If you read our review of Borderlands 3, then you've basically read our review of Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, only this game isn't as good. We're just doing it again in different words, and we're a little more weary this time around. Nothing of much consequence has changed between the two games. The budget is lower, clearly, and the level design is worse, pretty much objectively. Oh, and it's wearing a wizard's hat this time. Other than that, it's just another Borderlands game, and this is just another Borderlands review.
Borderlands is Borderlands is Borderlands. You're gonna wander around shooting things in the face and you'll collect mountains of mostly pointless loot. The combat is going to be fun but not too fun, and it's going to be more fun still if you play it with friends. Everything that applied before applies again, only there's some significant issues with the game that hold it back from being a worthy follow-up to the previous game.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is a spin-off framed as a Dungeons and Dragons-esque tabletop role playing game, with returning character Tiny Tina as dungeon master and the action that unfolds taking place in the imagination of the players. This should be an opportunity to get creative and to take the series into exciting new territory, but it basically boils down to Borderlands with some jokes about dice in it.
For the uninitiated, the titular Tiny Tina is a deranged child in the Borderlands universe who speaks in exaggerated teen colloquialisms and loves blowing things up; a one-note joke that ran out of steam during her small role in Borderlands 2, and has only grown more tiresome with age. She's like a walking, talking, shrieking metaphor for the series as a whole, and her promotion from annoying side character to annoying main character is of dubious merit.
Each new game in the series has proved more divisive than the last, thanks in large part to the patented Borderlands Humour™. This series desperately wants to make you laugh. It needs to. It has an unstoppable urge that it can't sate. Wonderlands doesn't so much have jokes with set-ups and punchlines, and instead opts to have characters just shout weird things while the game grins maniacally at you to let you know you're supposed to be laughing, hoping that you'll capitulate out of sheer embarrassment if nothing else.
Humour is an incredibly subjective thing; while we were sat like Will Smith at a Chris Rock gig as Tiny Tina proudly announces the Queen in the game is a magical horse named "Butt Stallion", we're sure there's someone out there who thinks the Arse Horse is comedy gold. How much you enjoy Tiny Tina's Wonderlands will hinge partly on whether you cringe at the gags or if you chuckle at them, and if you're in the latter camp then you can basically just add a point onto the score at the bottom of this review.
For as much as we'd like to see Tiny Tina strapped to a rocket and fired into the Sun, it's the writing that's the problem rather than the performance. Credit where it's due to Ashley Burch, who grabs the role by the scruff of the neck and gives it her all, and any redeemable qualities that Tina has are surely down to her rather than the script. The rest of the voice cast is similarly strong and far too good for this game, quite honestly, with talent including Will Arnett hamming it up as the villainous Dragon Lord and a fellow adventurer voiced by Wanda Sykes — perhaps most well known for her stint as one of Larry David's many foils in Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Wonderlands works in much the same way as any traditional Borderlands game only with a few key differences. Gameplay is basically identical to Borderlands 3, only classes have been given more fantasy-themed names like Brr-zerker and Graveborn. You've got magic spells mapped to L1 now, but they're essentially just super-moves that you can collect and equip like any other loot, and there's a bigger focus on melee combat, which is a welcome idea but a largely unsatisfying experiment. Other than that, it's your standard Borderlands fare, for better and worse.
For what it's worth, we think that the core gameplay here is a lot of fun, and finding a fantastic new spell or weapon gives us that little dopamine rush that makes it all worth it. Boss fights, in particular, are exciting and suitably grandiose. What's not fun is the mission design, which suffers from a lot of repetition and a lot of filler, and if we were feeling cynical, we'd perhaps suggest that Tiny Tina's Wonderlands started life as a much smaller game and has been padded out to sell it at a premium. Perhaps that's true, perhaps it's not, but the result remains the same.
Rather than taking place in a series of large open world interconnected areas a la previous Borderlands adventures, Wonderlands is broken up into smaller levels that are accessible via a wholly superfluous overworld. When exploring the overworld, you just walk in a top down view from one mission marker to the next, occasionally solving trite puzzles, and frequently finding out that you're too low level for your next story mission and need to grind in a nearby dungeon. This just happens over and over again.
Once in these dungeons you shoot a wave of enemies in a small arena, then do it again, and then do it again. Once you've done this, if you're at the right level for your next story mission you can move on, and if not you can just grind some more. If they'd streamlined the whole thing and just presented the story missions linearly, we'd have an easier time recommending Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, but this is six or seven hours' worth of content dragged out for fifteen hours or so, and it shows.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands retains the inherently entertaining shootin' and lootin' gameplay that the Borderlands series is known for, but you're frequently held back from enjoying it because of repetitive missions, tedious busywork, oodles of padding, and the game's relentless need to be funny. Its characters won't shut up, frequently stopping you playing so it can perform another inane comedy routine that limply, embarrassingly fizzles out like a deflating corpse, farting decomposition gases to the tune of "Ta-dah!"