Review – Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
Borderlands 3 has been quite the controversial title since releasing a few years ago. The two biggest reasons were the story and the two antagonists – them being a pair of streamers rubbed a few people the wrong way. As for me, I wasn’t overly bothered by it, but I agree that the narrative left a bad taste in my mouth. That ending was and remains a big middle finger to fans because of the questions it left behind. Still, there’s no disputing that the gameplay formula of looting and shooting is God damn addictive. For that reason, I was constantly engaged with the third entry and flipped when I saw a shiny spin-off in the form of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Not to mention that the return of Ashley Burch as the rambunctious teenager is a huge selling point. That said, I’m ready, so dip your badunkadunks down and read on.
It’s without hyperbole when I clamour that the writing in the Borderlands franchise is, without a doubt, what helps it stand out from first-person shooters. The sense of humour has always had a tongue-in-cheek approach. It nonchalantly utters dialogue that would otherwise be seen as pure insanity in our reality. Yet, it does so in a strange and oddly charming manner that can’t be ignored. This aspect was arguably the weakest in the third iteration and is why it garnered a hefty amount of criticism.
Well, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands hungers to rectify that and dammit, if it doesn’t succeed. It takes a metaphorical grenade and stuffs it into my mouth, blowing me away with an immense explosion of laughter. There were quite a few times I’d catch myself chuckling, especially because of the primary character. See, they can talk now, and they have the most adorable chortle.
Granting a voice to you, the Fatemaker is not only a superb decision but feels like the natural next evolution. Watching them interact with the various NPCs added a lot to the proceedings. It gave an extra layer to the already outrageous narrative because we were able to experience their reactions to the sheer lunacy of the world – their sarcastic quips, feinting fright amid gunfire, and the genuine hilarity of the jokes made for a memorable romp. To be blunt, their gaining the ability to speak proved beneficial to the betterment of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. Please make no mistake, though, the majority of the heavy lifting, in terms of plotline, is still not done by them alone, but their contributions aren’t unnoticed. My favourite part is the many voice options during character creation. It freshens up line delivery, differentiating them in future play-throughs.
The banter between the numerous characters is amaze-sauce, and there’s nothing more I can say about that. Honestly, the amount of personality that seeps from the pores of each of the NPCs is damn potent. From the trailers, there is one guy that had me a bit wary, and that’s Valentine. At first glance, he struck me as the snotty douche type that thinks he’s the absolute best. Then, as the story progresses, he’d become much more relatable as he develops into a better person. Well, that proves how judgemental I am because he wasn’t anything like I had initially thought. He’s a young adult man with child-like tendencies, always wanting to take a destructive route to achieve goals. Then there’s Frette, a robot that’s the complete opposite, choosing pacifism over bloody murder. They perfectly balance one another, but the real MVP is the title’s namesake.
Tiny Tina is friggin bombastic, and she is, hands down, the glue that holds this game together, making it as fantastic as it is. Just the way she articulates her thoughts and her crass nature is more than enough to keep you engaged in the adventure. Many of my giggles were due to her shenanigans and her unbridled whimsy. That’s not to undersell the others because there were quite a few instances of belly bouncing with them too. It’s just that she’s intriguing, as buried underneath an exterior of sheer vulgarity is innocence. While she refers to potatoes as googly tubers, which is endearing in itself, anyone disagreeing is met with a pistol to the head. Sure, that’s a violent response, but it meshes well with the snippets of insecurity that bubbles up. I adore her, and the way she interacts with both the above solidifies why.
I promise this will be the final paragraph dedicated to gushing over the literary side, but Goddammit, it’s such silliness. For instance, I came upon a side-quest with a wizard that commented on refusing to smash. Another tackled the contentious question of if a pineapple is a fine addition to particular food dishes. Disapproving with that sentiment garners you a snippy response as your tastes come into doubt. Several pop culture references are sprinkled throughout, too, with nods to memes and internet slang. There are sporadic sexual innuendoes that are subtle and not in-your-face. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is an astounding return to what got this franchise the critical acclaim it bathes in. It’s an unrestrained and unfiltered affair that tosses on the fun. And hey, what other title allows you to be a seductress, which I was, before then breaking their heart.
If you’ve played Borderlands 2, the chances are that you’re aware of a DLC known as Assault on Dragon’s Keep. It’s a parody of Dungeon and Dragons that goes by the apt name of Bunkers and Badasses to fit the motif of this universe. Tiny Tina returns as Dungeon Master, and what she commands goes. That gives a dynamic feel to the surroundings as insertions are made at a whim. Valentine and Frette are also playing and are the catalysts for all the changes due to their constant disagreements.
Given that there’s an overworld to traverse, random encounters will occur but aren’t an annoyance. See, patches of grass are placed randomly in the area, and by stepping upon them, a monster spawns. My one gripe is that sometimes if you melee the foe to cancel the confrontation, it can soft-lock. It rarely happens, thankfully, and the auto-saving prevents losing progress.
Now, customizing a persona is a mainstay in the franchise, but it’s never been as complex as here – kind of fitting given the DnD theme. When beginning, you’re tossed a character sheet to create your Fatemaker. The choices are plentiful, from giving yourself a sleek Super Saiyan hairdo to scars, make-up, and outfitting them in a colourful outfit, which I spent way too much time messing with – I wanted to resemble a banana. By default, the available options aren’t substantial, but as you pew pew skeletons, Cyclops, and pirates to death, more cosmetics start dropping. I’m impressed by the absolute heft that’s attainable. Even after beating the big baddie and spending hours grinding for gear, I’m still stumbling on brand new styles. It’s fun personalizing who you are, and I only hope that future DLC brings different choices to mess around with.
There’s no disputing that Borderlands is the Grand Papi of looter shooters. It took an addictive gameplay loop and reinvigorated it with a distinct spice. Despite being a spin-off, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands follows the tried and true formula but provides some essential differences that set it apart – differences that flawlessly synergize with the fantasy backdrop. For example, grenades are no longer a thing, meaning that, much to Tina’s dismay, there’s no boom booming enemies into oblivion. There are, however, spells that are powerful enough to hocus pocus their asses to kingdom come like kapow-ee. These are an exciting alternative as, much like bombs, they seamlessly meld into standard play, never breaking up the momentum of the fast and furious combat. The variety to choose from is tremendous, too, beautifully offering itself to the most gratifying time sink of this franchise – character builds.
So, typically in Borderlands, each character has three different skill trees to marry together. Even though I’m utter bollocks at augmenting passives that work cohesively to devastating levels, this was still my favourite mechanic. Well, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands handles things differently, dealing in classes instead. What worried me was that if they had one respective tree each, it would limit the available customization due to a restricted perk pool. It seems, however, my assumption was slightly misguided because between the six possibilities, the chance to amalgamate any two opens vast opportunities. It’s the best this mechanic has ever been, and as a nice bonus, I understood what I was doing a bit. Don’t get me started on the insane boosts that the guns, armour, swords, and accessories can roll. Hell, I have one that bolsters spell power by a staggering 1100%.
In recent months, the endgame has become a point of contention since the third afforded us with a lacklustre one, or, well, in that case, a nonexistent one. Gearbox heard the criticisms, though, and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands reciprocates a big middle finger with arguably the best damn implementation to date. You see, The Chaos Chamber awaits the Fatemakers that can succeed in defeating the Dragon Lord. It’s genius in its simplicity, consisting of a string of encounters, climaxing in a boss fight. Murdering enemies here could possibly net you some crystals that are used to feed what’s been lovingly dubbed The Barf Bunnies. For those that remember Mayhem Mode, completing a run increases your Chaos Rank, which, albeit similar, has critical differences. Instead of a laundry list of modifiers, some handicaps only remain active when inside the chamber. These disadvantages are chosen by you alone and not RNG.
Now, we’ve seen advertisements that touted the bazillions of guns available to farm. That still holds sturdy with this iteration, but now, there are variations of each one, meaning that there are, wait for it, a hell of a lot more to collect. Something else the Chaos Chambers unlock is a new variant known as Chaotic. These are naturally better versions, with heightened stats and more lethal bullets.
Each Chaos Rank then increases the odds of obtaining these a touch, with every subsequent one bolstering it further. After reaching twenty, a new typing unlocks that’s known as Volatile. Of course, that means a more robust version of your favourite firearm. Unfortunately, even with higher loot luck, securing one will require serious dedication to grinding and investing countless hours into repeatedly gunning down bosses. Speaking of, Legendaries are again rare, but much like Chaotic and Volatile, better be ready to commit.
Another divisive feature Borderlands 3 introduced is Anointments, and the reception those got was negative, overtaking any positives. That’s because several were pointless, and while there was eventually the ability to re-roll put in, it was too little, too late. Despite all the naysayers, the general notion still makes an appearance. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands takes that concept and trims off the fat, now referring to them as Enchantments. Before a vicious bout of déjà vu hits you, just knowing a piece of weaponry had a unique trait was exciting to me. Whenever I saw the beam of light that indicated such, I was eager to discover it. After being stuck in a blissful romp of carnage for 50+ hours, I have yet to sour on them. They all fuse wonderfully into my builds, and locating an enhanced version of something I have is both thrilling and a triumphant feeling.
Performance has always been a sticking point for the Borderlands franchise. One of the most predominant blunders is graphical pop-in – something that’s been in every entry thus far, so it makes sense to maintain that spotty texture load in. At this point, it’s a feature and, thankfully, one that isn’t overly detrimental to my enjoyment. It does manage to straighten itself out, but it takes a few seconds to do so. What’s notable are the problems that concern frame rate but seem to be isolated. Anytime during a transitional phase, be it entry into a brand new area or respawning after death, the hiccups become painfully clear. While gun element pollution has been severely cut down, if screen real estate is full of enemies being shot, the action begins to chug along. Again, it never lasts an egregiously long time, but nevertheless, none of the issues shouldn’t exist.
Now, as I’ve already mentioned, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands struggles with sporadic soft locks here and there. Regrettably, there are also those occasions that it suddenly crashes whenever I’m either shuffling through the menu or slaughtering enemies and unleashing a barrage of murder. Luckily, one facet that Gearbox has continually been great about is making sure that the auto-save feature is incessant. It’s the difference between losing out on countless hours and being able to jump right back in with minimal losses, if at all. It does make me wonder, however, if perhaps this is exclusive to the Playstation 4. After all, mine is the very first model that was ever released, meaning that the power it possesses is subpar in comparison to even the PS4 Pro. Given that this game is cross-platform, I question if maybe further juice would iron out the wrinkles.
The voice acting is, without a shadow of a doubt, simply superb. It’s hard to fathom that this game was primarily developed while everyone worked from home. If they hadn’t included a small note in the credits, I never would have known. The quality of the voices is so well done. The conversations and reactions between characters felt fluent and natural. Cadence was sublime, and I must point to how some of them took the delivery of lines that extra mile. It adds so much to the adventure and makes everyone feel alive. Tiny Tina may be the star of the show, but the quality of the others isn’t far off. Well, that is everyone but the villain. Maybe I had insurmountable expectations because I couldn’t help but compare him to Handsome Jack. Regardless, while his acting has glimmers, it felt like something was missing.
Let me explain, see, my biggest beef with The Dragon Lord is that the inflection for several of his lines is absent. Most lack that outlandish wit that matches the atmosphere of the ludicrous happenings. While everyone around him is doused in crackpot musings, he isn’t entirely on par. As I said, there are glimpses of brilliance and given the pedigree of the man behind those vocals; I was overall disappointed. It got to a point where I began to reminisce about all past baddies and realized that I prefer those personalities – that includes the Calypso Twins from Borderlands 3. Look, I don’t want to give off the vibe that it’s downright horrendous since it isn’t, but when expunging over the sheer craziness this franchise is synonymous with, there’s a painfully obvious disconnect. Fortunately, in the grand scheme, the collective performances are enough to carry the insanity forward.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is not only a glorious return to its roots, but it’s bloody entertaining to play. The Bunker and Badasses motif opens the door to some amusing interactions, and seeing fan favourites being reintroduced is a breath of relief. I have to point out the inclusive feature of allowing players to choose their pronouns, too. That beautiful cell shading appearance is intact, but the pop-in shouldn’t continue to be such a thorn. Seeing textures struggling is not something I thought would plague the fifth entry of the looter shooter. One thing that I haven’t talked about is enemies constantly scale to your current level, as well as new equipment. Gone are the days of obtaining weak guns. It’s a welcome quality of life improvement in a game with various. For fans of this franchise, there’s a pleasant surprise that propels the narrative into heartfelt territory.
I can emphatically shout from the mountain tops that Borderlands is back, technical missteps and all. Thanks to obsessive auto-saves, the annoyance is squarely on restarting the game. It’s an issue that doesn’t plague next-gen consoles, though. Nevertheless, I fully recommend this adventure.
That cell shaded style is timeless. Textures are beautiful and detailed, when they want to pop-in. That’s the only real issue that plagues the game.
The main reason for the deduction of points is that achieving higher ranks means grinding. I personally don’t mind it but the inherent repetition may scare others away. After a ten hour session, even I began feeling the drag but bounced back the next morning.
Invoice cast is awesome. The trio of Valentine, Frette, and Tiny Tina is incredible. The Dragon Lord is…he’s okay. With only some moments of greatness, it’s held back from a perfect 10.
Fun Factor: 10
Borderlands is back! Everything that was addictive in the others is intact. The grind of locating the perfect gun that compliments your build tickles me in all the right places.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is available now on PlayStation 4|5 , Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.
A copy of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands was provided by the publisher.