing characters. Much like you would do on a D&D game, you’ll create a character with a good bit of visual options. Unfortunately, this is a first-person game, and you’ll only see this character in the menu, but other people you play with will see what you look like. It always feels kind of dumb to customize a character that you’ll rarely see. One thing that Gearbox has included is that a good bit of loot that drops will actually be customization colors and parts. That’s a double-edged sword, but overall a good bit of the drops aren’t that great. I found myself sticking with the same weapons for a while outside of actually purchasing from a vending machine. Thankfully, the spells help make up for this.

The other aspect of straying away from a set character with a specific class is the ability to incorporate one of six classes of your choice. These all fall into the Fantasy RPG genre and these are arguably the best classes the series has seen. What’s even better is the more you level up, you can add and blend the classes together with multi-class character design. The Season Pass will bring even more classes with the first release actually coming in just a few weeks. The ability to do multi-class while progressing through the story should allow for even more run-throughs of the game as you aim for different builds. Much like every other Borderlands game, it really doesn’t open up until the second playthrough and unlocking Myth Rank at level 40.

These classes are special in this game and it starts with the Clawbringer. This class basically gives you Thor’s hammer with two options to unleash the fury. You are also granted with a dragon companion that flies around and throws different elemental damage on enemies. The Spellshot is strictly used for spells, so this is basically a mage. Graveborn offers a demi-lich companion and focuses on doing dark magic damage to enemies. The Spore-Warden is accompanied by a little mushroom that poisons opponents. One of the special attacks for the Spore-Warden is launching a barrage of arrows at enemies in an area. The Stabbomancer uses stealth and invisibility to kill enemies and offers a ghost blade that does damage in one area, but teleports around. Finally, the Brr-zerker focuses on frost damage as a smash-type melee skill. Some of these may mix together better than others and it will be interesting to see in about a month the builds that people put out there.

While all there are huge changes to the Borderlands formula, the biggest comes in the form of the Overworld. This is basically the D&D board you play on and navigate each major area of the game. All the characters in these areas have giant heads and it’s played in a top-down view. It’s almost like a 1990s JRPG as you navigate this map and even enemies will pop up and transport you into an encounter. There are also a form of dungeons in this game as you will be summoned to go in and clear out an area. This is an excellent opportunity to level your character. There are side missions on these boards and new ones will open up as you progress through the story. The option to go back and 100% areas later on adds even more replayability to the game.

Multiplayer is getting expanded as Gearbox is allowing cross-platform play across the board. It doesn’t matter which version or generation of the game you have. This includes cooperative play or co-opetition, and playing online with others in the early stages was fine. There are server linking issues, but this is hopefully just tied to pre-launch as there were no issues when playing with others. It should be noted that this was reviewed on PC via the Epic Games Store as this is a timed-exclusive release on that platform. Splitscreen local multiplayer allows up to four on current generation systems or two on previous generation consoles.

The visual design remains the same as all other Borderlands titles with Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Playing this on PC with a NVIDIA RTX 3080 in 4K, the game struggled with reaching 60 FPS on Ultra. The game remains accessible for low-end systems, but maximizing the effects becomes demanding much like Borderlands 3 on PC. I ended up having to drop this to high to get a minimum of 60 FPS. On Ultra, there would be sections that would drop in the 30s while others would be in the 70s. These new areas look great and the overall look isn’t so drabby as some previous worlds. Enemy design is impressive every time a new one is introduced. The game still has a delay on loading textures when entering areas. The PC version should have more effects than the console versions, but at a cost. There’s a benchmark tool included and the option for FidelityFX Sharpening exists in the options. There’s no Ray Tracing nor DLSS options, both of which would benefit PC gamers. The sound design remains top notch for Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands and it’s headlined by some of the soundtracks in specific areas. The voice acting from the real actors and Tiny Tina’s actor is fantastic. The same can be said with the characters you meet along the way, with a favorite being Torgue. Explosions and enemy dialogue is fantastic as well, and the skeletons can be funny and don’t seem as repetitive as enemies in previous titles.

Closing Comments:

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is the best way to change the Borderlands formula and quite possibly the best Borderlands game to date. A lot of this is due to the change of setting and the unchained feeling tying directly into deeper customization. There are obviously fans of the series that prefer the post-apocalyptic design in comparison to a D&D fantasy RPG element. This game feels like what Blood Dragon was to Far Cry, but not necessarily to that extreme. Tiny Tina keeps everything that makes the Borderlands series great and improves on it to the point that going back to the normal mainline formula may be difficult if Gearbox doesn’t add a huge dynamic to the games going forward. Going with a side-story involving Tiny Tina allowed the developers to guinea pig ideas that have worked out in every way.