Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Borderlands? Is it guns? Well if you didn’t think of guns, just play along with me please. My entire intro kind of hangs on it. Thanks. So Borderlands is famous for guns: billions of them, actually. Everything from guns that shoot acid bullets to guns that become grenades when empty. Much like the USA, the heart and soul of the Borderlands experience is built on a foundation of guns.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, which is an off-shoot of the Borderlands experience, is also brimming with guns, but there’s something magical in the air, too. Literally, it’s magic! Now that you’ve made it through this tortured opening, let’s take a good, long look at how magic changes the Borderlands experience for the better.
Oh, Oh, Oh it’s Magic
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands – Spells Screenshots (IGN First)
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a story within a story, basically. If you’ve played Borderlands 2’s Assault on Dungeon Keep DLC, you already have the concept: Tiny Tina is running a tabletop RPG campaign in the fictional ‘Bunkers and Badasses’ universe. It’s pretty meta. And it’s great. This story-inside-a-story carries over to Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, with the “real world” stuff happening around a table littered with many-sided dice and miniatures, while the story stuff happens in a Borderlands first-person world you’re used to, only heavily influenced by fantasy tropes and the sort of over-the-top ridiculousness of the Borderlands franchise. Unlike the previous Bunkers and Badasses campaign, however, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands goes whole-hog on the tabletop RPG setting and brings in magic. Magic is, as you may already know, not real, but in the world within a world of the Wonderlands, it’s an incredibly fun and wildly entertaining supplement to the gunplay you know and love.
Ashley Lyons, Wonderlands’ Lead FX Artist, said guns are the “spine and spirit” of Borderlands, but the addition of magic is the “go-to combat in the gameplay loop” of Wonderlands. The spells take the grenade slot you might be used to, but in my opinion from playing through a level, the spells are just way more fun to use. Not to disparage the fine folks in charge of making grenades: they do important work, work that has been a hallmark of the series. But the spells… the spells are on a whole different level.
The Magic Makers
Much like Borderlands guns, magic in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands comes from different manufacturers, each with its own focus. Conjura are the makers of “simple cast spells,” while Arken makes “channel cast” magic. In other words, you hold down the trigger and magic just sprays everywhere. Wyrd Weaver makes repeating-cast magic and Miraculum specializes in self-cast magic. One example Lyons showed off was a spell that surrounds the player with a cryobubble of protection, shielding the player from harm.
In addition to the different manufacturers and their strengths, Wonderlands’ magic system also has a lovely variety of spell payloads to bring down upon your many foes, including hawks, fireballs, ice spikes, hydra, meteors, protection circles, and my personal favorite, ground fissures. The ground fissures have an especially satisfying effect as they tear through the terrain toward your target. Lyons called them “mini-skills,” referring to Borderlands skill system. However, they’re much faster to charge and can be changed out in the same way you’d trade out any other weapon in the Borderlands universe. Think Mordecai’s Bloodwing, but faster, with more possible variety, and highly boostable with stacking modifiers from your other items and attacks.
While there isn’t a strict spell-casting class in Wonderlands, Lyons said in theory, with the right combination of weapons, spells and other modifiers, you could build a “god tier spell caster,” While such a build is purely theoretical at this point, there’s little doubt if it is possible the Borderlands community will have it figured out in no time flat. Creative Director Matt Cox calls the RNG-based spell modifier system “a min-maxxers dream.”
Gathering the Magic
One of the details that makes magic feel so special in the world of Wonderlands is its visual identity. In addition to building the spells and their effects, the team put together a “visual style guide” to give them all a sense of continuity while allowing each spell to have its own distinct style. In addition to the different kinds of spells and their different manufacturers, spells have their own effects: “shockish,” which is an electric effect, “cold” which shoots frost lightning, as well as “fire,” “poison,” and “dark magic” types.
Each effect has its own sigil which you see in the hand of your character when the spell is cast. They’re highly stylized effects the artists created with the spells “from the ground up,” but all follow the same basic rules laid out in the style guide. It’s difficult to describe without seeing them in action, but the arcane runes and other effects in the hand of the caster are like a shorthand for the type of spell being cast. For example, a fissure spell I was shown looked like some sort of Lovecraftian hieroglyphic, a system of writing from a culture long forgotten, yet it made perfect sense when seen. A lot of care went into the magic system, and the sigil system ties it all together.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Official Screens
This is, of course, the first game in the Borderlands series to incorporate magic, and from what I’ve seen and experienced, I’m a fan. The spells offer an excellent addition to the Borderlands gameplay loop, both in terms of a satisfying way to mete out damage, as well as something visually distinct that also fits seamlessly into the world of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.