To fully get into the mindset of what it's like to play Tiny Tina's Wonderlands you're going to have to understand that it's the kind of game where you'll be using a magical assault rifle to shoot numbers out of a shark with legs, while Will Arnett and Andy Samberg goof about. At one point the cast of Wonderlands, - which also includes Ashly 'Aloy' Burch as Tina and comedian Wanda Sykes as a robot called Frette - 'kill the ocean', explaining why the sharks are walking. I laughed out loud plenty, largely because it's a great cast that effortlessly pulls off a completely absurd premise, which is that this is a game of Dungeons and Dragons being played inside Borderlands…
Release date: March 25, 2022
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: 2K Games
From the moment Tina starts you off in the 'Glade of Helpful Tutorials', this is a game that knows it's a game, played inside a game that also knows it's a game. One of the DnD characters even knows it's a DnD character. You'll occasionally leave the action to see it as a tabletop board Tina and her friends are playing around while discussing their "real lives". When bosses appear, a figure piece is first slammed on the table to introduce them. It's just a giant meta sandwich where meta is the bread and the filling. And somehow the lettuce is also meta. Metalettuce.
Meta? I hardly know her
The cast argue about rules, set-ups, and locations while you're playing, causing the world to shift and change around you. At one point a disagreement about how dank the forest needs to be causes the trees to vanish and be replaced by giant mushrooms. These moments, when the cast are bickering in the sky above you about what you're doing and everything changes to accommodate them, are a high point for the whole game. Even when it's just basic commentary or chat picking apart the action, plot or characters it's the funny, fast-paced dialogue that brings everything to life. Although there's an oddly sad note mixed in, where it soon becomes clear Tiny Tina is basically lonely and running the game to get friends. A lot of the arguments stem from the fact that she's desperate for the others to like the game enough to stay around so she won't be alone. It's an oddly bleak turn that arguably balances out the general buffoonery.
I would almost have preferred a more linear game over the more open-world experience here simply because the structured comedy moments are so good. Like the parent series, Borderlands, this is a free-roaming looter shooter, albeit with a twist here: all the various areas are accessed through the Overworld, a sort of playable version of the tabletop setup, complete with push pins, bottle tops, soda cans, and other garbage. There's a whole thing where Tina has to pretend a discarded Cheese Puff is actually a magical barrier, and not a forgotten snack. You wander this litter-strewn map as a big-headed version of your actual player character, finding and entering various regions to take on the main shooter gameplay. It means that, depending on how you tackle things and where you go, you can sometimes leave the cast behind, listening to nothing but loops of your own character's repeating dialogue. (At this point I've heard a couple of lines, So. Many. Times.)
A little more structure might have also created a greater feeling of variety or surprise. The core loop of the game is 100% shooting things in the face until the numbers stop pouring out. That's not really a bad thing but despite, or maybe because of, activities like dungeons and bandit camps, don't expect any real variation. The story generally revolves around entering an area and shooting everything, the side missions involve entering an area and shooting everything, and the little dungeon and loot areas involve… you get the idea. It's all great fun - the weapons and powers are always entertaining to unleash (more on that in a moment) - but if you have any reservations about 20-40+ hours of a one-note song with little change in texture, consider that your due warning.
The shooting does feel good though, and half the fun comes from finding and trying out different guns; settling in with a favorite you'll think is irreplaceable, only to throw it away without thought the second you find a new fave. I had a range of beloved gun children over the course of my playthrough. Things like a crossbow that fired clusters of explosive bolts that only exploded when the clip was emptied, or some sort of vampire rifle thing that turned the damage it inflicted into health to heal me.
Then there are the classes and abilities they introduce. I played as a magic user, pulling flaming rocks out of the sky, or flinging fireballs and magic missiles at enemies. A little way in you unlock a second class option, which for me gave me a mushroom buddy that attacked enemies on my behalf. There are also some interesting interplays between all this depending on how you level up: buffs that stack as you use your abilities, for example. Or a skill I unlocked that added the elemental damage of any spells I used to the guns I was firing. It introduces just enough nuance to the otherwise unchanging gameplay to stop it becoming completely stale over the tens of hours you could be playing.
I completed the main story in about 25-30 hours, flitting between the campaign, side missions, and little grindy challenges like shrine pieces you can find for perma buffs. That's with loads still left to do as well. I've still got plenty of side missions, bits, and an end game grind through a challenge mode called the Chaos Chamber. This is where you can apply difficulty modifiers to arena-clearing rounds in return for better loot. And, obviously, there's the co-op side of things that adds a whole other layer as you coordinate with friends.
All that action is simple but moreish, held up by a genuinely funny cast that makes even the stupidest lines work. It does get silly in places - one mission has you searching for the 'essence of pure snot', which feels a little too 'children's book' for me. But for the most part the tone is just about right. Both in terms of the humor, and the design, with some great enemies - like the sharks with legs, mushrooms with teeth, goblins, and so on - and a surprisingly beautiful world overall. That Borderlands cel-shaded look has been refined here into something more subtle, combined with some lovely fantasy landscapes, to create a surprisingly beautiful game at times. If you've been grinding yourself to the nub on Elden Ring, or just generally dealing with… this [waves hands at everything], then it's probably just the sort of lighthearted fun you need.