Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is surprisingly charming

I was having fun with my demo for Tiny Tina's Wonderlands from the start, but things really clicked when I found the "Catatumbo of Discipline." My first legendary weapon was a handheld crossbow that called down devastating AOE lightning strikes on my enemies' noggins every time I scored a headshot, and I loved it. It's a classic Borderlands gun, but with a fantasy twist that does a lot to freshen up a series that's over a decade old at this point.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is a standalone Borderlands spinoff that continues the theme of Borderlands 2's 2014 DLC, Tiny Tina's Assault of Dragon Keep. Instead of a story about one of the usual vault hunters, the action in Wonderlands takes place inside the Borderlands universe's equivalent to Dungeons & Dragons, as played by explosive recurring side character Tiny Tina and friends.

Tina's roleplaying world is an eclectic, kitchen sink high fantasy realm with a distinct look from Borderlands' established Mad Max/space cowboy aesthetic, and the framing sets the comedy to the rhythm of a tabletop group. It's reminiscent of the popular Critical Role web series (which the voice of Tiny Tina, Ashly Burch, happens to have guest-starred in) in a good way.

It's played like a regular Borderlands game, though: Each character has special abilities to work with as they pick up an endless procession of slightly different guns.

The pre-release demo offered me two of the six classes: Graveborn, a dark magic, necromancer-adjacent character with a floating skull companion, and Stabbomancer, a riff on your classic dual daggers edgy DPS guy who never has any luck in LFG queues. I had a lot of luck alternating between a Graveborn ability that sacrificed health for AOE damage, and equippable spells (think grenades) which would heal me for a set percentage on cast due to a Graveborn passive skill. I could see there being some creative buildcrafting to do in the final game.

Guns are the centerpiece, though. At least one enemy in every fight dies in a shower of loot, and the pace of gun and equipment acquisition risks being overwhelming. Most gear is not worth picking up, and the inventory UI is a bit clunky on mouse and keyboard, with a lack of granular sorting functions, no double-click to equip, and a poor use of screen real estate requiring a lot of scrolling through a double-stack list of all your items.

Despite those issues, finding well-specced equipment remained exciting throughout the demo, and I never picked up anything that I felt satisfied sticking with forever. I could feel my lightning crossbow approaching the end of its useful life toward the tail end of my demo playtime, for example. I entered a pleasant flow state of using and tossing new gear that almost reminded me of Breath of the Wild's weapon system, just without the stressful resource management element.

The threats were nicely varied, with long-range Goblin Gunners, mobile Goblin Tinkerers, and imposing melee Trolls mixing things up and forcing me to adapt. However, the balance between weapon types wasn't quite right in the build I played. I had a surfeit of powerful, useful pistols across all my runs, including my beloved Catatumbo, but it took me a long time to find any assault rifles that felt worth using and I did not find any shotguns, sniper rifles, or SMGs that did enough damage to justify themselves. Hopefully the full game pulls me toward each weapon archetype, not just a couple.

(Image credit: Gearbox Software)


As for the Borderlands sense of humor, which PC Gamer previously described as "The Family Circus by way of Spencer's Gifts," I went in braced for the worst of 2011 "le epic win" Imgur, but the more time I spent in Wonderlands, the more its charm got to me.

The dialogue reminded me of a webcomic or video series from the late 2000s.

There's a lot of banter here, a rate of bants-per-minute that I would not usually be on board with. It comes in the form of commentary by the game's "real-life" tablemates: Frette, a good-natured robot, the self interested mercenary Valentine, and the titular Tiny Tina. Much of their input amounts to commenting on what's happening in-game and then proverbially winking at camera.

"We could just use the crafting rules to make our own gear," the robot, Frette, offered during a blacksmithing-related side quest. Tiny Tina replied, "Girl that sounds boring as hell, we don't have time for all that crap." Valentine rejoined, "Yeah, fighting people and taking their stuff is way faster and more exciting." I made a face like Fox Mulder looking at anything non-extraterrestrial related in response to that exchange.

I warmed up to it, though. The dialogue reminded me of a webcomic or video series from the late 2000s: winking, self-referential, and a bit self-satisfied. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, and it's certainly not to everyone's taste, but I found a kind of easy comfort there. It's junk food writing that gels nicely with the junk food fantasy of a looter shooter.

I was presented a choice: Press E to "intimidate" or Q to "seduce."

And the world of the fictional tabletop game itself is charming with less qualification needed. The demo's main quest focused on an ineffectual goblin named Jar and her rebellion against a dragon oppressor. I fought almost all of her battles for her, but there was a point at the end of one quest where I was prompted to pick up an axe and hand it to her, encouraging her to fend for herself and stand up for all the other little goblins—hard not to smile at that.

In my favorite side quest from the demo, a different goblin, Bench, requested that I deal with a threatening wizard in a "nonviolent fashion." After making my way to the wizard's tower and listening to his devious plan, I was presented a choice: Press E to "intimidate" or Q to "seduce," a cheeky riff on the dialogue-based resolutions to quests so often presented in RPGs (looking at you, BioWare) and perhaps the inclinations of certain tabletop players. The clumsy and out-of-the-blue attempt at seduction by a stranger made Baaldaar the Ghaastly understandably uncomfortable, and he ran away. It's not the pinnacle of parody, but the sort of good-natured goofiness you come to Borderlands for.

I'm an intermittent Destiny 2 devotee, but with most of my friends having dropped the game, trying to play it for any serious length of time feels like riding a seesaw alone. By contrast, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands' comparatively straightforward campaign is an easier sell to a potential co-op partner and a more attractive solo proposition if they flake on you. If the rest of it is as entertaining as the bit I played, even the Borderlands-fatigued may find themselves returning to the series. Tiny Tina's Wonderlands releases March 25.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.