Huge mushrooms twine around each other and rise like trees while blocking the sunlight. Corrupted crystals bleed from the earth, glistening with malice. Mist encircles your feet while you stand in the Banshee’s lair. Captain Valentine’s voice comes out: “Look out, she wants a total party kill!” What do you do next?
Well, you grab your shotgun, of course, and run headfirst into a chaotic battle of green slime, loot boxes, and unicorns! That is Tiny Tina’s Wonderland…Dungeons & Dragons if it accidentally got into all the blue smarties mixed with a keg load of energy drinks and got you through a feverish dream campaign. And you kind of look forward to next week’s session.
I came to Wonderlands as someone who loves Dungeons & Dragons but has never completed a Borderlands game. I’m in several weekly campaigns—both DMing and gaming—I’ve got more dice than any sane person needs, and my shelves are lined with Beholder statues and Wizkid miniatures. So when I saw Borderlands turning its popular Assault on Dragon Keep DLC into a full blown game, complete with TTRPG alongside it, I knew I had to grab some other nerds and jump in.
As with starting any RPG, whether tabletop or otherwise, the first step is to create a character. The classes in Wonderlands are obvious references to those in 5e: Brr-zerker is your barbarian who can get “enraged”; Stabomancer is your villain; Spellshot is a wizard who even has an ability called Polymorph. There’s also a Spore Guardian that feels very much like a nod to the druid of the Circle of Spores. Basically, you won’t feel overwhelmed by choosing a class here.
Even the character sheets you see in the background are basically carbon copies. Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Intelligence – the only stat difference is that Charisma is swapped for attunement. This is the first look at the big difference between Wonderlands and the TTRPG. This is a game about battle and only battle. Forget Faerie Fire and Leomund’s Tiny Hut — heck, even Cure Wounds — Wonderlands is about fighting evil head-on by smacking it in the face with an axe.
However, that misses the next most important step: character design. Dungeons & Dragons is nearly endless in the colorful and creative ways you can build a character, mechanically but also aesthetically. Wonderlands understands this to a degree: they don’t pick fantasy races, but mix elements of them like orc and elven faces, cat pupils, reptilian eyebrows. So you can certainly create a group of players that are different from each other, but I spent a good hour playing around in menus and was never really satisfied. Maybe it’s the eternal curse of wanting princess curls in a digital medium that’s not easy to produce, or maybe it was the one basic armor and limited hair color options that made the whole thing just seem lacking.
However, once you get into the game, the character you create doesn’t matter anymore. Wonderlands seems to be getting the desire to make a custom character from D&D fans, but that openness means you could literally make anyone, and it’s basically meaningless. And into something meant to reference an RPG that feels kind of disappointing.
It would probably be better if they created a bunch of different heroes to choose from (like in regular Borderlands titles) so you could really embody someone and their place in the world, rather than being a random, personalityless entity. Yes, they have various snappy language lines, but that’s not enough when you’re playing D&D. From that perspective, it’s hard to even call Wonderlands an RPG when you’re used to the tabletop kind.
Dungeons & Dragons also lives and dies heavily on who you play with – friends are an integral part of the experience. In Wonderlands, NPCs play as other characters in your party, but they’re always just voices; They don’t see their minis on the map or their characters in battles. They throw in jokes every now and then, but most of the time you feel kind of alone on your journey. Even if a friend steps in for co-op play, it won’t make much of a difference to your game. You, too, are a vague character who could really be anyone or anyone. You don’t really feel part of a team until you return to the table and see other people sitting next to you, the eponymous Tiny Tina leading the way.
But despite all these feelings, Wonderlands still managed to enchant me. This is Borderlands. This is a video game. This is not Dungeons & Dragons. Wonderlands isn’t trying to feel like D&D because it knows it never will be, but it absolutely gets the game we all love.
It’s brimming with references. It’s a full-blown, sloppy love letter to D&D sites and sites with lots of postscripts. Gearbox clearly worships D&D. It has a wonderful mix of playing in the fantasy world and the meta stuff of sitting around a table with your friends and pretending to be someone you’re not. Part of the game is played on an overworld, which is meant to be the physical map on your table that you move your minis around, complete with dice scattered in random locations and bottle caps that drop midway down a path .
Then there’s the beginning of boss fights, where your vision spins back to “real life” and Tina pulls out a scary mini and slams it onto the board. It’s exactly the feeling of playing with friends when you combine fantasy with the joy of knowing you’re playing a game with friends. None of this is real, it’s a strange magical journey that you all agree on.
Besides, the world is beautiful. The cel-shaded Borderlands style has translated into a grand vision of everything from towering rainbow castles in medieval towns to sparkling lakes in the heart of a forest. A lot of care has been taken to make the world at least feel like walking around in a D&D game. Yes, there are vending machines (and obviously lots and lots of guns), but none of them really feel out of place.
The tavern’s neon sign and metal lanterns are designed to blend in perfectly with their surroundings. It’s also the kind of meta stuff you add while playing with friends. I accidentally referenced a vacuum in a game that became Canon technology with a magic twist. Those kinds of real-world cues are some of my favorite parts of getting meta with friends. Also, it has a Terry Pratchet science/fantasy feel, with magic glimmering from the lights that suggest a perfectly reasonable fantasy explanation.
And yes, there are guns. But as someone who plays a gun-wielding handyman with a metal chow in tow, I can forgive them very easily. They come in a steampunk style and shoot more times than any type of ice or acid ray bullets. They basically turn you into a very efficient wizard or sorcerer with magic distilled into the perfect killing machine.
All of this is to say that I don’t think Gearbox wanted to make a game that felt like playing Dungeons & Dragons, but they looked around at their friends one night, the screams of joy as a natural 20 reels, that well – used lego minis or plastic dinosaurs, the DMs looking up from behind their screens and they wanted to make something for those people.
And I think they did.
Maddie Cullen is a passionate tabletop player with a lot of Dungeons & Dragons experience, even contributing to the official Dungeons & Dragons YouTube channel! You can check out their work at VG247 partner site Dicebreaker at the link and their full D&D coverage over here.
https://www.vg247.com/tiny-tinas-wonderlands-dnd-expert-comparison Is Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands a must for D&D fans? One Expert Definitely Answers: “Maybe”