Sound familiar? This is not Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep’s first rodeo. Way back in 2013, it was released as DLC for Borderlands 2. We’re going to go out on a limb and say it was the best of the many expansions for Borderlands 2 which was, itself, the best game in the Borderlands series. So, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is the tastiest cherry on top of peak-Borderlands pudding.
It’s well-regarded, then. In fact, it’s so well regarded that Gearbox and 2K Games are basing an entirely new Borderlands installment around it: Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, due for release in 2022. That new, standalone game is yoinking Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep’s general premise, which is that Tiny Tina has set up a Borderlands version of Dungeons & Dragons for the other vault hunters to play, and you’re playing within the imagined version of that game. Moxxi is a fantasy innkeeper, Torque is a loud-mouthed quest-giver, and the various skags and psychos are replaced with orcs, dragons and skeletons.
As a prelude to Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Gearbox have re-released Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: A Wonderlands One-Shot Adventure as a standalone game. You buy it, you boot it up, and you hop directly into the DLC without any preamble. And none of the other Borderlands 2 content is present. It’s just the Dungeons & Dragons digression without any other bells/whistles.
The first word that may come to your lips is ‘why?’. It was the first word that came to our lips too. When you break it down, it’s hard to comprehend who this is for.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is present on the Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, which many of us already own. Wander into a second-hand game store and it’s cheap as chips, and it’s been a similar price in multiple Xbox Store sales. There’s no Series X|S optimisation here, no 4K or 60fps. The only value it has for Borderlands fans is a new set of achievements. It’s not a perfect on-ramp for new players, either. They’re going to miss all of the in-jokes throughout; if you don’t know the original context of the characters, then how are you going to appreciate them here?
Gearbox likely knows more than we do, and it’s possible that the average Borderlands fan never got round to Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, as it was one of the last pieces of DLC for Borderlands 2. There might be a market for it. We just struggle to see it.
This is, after all, a near-direct lift. The slice of campaign, from Marcus Kincaid’s traditional opening through to the ending cutscene, is (almost) exactly as you remember. The only difference is that the balancing has been completely rewired. XP rains down on you, levelling happens thick and fast, and you get a couple of Skill Action Points per level. It’s obviously needed, as the main Borderlands 2 campaign isn’t included to grind you up to a suitable level. You’re given everything you need to level up within Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. Perhaps that IS a selling point to some: this is Borderlands: Accelerated.
Otherwise, it’s Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep as you remember, for better and – surprisingly – a little for worse, too. Playing it now, after eight years have passed, with a Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 3 inbetween, it’s surprising how clunky a lot of it feels. For example, this retains the floating UI from Borderlands 2, and it’s showing its age. It’s clumsy to use and doesn’t look particularly crisp. And it might be down to the new balancing, but the bullet-sponging feels like a relic from a different time. We got bored chipping away at The Grand Old Duke of Orc and others, even with good weaponry.
Perhaps we’ve got more jaded, but the jokes felt more ragged, too. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: A Wonderlands One-Shot Adventure leans on the ‘unreliable narrator’ joke, over and over. She messes up the storytelling, adds the wrong character, or overestimates what the player can achieve, and then she sorts it out afterwards. It might be because we’ve been exposed to more of these meta-narratives, from Deadpool the game to movies like Free Guy, that this one joke doesn’t manage to carry the whole experience like it did before.
But skipping the cynicism, there is still plenty to love here. It’s got the Borderlands core, for a start, which could be sellotaped to a bell-ringing sim and still feel good. Watching numbers tumble off enemies never gets old, and the fountain of coloured weapons that erupts from their bodies is still delicious.
The developers have also clearly had fun with the fantasy setting, as every trope gets skewered. Knights wander into battle with plenty of ‘forsooths’, but then scream for their mummies when they’re set on fire. Fetch quests get the piss-take that they deserve. Claptrap does a fine ribbing of Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It’s all here, and the fantasy reskin doesn’t just get reserved for the enemies: it’s through everything but the UI and guns. The levels are vast fantasy towns, castles and caves, and the quests will mirror plenty of your RPG favourites.
It’s a decent sized romp, too. There’s probably eight hours of play here, and it never truly lets up. As DLC it felt sizable; for the £7.99 price, it’s comparatively cheap. Just don’t look up how much Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is selling for on Ebay, because then the value proposition gets more complicated.
We shrug a little at this release. We can’t form a good argument for why Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: A Wonderlands One-Shot Adventure exists, outside of reminding players that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is coming. It feels like a glorified billboard. But sure, we’ll go along with it. If you somehow do not have Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, but want to get up-to-speed before Wonderlands launches next year, then this is a fast-paced and not altogether expensive way of doing it. Fill your boots.
You can buy Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: A Wonderlands One-Shot Adventure from the Xbox Store