Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands: The Final Preview
I can’t explain why I never liked Borderlands 3, but aside from its excellent additions, I’ve never been enamored with its world. It wasn’t until I got the chance to play a few hours of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands that I think I figured out my feelings about the last numbered entry in the series: the stakes seemed too high and often at odds with the humor that Borderlands is known for. On the other hand, Tiny Tina’s Wonderland is pure fantasy in many ways.
Its story is entirely self-contained, so while I was doing the quests suggested during the four-hour preview, I never felt the dissonance that I felt in Borderlands 3. Instead, I felt exactly what I want to feel when I play. Borderlands: put as much effort into the story as it helped me find more loot and ridiculous enemy fights. I was really excited about the creative flexibility that the Gearbox team can bring to the Wonderlands standalone universe, and its connection to the Borderlands series gives that extra sense of familiarity without feeling dated. In other words, as far as Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands goes, I’m pretty optimistic about the end product, even though I’ve come across a few Borderlands staples that I don’t like.
Borderlands has always had its role-playing roots up to its sleeve, so it’s really great to see the Gearbox team go all-in with Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. If you haven’t been paying attention to our IGN First coverage, here’s a rundown to help you get your bearings: Pandora’s most popular tabletop RPG, Bunkers, and Badasses is back with all your favorite BMs (it’s Bunker Master, what do you think of that? I mean? ) at the helm. You are the Fate Maker and you are tasked with stopping the evil Dragon Master from his evil deeds. In the most recent preview, I got right into the beginning of the quest to free a group of goblins from the oppressive shackles of their overseers inside an ore mine. It sounds pretty serious, but trust me, this is Borderlands remastered through the Tiny Tina filter. It’s goofy and light-hearted, not super-serious and dark.
The nicest parts of the Borderlands environment are here, they just got a new fantasy facelift.
At first glance, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is reminiscent of the Borderlands… in Skyrim. I started at the edge of a massive mountain range, with magnificent green grass swaying in the wind. These grasslands quickly give way to a rocky mountain range inhabited by element-spewing wyverns and other fantastical creatures of the realm. I really liked how it immediately feels familiar, but also new. The best parts of Borderlands’ environments are how they branch out to guide you on your path, but also leave enough wiggle room to spot a chest or two tucked away out of sight – here, they just got a new fantasy facelift. I went through one part that gave me a distinct feel for the Caustic Caverns, one of my favorite areas in Borderlands 2, but it didn’t feel derivative. It seemed like something special, but it still tickled my nostalgic glands a little.
Aesthetically, Gearbox really kicked it out of the park with Wonderland. I think this is the most beautiful Borderlands game to date. The environment seems really alive and even the darkest and darkest caves have their own vibration. The audio design is also quite pleasant. I couldn’t help but notice the sounds of birds chirping as I explored the world around me. Well, I heard them after I fought my way through several waves of bunkers and, uh… badass. But once they were all dead and the prey collected, the subtle chirping of the birds in the highland village became music to my ears.
While working on the extended preview of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, I freed the aforementioned goblins and also encountered Claptrap, whose appearance was adapted to match Tiny Tina’s vision of what a robot should look like in a fantasy world. I definitely enjoyed going through the quests, but they feel… familiar. The classic Borderlands quest formula is move to point A, defeat the baddies, smash or shoot or collect the quest item, then move to point B and repeat until the quest ends, in the preview I played.
I’m happy to report that the quests are progressing at a good pace, but one of the things I found frustrating about Borderlands 3 was that every part of the quest tended to get bogged down in explanatory dialogue. The dialogue here is funny and actually matches the concept of a tabletop RPG very well. For example, your playmate Valentine wonders why they don’t just steal the magical items they’re tasked with recovering, while another party member, Frett, reminds Valentine of how the characters they role-play will act. This little conversation, which ended in less than a minute, helped convey the feeling of playing within a game.
Wonderland’s mechanics are solid, built on the tried and true Borderlands formula, and its pedigree is undeniable. While I have my misgivings the quests can feel a bit too arbitrary, the little touches of having Tina running a board game make it feel more substantial than otherwise without the double layer of play within the game. I’m very interested to see how the final game will turn out.
Seth Macy is the executive editor of IGN Commerce and he just wants to be your friend. You can find him hosting the Nintendo Voice Chat podcast.