Tiny Tina's Wonderlands review

By Luke Albigés,
For a game whose entire marketing campaign has been built around the promise of letting players become Chaotic Great, it's a bit of a shame that Tiny Tina's Wonderlands itself peaks around Chaotic Good and sometimes dips to around Chaotic Decent. The ingredients are all here for an amazing game — it's effectively an expanded version of Borderlands 2's Assault on Dragon Keep DLC (one of the all-time great DLC packs), leaning even more heavily into that neat D&D-style fantasy framework — but at almost every turn, there's a misstep or questionable design decision that leads to not one glaring issue holding Wonderlands back, but a death by a thousand cuts to its chances of matching up to the Borderlands series at its peak. It's still enjoyable when it's in its stride, but the game's flow is so frequently interrupted by random encounters (a mix of both literal in-game ones and mechanical speedbumps that range from odd pacing and sketchy systems to crashes and disconnects) that it never gets the chance to build momentum and become the Chaotic Great adventure it sets out to be.

The first of these niggling issues stems from Wonderlands' very premise. It's a game that drops players into a tabletop RPG session run by a hyperactive child who doesn't really know what she's doing, and while the game master (GM) being kinda terrible is played as a running joke, it still ultimately means you're playing an RPG with a bad GM. Tina's on-the-fly retcons and improvised encounters worked just fine in the more limited scope of Assault on Dragon Keep, but it quickly gets predictable in a longer campaign, especially if you've played Dragon Keep as a lot of the fourth-wall-breaking gags are effectively reruns. Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious and her amateurish scene-setting is frequently amusing, but it's never long before a joke about interrupting the flow of the game with things like unprepared encounters or GM mistakes actually interrupts the flow of the game. This stop/start nature is compounded by having way too many loading screens between you and any given objective (more on that in a bit) so pacing is a little all over the place, and framing is similarly iffy. Dragon Keep had the familiar Vault Hunters all playing along to keep you company on your adventure, while Wonderlands just has two brand new characters at the table who, while pretty entertaining at times, aren't even fellow Bunkers & Badasses players, merely your 'advisors.' Like everyone else in the game, they're almost lethally verbose, especially considering they play no direct role in the adventure itself.

Still, you do really miss that constant dialogue when it's gone. During your first run through an area, you'll have Tina and co setting the scene, bickering, resolving actions, and so forth the whole time; return to that same area later to mop up side missions and the silence is deafening, peppered only by the verbal diarrhea of the player character. It feels like locations have been stretched out to accommodate that initial narration density, meaning that returning to them can just see you traipsing across mostly empty expanses while your GM and advisors all sit silently at the table until Tina wakes up when you happen upon an optional objective. Given that Borderlands games are typically all about the endgame, having post-story exploration feel so lifeless compared to the main campaign doesn't do Wonderlands many favours on that front. Still, for all the complaints, the issues here are not for want of tabletop gaming love and knowledge. That's on display in abundance, both in major ways — Tina's dismay at the party not taking to her favourite NPC while doggedly pursuing a nobody, or taking frustrations out on them by ramping up combat difficulty will likely resonate with anyone who has run RPG sessions — and more subtle ones, like character accents fluctuating as they often do when players are feeling out a new voice, and even some of Tina's scuffed encounters. As with everything else, these are played with an open hand in Wonderlands, and again, real-life GMs are likely to get a few flashbacks to times they have had to resort to winging it at the table, hopefully with a little more discretion and control than the bombastic kid behind the screen here.

Being a standalone spin-off, Wonderlands has the luxury of being able to take more liberties with its fantasy setting than could be managed in DLC for a sci-fi shooter, so it's surprising how reserved the team is in this regard. Borderlands' four-gun system returns, with shields rebranded as Wards (but functionally identical) and grenades swapped out for cooldown-based Spells which serve much the same purpose. Ranged weapons have been given slightly more of a fantasy flavour in some cases, with many pistols and rifles taking the form of crossbows (which have an inherent perk that deals more damage for every bolt stuck in an enemy) and magical shotguns powered by crystals, plus there's a new damage type. On top of frost, fire, lightning, and poison variants, you'll also find Dark Magic weapons and skills, which trigger a life leech status effect when it procs. While some enemies do resist dark damage, this still feels really strong, so you'll likely want to run at least one weapon or skill of this type for when your Ward breaks... builds with lots of sources of dark damage can feel almost impossible to put down outside of getting one-shot, which most classes seem to have a way to mitigate anyway. Save for a few additional accessory slots to help beef out your build, the main change is a fifth weapon slot reserved for melee weapons like staves, axes, or swords, and there is some cool interplay here — wands and rods might roll with the ability to work off spell damage rather than melee damage to give casters a more reliable close-range option, while frontline fighters may be on the lookout for a fancy sword that tops up shields on impact for better survivability.

We see far more noticeable evolution under the hood, with the new D&D-style character sheet and multiclassing options. The former makes for greater build customisation by adding stats points however you like on level-up and it's pretty simple, but the latter has a lot more going on. Rather than having a single class with multiple skill trees to work through in previous games, each of the six classes in Wonderlands only has a single tree, but you soon get the option of picking up a second class on top of your starting one. This opens up that second tree so you can spread points across both as you see fit, as well as opening up the secondary class' passive ability and Action Skills. Some have natural and obvious synergy (combining two pet classes will get you both companions, for example) while others might be a little more niche, but you can freely swap out your second class for another any time you respec, in case you later spot a combo that gels better with your play style or would ramp up your damage thanks to some nonsense loot you've found. They're cool systems that can lead to some utterly ludicrous builds, but one thing Wonderlands could stand to do better is offer an accurate impression of how all of these systems play into one another. Some stat screens show only base stats, others incorporate certain buffs or bonuses, but nowhere can you see exactly how base stats, gear bonuses, class perks, Myth Ranks, and all the rest actually fit together, and this lack of visibility makes theorycrafting builds borderline impossible and brute force trial-and-error the only way to see whether a combo is actually any good.

Another fairly major change to the Borderlands formula is the addition of an overworld that connects together all of the main locations in the Wonderlands. This is a neat idea in theory, and the presentation is on the money (even if the big-headed Funko-esque 'miniatures' are ugly as sin) as a sprawling world diorama Tina has created as a visual guide for her players, littered with side quests and stray snacks alike. It's awesome to have this explorable wider world to put all of the locations into context — and to see the overworld change based on certain actions — but the issue with it lies in how much it slows the game down. Every time you want to get back into the shooty-looty action from the world map, there's at least one load screen on the way in and another on the way out, plus a few more if you hit a multi-stage encounter. Even on Series consoles, these loads aren't exactly quick (pray for Xbox One players) so I ended up skipping almost every random encounter the game threw it me purely to dodge that load loop, whereas I'd usually kill anything that moves in these games in case it drops something shiny.

Dungeons around the map often can't be skipped as they tend to be tied to side quests, lead to new areas, or house Shrine Pieces needed to trigger powerful permanent buffs. Just like the narrative, these are really stop/start affairs — each is effectively a sequence of individual unconnected arena combats with a prize at the end. As you'll notice when you reach endgame, dungeons are basically just simplified versions of the Chaos Chamber activity, stripped of the mechanics that make that mode interesting and left as mere bite-size bursts of blasting in confined areas. The more traditional named locations are much better (if a little barren on repeat visits, as mentioned earlier), but the Overworld actually makes reaching them — even ones you've already found — that much more fiddly as its existence aims to replace the ability to fast travel between different locations. You can zoom back to the capital at any time, sure, but if you want to go anywhere else, you'll need to either fumble around in the needlessly cumbersome world map menu or make your way back there on the Overworld, which can be quite the tedious trek, even with shortcuts and the ability to punch random encounters into non-existence.

Endgame systems are another area that feel like a sizeable step back from the Borderlands games. There are challenges galore for everything from specific weapon kills to looting certain items, akin to the Badass Rank challenges of old, except here, they only reward experience (not a bad change in and of itself) and there seems to be no way of actually tracking them (update: found 'em, buried three menus deep in the Progress tab of the world map... obviously). At the level cap of 40, you unlock Myth Ranks — a hybrid of Badass Ranks and Diablo's Paragon system — which let you pour points earned by levelling past the cap into a cycling set of four stat trees. It's a decent enough system but unlike account-wide Badass Ranks, these seem to be character-specific, making the idea of grinding up a second character a pretty grim prospect without the powerful perks we've had on our side when levelling alts in the Borderlands games. We're also missing any form of New Game+ or True Vault Hunter mode equivalent, so the only thing you can do in the endgame to secure better gear is to boost your Chaos level (similar to Borderlands 3's Mayhem levels, only simpler) and cross your fingers, because drop rates are pretty rough. Stronger Chaotic gear variants have around a 1% drop rate per Chaos level, and hitting the current cap of Chaos 20 unlocks a second tier of loot called Volatile, capped at a drop rate of a little over 1%. Good luck grinding for a specific Volatile item with a usable roll — even with the focused rewards of Chaos Chamber mode, I've already spent around 20 hours fishing for a Volatile version of the sawblade-flinging Legendary rifle I love so much, and have only seen a couple of Chaotic variants in that time.

So what is the Chaos Chamber? Well, it's a string of arena battles against increasingly powerful foes as you crank up the Chaos, with optional objectives (and some fun little secrets) and your choice of buffs and paths along the way. There are four chamber types — Butt Stallion grants a buff to a random class tree ability and Dragon Lord offers one of two curses that increase payout at the cost of added risk, with the other two offering just more gems or extra loot respectively — but you'll only ever have a choice of two at each junction, so you won't always be able to take the optimal path. Similarly, shrines in arenas appear at random, so if your build needs, say, an elemental damage buff to shine but that shrine never appears, you're out of luck. In one final and aggressive act of variance to really sell the chaotic theme, the boss you face in the last stage is chosen at random, meaning some runs you'll stomp one of the first few major enemies from the story in seconds, while others you'll end up facing a buffed version of the final boss of the game who deals close to double damage while having more than 500% health... combined with a couple of the more dangerous curses, this can be an absolute run-killer. Beat the big bad and you'll get a chestload of goodies, plus the ability to spend remaining gems on specific gun or gear types, offering a much-needed way to chase the key components you feel are missing from your build. Chaos Chamber is such an 'almost' of a mode for me. With a few more optional objective types, a little less run-breaking variance (maybe let us choose between several boss options at the end, as at other branches), and a few other quality-of-life tweaks from the kinds of roguelites on which the mode riffs (option rerolls or quick restarts, for instance), it could be amazing. Right now, it has to settle for 'good but extremely repetitive,' so fingers crossed it gets some more love in the upcoming DLC.

In this day and age, news that Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is a triple-A game that didn't work properly at launch shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Making the game fully cross-platform was a great move by the team, although placing all that extra weight on the Shift servers saw them buckle under the pressure, making online multiplayer borderline (or even entirely) unplayable for the first few days. While much improved already, it can still be a little sketchy at times, with the odd disconnect or laggy moments especially at peak times, and there are a host of other lesser issues that are still yet to be addressed. Prompts and dialogue have a tendency to hang around on screen way after they should have vanished, or to reappear after changing locations; ally health bars often don't refresh properly, making managing companions on pet builds a real pain; Chaos Trials don't always correctly reward progress (make sure the current Chaos level is displayed or the run won't count!); performance can take some pretty nasty hits during hectic sequences or lootsplosions; menus can at times be unresponsive or laggy. It's a shopping list of pretty minor frustrations — especially compared to that big issue of multiplayer simply not working at launch — but they all add up, so we're hoping to see a lot of these addressed in the coming weeks to make for a much more polished experience.

As for the Tiny Tina's Wonderlands achievements, the list looks, on paper, to be a much more manageable completion than your typical Borderlands game. There are no random spawn enemies to chase, no full map completions to worry about, and it's just generally a much simpler list... almost to a fault. Chaos Chamber is a perfect example, with loads of creative achievement opportunities, yet all we get is 'do one run,' 'reach level 10,' and 'reach level 20.' Like most of the list, it could have stood to be a little more interesting, but with it being as straightforward as it is, you should comfortably be able to do the majority on one character in around 50 hours, only needing minor online interaction to revive and trade with another player once. Hang on, 'the majority?' Yes, while Wonderlands is a simplified list for the most part, one absolutely gross achievement still managed to slip through the net. Mule Character requires you to fully upgrade every storage slot, which will run you hundreds of millions of gold and countless hours of grinding. Some players have been using a recurring series item duplication glitch to unlock this early or I'm pretty sure it'd be physically impossible to pop this yet — I'm working on it legit while Chaos boosting a friend and fishing for better rolls (and Chaotic/Volatile upgrades) ahead of the DLC, and it's taking forever — but at least it shows that the platinum-style achievement is working as intended, so that's good news.


Tiny Tina's Wonderlands expands on Borderlands 2's Assault on Dragon Keep DLC in some interesting and meaningful ways, but feels like it struggles to stretch out what was a fantastic gimmick for a shorter expansion to fill a full-length campaign without falling back on repeating its material. Gunplay is typically great and the numbers-go-up power fantasy as gratifying as ever, but even though it's notably less aggressive than Borderlands 3 in its attempts to make you laugh, there are still plenty of limp pop culture references and cringeworthy 'topical' gags that are likely to grate on even fans of the series' brash humour. It's an adventure that both tabletop fans and Borderlands junkies will no doubt enjoy for its decent runtime, but the upcoming DLC is going to need to shake up the endgame quite considerably if Wonderlands is going to keep players invested beyond the initial completion — farming a single activity for the chance to make that one activity a little easier next time is a loop that is only going to hold the attention of the most ardent of stat fiends for long. File under Chaotic Good for now, then, although with the series having a pretty strong track record in terms of DLC, there's still a chance for Tiny Tina's Wonderlands to reach the Chaotic Great standard to which it aspires.
7 / 10
* Luke spent around 70 hours questing around the Wonderlands, picking up 37 of 39 achievements along the way. He purchased the game and played on both Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.
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