I still remember where I was when the Borderlands 3 trailer dropped. Fresh off my third or fourth replay of Borderlands 2 and its (literally) magical DLC, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, I watched the trailer in my college dorm room while on the phone with my friends. When the premiere finished, we all sat grinning ear to ear, babbling on about whether the next numbered entry in the franchise could live up to its lofty predecessor. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
With Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Gearbox has gone in a different direction. The game takes its cues from Assault on Dragon Keep, one of the most critically acclaimed DLCs of all time, and dramatically expands its scope and ideas into an entirely new package. Beyond the usual endless array of guns and loot, Wonderlands introduces RPG-style stats and classes to the franchise, making for a deeper — if more complex — experience.
It’s Borderlands as you’ve never seen if before, even if you’ve played Assault on Dragon Keep. Even so, my preview left me asking the same questions as when I first saw the Borderlands 3 trailer: Can Wonderlands live up to the prestige of its inspiration?
My preview allowed me to explore the Mount Craw zone, an optional area in Wonderlands that’s home to frozen fields, blazing-hot mountains, and a fed-up army of oppressed goblins. A goblin named Jar provided me with the first of two story missions for the zone, titled Goblins Tired of Forced Oppression (it abbreviates to “GTFO.” Get it? Get it!?).
During my time in Mount Craw, I placed goblin propaganda posters throughout the zone, freed goblins trapped in cages, fought off the mechanical dragon responsible for the goblins’ forced oppression, and looted chest after chest to find the best guns possible. It’s nice to see that fun objectives like placing posters are still around, even if they don’t fundamentally change Wonderlands‘ gameplay.
The core gameplay and quest structure hasn’t changed at all: Wonderlands still has the same slower, more deliberate gunplay that Borderlands is known for. A wide variety of guns, equipment, and spells, the latter of which are new to the series (outside of Assault on Dragon Keep‘s “spells,” which were really just transformed grenades), keep things from getting monotonous. Spells are a fun way to break up shooting, and I liked that many of them require you to charge and aim them in order to use them. The hope is that these new mechanics and additional equipment will keep things fresher than Borderlands 3, which got a little stale around the middle of the adventure.
I was able to choose between two classes for the preview: The Stabbomancer and the Graveborn. For demo purposes, the Graveborn’s skill points were already allocated among the skill tree for the class, a series staple that allows players to choose passive perks that aid in combat. I chose the Stabbomancer, the class whose points were not yet allocated, in order to play around with the skill tree and brand-new hero points. Each class can choose between two action skills, which are active abilities that can be unleashed on enemies. Later on, players will be able to multiclass, though that wasn’t available in the preview.
Each character has a full suite of tabletop-style stats like strength, dexterity, and wisdom, that impact your critical damage, status damage, skill cooldown, and more. These stats can be adjusted with hero points, which are earned when you level up. There’s also a new loot luck stat that increases the chance players will find good loot throughout the game’s world.
At first glance, all the new numbers are overwhelming, especially if you’re not someone who constantly compared gun stat numbers in previous Borderlands games. All the same, the additional depth will be a welcome change for players who want to customize their character exactly to their liking.
Like Assault on Dragon Keep, Wonderlands takes place during a game of Bunkers & Badasses run by Tiny Tina, the explosives-loving character from previous games. The only other returning character I found in the demo was Claptrap, who hands out one of Mount Craw’s sidequests. It’s great getting to see some fresh faces in the series, but the writing for these new characters is … not great so far. After only the second or third interjection from the characters who are playing alongside Tina, I was already tired of them.
Not all of the writing is rough, though: I frequently found myself giggling at the tutorial text, skill descriptions, and tooltips, which may say more about me than it does about the game. The sidequests in particular showed off that trademark Borderlands silliness. The interaction options and in-battle barks are much funnier than the standard dialogue. Borderlands’ humor is pretty polarizing — you either like it or you don’t. For better or worse, little has changed in that regard.
Even though you’re in a lush fantasy world rather than the degraded technological desert of Pandora, looting is still the name of the game. There are more ways than ever to upgrade your guns, spells, melee weapons, and gear. Golden Dice hidden throughout each zone grant drops and increase your overall loot luck. Ancient Obelisks activate tough enemy encounters that reward you with better-than-average loot.
Items can also still be found when defeating standard enemies and hunting for hidden chests in each level. There are also tons of interactable objects and optional secrets to find, like lost marbles, rune switch puzzles, and poetry pages. There are more goodies scattered throughout Wonderlands than any previous Borderlands game.
The loot pool has been increased, adding spells, rings, appearance customization options, melee weapons, and more to the items you can find on your travels. The guns are pretty much the same as they’ve always been, though there are some fun new effects. Two of the best guns I found were the Hooligan of Hoarding, a shock gun that vibrates like a motor while you hold it, and the Heirloom of the Chosen One, a corrosive gun that grew wings and followed enemies around when I reloaded.
This is one of the most fun parts of Borderlands: Finding unique, ridiculous guns that are incredibly fun to use. I didn’t find that melee weapons changed the game that much, but if you pick a more melee-focused class, your experience might be different.
This Wonderlands demo had an identity crisis. On one hand, it absolutely wants to divorce itself from previous Borderlands titles with fundamental changes like melee weapons, spells, and a ton of new stats and customization options. On the flip side, the game is begging you to remember its stellar lineage, to the point where I couldn’t help but compare it to Assault on Dragon Keep at every turn.
Wonderlands doesn’t seem to have the cleverness of that DLC just yet. Assault on Dragon Keep was incredible because it took a world that players were familiar with and twisted it into a funny new form. It was also a profound story about grief and what it means to move on without someone. It remains to be seen whether Wonderlands can keep that same cleverness and weighty meaning, or whether it simply descends into a Dungeons and Dragons parody with Borderlands flair.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands launches on March 25 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
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