A ‘Chaotic Great Time’ - “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands” Review

Story posted April 11, 2022 in Arts & Entertainment by Johnathan Ross.

The year is 2012. A veritable treasure trove of iconic video game titles released, and the medium is thriving. The year was dotted with unforgettable games like “Journey”, the final chapter in the “Mass Effect” trilogy, and Bethesda’s very own money printer, “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”.

However, one game that enamored audiences and swept fans off their feet was none other than “Borderlands 2”.

The game effortlessly collected awards and adoration, and Gearbox continued to breathe life into its newest hit via DLC campaigns. These added smaller side stories that otherwise wouldn’t fit into the normal game, be it for relevancy or pacing reasons.

However, one DLC campaign would capture the love of “Borderlands” fans like no other and be packed with so much passion and quality that it's held as a gold standard for downloadable add-on content as a whole. That DLC campaign was the one and only “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep”.

This particular add-on saw Tiny Tina and some of the main cast during the aftermath of the game’s story. While the sequel’s new vault hunters are interrogating a Hyperion informant, the rest play a rather on-the-nose parody of “D&D” abbreviated as B&B.

Players traverse a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game with the trademark “Borderlands” weaponry and writing where Tina takes on the role of the “Bunker Master”.

Already being similar to real TTRPGs, Gearbox teamed up with Nerdvana Games and brought the game itself to life in 2021 with an actual sourcebook and supplemental material.

Of course, this was partially in preparation for their newest spin-off in the Borderlands series, “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands”. The game was framed as the “Dragon Keep” DLC from “Borderlands 2”, but as a full-length game.

Due to the unique setup, so much was going to be overhauled, but at the same time, the game’s identity remained largely unchanged.

The shoot-and-loot system stayed, the gunplay went mostly unaffected, and the iconic cell-shaded art style was assuredly kept. However, character creation, equipment, and the world’s aesthetics were all painted new, exciting colors.

On March 25, the game was finally released, and players had the chance to “be Chaotic Great —" a slogan the game used in its marketing that’ss a spin on the alignment system titles used in “D&D”.

“Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands” takes place after the events of “Borderlands 3”. The game follows Tina, reprised by Ashly Burch, as she runs a predictably eccentric game of B&B for Frette and Valentine, a pair of space mercenaries voiced by Andy Samberg and Wanda Sykes respectively, along with the player(s) — the newbie(s) at the table. Her campaign is about the player(s), or “Fatemaker(s)”, on a quest to stop the evil Dragon Lord, voiced by Will Arnett,  from taking over the Wonderlands.

Everything plays normally for a while, but a sudden plot twist turns the campaign on its head as the antagonist actively begins fighting back against Tina’s control as the Bunker Master.

As a whole, the story and the dynamic it introduces feel very fresh, and is honestly somewhat captivating in its uniqueness. It really takes the character vs. narrator trope to a whole new level.

The game is, at its core, another “Borderlands” game, but modified to match the story and its aesthetics. It’s the same shoot-and-loot gameplay with RPG elements fans know and love, but not everything is how fans may remember it.

Starting off, players no longer are relegated to choosing from a pre-made team of vault hunters. Now, players are able to fully customize their character with a level of depth the series has never seen before.

Easily the most important and exciting choice falls upon the player’s selected class.

The game has six: the fast and ferocious Stabbomancer; the punch-packing Clawbringer; the Brr-Zerker which is similar to the Clawbringer, but with frost damage; the Spore Warden for fans of elemental damage; the magically adept Spellshot; and the Graveborn, which has an engaging risk vs. reward system.

What’s nice is that if more than one sounds appealing, players don’t need to agonize over choosing a single class. The game takes notes from its source material and allows players to eventually multi-class.

In terms of what’s been changed, melee weapons now have a far greater prominence and are arguably as varied as the guns are, right down to different manufacturers.

Speaking of gear, shields have been renamed to “wards”, along with class mods and vault hunter relics being ditched in favor of gear and accessories like rings, armor, and necklaces that still function similarly.

On the topic of changes, grenades have been replaced by spells. Rather than being a simple reskin, there are different types of spells, and each behaves differently. Whether it’s simply firing bolts of magical energy at foes, or dropping a literal meteorite onto their heads, there’s a spell for everybody.

The spells are a breath of fresh air, but not something that wouldn’t feel at home in any other “Borderlands” entry, making this game the perfect home for creative experimentation.

One significant issue this game suffers from is a swarm of technical problems. For full transparency, this review is based on a PS4 copy running on a PS4 Pro. There’s a lot of lag, which even persists offline. Although it seems to be gradually improving with patches, it was pretty egregious at launch.

As of when this article is written, the copy used for this review has crashed twice.

Despite the technical issues, “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands” is still a really great time, whether alone or with friends. It offers a unique and smartly-executed twist on something that would otherwise feel wholly familiar, yet still shows a massive amount of love and respect for the series veterans.

It’s an undeniably fantastic game that casual and hardcore “Borderlands” or tabletop RPG fans will adore, warts and all.

Rating: 8/10

Jonathan Ross is a fourth-year telecommunications major. He can be reached at jmr7304@psu.edu.