When Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands got some meh reviews from folks I followed, I put it lower on my priority list, but not on the do not buy list. This is because the same folks gave Borderlands 3 a meh, and while I felt it could have wrapped up the plot faster, it was altogether a stronger story than the first two entries. I also really liked Tiny Tiny’s first BnB campaign when I played it with hubby, and I think that flavored my expectations going into it. So here’s Tiny Tina with another mega-session of Bunkers and Baddasses, offering stronger writing and a far shorter playtime than the planet spanning flagship.
Did it work? I’ll put it this way: I only beat the main game after intentionally holding off on the final boss to play a whole bunch of side quests. I’d already hit the level cap when I got there, but I was enjoying the side quests stories so much that I just wanted to see a few more before reaching the ending. And then not long after reaching the end, I started a new character so I could experiment with a different build.
Far from being a meh game, this might be closest to the perfect looter shooter for me. It’s not too long, the writing is cute and full of puns and dad jokes that make me smile even when they can’t quite get a laugh. (There’s also some pop culture and meme references so old they fart dust.) Buuuuuut, there was an early joke so funny that Hubby got mad at me for laughing too loud. So what I’m saying is, this really worked for me…most of the time.
Being set between Borderlands 2 and 3, the opening sees Tina recruiting a new group to run a campaign against the dread Dragon Lord. After a bit of exposition, the newbie is tasked with being the Fatemaker, while Valentine and Frette act as the peanut gallery…er, the advisors. I’m ashamed to admit it took me a couple hours to recognize Andy Samberg as Valentine, and only a little later to recognize Wanda Sykes as Frette. I adore Andy Samberg, both from Lonely Island and Brooklyn 99, so his presence here as color commenter was like a friendly warm hug throughout the game.
I can’t get into too much of the story without massive spoilers, so what I will say is that I found the main quests just as compelling as the side questing. Back in Borderlands 2, there was a poetry romance side quest that led to a “funny” (which is to say not funny) suicide. Fast forward, and now there’s a similar romance side quest, but one that leads to a happier and funnier payoff. Lots of the side stories in Tina’s world are worth exploring, with some even cross referencing each other. For instance, a band member in one quest mentions stealing a page from his mom’s grimoire, and in a quest much later a witch inquires who stole her page. And like I said, even if some quest don’t reach laugh out loud funny, they are at least more cutesy and way less cringey.
Another change from the Borderlands formula is the Overworld, a map between areas where you move your character as a miniature figure. There are random encounters like RPG video games, but also optional dungeons and side quests, shrines to repair that unlock extra bonuses like more experience points and higher critical chances, and shortcuts to unlock that open new areas or dungeons. It’s also a fine way to grind in shorter encounters for those times when I just needed a few more points to get to the next level. The Overworld helps Tina’s game feel quite different from the main games, and I think it could be a great way to build on her future games that helps them stand out on their own.
It’s also wonderful to have a wider choice of voice options for characters. Beyond male and female, the character creator offers two varieties of Gallant, Clever, and Strange, and each can be pitch adjusted to get the right voice for you. Plus, it’s not just different actors reading the same script. Each vocal style brings in a different script. Yes, the responses are the same, but offering a different character reaction helps make each style feel unique. I liked the other two options, but I loved Clever because it feels close to what I would say while playing any game. (“Oh no, more bad guys, whatever shall I do?” is on brand for me minus the fantastic accent.) It is a shame that we couldn’t get an option to modify body shapes aside from height, but between the choices for voices and even a gender neutral option for labeling characters, I just want to celebrate the choices we got in this outing and hope for more progress in the sequel.
I also like how the classes are meant to feel more like a role play gaming session. Several classes get animal companions, while most get an action skill and a spell slot. Some of the meh reviewers lamented that the focus on melee was pointless, so here’s my take. If you went into this thinking of melee as optional, you’d feel that the new additions were useless.
I heard it was meant to be used more often, so I did, and all the different ways it interacts with other abilities makes it feel vital. Are you playing as a spell caster? Then use a weapon that reduces spell cooldown with every hit. Are you tanking? Use one that recovers ward strength and health. Or choose one that amps gun damage, or one that steadily raises the melee critical hit chance before scoring a crit and resetting. I tried them all, and I liked how each one changed my reasons for charging in for a melee fight. Also, there’s a subtle charge forward when using the weapon to prevent swings from whiffing too often. Whiffing can still happen, but it happens a lot less than in mainline Borderlands games.
When I got to the point of unlocking dual classing, I chose to give my Stabbomancer a second Spellshot class because their abilities seemed to synch up to deliver a lot of elemental damage. The Spellshot can use two spells instead of an ability and a spell, and by making use of mostly repeatable spells, I could turn even the ugliest battles into a dance of elemental death.
That said, starting in the third act, I ran into some bosses clearly meant to be played by four people. Running them solo was massively aggravating, which is why the final score can’t reach a perfect ranking. Most other fights, even the final boss fight, were tough but fair, and all of them were fun and interesting, something that cannot be said of another game I’ve stalled on reviewing due to connection woes. But there were several fights that were so rage inducing that I almost considered walking away. I’m really glad I didn’t, but it could have gone another way if there hadn’t been so many other good fights to balance out the bad ones.
Also, while there’s much to praise in terms of improvements, the subtitles are wonky to say the least. Sometimes they work, and other times they either don’t show up at all, or they show something from hours before. And if you’re in a vending machine trying to sort out what any of the vendors are saying, well forget it, because subtitles don’t carry over to those interfaces.
The other caveat to mention is the DLC content. I got all of them as a package deal, so I didn’t have to pay the regular prices for them individually. Even so, they’re just not as good in terms of design or writing. They’re set up as a series of linked single map encounters, and in each one there’s a main objective and secondary goal to find a pair of secret chests.
Which would be okay, but as I wander to look for these chest, there’s always one other enemy spawning in to annoy me. They can’t do enough damage to be a threat by themselves, and by that point, I was wearing mostly legendary gear, so I could just one-shot them. But it’s like every time I turned my back to search a room, I got another “Yar, I’m going to swab your deck! I said DECK!” Yeah, lady, it was funny the first time, but you’re the tenth deck swabber in the same level. Give it a rest and let me find this stupid chest already.
It also doesn’t help that the DLC is lacking the color commentary from Samberg and Sykes, and the demon presiding over these chambers can only trot out some terrible puns or lame jokes that don’t help to liven up an already dreary experience. So even if you can get the full package on sale, I’d say just go with the base game. The Chaos Chamber at the end of the game is a way better experience for pushing a build without all the lame jokes and dragged out searches for the MacGuffins of tediousness. You just go in and kill stuff until that area is cleared, pick your next “curse” to make the next area harder and rinse and repeat. Sounds too simple on paper, but in real play time, it’s good stuff.
Oh, and then there’s the loot dice. It’s a nice idea in theory, but if no one tells you about it, you won’t get good gear until your second or third playthrough. Scattered through every map are twenty-sided dice. When used, they burst and drop loot, supposedly based on the number they roll combined with the number of dice you’ve already collected. But even near the end of the game when I’d collected most of them, a 19 or a 20 roll would still drop mostly crap loot, or if it was good, it wasn’t right for my build. It was only near the end that I found really great gear, and that was by going into random encounters on the Overworld map and breaking open the loot dice at the end. I did get a few pieces from the DLC, but I quickly found stuff in the random encounters that made the DLC stuff feel weak by comparison.
In conclusion, I love this game. Is it perfect? No, but it’s everything I want when I sit down to play a fantasy game. It’s cute and emotionally rewarding to complete all the quests, and when I start rolling another character less than an hour after beating the last boss, that’s a sure sign it’s going to be in my regular rotation next to Dark Souls and Portal.
I’m giving Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands an enthusiastic 4 stars, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a cute, dumb power fantasy romp with goofy friends egging you one to do something stupid, just to see what happens. Just try to find some friends to help co-op certain bosses, or else…oof.
With that, I’ve got to get back to a side quest to crown the most metal band in all the Wonderlands. See you next time!