The original Borderlands might feel a bit dated by today’s standards, but its insane approach to loot, and its cell-shaded art style and quirky humour made it an instant classic. Of course, Borderlands 2 came along and blew its predecessor out of the water by improving upon just about everything without deviating too much. Borderlands 2 kept the good times coming with some excellent post-launch content as well, with the obvious standout being the excellent Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, a D&D-spoofing expansion that sent the Vault Hunters into the world of Bunkers and Badasses. Nine years removed from the release of that excellent DLC, Gearbox is introducing Borderlands fans to Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, a full-length game set in the fantastical and funny world that the eponymous crazy teenager has created.
Leading up to the game’s full release I was able to go hands-on with Wonderlands and experience a slice of what this Borderlands spin-off has to offer. Is it a grand departure from the Borderlands series or does it follow the same beats? Is the magical aspect a gamechanger or a side note? Well, roll yourself a perception check and let’s find out.
Within the full game, you’ll be able to create your own character and choose between six unique classes: The Stabbomancer, Brr-Zerker, Spellshot, Clawbringer, Spore Warden and Graveborn. For this preview, I had access to the vampiric Graveborn and the stealthy Stabbomancer, both of which provided a completely different experience. The Graveborn, who had already been allocated skill points and abilities, had access to a huge area of effect attack that dealt massive amounts of damage while sacrificing 20% of your own health. Undoubtedly helpful when dealing with groups of enemies, but risky when in a tough fight. The Stabbomancer on the other hand was a blank slate and I was able to spec them out however I wished, which just meant that I put all of my skill points into damage dealing and summoning spectral swords. Stealth is absolutely the Stabbomancer’s bread and butter and dealing massive damage on unsuspecting enemies was a blast.
She may be lacking in height, but she makes up for it in spirit
Importantly, both classes felt unique and their abilities fundamentally altered my approach to combat, something that can’t be said for the Borderlands games for the most part. Alongside their abilities, you’re also able to cast spells that are tied to a cooldown. From streams of caustic goo and balls of fire to beams of freezing ice, there’s a good variety on offer when it comes to your mystic manifestations. Yes, they work similarly to grenades in Borderlands, but they are far more visually interesting and they add a nice extra layer of strategy to fights.
Melee weapons take a more prominent role in the Wonderlands as well, with axes, swords, daggers and the like being added to the loot pool. A pure melee build isn’t exactly a viable option, but swinging around a whopping great big sharp implement of death is a huge improvement on the oft-forgotten melee attacks in most first-person shooters.
Now, this is a Borderlands spin-off, so of course, there’s a strong focus on guns. This is a fantasy setting, however, so the weapons have a magical flair to them that differentiates them from the Borderlands blasters. Runic symbols float around the barrels of assault rifles that fireballs of arcane energy, rocket launches are replaced with sword launchers and humble SMGs spit of a barrage of arcane bolts that can do anything from fry to freeze. The variation is strong both in the visual and mechanical sense and experimenting with all the crazy new weapons will likely keep you entertained for quite some time.
It’s not exactly holiday location
The preview didn’t allow me to explore the overworld, but I was able to go questing in Mount Craw, a series of tunnels and caves within a snowy mountain that’s home to a race of subservient goblins. These stumpy little fellas are under the boot of giants when I first arrived, leaving me to join forces with a freedom-fighting goblin named Jar who seeks to overthrow the tyrannical leader of the giants known as Volcanar. If the inclusion of goblins and giants wasn’t enough fantasy for you, the setting of Mount Craw itself is also taken straight from a D&D session. Snow-capped peaks make way for stony caves which eventually opens up into a chasm lined with molten lava. The main questline ends with a climactic throwdown with the ‘dragon’ Volcanar, who isn’t quite as legit as he claims to be. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek in the classic Borderlands way while also being a hell of a boss fight.
Speaking of which, the Borderlands humour, whether you’re a fan of it or not, is well and truly present here. You’ll hear plenty of inuendoes and be introduced to characters with zany personalities, but the true humour lands when things get meta. Seeing as though you’re technically playing as a character who themselves is playing as a character, you’ll hear conversations that are taking place around the Bunker & Badasses table. Quipping about their PCs and the situations they find themselves in is genuinely entertaining, helped along by a stacked voice cast that consists of Wanda Sykes, Will Arnett and Andy Samberg to name a few.
Intimidating for sure, but I’m not convinced he’s a real dragon
I was concerned that Wonderlands would either be too much like Borderlands or stray too far from it, but after my short time with the game, I can safely say that it hits the sweet spot in between. The fantasy setting is more than a change of scenery, as it drips down into the game’s mechanics, story and humour. More than anything, I appreciated the variety that Wonderlands offers you. From weapons types and spellcasting right through to the wildly different classes, I felt like I could experiment until I found what fit. A Borderlands fan or not, this is one that should be on your radar this month.
Tina Tina’s Wonderlands will launch on March 25 on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.