Tiny Tina's Wonderlands (Xbox Series X) Review
- Super slick FPS action
- Superb dialogue and performances
- Delightfully silly
- Can get repetitive
- New system breaks up the pace
- Some stuttering issues
If you’ve played the past two Borderlands games you should be familiar with Tiny Tina, as she was arguably the best character in both of them, despite her appearances being rather limited. For those new to the franchise, she’s like a teenage Harley Quinn, only psychotic in a slightly more whimsical and child-like way that combines a penchant for violence with a twist of innocence. She did get her own spin-off in the DLC Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep for Borderlands 2, which gave the game a novel Dungeons & Dragons twist. Unsurprisingly, that was great and Wonderlands is very much more of the same, combining the best shooter-looter aspects of Borderlands with a surreal fantasy setting.
As with the DLC, Wonderlands is set within the tabletop game of Bunkers & Badasses, with Tina as the dungeon master. You take on the role of Fatemaster, a character within the B&B world playing out the events as they happen (in the Borderlands world you’re just known as Newbie). You’re dropped into a world that’s entirely of Tina’s imagination, which means there’s all sorts of craziness ahead of you. Seeing everything through that Tiny Tina lens adds a great twist to the game, offering up subtle and not-so-subtle nods to her emotions and personality throughout – as well as giving the game license to dip its toes into the ridiculous.
A wonderfully silly, surreal and genuinely heart-warming romp through a bright and crazy world that shouldn’t fail to put a smile on your face
In many ways it’s like the perfect antitheses to Elden Ring. The ‘ye olde’ settings may share a theme but the gameplay couldn’t be more different, with very little in Wonderlands to be taken seriously. There’s no creeping around with the fear of impending death here, even if the game can still get tough and you’ll also find bosses the size of a multi-storey car park. In this world, though, you’re able to delight in wading through a crowd of enemies, as bullets, magic spells, elemental effects and more collide in a glorious cascade of colour and you’re always the toughest guy in the room. So strap in for a silly, surreal and often laugh-out-loud funny FPS-RPG action-adventure.
Playing as a game within a game gives Wonderlands a great premise to toy with, and Gearbox doesn’t miss a trick. Whereas Assault on Dragon’s Keep was used as a coping mechanism for Tina dealing with a Vault Hunter’s death, Wonderlands is more about the psychotic orphan’s ongoing loneliness. Her eagerness to appease you and your tabletop playing partners will see her shifting the on-screen game before your eyes and Tina’s clearly making things up as she goes, offering hastily-concocted exposition and snappy one-liners throughout.
Wonderlands adds a second playing area to reflect the actual tabletop experience, known as Overworld. This effectively acts as hub to navigate between areas, but it’s filled with side-quests, loot and new Combat Encounters. These are basically arena battles with a fixed number of baddies to kill that are fun at first but do get repetitive pretty quickly – although the rewards are often worth the grind, with the likes of Shrine Pieces helping to add permanent buffs to your character, along with the obvious loot rewards.
You get to choose from six characters, with one new feature of Wonderlands being the capacity to adopt a second class as you progress. This means you can combine two skill trees into a rather more unique and diverse figure, which can be great for the most part (we picked two that came with AI companions and levelled them up for some crazy bonus damage) – although when it comes to co-op it also means you’ll have a lot of the same abilities which can negate a lot of that ‘uniqueness’.
Bullets, magic spells, elemental effects and more collide in a glorious cascade of colour
Speaking of co-op, Wonderlands is very much geared towards playing with others – to the point where there is no ‘single-player’ option, you just play with the game set to ‘Invite Only’ and don’t invite anyone. For those who’d rather run and gun with friends or strangers, there’s a very welcome four-player split screen (though limited to two on PS4 and Xbox One) and Crossplay in place. It certainly adds to the carnage when playing with others, even if things can get really hard to follow on a smaller split-screen image or if you’re all mashing effects and criticals on the same boss.
Shootin’ and Lootin’
Things are suitably adapted from your usual Borderlands loadout, with spells replacing grenades and a more traditional melee weapon at hand. Of course, this still being very much a Borderlands game, they also come with a similar array of elemental status effects – along with its randomised weapon generator opening up the potential for billions of different guns (and guns can exist here because this is Tina’s imaginary world and so any ‘real’ rules need not apply!).
The combat is every bit as satisfying as you’d expect and, whether you’re new to the Borderlands universe or a seasoned veteran, you’ll be in for a treat, as you combine weapons and spells with a vast number of additional perks fuelled by six item slots that only get better the more you level up. With a great range of effects and the two-tiered skill tree, there’s an almost limitless way you can combine the many potent powers at your disposal with gleefully silly and satisfying results.
Tina’s clearly making things up as she goes, offering hastily-concocted exposition and snappy one-liners throughout
It does seem to us as if the elemental effects are a little less potent than previous games (where you could routinely just shoot a guy once and wait for the fire/poison/whatever to kill him – though it does still happen!), although they’re still effective to the point where if you’re not using one, you really are missing a trick. On the plus side, your weapons don’t seem to age quite so quickly either – so that great SMG you find at Level 5 will still be effective against Level 10 enemies and above, so there’s no pressure to constantly upgrade your armoury if you’re happy with what you’ve got. That said, there’s always something tempting just around the corner if you’re willing to look…
If you are keen on exploration, Wonderlands has plenty of places to look and a ridiculous amount of loot to find on your travels. The Overworld area also throws up some side quests which can involve mission-sized playing areas on their own – we spent the best part of a day chasing side-quests within side-quests in just a couple of locations. Of course, there are plenty of new weapons and other non-lethal loot to find that makes exploration nearly always reward your time, with Lucky Dice acting as bonus loot chests that also increase your luck in any area, and plenty more.
The game is still broken up into distinct regions, packed with fast travel spots but still interrupted by loading screens (albeit very brief ones on our XSX), so it’s not quite seamless. Similarly, between the Overworld navigation and the Combat Encounters, the game can become a little disjointed and can lose a bit of momentum but, when the action is so good and the gags rarely stop coming, you’ll barely notice.
One of the great things about Wonderlands (and arguably the Borderlands franchise as a whole) is that nothing seems accidental or just ‘thrown in’. Every place name, every NPC, every line of dialogue seems to have some kind of subtle reference, be it a cheeky pun, a nod to previous Borderlands games, Dungeons & Dragons or just a glut of pop culture. In one pirate-led quest alone we bounced between Monkey Island, Goonies and more, with a riff on the Wellerman sea shanty thrown in for good measure. If you pay attention and/or are a fan of ‘geek’ culture, there’s easily twice as many in-jokes in Wonderlands to enjoy. And for Borderlands fans, yes, there are a few familiar faces in there besides Tina…
Graphics & Audio
Wonderlands hits all the expected markers in terms of 4K UHD delivery, and the game’s natural affinity for bright colours and explosions is aided by the inclusion of HDR10 to really make the game pop in some of the lighter locations. The darker caves and caverns still look good but the game doesn’t really deal in blacks so they can feel a bit grey-ish and bland in comparison. Though certainly a far more polished visual performance than Borderlands 3, it’s still not exactly a champion of next-gen technology, but given that the game is more about bullets, explosions, status effects and anything else that can fill the screen with text and a waterfall of cascading hit points, those finer details aren’t exactly missed.
The game’s natural affinity for bright colours and explosions is aided by the inclusion of HDR10 to really make the game pop
The game runs at a teasing 60fps+, though it’s hard to say how much that ‘+’ could be worth. For example, PC owners can cap the resolution at 120fps whereas console owners simply get the choice of whether to target resolution over framerate or vice versa. We opted for the latter and still had some stuttering issues, even outside of the action, where you’d imagine handling all that on-screen information – especially so in four-player co-op – would be more of a problem. That didn’t seem to be a trigger in our experience, but it's still something we'd expect to see addressed fairly quickly.
As for audio, Wonderlands supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, leaving it ripe to fill your ears with its rich arrays of bangs and booms, even if it doesn’t really push the technology in terms of spatial sound as most of the action takes place in front of you. Instead, the best part of the audio, and one of the best parts of the game as a whole, is the dialogue. The script is sharp, drifting from the surreal to the silly to genuinely laugh-out-loud moments from one line to the next and the A-list cast is outstanding.
There’s a special doff of the cap to the ever-excellent Ashly Burch who delivers a sublime performance as Tiny Tina, whether it's snapping sharp comebacks or rolling some whimsical nonsense; it’s a role that deserves as much praise as any of the more ‘dramatic’ gaming roles out there. Not far behind that you’ve got Will Arnett doing pretty much what he does, hamming up the bad guy in great style, with Andy Samberg and Wanda Sykes effortlessly at ease as your B&B playing companions – it’s a great cast and their talents (and the traits of some of their more familiar roles) are certainly not wasted here. Even the majority of NPCs are great in their own strange and flat-out batshit crazy ways.
The script is sharp, drifting from the surreal to the silly to genuinely laugh-out-loud moments
It certainly lifts the game as a whole, because the core storyline isn’t the strongest part of the Wonderlands experience. In those previous Borderlands games you had friends to help and a genuine connection to the ongoing fight, but here it’s really just building up to the largely predictable final boss fight and the few mini-bosses that line the path. It’s not a big problem because the journey really is where all the fun is to be found, but it is one downside of the game-within-a-game set-up.
As a final note, we should point out that there isn’t a free upgrade from PS4 and Xbox One to the new-gen consoles, unless you buy one of the special editions of Wonderlands (the Next Level Edition is basically both core games together). The Standard disc versions will be playable on the PS5 and XSX, but only in its original format – but can be upgraded for an additional fee. However, this might not be the case with the digital versions, so do check before you buy if you’re planning an upgrade any time soon.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands (Xbox Series X) Review
There’s an argument that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a bit too much like the previous Borderlands games, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking with a winning formula, and just about every twist that this game adds to the equation is for the better. The combat is great, the character customisation is nicely layered and there’s just a glorious self-awareness about the whole thing that never seems to take anything quite as seriously as you usually would in action games.
There’s loads of loot to find, upgrades and perks to level up with, and exploring every corner of the game world is not only fun but extremely worthwhile. Most of all, it’s a wonderfully silly, surreal and genuinely heart-warming romp through a bright and crazy world that shouldn’t fail to put a smile on your face. The fact that it all plays out through Tina’s endearingly cracked psyche is just a wonderful Wonderlands' bonus, and a sequel would be every bit as welcome as Borderlands 4.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is available on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4 and Windows PC from 25th March 2022, developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games.
The games console used in this review was kindly supplied by our gaming partner Smyths Toys Gaming, the No.1 choice for next-gen Gaming