Ah, Borderlands – if ever there was a solid contender for gaming marmite, Gearbox’s long running looter-shooter series would be it. Effectively a first person, post apocalyptic take on the likes of Diablo, the Borderlands games see you take on one of several sci-fi archetypes and drop into a story that mixes Mad Max esque cell shaded visuals with utterly daft, often juvenile humour and characters. They are most certainly an acquired taste; there’s no middle ground, you’ll either love them or hate them. Thankfully, I fall into the former category.
Hijinks and shenanigans
I say thankfully because, oh look – there’s a new Borderlands game… kind of. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a spin off of the main Borderlands franchise, a fantasy themed title set in the game-within-a-game world of Bunkers & Badasses, a thinly veiled take on that increasingly more popular pen and paper RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. The set up is fairly straightforward; in the Borderlands universe, hyperactive teenage arsonist Tiny Tina and her crew have somehow managed to crash land their ship. While they await repairs they decide to play a game of B&B and the player, the newbie on the crew, gets a chance to join in and create their own character. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.
Wonderlands is in part a sequel to the Borderlands 2 standalone expansion, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. To all intents and purposes, this is a Borderlands game through and through. Your character has stats and an ability tree, you find and use a variety of mad looking guns (here designed to look a bit more ‘fantasy’ with wooden finishes and creative use of elemental magic) work your way through large maps doing missions, level up, gain new abilities and stats and pop enemies into colourful loot piñatas.
There’s plenty to play with…
The loot mechanic is likely the part of this type of game that makes or breaks most players. Unlike other looter-shooters, such as Destiny or Outriders, Borderlands hews to the more Diablo model of loot, where there’s ALWAYS something new popping out of a supply chest or baddy. The (mostly) random weapon drops in these games mean players have a lot more inventory management to do to weed out and sell items they don’t want while keeping a healthy array of toys to play with. Outside of the aforementioned firearms, Wonderlands also offers the player various armour types, slots of which can be unlocked as you level up, as well as melee weapons and, perhaps most fun, spells!
Spells take over from Borderlands traditional grenades and allow you to do such fun things as freeze enemies in place, drain their health, blast them with hot magma or call forth minion summons to do damage. This adds a really fun element to the already solid shooting mechanics present in the game, with the player balancing blasting, casting and smashing with big hammers and axes to deal with the large waves of enemies most missions will throw at you. It’s not overly complex, but as you progress and find more loot you’ll start to get favourite weapon and spell combos that will let you deal big damage to enemies, and with frequent drops there’s plenty to play with.
The perfect game to stick on while you catch up with your mates
While I’ll confess to not having played Borderlands 3 yet, Wonderlands stood out to me immediately with its visual style – it feels like a much brighter game than the previous Borderlands titles, with arid deserts, caves and industrial complexes being replaced by rolling fields, forests and crumbling castles. The levels themselves are big but never too big with easy to parse maps and plenty of nooks and crannies to go loot hunting in. This is all tied together with a creative new overworld map which drops the player into a top down representation of the Bunkers & Badasses world that’s literally built on top of the table Tiny Tina and her crew are playing the game on. There’s bottle caps, castles made of matchsticks and giant Cheeto’s blocking your progress and the world map has excellent looping paths that bring the player round to earlier areas via shortcuts you can unlock. It’s a great approach that breaks the actual action up into more sessionable chunks.
As with previous Borderlands titles, Wonderlands also brings the series staple of co-op multiplayer with it. You can play online, against friends or with rando’s or, rather brilliantly, you can do some split screen couch co-op. It’s the perfect game to stick on while you catch up with your mates over beer and crisps and the drop-in/out aspect is handled incredibly well. Have a friend who’s level 15 and way into the game but want to join them? No problem! You can create a new character at level 1 and all the enemies on your screen will scale down appropriately meaning you won’t get tanked. You’ll also find your own loot, which is just brilliant and super inclusive.
A healthy dose of silliness
Performance wise, Wonderlands falls into the category of being “fine”. I tried it on PS5 where there is resolution and performance modes and found myself sticking with resolution mode for my playthrough. Ben will be doing a performance analysis, but to my untrained eye, resolution mode was outputting at 4K with an unlocked frame rate that frequently hit in the 50-60fps range. Performance mode reduced the graphical fidelity quite considerably, resulting in awful looking aliasing all over the place and a “smeared vaseline” look to the visuals. The frame rate may have felt solid and locked, but the visual experience was decidedly subpar and resolution mode was far more worth the quality hit.
Coming off the back of tens of hours mainlining Elden Ring, Wonderlands was a very welcome catharsis. The story does go some places but stays largely easy to follow and with a healthy dose of silliness, like watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail after bingeing Game of Thrones. The voice cast definitely helps drive this forward with recognisable turns from the likes of Andy Samberg and Will Arnett, and of course the fabulous Ashley Burch, who we’ve already seen this year as Aloy in Horizon Forbidden West, as the titular Tiny Tina. Above all, though, Wonderlands can just be a fun, chill time with a controller. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine, but if you’re looking for a game you can just turn on and switch off your brain, Wonderlands is well worth your time.