video game review: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

What game did you play? Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands on the PS4

Is this related to any existing series? It’s a spin-off from the Borderlands games by Gearbox, a successor to Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep DLC from Borderlands 2.

Do you have to have played any of the previous Borderlands games including the aforementioned DLC for this game to make sense? No, but it helps.

Full disclosure about my progress in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands: I’m not finished yet. I did “level out” or reached the max levels for the first round of playthrough (I don’t know, if like previous Borderlands series, you have an equivalent to “True Vault Hunter” mode to play the game with at higher levels vs tougher enemies, etc.). It has taken up a good chunk of my evenings since buying the game on the day of release. I will spoil the tone and conclusion of this review: I’m very much enjoying this game and it’s highly recommended.

The plot of this game is that Tiny Tina (an NPC from BL2) is the BunkerMaster for a D&D style game called Bunkers & Badasses played by and starring characters in the BL universe. You are a new character in this game playing as the Fatemaker in B&B, with a couple other NPC “Players” commenting along with Tina’s narration. The game itself has taken a dark turn that your Greek Choir hadn’t experienced the last playthrough: a new villain named the Dragon Lord is messing up this world and likely not at as the end boss that Tina has imagined for you. (Again, haven’t finished the game, sorry.)

If this is your first playthrough of anything related to Borderlands, know that your character roams these lands blowing up a variety of baddies who come at you like the gang in Assault on Precinct 13 and you get weapon and upgrade loot, where the weapons themselves are slightly randomized and therefore give you a different playing experience depending on which version you pick up through the run of the game.

If you’re familiar BL including Dragon’s Keep, there’s fewer gun brands but now swords/melee weapons have been added, grenades have been replaced with spells, and you get rings and necklaces as bonus enhancements.

Unlike Assault on Dragon Keep (which became its own game a few months prior to Wonderlands being released) nearly everything about the game that Tina is BunkerMastering is new, with little reference to previous Borderlands games. I was actually shocked at how far you get into the game before you run into familiar characters. No Doctor Ned, Marcus, Moxxie (so far). One of the actors who voiced Lorelai from BL3 voices another character. By the time other familiar characters do show up, you’ve already immersed yourself in this new world with all that is familiar is the weapon manufacturers (under slightly different names).

The shooting & looting is pretty much the same, and the running & gunning & climbing & punching stays the same as BL3’s upgrades. There’s fewer weapon manufacturers this time (notably Maliwan & Atlas missing from the regular stable) but I believe this is a slightly shorter game compared to BL3 but hey, I’m not finished. Another big difference is that it feels less crass than BL3, and I just checked the box and it’s rated T for Teen. Maybe because it’s narrated by character who is a teen (this takes place before BL3, where Tina is an adult), or because the deeper D&D style might be more family friendly, but the humor is still there, and I find myself laughing along with the narration & enemy death gasps, more than I did with BL3.

The game starts slow after the introductory level and you eventually make your way to a world map with a disproportionate version of your character roaming from dungeon to dungeon, which are the kind of player vs player fighting rooms you’d enter against waves of enemies until you’re the last one standing. I really was afraid that this might be the whole game, with maybe one or two home base areas like Sanctuary in BL2. Instead the world does open up to more interesting full maps to explore, with side quests and various extras hidden away in a virtual sea of nooks & crannies. These end up being some of the best level mapping in the series, where (again, so far) no map is a slog to run through, especially if you need to backtrack. Likely, this is because there’s no vehicles this time around, but that part isn’t missed here. There’s no vast area you need to hop in a vehicle to traverse, but the maps are still large enough to re-explore and find new things buried or hidden.

The fighting is still top notch, and unlike BL3 or the True/Ultimate Vault Hunter 2nd/3rd playthroughs, no one feels like a bullet sponge, even though enemies level up as well when you revisit an older area as a more “experienced” character. Thankfully, even then, no one is a bullet sponge, but if you find that your weapons may seem weaker, baddies drop weapons at a huge rate, probably the most in any BL series. The variety of enemies thankfully grows as you explore further. Like my initial fear that it’d just be a few chaotic “dungeons” over and over, the game would just have a few variations of baddies like in Zelda Breath Of The Wild, but instead there’s a good variety that aren’t just updates of various BL bandits from previous games.

I’m playing this on the medium difficulty, and I wonder if that’s too easy for the first playthrough, having had played all the BL series before (minus Tales From the Borderlands). Then again, it’s not hard, if you’re familiar with how you can pick up items and use them to enhance the leveling up of upgrades in your character class, to create a god amongst monster in this world. I have a shield that throws a hammer at baddies while my two animal cohorts deal linking damage to everyone around them. Some of the weapon types I was loathe to try in previous games are the weapons of choice in this game, while other types of guns I’ve barely touched through the entire run so far.

That’s pretty much it: they knocked it out of the park. They reused the mechanics from the previous BL game but created a new world within. There’s fewer gun types and within that fewer permutations that have made playing the previous games special, regardless of what was thought of the rest of the playing. Instead of Borderlands denizens with regular BL weapony in a D&D world, it’s their D&D world with pre-existing weapon types cleverly redesigned for the world. And even if what’s old isn’t new in this game, it all feels like a fresh take, and fun throughout.

Okay, that’s my take.  

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