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Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands weaponizes a TTRPG in the most amusing way

Take on orcs, goblins, and dragons with a bespoke arsenal that’s still 100%, free-wheeling Borderlands

A cloaked figure raises a mystical rifle at a mecha-dragon barfing fire
Gahhh! The hideous Vorcanar! This is the boss oppressing a bunch of idiot goblins in an optional area of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.
Image: Gearbox Software/2K Games
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Just as in mainstream Borderlands, it didn’t take long for me to find my favorite weapon in a preview playthrough of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands — Gearbox Software’s mashup of its 13-year-old shooter franchise with an off-the-rails, tabletop RPG actual play. Naturally, I forgot to write its name down.

Whatever the case, in the hands of my character class, it encouraged reloading with ammo still left in the clip. It’s a disposable rifle, which the Borderlands series has done before; once done, you chuck the weapon, another teleports into your hands, and the discarded one blows up for some gratuitous violence. In Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, the dead rifle summoned some kind of netherworld spirit, which became a sentry gun tossing dark fireballs at nearby enemies.

Considering the abundance of ammo chests that hostile goblins had left in this designated sub-boss showdown area, I started tossing rifles left and right, letting their demonic souls do my dirty work as my ultimate attack and magic spells completed their cooldowns. All this highlighted the most conspicuous evolution of Wonderlands from its predecessor, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, an unexpectedly popular 2013 add-on to Borderlands 2.

Dragon Keep was, like Wonderlands is, pure Borderlands, running and gunning with some clever dialogue interruptions to let you know Tina was the dungeon master of a bonkers module in the commensurately bonkers Bunkers & Badasses role-playing game. But in Dragon Keep, you’re still running around with Borderlands classes and the main world’s weapons.

Credit to Gearbox’s designers, the creativity and effort behind the weapon skins in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands sells it as much more than a spin-off. The arsenal is still mainly ranged weapons — swords, morning stars, and axes are still right-thumbstick attacks whenever an enemy gets too close. But the sounds, the projectiles, and the reloading animations are plenty amusing. One weapon, functionally a grenade launcher, is reloaded by sprinkling magic dust over an open pot of crystals serving as the weapon’s magazine. You can see it in the boss battle at 18:45 of the walkthrough video, which summarizes the story arc Polygon and other media played in a hands-on preview over the past week.

Weapons are not class-restricted any more than they are in vanilla Borderlands. The better ones, usually graded uncommon and above, will provide marginal, passive buffs to class abilities. Playing as a “Graveborn,” that meant I was trailed by a flying familiar (a “Demi-Lich”) also spitting attacks and only occasionally getting killed. Graveborn’s ultimate attack, such that I understood what I was looking at, converted some of their health into an overwhelming burst of dark magic, which put a premium on deploying it when it was sure to finish off my surrounding enemies.

The other class, which I played less of but which is featured entirely in the preview video above, is the delightfully named “Stabbomancer,” which functions somewhat like the preceding series’ sniper or Siren classes. Their ultimate ability is a powerful melee attack (whirling blades) followed by a quick disappearance to safety.

Let’s be clear: While the weapons, armor, and spells of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands are all bespoke, they still function according to the same structure of shields, guns, and other gadgets from the main Borderlands universe. Wards, for example, buff your overall shield rating and can absorb a specific type of damage. Magic rings can supplement your armor with better capacity and recharge rates. Magic spells, executed with the left bumper, are somewhat like grenades, except a modest cooldown (which can be modified by other gear) substitutes for an ammunition count.

Looting and inventory management therefore plays the same role in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands as in the main series, too. At level 9 of the preview build I was given, my character had 36 slots in their backpack, which required a couple of fast travels back to the vending machines (a Borderlands staple) to get rid of all the lesser maces, crossbows, and armor sets that spilled out of sub-bosses. No matter what my weapon’s capacity or rate of fire was, I was never in danger of running out of ammunition. I couldn’t tell if this was specific to this preview build, for the writers’ convenience, or if loot chest availability corresponds to the difficulty chosen (I took a standard setting). But every area was littered with cash drops and ammo crates.

As for the story, I couldn’t pick up much with regard to the overall campaign goal. A note to previewers said we were in an optional area of the main game. I was solving some workplace issues for a hapless group of enslaved goblins that I’d run across. Tiny Tina herself appeared to be supplying the voices for the NPCs and mission-givers, and occasionally others seated at the table would offer wall-breaking asides, like asking for the always-aggravating roll for detect magic.

Wonderlands’ meta-story looks like it will play a half-assing-it adventuring party (including A-list comedians Wanda Sykes and Andy Samberg, with Will Arnett in the role of the big bad) against a frustrated DM who is taking things way more seriously. I didn’t see Tina interpose directly on my story arc, but the game’s menus are clear that she will rebalance the game, even if players elect to min-max their builds.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, first announced during E3 2021, will launch March 25 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC as a timed exclusive on the Epic Games Store. It’ll be available on Steam later.

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