Ranks among the best of the Borderlands franchise.
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Right out of the gate, I must say that I would consider myself a fan of the Borderlands games. I have played through the first game about two times, the second game about three times, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel about 1.5 times, and Borderlands 3 at least once. I frankly cannot remember if I played through the third game twice, once solo and once with friends, or if I just played through it all once with friends. And really, the less said about The Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 3, the better. They are very much the low points for the franchise, so much so that I just couldn't force myself to even finish a second playthrough of The Pre-Sequel.

Truth be told, save for some nice gameplay improvements made in Borderlands 3, I still find Borderlands 2 to be the best out of the bunch. The writing, though often viewed as too juvenile for the bourgeoisie gamers out there, was at least consistent in its tone and pacing. I liked the writing in two and maybe that says more about me than anything else, but that's a debate for another time. Handsome Jack made for the perfect villain. The DLC for Borderlands 2, while not all slam dunks, were also largely enjoyable. The obvious standout from the bunch being Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep.

Now, I'm not out here min-maxing stats. I'm not running raids against endgame bosses. In fact, I have done very, very few of those because it's just not my style. I also haven't played through the games with every class and I'm not out there hunting for the best weapons or the current "meta" hotness that some YouTuber says you absolutely must be using. But still, I like the games. They are often a fun blend of humorous and zany story beats blended with more serious moments. All of that is funneled to the player with gameplay that is 50% looter and 50% shooter.

Let's face it, the original Borderlands game essentially invented the looter shooter genre back in 2009. While many other titles have come that emulate the same formula, there is just something about the Borderlands games that have allowed them to stay relevant in the face of some stiff competition over all these years.

The same holds true for the latest from Gearbox. Though this is a "spin-off" release from the Borderlands games, the core components are still there in force. There is a lot of shooting, a ton of looting, big boss encounters, plenty of areas to explore, and again features a blend of comedic writing mixed with more serious moments. If you don't like the established Borderlands formula by now, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands won't do anything to change your opinion. Despite all the familiar trappings, this release does evolve the series just enough to make a lot of the experience feel like a breath of fresh air.

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands serves as a follow-up to the Borderlands 2 DLC Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep. The entire game is essentially just one big Dungeons & Dragons style tabletop RPG called Bunkers & Badasses. In this "game within a game," players assume the role of a newcomer to the group, later to be known as the Fatemaker.

Unlike previous games in the Borderlands franchise, Wonderlands allows players to create their own character from scratch. There is a robust character creation system that will let you craft the look of your player model, specifically their head and facial features. You can even create some truly exaggerated caricature-style faces thanks to a built-in option to disable the safe limits on sliders. You are also free to choose your character's voice. Additional cosmetic items such as makeup, colors, and armor skins can be unlocked by discovering them while playing. All of these can be modified whenever you want after you get past the introductory part of the game, so don't worry if you mess something up in the beginning.

Besides the character's appearance, you can also choose from six different character classes, each with their own unique powers. You can also choose from one of several different backstories which play an important role in how you allocate your Hero's stats as you level up.

I personally chose the "Stabbomancer" class type, which specializes in critical hits and going invisible for short periods of time. Later in the game, you will get to choose a second class to pair with your first class. This adds in a second skill tree and gives you an opportunity to mix and match class types to suit your play style. I paired my Stabbomancer with the Spore Warden class, which allowed me to spec into more crit focused skills along with a Mushroom Companion that fought by my side.

Just as the case is with changing your appearance and cosmetics, you can change your second class in your Dual Class selection. The catch here is that you cannot freely change this secondary class until after you complete the main campaign for the game. Some classes mesh well. I found that Stabbomancer pairs nicely with most any other class in the game. For instance, a Stabbomancer and Brr-Zerker combo excels at critical melee hits. The only customization options in the game that you cannot change are your primary class selection and your character's backstory, so be very sure about these two things before completing your character creation.

One of the (many) things wrong with Borderlands 3 was with the loot system. I found that while playing through Borderlands 3, it was just constantly showering me with legendary weapons. Worse still, those weapons were often nearly identical to ones that had previously dropped save for a few stat differences here and there. In Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, this issue seems to be largely resolved. The drop rate on legendary weapons felt far more reasonable, at least when compared to Borderlands 3. Furthermore, in the 20 or so hours I've spent with the game thus far, I have yet to get a duplicate legendary weapon or item drop. In that sense, loot feels a bit more meaningful now.

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands D&D inspiration does not end with the character creation. Players will travel from location to location via the large overworld. The overworld is viewed from a top-down third-person perspective. Players will move a big-headed caricature of your player model around a world that looks like a visually fancy rendition of a real tabletop board game. I really like this idea and the nice tilt-shift blur effect really makes it feel like you are moving a game piece around a board. Bottle caps serve as shortcut to earlier areas. Spilled cans of soda create flowing rivers and soda-falls across the landscape. Matchsticks help create fences, and so on. You get the idea. There are optional locations to visit outside of the main story path, as well as various combat encounter areas. You will also meet and encounter various NPCs in this world that will send you on optional side-quests to new areas or dungeons.

The main hub area in the game is the town of Brighthoof. It is here where some important story beats take place. This hub also includes the usual staples that you expect to see in a Borderlands hub, including a place to upgrade ammo and backpack capacity, a Quick Change Station for your character customization needs, bounty board, storage vault, lost loot machine, and vending machines. It is also home to her royal majesty, Queen Butt Stallion.

Butt Stallion isn't the only returning Borderlands character in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands. I won't say who all returns or how they are implemented into the game, but there are a few. I will say that their inclusion in this game makes sense, usually, and they tend to fit in nicely with the story.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is full of character stats, spells, dragons, fantastical creatures, illusionary walls, geeky characters, skeletons, hidden 20-sided dice collectibles, and so on. It is all of this, this charm, this totally unabashed fantasy-RPG charm, that really sets this game apart from the other Borderlands titles.

I must also give high praise for the actor choices in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands. You obviously have Ashly Burch reprising the role of the titular Tiny Tina. The character isn't quite as "in your face" as in the Borderlands games, which may be nice for some players to hear. Comedian and actor Will Arnett is a really solid choice for the voice of the Dragon Lord, the main baddy that you will be hearing from a lot throughout the game. Accompanying you, the Fatemaker, on your journey will be Captain Valentine voiced by Andy Samberg and the robot Frette, voiced by Wanda Sykes. All these voice actors, plus all those I did not name, did a tremendous job throughout the game.

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Though the game was a very fun romp, one that I look forward to playing through again in the future, it does have a few obvious faults. First off, the game is relatively short. The main campaign will take most players probably about 12 to 13 hours to complete. It's not super short, but it's substantially shorter than Borderlands 1-3, where the main campaigns of each alone took 22 or more hours to complete. Of course, there are several side-quests and optional areas to explore, plus the collectibles for those that are into that sort of thing, which will probably bump that time up to a more robust 35+ hours in total. This, however, still comes up well short of the 60 to 120+ hours you will spend 100%'ing any of the first three Borderlands.

I still have some side-quests to work on and there are the endgame Chaos Chamber to play. The Chaos Chamber offers players a series of challenging combat scenarios, either randomized or specifically selected. As you progress through each encounter, there will be modifiers added, rewards granted, and optional challenges to complete for greater rewards. It is in these that you will also find the so-called "raid boss" encounters for Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, assuming you discover how to trigger the encounters.

Despite the wonderful fantasy setting and the whole D&D theme they were going for, I wish Gearbox went just a bit further with it. I would have liked to have seen some level of player choice in the game when it comes to some key story beats. It is not something that has been implemented in the main Borderlands games before, but it could have worked well if you were given a chance to have some say in what your character chooses to do in some situations. Maybe tie them in to some sort of skill check and roll a die to see if you pass the check? Beyond that, I feel as though the weapons don't particularly fit well into the world that was created. Some pistols and rifles have elements of crossbows on them but that's kind of it. There is still an overabundance of normal Borderlands styled weapons in this game.

The performance for me on PC wasn't all that fantastic. While I can probably attribute some performance woes on my aging GTX 1080 Ti, not everything can just be handwaved away. Every time I started the game, there would be a brief period where it would have to compile shaders. This isn't totally unusual, but it did happen every time. While playing the game, I would also experience hitches. These hitches should be very, very familiar to anybody who plays a DirectX 12 game where shaders are compiled on the fly. That hitch would be the PC taking a moment to compile the shader for a new visual effect that was just about to appear on screen. No matter how many times I started the game up, this happened every single time for most every new visual effect and was especially noticeable nearer the start of a play session.

There was also this weird issue where, right after I started the game up, a browser window would pop up prompting me to connect the game to my Epic account. First off, this was weird because I was literally launching the game from the Epic Games Store launcher, the only place it's available on PC right now. Secondly, this happened every single time I started the game.

There is also an issue with the Gearbox Shift servers. That issue is that they are woefully unstable. You will often see a message popping up on your screen saying that you were disconnected from the Shift servers, only to see a second or two later a message saying you are now connected again. It happens very often, no matter if you are playing solo or not. Though I cannot confirm this, some users have even complained that this constant disconnect/reconnect cycle causes their games to experience hitches and sub-optimal performance.

Finally, the inventory management in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands leaves a lot to be desired. It really does not seem to improve much over its predecessors. I would have loved to have been able to drag and drop items from my inventory to my equipped gear, for instance. Also, when selling items in succession, I often found that the gear item my mouse was clearly hovering over wasn't the highlighted (read: active) gear piece. This caused me to inadvertently sell a few items I did not want to. Fortunately, there is a buyback option at the vending machines, so it wasn't a total disaster.

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Honestly, even with these gripes, I still had a really great time with Tiny Tina's Wonderlands. I would rank it right up there next to Borderlands 2 in terms of quality. The writing is fantastic, and the gameplay improvements, many of which were brought over from Borderlands 3, often put it a step beyond Borderlands 2. If you are at all a fan of the previous Borderlands games and their satisfying gameplay loops, you really cannot go wrong with this game. I just wish it was a bit longer. I also hope that the first major patch for the game (which has not come out at the time of this writing) addresses some of those other complaints I had.

There is also some DLC already planned for the game, though details on what all this DLC will include have been scarce. As I understand it, there will be four DLC releases for the game with the first one coming later in April. Each DLC will take players to a new location that features five levels, along with a boss fight at the end of each area. There will be new items, weapons, and gear to earn in each DLC, as you may have expected there to be. There will also be a seventh playable class added with the final DLC release that will include its own skill tree and action skills.

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Additional Information
  • Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
    • Developed by: Gearbox Software
    • Published by: 2K
  • Price: Starting at $59.99 (USD)
  • Platform reviewed on: PC via Epic Games Store
    • Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, 32GB DDR4 3600 RAM, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti
    • Also available on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
  • Release Date: March 24, 2022
  • ESRB: T for Teen (Blood, crude humor, language, partial nudity, suggestive themes, violence)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

Additional Screenshots
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