Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
The Good: D&D inspired, neon-infused world is so much fun…
The Bad: …at first, but then like a too-long SNL skit, becomes tiresome…
The Ugly: … and bogs down under the Borderlands play style that hasn’t changed in a decade.
When my editor asked me if I wanted to review the new Borderlands title, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, my first instinct was that, for me at least, the frenetic looter shooter game style had worn out its welcome. As an FPS, Borderlands has always trended towards the arcade bulletstorm approach, with enemies dropping an Alabama Walmart store’s worth of guns, ammo, armor, cash, and other crap when they die until the entire game economy is hopelessly broken. Anything you could buy, anything you could find, was quickly surpassed by some other piece of equipment just a chest or two down the line. Today’s piece of epic or uncommon gear (which were only sort of epic and not very uncommon at all) could be replaced by a piece of better, common gear a few levels later. Borderlands suffers, not because it has too few rewards, but too many microscopically incremental ones. I didn’t really need to play more of that. But I’ll confess, I was sucked in by the trailer, which showed such a fresh, fun, whimsical world – it didn’t hurt that the story was set against the backdrop of a D&D game gone awry, and I’m an old graph-paper-and-dice D&D hound myself. So, I said, sure – it was that or more Elden Ring, right?
And the first ten or so hours were great fun. Really fun. So much fun. Getting away from the dreary post-apocalyptic world of Pandora is a superb idea. Will Arnett chews up a lot of dialog as the evil Dragon Lord, Andy Samberg hams it up as the Captain Valentine, and Wanda Sykes, well, I can’t deny her talent even as I personally feel that a little Wanda Sykes goes a long way. The jokes come fast and silly, I’m laughing out loud sometimes, and the gameplay really does feel like an old D&D game that the DM has lost complete and total control over (and I’ve played in a few of those myself, and what player hasn’t totally befuddled a DM by destroying an entire ocean?). Multiplayer makes it feel even more so. The overworld map, the way you travel from area to area, is a delightful mashup of tiny, intricate models and things like pushpins and bottlecap bridges, the villains are comic book villainy, and I’m enjoying myself.
Then, well, it’s Borderlands and over the past decade plus very little has changed in the world of Borderlands, and that tapestry is wearing more than a little thin. You kill enemies who explode in a ridiculous shower of loot, and then spend an inordinate amount of time debating between one weapon which gives you an extra 3% of accuracy vs one that shaves 0.07 seconds off the attack rate, and, at some point, you come to realize that 3% better accuracy doesn’t mean anything because you’ll find one that has 6% better accuracy in no time. You run across the same, tired vending machines selling stuff no better than what you find out in the world, and the game throws so much cash at you, and there’s really nothing worth buying anyway, so why bother even picking things up to sell them? So, at this point I’m really just playing for the silliness, and that just goes on too long, and heaps too many quests on top of quests (because of course you have to find a key to unlock that Cheeto before you can move it, right? – that line will make sense if you play it).
I love the color. I love the creativity. I love the intensity and the barely controlled mayhem. But over it all, there’s no denying that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is more or less a glittery skin thrown over Borderlands 3. As a DLC maybe (and when I told some of my friends that I was reviewing Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, several of them asked, oh, is that the new Borderlands DLC?) something limited to the 10-15 hour or less realm (and the $20 or less price tag), this might work. But as a new thing, that really isn’t anything different from the old thing, Gearbox really needs to find something to freshen up this formula, and I don’t mean top-flight voice talent.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
This review is based on a digital copy of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands for the PC provided by 2K.