Anyone who's played Borderlands will know what they're getting into with Tiny Tina's Wonderlands. Though heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, with the classic fantastical themes to go along with it, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands has that same Borderlands DNA running through its veins. That's not a bad thing; in fact, I'd say it only makes Wonderlands more enjoyable.
Ahead of its release on March 25, 2022, I was given a preview build of the game with two classes available to test out: the death-touched Graveborn and the stealthy assassin-styled Stabbomancer. Straying from my usual playstyle, I found that I actually preferred the risk/reward combat that the Graveborn offered. That's a testament to Gearbox's game design, as in previous Borderlands titles I played Zer0 and FL4K, both of whom have similar abilities to the Stabbomancer.
Though I only had access to a small portion of the game, focusing on a side quest to liberate a group of goblins, the little that I played painted a beautiful picture of what Tiny Tina's Wonderlands has to offer.
The same Borderlands you love with a twist
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands doesn't drastically change the Borderlands formula, but it doesn't need to. Borderlands thrives on its looter-shooter mechanics in between chaotic gunfights that have players using every tool at their disposal to come out on top. It's the same in Wonderlands, this time with everything very clearly being designed with Dungeons & Dragons in mind. Replacing grenades are now spells, which can rain down meteors or chill enemies in their tracks. Certain guns closely resemble crossbows, a more classic ranged weapon in fantasy settings. Even the UI is themed in such a way that harkens back to older tabletop games with parchment.
On the surface, these are mostly cosmetic changes, but they go a long way in making Tiny Tina's Wonderlands feel fresh. And cosmetic changes aside, Wonderlands isn't simply a Borderlands reskin. Dedicated melee weapons make close quarters combat more viable than ever in the series, and with goblins constantly rushing me left and right, it was sometimes necessary to bring out a mace. The melee weapons I used felt a bit too lethargic and weightless in their movements, but that was because slower ones usually packed a harder punch.
Most of the enemies I encountered were Goblins, Trolls, and Wyverns, so it was difficult to grasp the variety the full game will offer. For what its worth, there were multiple types of Goblins — like those that would hide in barrels or jetpack across the battlefield with some sort of explosive — and this meant I was constantly on the move trying not to get overwhelmed.
After playing Borderlands 3 so much with FL4K and their animal companion (a Skag, Spiderant, and Jabber), I found the Graveborn's Demi-Lich didn't quite interest me as much. Where I saw my trusty Skag as a pet and sidekick that I didn't want harmed, the Demi-Lich is rather annoying — it can actually talk. Its one-liners grow old, and half of the time I honestly forget it out battling beside me. I just didn't care for it. And from what I could tell from the skill tree, there aren't as many options to upgrade the Demi-Lich, either.
Between the Graveborn's Action Skills, I stuck with Reaper of Bones, increasing my Leech Efficiency and dealing bonus Dark Magic damage. This skill also makes the Graveborn invulnerable for a short time when they would usually die instead. The trade-off is that while Reaper of Bones is in effect, the Graveborn takes an increasing amount of damage every second. I initially thought this would keep me from playing the Graveborn, but it ended up being the thrill I needed.
The side quest I was able to access, "Goblins Tired of Forced Oppression," featured Borderlands' signature style of humor. When the Fatemaker comes across Jar the Goblin, she'll ask the player to help free other Goblins from their oppressors, seizing the means of production and destroying them. In my head when I couldn't remember her name, I'd refer to her as Comrade Goblin. At one point during this task Jar even comments on how awful it is that Goblins would be subjected to fresh air and sunlight.
For what its worth, it looks like Tiny Tina's Wonderlands will rely less on that influencer-style of humor that was present with the Calypso Twins. I know that was hit or miss for some players.
As I mentioned earlier, the Dungeons & Dragons inspiration is blatantly apparent. It goes deeper than its new enemies and narrative, though. In addition to the usual skill trees, players now have Hero Stats. These stats comprise Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, and Attunement, each affecting things like critical damage, max HP, skill cooldown, etc. It's largely similar to Badass and Guardian tokens in previous games, but it demonstrates Gearbox's commitment to the setting. Even smaller points of interest aren't immune. Players can come across Golden Dice throughout the world that they can roll to receive loot and increase their chances of receiving rarer gear.
What I found to be a nice little touch was that instead of getting a Second Wind after achieving a kill in Fight For Your Life mode, the words "Death Save" will now appear on screen. It's seemingly innocuous changes like this that show Gearbox's attention to detail.
Bunkers & Badasses returns
The biggest downside to a preview build like this is that there's just so much I didn't have access to. I didn't get to see what the main story was like, how the Overworld mechanics work, or check out the character creator. While I wasn't able to test out its multiclassing either, the possibilities are exciting.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands seems to want to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks and that there's still plenty Gearbox can do with the Borderlands formula. I won't know whether the studio is successful until I get my hands on the full game, but judging by this preview build and Wonderlands' predecessors, it's certainly on the right track.
I think the highest compliment I can give is that this preview of Tiny Tina's Wonderlands never became boring for me. It didn't feature any save functionality, so if I wanted to exit the game and get some other work done, I'd be right back where I started when I opened it back up. I did this maybe five or six times, playing through the exact same couple of missions, and it was just as fun as the first time. Maybe that's the Borderlands addict in me talking (I think they're some of the best Xbox games out there), but regardless, I'm glad Gearbox was able to capture that magic again.
Defeat the Dragon Lord
A new game of Bunkers & Badasses
Create your own Fatemaker and take on the Dragon Lord as Tiny Tina guides you through a game of Bunkers & Badasses. The Wonderlands are just waiting to be explored.
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Thanks for the preview Jennifer. Before reading this I was barely aware of this game other than the name. I played a lot of Borderlands 1 and was also a huge fan of Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance back in the day on the original xbox. The new dark alliance was a disappointment to say the least. Do you think this game can scratch that itch for an action RPG in a D&D type setting?
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