I arrive at Mount Craw and travel along a path to meet up with someone called Jar. Immediately Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands feels familiar. That Borderlands aesthetic remains, but now everything has a fantasy skin. I open a box with a green light on it without even thinking. Some habits are hard to break. I flick the rifle in my hand from fully automatic to burst and slap up the magnifier behind the optic. Sorry, ye olde magnifier.
The familiarity is both a blessing and a curse. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is built from the bones of Borderlands 3, even utilising the same weapon manufacturers and their unique traits, except now taking place in a Dungeons and Dragon game run by series mainstay Tiny Tina. Still, I was hoping for a more significant departure from safety. Instead, my assault rifle had crossbow arms coming off of the handguard, and projectiles drop far sooner when fired.
Maybe this is more of my problem than it is Tiny Tina’s problem. She obviously grew up in a world filled with wacky and crazy weapons. Why wouldn’t this be her version of a fantasy setting? But I still longed to find myself using swords and clubs more frequently than I was firing sniper rifles and submachine guns.
Melee weapons do take on a new role in the spinoff. Borderlands primarily used them as a last-ditch low damage option. Here they are fully integrated into your loadout. Shooting bad guys can send a new sword flying out of their body, complete with stats, elemental effects, and levels. A greater focus on the melee is present here, but it hasn’t evolved much beyond the last resort of previous titles.
I assist Jar in disabling a magical barrier and delve deep into the mountain where goblins are forced to mine under vicious taskmasters. Thankfully, Jar and I are here to put an end to all that, and the first hostile I come across gets a swift grenade slung in their direction. Except I don’t throw a grenade, instead I summon a meteor from the space between worlds and send the still living goblin flying across the cavern.
Grenades did not survive the transition from sci-fi to fantasy; now, we’re playing with magic. So far, I have had the pleasure of hurling meteors, fists full of flames, and electrical barrels into groups of enemies. Spells can be looted the same way as weapons and come with varied stats and abilities, suggesting that hunting down exciting spells will be as core to the gameplay experience as the firearms.
After clearing the caves, I need to save some captured Goblins that have been dragged from their cosy dark caves and caged in a pleasant fishing village by a frozen lake. Indeed, a horrible fate for these poor Goblins. I leap into the daylight and use my class ability, immediately dissolving into shadow and confusing the responding Goblins.
Two classes were available in the preview—the Graveborn and (my personal choice) The Stabbomancer. I used one of the Stabbomancer’s abilities that turns me invisible and causes all of my attacks to be automatic critical hits. It takes me no time to cut through my foes and rescue the prisoners, dancing around enemies to catch them from the side as they fire at my old position.
I later tried out the other active ability offered by The Stabbomancer, which summons a spectral spinning blade at a position of my choice. It’s hard not to smile as I create a magical blender that throws dead goblins through the sky as I fire beams of magic from a shotgun into anyone lucky enough to avoid the Nutribullet from hell.
Giving the Graveborn a spin, I am greeted by the character’s pet: a Demi-Lich. This floating flaming skull hangs around, throwing dark magic spells at enemies. Dark magic energy is a new type of elemental effect that deals damage that provides healing to players and forms the core of the Graveborn class. The active ability that I enjoyed the most let me turn myself into a living bomb. I jumped into a group of goblins and activated the power, which dealt damage to myself but also exploded into a sizable blast of dark magic energy that threw gobos into walls. Since the damage is dark magic, I have to run a risk-reward calculation of how much damage I will do to myself and how much I will regain from damaging enemies. It’s a fun ability that, if misused, can put you in a worse state than you started, but if used right, can decimate a cluster of foes and leave you unharmed.
Throughout my adventure, I get to hear Tiny Tina describing things as they happen, reminding me that this is a game of Dungeons and Dragons being played in the world of Borderlands. This isn’t the first time Borderlands has done this. Borderlands 2 received a D&D themed DLC that followed the same logic. However, in that expansion, the characters playing the game were well known and understood by the audience. They used the game to achieve closure and understand their grief over their lost friend. Wonderlands is a different story.
Andy Samberg chimes in, the character he plays is called Valentine, but it might as well just say “Samberg”. The characters this time around are unknown. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, they definitely don’t arrive with the preprepared connection of the last gang of characters, and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands has some uphill work to make me care at all about them and their goals within the game itself.
The core of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is undeniably solid. Borderlands 3 took the series and brought it up to modern standards, and Wonderlands only further develops that. It’s immensely satisfying to combo together abilities, gunfire, and spells to dispatch groups of enemies. Loot still comes showering out of mighty foes, as is series tradition, and thanks to the addition of items such as spells, melee, and armour, there is a hell of a lot of it.
Tina Tina’s Wonderlands will release on 25 March 2022