Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Preview – From DLC To Full-Blown Experience

The affectionately-named Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is for sure going to be describable with one word: hella hilarious. Ok, maybe two words, but you get the drift.

Growing like a magic mushroom from what could arguably be Borderlands 2’s best DLC (which was actually free last month on PS Plus), the Tiny Tina’s oeuvre is a love letter to all things Dungeons & Dragons, mixed with the tongue-in-cheek Borderlands humor, and lots and lots of IRL references.

Ahead of its launch on March 25, we got invited to spend time with Tiny Tina on our PC’s as we got to play with goblins and trolls, spells and sabers, and incredulous amounts of bullets and guns. Needless to say, it was quite the familar Borderlands experience that made us more excited about its release later this month.

Your move, Tiny Tina!

We play as the Fatemaker, the player-character inside Tiny Tina’s huge fantasy world, who is privy to shooting up everything in the quest to beat the tyrannical Dragon Lord. However which way you want to do that is up to you: while the character creation is an homage to tabletop RPGs, the “classes” are more flexible and reward creative combinations of choices.

In Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, you can pick from various skills from different classes (we got to play with two in the preview) as you go along, building your Fatemakers’ prowess for specific specialties. Our fledgling Graveborn could focus on strengthening their Demilich familiar that attacks enemies on its own or on their own spells that deal damage via magic missiles or explodey-bodies.

When Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands launches, you can pick from Brr-Zerker, Stabbomancer, Clawbringer, Spellshot, Graveborn, or Spore Warden, and then weave and branch your way up the levels and skill trees. The choice is yours, and a big part of the fun is actually trying it all out to see what works for you.

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Skills aren’t all that makes a Fatemaker: there are all sorts of customization options in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands for your OOTD – from armor to clothing, and even to your skin and body type. We got room in here for every pronoun you can think of, and changing it midgame is as simple as picking up an item and hopping up to a quickchange kiosk.

When nothing else is working, you can choose to have fun in character creation (something that was not available during our preview) with Slider Overdrive, a feature that was much touted by Ian Childs, Lead System Designer on Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.

“When you engage Slider Overdrive, there’s no lifeguard at the pool. You want a giant nose that clips through giant lips? You want a helmet that clips through a mask? You want your eyes rotated 90 degrees, or to have one eye rotated differently than the other eye? Go for it. That’s funny, and funny is fun. And in a world like the Wonderlands, driven by Tina, that feels very much in line with the theme of the game.”

The prevailing theme in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is to simply go crazy and have fun, something that’s immediately evident from the get-go even if it is pretty much Borderlands.

Weird is hilarious

Of course, there are guns. Tons and tons of ‘em. Those familiar with Borderlands are going to love the loot pinatas that enemies are, although I still loathe the clickfest involved in picking up piles of drops. Tiny Tina has seen fit to model her imaginary world after her IRL world, wherein various corporations push their own brands of deathbringers into production. Kleave axes, Stoker rifles, Dahlia submachine guns, the works, with each one having its own referential lore.

Gearbox loves its guns, and you’ll spend a sizeable amount of your time sorting thru the chaff, something I both sometimes enjoy and sometimes hate because there’s just so many!

The gunplay is frenetic – empty a clip, cast a spell, use your ultimate, swing your sword, all in 3 to 5 seconds. Clearly, Gearbox has not lost its love for the adrenaline-charged clickfest that destroys gaming mice the world over. Don’t you fear about running out of ammo, a chest full of ‘em is just about everywhere, just like in Borderlands mainline titles, because the name of this game is still shooty-shooty-bang-bang.

Each map seems cleverly crafted to drive the Fatemakers into a rhythm of going Rambo, running back for some ammo/health, jumping into the fray swinging a big ole hammer down on a fool wyvern’s head, and then surveying the colorful crap strewn about on the ground afterward. There are lulls in the gameplay, but you’re never far off from opening another chest, cracking another barrel, or exploding another critter.

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Co-op is on the horizon, and with how the encounters are designed, I sure would have loved some help along the way. Much like D&D, it seems like classes can mesh well with skills and tactics planned out for specific strategies (or well, even random chances – some would say that can even be more fun). There’s room for roles that teams can divvy up amongst their Fatemakers, such as crowd control and AOE. 

There are quests and sidequests, drawn to life by both Ashly Burch’s passionate narrations, and her other all-star players: Andy Samberg as the charming and witty Valentine, Wanda Sykes as the sassy Frette, and more. They’re not us though, they’re Tiny Tina’s players, but that doesn’t take away anything from the world-within-a-world-building here. Gearbox has taken much care in crafting the moments when the named characters talk over the adventure happening in real-time, much like players would talk over a tabletop gameboard, exclaiming over their (your) successes, or complaining about the Bunker Master’s dastardly traps and surprises. 

On top of that, the auditory assault of whizz-bang pop CRASH that’s constantly in play from the moment you pull a trigger is well-accompanied by carefully arranged songs and score. Much had gone into making this game feel like Borderlands But Fantasy: from the creative director Matt Cox’s dev diary: “For example, there’s the Ballad of Bones, a main mission where you have to help this skeleton pirate, Bones Three-Wood. There are sea shanties in that mission, all because one of our mission designers got really into sea shanties. We were like, ‘OK, how do we write and record and integrate sea shanties into our game? We haven’t done an in-game song before.’ That was a unique challenge, but it all stemmed from the mission designer just going ‘I have this idea.’”

The result is nothing short of a labor of love, as Wonderlands is full of internet humor and Youtube-memery. Including sea shanties.

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Small Quibbles

The game ran at a good steady 30 FPS for me, with the option to unlock provided better hardware (I barely hit recommended), but it doesn’t seem like one of those taxing triple-A releases. As a preview build, we’re more than expecting it to run better when the final build is out.

The loud visual diarrhea (I say this in a good and loving way) of black-outlined collections of colorful locales and denizens are cartoony but beautifully rendered in the BL tradition. One quibble I have is that it is sometimes hard to pick out specific things in your view at times, like that one goblin that keeps shooting green pebbles at you from afar. It can get quite loaded on-screen especially when a boss accompanied by its minions comes along, but slowdown wasn’t a problem at all.

That said, here’s a hopeful Badass and aspiring Bunker Master eagerly awaiting release, if only to see if my favorites (like the Orion or the Conference Call) from Borderlands appear in Wonderlands in some Bunkers & Badasses-flavored reference. From what I’ve seen, it’s only a matter of when, and not if.

This is Borderlands in all but theme, so if you’ve played the previous entries, the feeling of it being too familiar may be a detriment. That aside, there’s so much Valentine, Frette, and Tiny Tina to go around and that alone makes it something to look out for.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands launches on March 25 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and the PC.

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