Tiny Tina's Wonderlands looks like a smart distillation of the core Borderlands experience. Developer Gearbox Software has settled into a pretty predictable rhythm in the mainline series, with the studio now adept at delivering vibrant post-apocalyptic open worlds, scripts overflowing with irreverent humor, and enough shooting and looting for a four-player party to busy itself for years at a time. All of that returns in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, albeit in a more refined and experimental package.
Speaking to our friends at Play Magazine, the game's creative director Matt Cox says: "We're very passionate about fantasy at the studio, and we love our gun and loot loop as well. With the Assault On Dragon's Keep DLC, we dipped our toe in the water of fantasy and looter shooter, and I think it was very obvious to everybody here that the ceiling is much higher than just a DLC, so it definitely deserves to be explored in a standalone fashion."
An adventure worth taking
Game Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Developer Gearbox Software
Publisher 2K Games
Platforms PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Release March 25, 2022
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is both intrinsically tied to the legacy of Borderlands and should be considered entirely standalone from it. It's a direct expansion of the concept behind the aforementioned 2013 DLC for Borderlands 2, wherein we played an RPG campaign called Bunkers & Badasses – Pandora's riff on Dungeons & Dragons. And so while Tiny Tina's Wonderlands may indeed feature a few familiar faces and many returning featuresets, it requires no previous investment in the series to get involved.
"I think it's very important that when we have a standalone title, that we have our own identity," Cox continues, noting that this was something Gearbox was keen to emphasise from the outset of a new Bunkers & Badasses adventure. "We wanted to take the spirit of the character sheet, where you get to design your visuals, choose what class you are, what you look like, and what you sound like… a character creator is something that's very new for us, and is very unique to it as well."
Traditionally, Borderlands locks playstyles behind authored characters and defined classes. But in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, you'll have the capacity to properly express yourself – just as you would in a real life tabletop-RPG campaign. "You can look absolutely gorgeous, absolutely monstrous; however you want to express your character, we hope we have options that cover pretty much all the bases," says senior producer Kayla Belmore of the deep character customisation.
As for its class system, Gearbox is keen to give players the freedom to experiment. Not only with hero points, which let you strengthen aspects of your character build such as strength and dexterity, and improve core proficiencies over the new magic and melee systems, but with the classes themselves too. "We have six classes and each class has two skills that you'll be able to choose between. As you progress through the game, you'll have the opportunity to unlock multi-classing, so you'll be able to slot in a secondary class on top of the first skill tree," says Belmore, adding, "and all of the gear has stats, abilities, and attributes that interplay with each other, so you can make a really custom build if you want to."
Given how open to experimentation the Borderlands games have always felt, particularly in co-op and end-game world states, the decision to open up character and class customisation feels natural. As too does the return of Borderlands' infamous looter shooter loop. "The same procedural tech that works for guns, we've applied that to both spells and melee," says Cox.
While Gearbox once bragged that Borderlands 3 contained one billion guns, it's yet to commit to a number for Tiny Tina's Wonderland. Instead, Cox wants to pull attention to its more refined approach to procedural weaponry. "We're less concerned with the quantity of guns and we're more interested in exploring the different ways that we can have combat complement each other. So guns are the star of the show with their own fantasy twists, but we want people to explore different types of spells that they'll find in chests and dropping from enemies."
Speaking as a longtime series fan who thought he'd had his fill after Borderlands 3 in 2019, I must say: Tiny Tina's Wonderland has my attention. I like weapon variation-induced mayhem as much as the next Vault Hunter, but a twist on combat conventions is long overdue. Deep character customisation and a new loot pool in spell casting are certainly fun additions, but it's the bigger shifts that interest me. The expanded framework of combat (as guns gain different firing modes, crossbow and magic barrels, and more), and the decision to ditch the sprawling open-world for a JRPG inspired overworld – with action shifting seamlessly from first-person carnage to third-person exploration with a chibi interpretation of your custom character – has really sold me on the premise.
As Belmore attests, Gearbox wants to step out of your way and let you find your own fun in Tina Tina's Wonderlands. "Player expression in all forms is something that's very core to the entire title. So everything from how you look to how you play, we want to give options, we want to give variety, we want to have people come up with crazy builds that do all sorts of fun stuff. So we definitely want to give that variety and those options and allow players to really express themselves however they want to play."
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