The best thing I can say about Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is that I regret starting it.
Not because it’s bad or unenjoyable but because I booted it up fairly late last night and am now more tired today than I’d like to be. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands scratches the “numbers go up and enemy health bars go down” itch video games have instilled in so many of us. It’s compelling on a primal, easily digestible level. It is a blast. It is hard to step away from.
Over the course of four mainline entries and approximately 400 additional campaign expansions, the Borderlands series has picked up a reputation as formulaic loot shooters, and rightfully so. You use a variety of randomly generated weapons, organised by colour-coded rarity, to kill enemies to earn even better randomly generated weapons. You traverse cel-shaded sci-environments while suffering through performatively crass dialogue. You know what to expect, though to its credit, the series did genuinely feel fresh when it was first introduced. There’s just been so much more Borderlands since then, you know?
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, out today for Xbox, PlayStation, and PC, is a fantasy-inspired spinoff of Borderlands that bucks (some) of those expectations. Reviews describe a game that’s basically “Borderlands but make it D&D.” (Why don’t we have a full review of our own today? Kotaku didn’t receive copies of the game until yesterday evening.) Several hours in, though, I’ve found that consensus to be fair, if a bit short of the full picture. A mere extension of Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, that fan-favourite Borderlands 2 expansion — in which you and your teammates shoot and loot your way through a game-within-a-game, rendered as typical Borderlands with a fantasy reskin — this is not.
The game is similarly set in a role-playing tabletop game orchestrated by Tiny Tina (voiced by Ashly Burch), which means the plot, so far as I can tell, has no effect on the overarching Borderlands narrative found in the main games. You and your party members (voiced by Wanda Sykes and Andy Samberg) are tasked with overthrowing the Dragon Lord (Will Arnett, in an absolute pitch-perfect casting for an absurd villain). A fantasy-inspired setting allows for visually lush locales more imaginative than sci-fi landscapes that, after four mainline games, have started to feel like well-trod ground.
Sure, the starting weapon, a crossbow, is for all intents and purposes a Borderlands pistol with a Medieval respray, which really reinforces the whole “Borderlands but make it D&D” thing. But Wonderlands quickly tees up a bunch of features that haven’t been present in any previous Borderlands game.
A robust character creator presents you points to allocate, ala S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points in Fallout 4. There’s an overworld full of random encounters (though no sign of an airship). Melee attacks, which see you using swords, axes, and other fantasy weaponry, are actually viable for the first time in Borderlands history. These changes don’t radically upend the Borderlands blueprint, but they do make it feel different than its forebears.
In another break from form, Wonderlands starts you off with the choice from six classes. (Historically, Borderlands games start with four, though have offered two extra classes via purchasable DLC.) I chose the one that gives me a little baby dragon friend who breathes fire on everything in sight. My co-op partner, meanwhile, is followed by a mini litch who siphons health from enemies. We’re a small army of four tearing through the starting areas of the Wonderlands. I’m thrilled to see how various other classes match up across playthroughs.
I’ll of course have more thoughts as I play (and replay) the game and uncover the rest of its quirks. (It’s my understanding, for instance, that you can mix and match classes later on.) But for now, I’m happy to report that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is some solid, mindless fun, the sort of thing that’s bound to devour every second of my free time in the coming weeks. That’s the dream, right?