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Mixing the spontaneous silliness of Dungeons & Dragons with the endless and tempting loot of the Borderlands games, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is the one for those who'd like to give the tabletop roleplaying game a go from the comfort of their couches as well as veteran players of either fandom.
Check out the story trailer for Tiny Tina's Wonderlands here - yes, those are the voices of Will Arnett, Andy Samberg and Wanda Sykes playing the Dragon Lord, Valentine and Frette!
In this version of Dungeons & Dragons, called Bunkers & Badasses in the world of Borderlands, the central playable character is called the Fatemaker. The start of the game is in fact the end of a separate campaign where Tiny Tina, the Bunker Master, is leading two of her friends toward their final showdown with the Dragon Lord. Of course, in order for there to be an opportunity for the new player to join, Tiny Tina wraps this part of the story up in her kooky and hyperactive way and the Dragon Lord figurine is on the benches while the players fill out new character sheets.
The character creator is not too bad, actually, from a series that offers you one of four premade characters to choose on your journey through the game. There are six different classes that are (on the whole) very classic Dungeons & Dragons classes with a tiny twist. For example, you have the Graveborn, which is a life stealing build with dark magic specialties; there's the Stabbomancer which is a stealthy one who can summon a magical spinning blade out of nowhere; and you have the Spore Warden who travels with a little sentient mushroom companion dealing poison damage to their enemies. Obviously, I chose Spore Warden because I thought it was funny and my Twist of Fate (think of the Fatal Flaw from The Sims Medieval) was Failed Monk - deducting points from my Strength and Dexterity but adding to my Intelligence and Wisdom stats.
As for customisation, there are different shapes or presets for each of the facial features so you can create an elegant elf-like character, or a human with tired eyes and a wyvern tattoo across their cheek, or a tribute to Nigel Thornberry by switching the sliders to maximum. And there are non gendered options for your character, so the body types are either "This One" or "That One" and the voice selection is more about the type of personality that your Fatemaker will have than the sound of their lines.
Back to the Wonderlands. A simple way of summarising it is that this game is a fantasy first person-shooter - heavy emphasis on the "fantasy" and on the "shooter." There are SMGs, pistols that look a lot like crossbows, RPGs, shotguns that take crystals as ammunition, and the good ol' melee axes, khopeshes, swords, maces and more. You definitely don't need to have played any of the Borderlands games before this one, but if you have, you'll be able to nod knowingly at the names of the weapons manufacturers and familiar faces that pop up here and there.
In the game, you're not necessarily going from point to point for experience points and loot, thanks to the introduction of the Overworld. Swapping to a top-down perspective and turning your character into a bobble-headed giant, this is the board that Tiny Tina has pulled together to represent the world of Wonderlands. Matchsticks make up bridges, bottle caps must be punched to tip them over as a platform to reach new areas, and rivers flow with sticky carbonated juice from a majestic aluminium waterfall. There are side-quests here too like finding shards to unlock an ancient shrine or promoting the Wonderlands' first influencer.
You'll even trudge through tall grass and then be surprised with a random combat encounter... which sounds rad but loses its shine after the third or fourth encounter. It puts you in an empty arena-like space with a few environmental hazards if you're lucky and a variety of enemies appear until the "Clear Encounter" bar is filled up and a chest of loot is revealed. Yeah. I don't like these encounters. They feel rushed and cobbled together compared to the rest of the game so maybe this can be resolved with an update. But it's starkly contrasted to the curiosity and care that's gone into the rest of the game and the gravitas of the campaign and its villain.
Everything's going great for the Fatemaker and the newest player to be introduced to Tiny Tina's twist on Bunkers & Badasses. They've slain countless skeletons and zombies that the Dragon Lord has summoned and they've even got the legendary Sword of Souls. But, the Dragon Lord isn't too thrilled with his lot - a necromancer who is trotted out solely to propel the heroes towards a common goal, and he gets so close to plunging the Wonderlands into darkness, only to have it snatched away by the whims of the Bunker Master. Sarcastic displeasure and snarky superiority drips from every syllable as he suddenly takes over from Tina, seizes the Sword of Souls and tips the Wonderlands with chaos. Will Arnett's casting as the Dragon Lord is an absolutely amazing choice and the character himself is not like Handsome Jack, which I thought might have been a temptation given the enduring popularity of Borderlands 2's baddie.
The other two recognisable voices you'll hear from the other two players are Andy Samberg as Valentine and Wanda Sykes as Frette. Valentine is the stereotype of someone who wants to seduce all the other characters and wants to find the easiest or the most ridiculous way of charging through the campaign. You get the sense that he's not too clever - sort of a wholesome and sci-fi Prince Charming from Shrek.
Frette, she doesn't care for the Wonderlands nor its inhabitants; she wants the best of the best loot and to be the best of the best out there. To Valentine's dismay, she'll do anything to ensure that, asking whether she can just kill this villager and pat down their pockets as a shortcut to the beastly sword at the end of the quest. And you have Tiny Tina herself, who has laid out a plan and a campaign for the player, however she is caught out a couple of times and improvises quick fixes which play out in front of the Fatemaker. Like literally. Like the environments suddenly shift to reflect Tina's descriptions or objects will materialise back into existence after Tina's changed her mind about how things should go.
Borderlands, as a series, has always leant on the fourth wall, arms folded, and jabbed its thumb at the game and said "Get a load of these guys, huh?" Yet with its setting and mechanics like classes and abilities, it's all very, very recognisable stuff for people who have either played Dungeons & Dragons or have watched Dungeons & Dragons being played. The combination of the self-referential sense of humour of Borderlands and the spontaneity of Dungeons & Dragons is so cool to see manifest in the game, and I'd recommend it for fans of both of these games as well as those who think a little sentient mushroom farting a cloud of toxic gas to erode brigands to goop is funny. Because it is.
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