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June 2024

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: March 25, 2022


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PC Review - 'Tiny Tina's Wonderlands'

by Cody Medellin on March 23, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is an all-new, fantasy-fueled adventure set in an unpredictable world full of whimsy, wonder, and high-powered weaponry.

Buy Tiny Tina's Wonderlands

Gearbox follows a formula when it comes to its Borderlands content. The main games are the heart, where you get the popular co-op looter shooter formula wrapped in a story filled with humor and some serious moments. The DLC is where the development team experiments by keeping the core gameplay intact but changes up the tone and types of adventures. One piece of DLC that stands out in this regard is Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, which takes you to a fantasy world that was made up on the fly by your unreliable narrator. That piece of DLC was loved just enough that Gearbox decided to flesh it out more and make it a full-fledged game, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.

The story takes place after the events of the Borderlands 2 DLC, Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, but it plays out as a story within a story. In the world of Pandora, vault hunters crashed their ship on the side of a mountain and, with nowhere else to go, decided to hang out with Tiny Tina to play a game of Bunkers & Badasses. Within that game of Bunkers & Badasses, there are rumblings that the Dragon Lord is about to be freed from his prison, and as the new player taking on the role of the Fatemaker, your job is to prevent that from happening by defeating his minions.

The setup for the stories is simple enough, but even for those who aren't as receptive to the humor and lore in Borderlands, it plays out in intriguing ways. The camaraderie between the players is refreshing, since the group wants to play the game instead of being roped into it as a distraction. The unreliable GM portion of the DLC is still present but to a lesser degree, implying that Tiny Tina is more adept at the role now. The jokes from the trio can be spotty at times, but you get a strong sense that everyone is having a good time.

In the Bunkers & Badasses game, the Dragon Lord has some Handsome Jack vibes, especially since he often has a passive/aggressive relationship with you. Players may enjoy that or feel that it's a retread. Familiar characters like Claptrap and Torgue take on specific roles but retain their classic personalities, resulting in some humorous results in the fantasy world. It may be surprising that this game is rated "T" as opposed to the series' normal "M" rating. Since you can still set enemies on fire and dismantle skeletons, you might not notice this initially, but you certainly won't hear any swearing. Torgue's curses are dubbed over with lute notes, and while this can reach the point of annoyance, his section is short.

You'll start in true RPG fashion by creating your character and choosing your class instead of going with named characters, like in past games. The character creation system is nice enough, but it's not as elaborate as in other games; you can pick up more patterns throughout the game to customize your character armor, banner, and the like. You can also choose your character's voice, which is great since the character speaks quite often, almost on par with the amount spoken by your other companions. You can customize stats via your backstory, whether it means your magic cooldown rate is terrible because you lack intelligence compared to everyone else in town or you're prone to damage because you were raised by elven folk who didn't brawl.

There are six classes to choose from, and some of them feel like they're cribbing from past Borderlands titles, but it's done in a way that they still feel distinct. The Brr-Zerker is a beefy tank-type class with an emphasis on using ice to slow down everyone. Spellshot is the gunslinger with a focus on using more spells than anyone else. Graveborn exchanges health for more powerful attacks while accompanied by a Demi-Lich to help with attacks. Spore Wardens also have a familiar in the form of a walking mushroom that unleashes poison on foes. Clawbringers have a wyvern and dole out lightning and fire attacks while Stabbomancers are all about stealth kills.

The most exciting part is close to the campaign's halfway point, when you unlock the ability to take on a second class and can mix potentially clashing styles. Go with a Brr-Zerker and Stabbomancer combo to cover stealth and brute force. Bring together a Spore Warden and Clawbringer to get two helpful familiars. This mechanic alone makes the game feel more intense due to the odd combos that people can come up with. There's even the ability to change out that second class when you beat the campaign, but you're always stuck with the primary class until you create a new character.

If you know the core game well enough, you know exactly what to expect with the combat and upgrade systems. Although the game is set in a medieval RPG, you still have assault rifles, shotguns and pistols. Everything has been given a medieval motif, but you'll see overheating bars when looking down the scope of some guns, and shotguns fire a magical wave blast. It's surface-level stuff, but it shows more effort to make things blend in. All of the guns and equipment are filtered through an algorithm that produces countless configurations, so you'll agonize over the same pistol type because one has a fire elemental effect and the other has a good chance of granting health with each successful hit. Elsewhere, grenades have been replaced with spells, like producing an electric shock or turning enemies into docile creatures. Your special ability has you unleashing things like ice cyclones, a spinning blade, or an electric hammer that makes you feel like Thor.

There are a few differences that aren't too major when compared to the mainline games, but players will appreciate them nonetheless. In addition to four gun slots, you have a slot dedicated to melee weapons. You have different weapon types, from axes to swords and scythes, and while they're listed as the same weapon type, they have different stats, like damage, swing time, and buffs like ice or lightning. Equipment slots have been upgraded, so you can hold six different things, from amulets and rings to armor and spell books. Mixing and matching abilities with a second class also means a reduction in the number of skill trees, which coincides with the reduction of the level cap to 40. Leveling feels a bit slower as a result but the game doesn't feel like a grind.

The gameplay loop in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is similar enough to the old games that it remains entertaining, and there's rarely a moment when nothing is going on. The main areas are large enough to fool you into thinking that it's an open-world, first-person shooter. The world contains several respawn checkpoints and some fast-travel spots, and there are also vending machines to buy and sell goods. Enemies tend to congregate, but the areas are so numerous that battles never feel segmented. Treasure chests are everywhere, and enemies are likely to drop both ammo and guns. Various barrels generate different elemental effects, but you're never closed in arena style whenever you engage with enemies. Each land is populated by certain enemy types, so it's rare to see sharks with legs anywhere else but ocean areas, and the same goes for wyverns not straying far from traditional medieval castles and giant beanstalks. While you'll most likely stick to the main path for quests, the worlds are littered with "Wanted" posters to provide loads of side-quests.

The overworld is similar to those found in JRPGs, and it's the biggest change yet to the gameplay loop. The title is presented from a top-down view, with all of the characters done up in a bobblehead style. The only ability you can perform is a punch, but that's good enough to knock down bottle caps to make bridges, break fallen trees to open passageways, and knock out monsters so you don't get to fight them. Then again, you may not want to do that often if you're trying to grind, since monster encounters lead to small battle arenas to gain more loot and XP. Various side-quests can be obtained in addition to gold, and there are loads of dungeons that spring up, usually filled with sigils that can be placed on the map's shrines to gain permanent buffs. It provides a nice break from the constant shooting, especially since you may be preoccupied with finding all of the shortcuts and secret items in the overworld.

With the previous games already having RPG traits, it shouldn't be surprising that the main campaign in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands can run into double-digit hours. Given the abundance of side-quests, it can go on much longer than that, but it feels unfair to call some of them side-quests since the game forces you to complete them to get a key item or level up. Once you finish the game and wipe out all of those quests, the game offers up some replayability in the form of the Chaos Chamber, a dungeon run that is much better than the Proving Grounds from Borderlands 3, thanks to the removal of the 30-minute time limit, inclusion of roguelike elements like temporary buffs, and random dungeon configurations. It feels tailored for those who want to maximize their characters; you gain orbs to change the elements of current gear while using crystals to get random items. For example, those who favor assault rifles can sacrifice crystals for that instead of getting an SMG or handgun by chance.

There are a few nitpicks with the gameplay. Just about every part of the game has an abundance of chests but, by ratio, not that many of them contain guns and accessories. The money is always welcome since you'll spend it on upgrades, gear, guns and resurrections, but most chests only contain health and ammo. Unless you're playing at the highest difficulty level, you're never in danger of running out of ammo or quick health refills. Unlike previous games, the enemies aren't as smart. Some take cover, but most are content with going out in the open and attacking your familiars before targeting you. Others may rush you, and a few won't acknowledge your presence until you smack or shoot them. The rush mentality means that you'll often be caught in an attack, since some enemies spawn right behind you. Travel to the overworld map and everything respawns, including previously cleared obstacles. Comparing items in your inventory menu is also a chore, since the cursor lands on whatever you already have equipped versus going into your backpack. In the grand scheme of things, none of these issues are enough to sour one on the game, but they are noticeable as you delve further.

Multiplayer performance has never been an issue in the series, and the trend continues with Tiny Tina's Wonderlands; playing online with a party of any size is a smooth experience. The difficulty is still variable between game sessions, and the host can decide whether every player has their own pool of loot or if all of the spoils need to be shared or fought for. While PC players don't get split-screen play like their console brethren, LAN play is a welcome option in an era where that is falling out of fashion with most games. Finding a pool of players to journey with also hasn't been an issue, and cross-play is always welcome, especially since it includes the PlayStation family.

If you're coming in fresh from Borderlands 3, don't expect much of a change as far as graphical fidelity goes. The graphic novel style remains but with deeper shades of colors and less of an emphasis on the deep black lines of the past. Characters animate well, but the transitions for most NPCs aren't completely smooth, and their eyes look a little dead when compared to their animated mouth movements. The environments get an upgrade thanks to the fantasy setting, as you're going from castles to forests to the ocean floor and more, making the world feel more varied than in past games. If you're able to run Borderlands 3, then you'll be able to run this title at a solid frame rate. The texture detail pop-in remains, since that's what Unreal Engine is still known for. You'll mostly see this as you spawn into a new area and notice how muddy things initially are, but it doesn't last very long and isn't tremendously bothersome.

For the audio, the game sticks with what worked before while still having room to go a little beyond that. It comes into play with the music, which leans heavily into what you'd expect from any movie, game or TV show with a medieval theme. Except for cameos of some popular songs, the game rarely breaks away to remind you of the rock that usually permeates the world. Even though they have medieval skins, the guns sound just like they would in the older games, while the dialogue fits well with the game's medieval fantasy/space Western vibe. It's witty and cheesy, but the delivery is always spot-on, especially when you get to the celebrity voices.

In the end, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is a solid spin-off to the main Borderlands series. The core game remains the same as before, but new additions, like the melee system and class combinations, make things feel fresh. The campaign runs at a good length, while the side-quests and post-game dungeon randomizer are enough to keep you going before the need for DLC kicks in. It really is the shooter that you already know with a medieval RPG skin on it. Since the moment-to-moment gameplay is still enjoyable, fans won't mind the offbeat detour.

Score: 8.0/10

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