After three main instalments, numerous spin-offs and loads of DLC launches (not to mention an upcoming movie starring Kevin Hart and Cate Blanchett), the Borderlands franchise is very well established at this point. But now, the developers from Gearbox are trying something different with Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.
As hype builds for this fantasy-themed spin-off from the popular looter-shooter series, RadioTimes.com received access to a demo segment from an early PC build of the game. After picking between two pre-made characters (more on them below), we were able to visit Mount Craw, a goblin-infested area of mountains and caves that will be an optional extra to explore in the finished game.
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Running the demo on an NVIDIA 3070Ti graphics card, the visuals looked lovely from the off, blending that comic-booky Borderlands style with some luscious fantasy landscapes. The music sounded great through our headphones too, and the snippets we heard of Ashly Burch's Tina conversing with Andy Samberg's new character really had us giggling.
Soon after loading into the Mount Craw locale, we bump into a goblin named Jar who fancies himself as something of a freedom fighter. This kicks into action the first big quest in this map, which is titled ‘Goblins Tired of Forced Oppression’. As we begin that mission, it’s not long before familiar elements and fresh new ideas begin to rear their heads.
In some respects (the gunplay, the loot drops, the generously-placed chests and vending machines that can furnish you with ammo and more), this feels like another game in the well-established Borderlands mould. But in other ways (the magical attacks, the comedic goblins, the fact that you’re playing within a Dungeons & Dragons-like game within a game in quite a meta way), it feels totally different.
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The closest comparison, of course, would be Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, a Borderlands 2 DLC from 2013 that first introduced us to Tina’s manic twist on tabletop roleplaying games. Here, the ideas from that DLC are remixed and writ large, and the result feels like it could be something really fun and silly (for both returning fans and new players alike).
The two classes we got to choose from in this demo were The Graveborn (who sacrifices health points to dish out powerful magic attacks) and The Stabbomancer (a stealthy assassin that can summon magic blades and send them flying towards their enemies). We chose The Graveborn, and from our very first combat encounter, it was clear that these magical powers can come in very handy indeed.
Before we could help Jar the goblin overcome oppression in the mines of Mount Craw, we had to find a way to deactivate a magical barrier that was blocking the way. After a brief discussion between Tina and her fellow players (which occurred via audio), the players were encouraged to follow the ‘ley lines’ to find a solution.
Sure enough, lines on the floor led us to two sizeable power sources that were surrounded by less-friendly goblins and several other fantastical foes. This was our first combat encounter, and it gave us a chance to test out all the weapons and spells that our Graveborn came pre-loaded with.
We had a hefty sub-machine-gun that launched fireballs, and a nice bug shotgun that delivered powerful energy blasts (its ammo appeared to be some sort of sprinkling of magical dust), and both of these felt suitably epic and enjoyable, just as you’d expect from a franchise that is famous for its gunplay.
On the magic side of things, we had one spell that charred up to send waves of electrical energy, and another attack that would absorb our health to send a floor-cracking ripple of dark magic across the room. Both of these felt great as well, really adding to the power fantasy at play.
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Once we opened the magic barrier and worked our way into the caves, the difficulty ramped up. As we died a handful of times against some bigger, bulkier goblins (some of which had their own fiery attacks), we lamented the fact that this demo had been set up as a purely single-player experience. When you’re in a dungeon-like area surrounded by magical foes, you really want your party of pals around you to create that proper tabletop feel.
Having said that, although it does feel like co-op multiplayer would be a really fun way to play this game, there was something particularly rewarding about pushing through this demo as a solo operator. If you keep your eye on your shield bar (and hide in the shadows when it needs a refill), it is very much possible to play Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands as a single-player experience.
As we assisted Jar in his quest to free his friends from tyranny (a rather short mission that included putting up a few propaganda posters, raising a flag and freeing a handful of prisoners), we got to grips with the blend of magic, bullets and melee weapons. It’s a combo that feels fun and fresh, as well as manic, and it’ll be interesting to see how your stats and abilities can grow when you’ve got a few skill points to spend (there certainly seemed to be plenty of options in the menus).
And if you were worrying that high fantasy meant less humour, you can put those fears aside. The tongue-in-cheek Borderlands comedy is still present and correct, with jokes coming thick and fast from Tina and her companions, the characters you meet and your own character (who you’ll be able to customise in the final game).
We didn’t get much of a sense of the overarching story from this little taste of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (although we did enjoy a cameo appearance from one very familiar face during one side-mission that we won’t spoil here), but one thing’s for sure as we wait to play more — seeing how this all plays out should be a hoot.
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands launches 25th March 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.