Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands from Gearbox Studios, most known as the creators of the Borderlands franchise and, most recently, Borderlands 3, which was my GOTY for 2019. It’s an entire spinoff inspired by the fan-favorite Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep DLC from Borderlands 2, which was more swords and sorcery than crazy gunplay. I got the chance to play a vertical slice of Wonderlands this past week. Does it capture the same magic from its inspiration?
For the demo, there were only two classes available – the Graveborne and Stabbomancer – but in the full game, there will be a total of six playable classes. For my initial run, I chose the Graveborne first. It plays kind of like a pet class and has a little Demi-Lich companion as its Class Feat that follows around and helps attack enemies. It also specializes in Dark Magic, which seems to be a new element type introduced in Wonderlands, and a lot of the support skills in the tree are designed around this. There are two main Action Skills to pick from: Dire Sacrifice, which sacrifices health to deal area damage to all nearby enemies, and Reaper of Bones, which heals and buffs the player but takes an ever-increasing amount of damage until the effects wear off.
Both classes start at level 9 in the demo, but the Graveborn comes pre-built with all of the skill points allocated into the tree already, so I wasn’t able to cater it towards any playstyle. During my playthrough, I managed to get to level 12 by the end - thanks to choosing to complete all of the available side quests. I wish I could have explored the skill tree a bit more, or at a higher level, because there is a support skill in the Graveborn tree called Lord of Edges that looks like it would pair perfectly with the Reaper of Bones action skill. The lower the health, the more damage dealt and damage reduction you have. Combined with a strong life leech, which many skills and weapons both include as modifiers, it could be possible to always have Reaper of Bones active to where you’re constantly buffed. Am I already theorycrafting? Maybe. But isn’t that one of the joys in the Borderlands games anyways?
The gameplay is almost exactly like Borderlands 3, but with one major change: the grenade slot is replaced with spells. Spells can range from casting magic missiles to summoning hydras to even calling down an ice storm. The nice thing about the spells is that they don’t take up ammo like grenades did, and they can be cast simultaneously even while firing your gun or reloading. This just adds a new, more versatile tool to your arsenal and will help lessen the TTK, or Time To Kill, while you’re fighting through hordes of goblins or shooting down flying wyverns. Unfortunately, it seems that health pools have also been increased for enemies. Compared to Borderlands 3, it felt like enemies were more bullet-sponges (or arrow-sponges) than before.
For my second run I chose the Stabbomancer, which acts as a rogue-ish type class. Its two main action skills are Ghost Blade, which summons a giant spinning blade, and From The Shadows, that turns you invisible and turns every hit into a critical. At first I wanted to use the stealth/crit skill because it works very similarly to how FL4K’s does in Borderlands 3, which was my main character to play. But after playing more with the spinning Ghost Blade skill, I had more fun with summoning a giant, purple, twirling blade of death. It’s damage is also affected by the melee weapon you have equipped which prompted me to actually care about what weapon I had equipped, unlike my Graveborne. Melee isn’t something I tend to do in Borderlands, but it looks like it will be more prominent in Wonderlands, at least with the Stabbomancer.
While I was in the skill tree menu, a message regarding the class skills mentioned that at a certain level - and presumably after getting to a certain part of the story in Wonderlands - you’ll be able to pick a secondary class. This means that you’ll have access to two separate classes’ skill trees, action skills, and even both class feats. Ultimately, this means there will be a total of 15 different class combinations which allows for more unique builds and specialization than before. This is a much better system than just having multiple skill trees for one character like previous Borderlands entries, and it reminds me of how Torchlight III handles its skill trees with selecting a character class and then a Relic that unlocks another skill tree.
But it wouldn’t be a Borderlands game (or now, Wonderlands) without loot, and boy-howdy there are still gobs and gobs of it to be had. Even at Lv 9 I found enough loot to frequently fill up my inventory. I also have a habit of always picking up every new piece of gear because I want to try out all of the new weapons and spells. Eventually I had to settle for only picking up blues and purples (and the elusive LEGENDARY items, which I managed to find one of during my time!).
There are new slots for gear in the character screen, including a melee weapon slot, as well as rings, amulet, and an armor slot which looks to replace the previous class mods slot from BL3. The new Armor type items are especially interesting as they not only change the outer appearance of your character, but will also add additional points to certain skills, much like the class mods would. Rare gear may also include skills from two separate classes. I thought this was a mistake at first, but then I found out about the secondary class system. This adds more dynamics to the loot tables and I’m excited to see what other items will have dual-class skill mods on them as well.
I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the different item types and manufacturers at first because they were all different names, but soon realized that essentially all of them were the same with just slight variations. Wonderlands doesn’t exactly take place in the Borderlands universe per se, but I appreciate that fans of the series will still have some familiarity with the different weapons manufacturers and their weapons’ tendencies. Instead of Jakob guns it’s now Blackpowder guns (and crossbows) which function the exact same way and have a similar old-timey aesthetic to them. Dahl is now Dahlia, Anshin is now Ashen, and so on and so forth.
The SMGs seem to have gotten the biggest overhaul, at least in terms of how they function, and now have different projectiles depending on what element they shoot. Fire SMGs for example shoot globes of magic that arc and explode on impact causing AoE damage. Lightning ones fire a stream of lightning bolts and will arc between enemies, which is great for clearing out groups. Meanwhile, the poison ones will fire a particle beam like it came straight out of ‘Ghostbusters’. It promotes experimentation, at least initially, with all of the new weapons and types. I still felt more comfortable with the traditional style guns, but it’s fun to see that Gearbox is still pushing the payload when it comes to weapon diversity.
Speaking of pushing the payload, the wonderful and talented Ashley Burch returns as the titular Tiny Tina and not only acts as narrator at times, but also plays a wonderful DM. Burch really stretches her vocal performance range by doing what a DM would do and voice many of the different characters you come across in the world. This gives Wonderlands a more authentic feel to what playing a D&D campaign with your friends is. The addition of other recognizable actors, such as Wanda Sykes as Frette, Will Arnett as the Dragon Lord, and Andy Samberg as Valentine, make Wonderlands a force when it comes to pure talent. Unfortunately, besides occasional banter between Sykes and Samberg as their characters in “real life”, there wasn't a lot of dialogue between them all to get a feel for their characters. I can only hope that in the full game their voices are given more airtime.
Lastly, a new element to getting loot are the Lucky Dice, which are large golden D20 dice that are hidden across the map. These dice act as treasure chests, while also increasing your Loot Luck, which increases the chances of finding better and higher rarity loot. A Lucky Dice is also where I found the one Legendary item through my playthroughs of this preview. This, along with other hidden collectibles to find, prompted exploration in a way that I haven’t felt as rewarding in a Borderlands game before. I wasn’t able to find all 19 of the hidden Lucky Dice in this preview, but I know that when Wonderlands launches on March 25, I’m going to be combing through every nook and cranny to discover them all.