Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands revitalizes Borderlands, thanks to a fantasy-inspired respray and an increased focus on melee attacks. A quieter but perhaps no less significant change is how the loot-shooter handles side-quests. For me, this clicked in an early optional mission called “Goblins Tired of Forced Oppression.”
Released last week for Xbox, PlayStation, and PC, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a Borderlands spinoff structured as a game-within-a-game. You, as a custom-made character, play a round of Bunkers and Badasses — basically, Borderlands-speak for Dungeons and Dragons — hosted by sometimes fan-favourite character Tiny Tina. That serves as the setting for Wonderlands, which allows it to shed the series’ sci-fi trappings for something more akin to your local ren faire.
A bit shy of the dozen-hour mark, I’ve found myself impressed with Wonderlands’ upheaval of long-standing Borderlands formula, particularly with its side-quests. For the most part, Borderlands side-quests aren’t much more than vehicles for silly one-liners and that endless loot grind. But so far, nearly every side-quest I’ve found in Wonderlands has had some meat to it: an unexpected twist, a compelling plot, a lengthy dungeon crawl. In some cases, as with “Goblins Tired of Forced Oppression” — or “GTFO” (get it?) — these optional missions are the start of a multi-chapter quest chain.
“GTFO” becomes available after you complete the “Hard Day’s Knight” campaign mission, a few hours into Wonderlands’ main story. You can start it by interacting with the bounty board in the main hub of Brighthoof. (Look for the yellow exclamation points.) Or you can pick it up by chatting with some NPCs immediately across the bridge near Brighthoof, once you reconstruct it. The mission itself is simple: Head to the nearby Mount Craw region and assist goblins in overthrowing their oppressors.
Structurally, “GTFO” plays out much the same as any other Borderlands mission, with you moving forward on a predetermined path and shooting basically everything that moves. Along the way, you’re accompanied by a goblin named Jar, who’s a pacifist at heart but realises there’s no path to freedom without some violence.
“GTFO” and its immediate follow-up mission, “the Slayer of Vorcanar,” are indeed not short on violence, but feature a number of other tasks, all of which amount to “solidarity bingo.” You plaster GTFO propaganda posters as you proceed through the mission. You “seize the means of production” at Jar’s direction. “GTFO” itself ends with you freeing a group of political prisoners. You help lead a rally. (No spoilers, but there’s also a moment of true character development for Jar that had me and my co-op partner cheering.) Every step of the way, the mission chain absolutely rules.
This, to me, is all just so fuckin’ rich when you consider how poorly goblin revolutions have been treated in, say, Harry Potter canon. (Short version: The portrayal of goblins in Harry Potter has played into anti-Semitic stereotypes. Enough ink has been spilled on the matter that we needn’t rehash it all herehere, but if you’re interested, the folks at CBR.com have a solid writeup.)
Borderlands games, after all, get a lot of flack for their surface-level writing, which tends to prioritise shallow quips and easy one-liners over storytelling with any true depth. “GTFO” is as funny as anything else in the series, jokes flying fast and furious, but it also has the level of depth you’d expect from a main quest, and it understands a fundamental truth that, apparently, is lost in other fiction: If you’re on the side against the rebellion, you are almost certainly on the wrong side.