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Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep recasts Borderlands 2 in a fourth-wall-breaking fantasy setting

The last of Borderlands 2's promised downloadable content is also unquestionably the biggest. There are more quests, more enemies and more art assets than the other three DLC campaigns combined.

"This was our last campaign DLC so we thought, ‘Fuck it, let's go all in'," Gearbox Software writer Anthony Burch said.

All of that extra content powers an imaginative recreation of the apocalyptic Borderlands 2 world.

Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep takes place as a game inside a game. Players are controlling characters inside a game of Borderlands' take on Dungeons and Dragons, Bunkers and Badasses, with Tiny Tina as the bunker master.

The DLC hits June 25 and is included with the season pass or can be purchased on its own for $9.99 or 800 Microsoft points.

The game opens with a cut-scene that sets up the rest of the game: Tiny Tina and the vault hunters at a table playing the game. As Tina narrates what's happening, the cut-scene cuts to gameplay in a world actively shaped by Tina's voice-over descriptions.

While nothing has changed about your vault hunter characters, besides a level cap increase to 61, all of the enemies are completely new, created specifically to fit in with the new fantasy setting. So that means orcs, goblins, knights, dwarves, skeletons, all created with a mash-up of Borderlands aesthetic and Tiny Tina humor.

"Wizards, knights, orcs, dwarves, any fantasy D&D cliché we play with and make our own," Burch said.

Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep is a game inside a game.

For instance, Orc Zerkers have two guns, but the context is still fantasy.

Tiny Tina's attitude and voice play a major role in the game. She doesn't just describe the settings, your quests and the enemies you face, she'll sometimes change things if she sees you're having a rough time, or she gets bored. These fourth-wall-breaking narrative tweaks result in immediate changes in the game as you play. Sometimes her actions do too. In one example, a die falls from the sky and kills a character.

The narration is mostly pre-scripted, but there are branching decisions, Burch said.

"You fail a bunch of times and she may be like ‘Fuck it' and then she makes it easier and things will change in front of you," he said. "Sometimes enemies behavior changes too."

And Tina isn't the only one talking in the game, players will also get to hear the vault hunters occasionally saying what they want to do, as you do it.

"A lot of the fans felt that the player character should talk more," Burch said. "Different characters say different things. They never did that in the main game."

While the game still features guns, despite the fantasy setting, they're not the typical weapons of Borderlands.

"We have guns that shoot exploding swords."

"We have guns that shoot exploding swords," Burch said. "We've got these grenade modes that are reworked into being magic spells. There are these new grenades that wizards drop that are fire balls, magic missiles and lightning blots."

When you use the mods, he said, your character will say the type of mod it is, like lightning bolt, or fireball, in a nod to an live-action-role-playing cliche.

The game also brings back some fan favorites, recreated to fit the new motif.

Mr. Torgue, for instance, comes back as a mouthy, quest-giving gatekeeper who asks you to prove your baddassitude before you can pass through his gate.

It's easy to get lost in the details of this last campaign, noticing things like the reinvented shops (like Zed's Apothecary and Marcus' Missiles) and chests that have you roll a D20, or the game's music that now features a mandolin and panflutes, or even the way your character is reborn after every player-induced death.

The settings I saw included a gothic town, an uninviting forest populated with living trees and pixies and a distant tower, complete with a queen you need to save.

"I think that's appealing, the recontextualization of everything that Borderlands is," Burch said. "It's not remarkably different than [Borderlands'] 'The Zombie Island of Dr Ned'."

One of the benefits of building a campaign around a game within a game is that it allows the developers to tell two stories. The more obvious one is the story taking place inside the game of B&B, but there's also a second story of the people around the table playing the game. It's a story of how Tiny Tina is using the B&B campaign to deal with the deaths of her friends.

"We found after the fact, that implicitly dungeons and dragons can be a good way to deal with real world issues and help with healing," Burch said. "In general, when you see D&D culture or nerd culture dealt with, it's in two condescending ways: Either nerds are punchlines or, more worrisome, the idea that if you play these games you're a bad person because the games are about killing people and that's horrible.

"We wanted to be that other voice, to point out that fantasy can have really helpful applications."

The next level of puzzles.

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