Also on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is Gearbox Software's best game. Built upon the studio's successful Borderlands formula, this experience adds a whimsical element to the familiar looter-shooter thrills and delivers so much firepower to your fingertips you'd think you were wearing the Infinity Gauntlet. Caked in silliness and always trying to make you laugh, Wonderlands hits with distinct charm and handles its characters and world with care, making you engage with both on a journey I didn't want to end.
From the outset of play, we learn that Borderlands mainstay Tiny Tina has invited a few of her friends to play a tabletop game called Bunkers & Badasses, which is essentially Borderlands' version of Dungeons & Dragons. Tina is the game's Dungeon Master, and you are the party's newest recruit – a hero of your design, right down to the deep class proficiencies and facial feature detailing.
Playful chemistry is established immediately between Tina and her friends, each bringing humor-filled banter and the sensation they know each other well. Tina is once again brilliantly brought to life by Ashly Burch, who plays well with the careless adventuring qualities of Captain Valentine (Andy Samberg), the strict rules-driven guidance of robot Frette (Wanda Sykes), and the dishonest and vile virtues of the Dragon Lord (Will Arnett). These powerful personalities often entertain and make questing an absolute blast, as you never know how they will react to the situation. The story bounces between Tina and her cohorts sitting at the board game table to discuss the next chapter in the adventure, and your character dreaming it up and traveling into that scenario, a point where control is given to the player. This story flow works incredibly well and is a nice way to bookend chapters and set up the next event at hand.
Tina has the most influence over the quest and can use her god-like powers to alter it at any time. With her imagination leading the way, she can turn an ordinary forest into a magical mushroom kingdom – a stunning visual transformation you witness as you run through the environment. Your party members also influence the world and can propose their character do something to overcome a challenge, such as Valentine romancing a drawbridge to make it open or the team collectively figuring out how to remove a cheese curl from the board. The situations are often zany, nicely penned, and fun to see through to the end.
The missions draw you in with humorous setups and shine in combat, giving good reasons to unleash everything you have in your arsenal. Borderlands' overindulgence in weapons is alive and well in Wonderlands and is made better with the wide selection of spells. The gunplay is highly polished and feels like Borderlands, but packs more of a punch through the fantasy elements. For instance, in a battle against land sharks, I alternated use between a crossbow that fired explosives and an acid gun that chained enemies together in a gooey spray. My pet wyvern barfed fire on these foes as it swooped onto the battlefield, and I added elemental chaos to the mix by firing electrical crows from my fingertips. If an adversary somehow survived this frenzied onslaught, I could smash them with a massive hammer that creates an earthquake. You start the game plenty powerful and reach the point of being a ridiculous war machine at the midway point when class blending is enabled – a proposition that is downright awesome.
The loot enemies drop can completely change loadouts and approaches to combat. Most of the weapons are awesomely unique, melding fantasy tropes with modern weaponry to create something to behold. The devastation that the rarer weapons unleash gives plenty of incentive to scour environments for secret stashes and take on side activities. I also enjoyed diving into smaller wave-based dungeons to earn items that unlock even bigger secrets. Thanks to smooth platforming mechanics and cleverly hidden areas, exploring the world is good fun. There's plenty to keep you occupied, including story-rich side missions that scale with you and never become too easy, and a great post-game dungeon called the Chaos Chamber that changes every time you enter it. This endless gauntlet is a nice way to grind out levels and unlock the Myth rank.
Borderlands' DNA is recognizable throughout most of Wonderlands, except for the overworld, which has more in common with an old Final Fantasy game. The viewpoint switches from first person to isometric when you enter it, and you can no longer engage in combat. The overworld removes most of the downtime experienced in the Borderlands games. You move between areas quickly and within seconds can engage in any activity. The overworld holds many secrets, just as much humor, and does an excellent job of charting progress, so you know what you've accomplished and still need to mop up.
Wonderlands' cooperative play couldn't be any better, offering an experience where everyone has equal footing on the battlefield. A level 5 player will encounter a level 5 enemy, whereas that same foe reads level 20 for a level 20 player – meaning you don't need to grind for XP or power level to play with friends. Players can also determine how loot is divvied up, allowing for everyone to get their own drops or for it to be shared. Crossplay and split-screen are both offered, but I did not get the chance to check out either during my review.
Wonderlands is upbeat and fun from start to finish, offering a rewarding adventure filled with goofy characters, imaginative bosses, and a great sense of ownership over your character through it all. Even with one of Borderlands' most loved characters leading the charge, this experience feels like the start of something new: a rare spinout from an existing series that deserves just as much of the spotlight. As someone who has played plenty of Dungeons & Dragons, I adored how often Wonderlands reminded me of rolling a 20-sided die with friends. It’s a love letter to on-the-spot creativity and friends enjoying each other’s company in a make-believe world.