For a sequel that arrived seven years later, Borderlands 3 was very tame. Gearbox took a conservative approach to its long-awaited sequel, focusing on bringing the gameplay up to modern standards, adding quality-of-life features and tying up loose ends from the previous two games. In other words, the target audience for Borderlands 3 were those who had already played Borderlands 2. Considering how incredibly well the game sold, it was probably a smart choice, but it’s still a disappointing one.
On the other hand, now, you’ve got Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. After getting our first look at gameplay during September’s PlayStation Showcase alongside the details we already had from E3, I’m already far more drawn to Wonderlands than I ever was to the 2019 sequel.
First off, the typically character-based classes of previous games have been changed to a more customisable system instead. Completely separate from the class itself, you can now customise your character’s face, body type, voice and personality. Reminiscent of Titan Quest and its successor Grim Dawn, Wonderlands lets players choose between six classes for their character, and then tack on an additional “Secondary” class later on. If there was ever a series that is perfect for class blending, it’s Borderlands.
The core gameplay has seen some tweaks, too. In addition to the usual feast of firearms — which have some new fantasy-themed designs added to the mix, like crossbows and guns with a pot of crystals instead of a magazine — Wonderlands adds close-range melee weapons and magic spells to balance out your offense.
Melee weapons are exactly what they sound like: Wonderlands adds swords, clubs and axes to your typical pile of loot, letting you hack and slash your way to even more loot. You could always melee in Borderlands games — the difference here is that melee has a greater spotlight by joining the central loot cycle. Meanwhile, spells have basically replaced grenades but, due to their power and variety, they’re more like “mini-skills” than just a fantasy take on exploding shrapnel.
With the new melee system adding minor buffs to the mix as well — like healing slightly after every other melee strike — Wonderlands adds more steps to the typical dance routine by having you juggle shooting, melee, buffs, spells and class skills all at once. From the outside, it sounds closer to something like Doom Eternal, at least in essence: each system feeds into one another as part of a more balanced gameplay system. Borderlands has always been a very bullet-heavy affair, so the fact that Wonderlands looks to diversify what you’ll be doing moment-to-moment is exciting.
Non-weapon items have been overhauled as well, though there are few concrete details on this yet. In previous Borderlands games, you could equip your character with one Class Mod, one Artifact and one Shield Mod, in addition to your Grenade Mod and four weapons. In Wonderlands, you can equip armour — seemingly as individual pieces, going off the vague description of the “Golden Hero Armor Pack” pre-order gear — and amulets, which probably work similar to Artifacts and/or Class Mods. I’m curious to see whether the Halo-style recharging shield will still be featured or if Wonderlands will be more health-centric this time around.
Following through on the Dungeons and Dragons theme, Wonderlands adds in character stats. Using “Hero Points”, you can level up tabletop mainstays like Strength and Constitution to give yourself perks like more health and improved cooldown times. This sounds like a renamed version of Badass Tokens in previous games, earning incremental upgrades to things like fire rate and elemental damage with each token spent, but there’s an opportunity for something more unique here.
Lastly, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands features a JRPG-style overworld map to complete its full-fledged homage. Based on the footage and information available so far, the overworld seems to function like a more active fast-travel system, letting you more quickly cross sections of the map from a distant perspective before freely jumping back into first-person whenever you like — which, typing this out, sounds exactly like any vehicle in previous Borderlands games. Still, it sounds like yet another upgrade to me. There are even random battles and chests to bump into along the way and you don’t have to deal with clumsy car controls, which is a win-win.
Borderlands 3 was hardly bad (aside from the writing), but it could’ve done with a pinch more ambition — or a handful, even. With its fantasy-themed world and RPG-themed everything else, adding in genuinely new features like a mix-and-match class system, expanded melee combat and overworld map, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is already a far more intriguing take on the Borderlands formula.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is set to be released on March 25, 2022, on PS4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Windows PC.
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