Gearbox Software's Tiny Tina's Wonderlands (TTW) is an offshoot (spin off for those who have studied at Oxford) of the well-known Borderlands series. Gameplay-wise it remains a looter shooter, but scenario-wise it is inspired by one of the DLCs from the regular series.
Borderlands 2 is a game that was loved by audiences and critics alike, and the support it received from Gearbox was exemplary. Among the plethora of DLC was Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (TTAoDK), a brilliantly conceived campaign where gamers "played" in a classic tabletop RPG narrated by Tiny Tina, the most bloodthirsty thirteen-year-old (at the time) in the world. Tiny Tina, as a typical Dungeon Master had absolute power over the game world, power she didn't hesitate to use to modify on-the-fly the on-screen happenings. TTAoDK (which was also recently released as a standalone game, decoupled from Borderlands 2) received rave reviews, rightfully so in my opinion, and so now it gets its own sequel, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, which follows exactly the same logic.
Tiny Tina has once again devised a campaign in her favorite RPG, the Bunkers & Badasses, and we're one of the players ready to spend a leisurely afternoon having fun in a typical RPG session with the gang. But there are dark forces that don't take kindly to Tiny Tina's storytelling, forces that are intent on usurping the power of the Dungeon Master herself, destroying the kingdom of Her Majesty, Queen Butt Stallion (if the name strikes you, you probably haven't met Tiny Tina yet) and establish a millennial dynasty of freaky darkness in peaceful Brighthoof. Will you let them?
At the beginning of the game, we choose our character's class, which gives us access to various passive and active skills and, very often, a pet/companion that also helps in battle. We then have the opportunity to modify our character's physical appearance, with the help of an extremely detailed related menu that offers huge customization possibilities that would be the envy of many regular RPGs. Once that's done, the game begins.
As we explained in detail, TTW belongs to the larger Borderlands universe, the series that made looter shooter games popular (Hellgate: London, which essentially created the genre, never managed to establish itself and create its own franchise). The formula is now familiar, with a constant feedback loop between frantic action, character empowerment and finding better equipment, and TTW makes no attempt to change it. I'll only focus on two areas where there's variation in the familiar elements of the series. First, the grenades have been replaced with spells, which have a significantly wider range of possibilities. It's an absolutely successful change, as the available effects and synergies that can be achieved with our other skills add variety to the gameplay. Secondly, there is movement between different areas via an overworld map, which lends itself to exploration and is full of secrets and opportunities to gain extra loot and permanent buffs.
One of the ingredients of Borderlands was its unique sense of humour, with Borderlands 2 being the most successful expression of it, in my opinion. Few things are more subjective than humor in this life, but on this level, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel failed miserably in my opinion (it's made by a completely different development team), while Borderlands 3 although it clearly did better than the nadir of the Pre-Sequel, it fell short of Borderlands 2, with the main shortcoming being that of a charismatic "villain". Always emphasizing the even more subjective subjectivity of the humor issue compared to the other judged elements of a game in a review, for me TTW is a strong moment for the series, with the character banter and general writing bringing out a fun that was missing from the Borderlands 2 era.
A prerequisite for enjoying the world and the humor of TTW, however, is to have at least a strong connection to the culture of tabletop RPG gaming, to have sat down at least once to roll a character according to any ruleset, and to try to play with other players, under the guidance of a storyteller. For these players, everything that TTW presents, and often lampoons - the attempts by players to break the game for the benefit of their character, the power drunkenness that beats some DMs over the head, the pompous storytelling especially of young DMs who have Conan's adventures for a headrest, the conflict between rules lawyering vs "I just want to have fun" - is familiar, and they will immediately get into the mood. If there's a reader out there who finds all of this unintelligible (not for the Ragequit audience, but you never know), they'll play a looter shooter that's remarkable in its mechanics, but will leave them coldly indifferent as a setting and story.
Already since the announcement of TTW's release there was a concern from some of the public that in terms of content it would be a DLC for Borderlands 3, but that Gearbox would try to sell it for the price of a full game. In the end, that's not even remotely true. TTW will offer an absolute minimum of 20 hours of gameplay to players, and that's for those who only go nailing the main quest, completely disregarding the plethora of side quests and thorough exploration of the overworld map. A more realistic number for a player who will squeeze the game is 25, maybe even 30 hours. Beyond that, at the moment TTW has no New Game+ mode, nor any announcement of a future addition (although I believe that will happen at some point). For now though, post-game content is limited to some arena fights that, upon completion, offer a high chance of legendary loot.
In conclusion, we have a very remarkable member of the Borderlands family, in terms of pure fun the best moment of the series since Borderlands 2. Though smaller in scope than the main games, it's still satisfying.
We would like to thank CD Media for providing the review code.