Review: Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep

Borderlands 2’s Tiny Tina has got some bizarre quirks and qualities a vocal few openly denounce, but she’s memorable in a way so few women in games are. All that, and she’s still a little girl. The frenetic little firecracker is a bundle of energy, so it makes perfect sense that she should host a game of Bunkers & Badasses, an obvious parody of Dungeons & Dragons. In “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep,” your go-to Vault Hunter rolls for initiative with Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai as part of the very first play session ever sanctioned. The final piece of Borderlands 2 DLC serves up a hilarious send-up of nerd culture sprinkled with nods to D&D, marinated in Tiny Tina’s peculiar blend of humor.

Fast-traveling to the Unassuming Docks of Little Importance, we find our heroes embarking on their first role-playing adventure while a certain “Hyperion informant” is roughed up downstairs. After a brief interlude, the stage is set (by Bunker Master Tina of course) at Flamerock Refuse – a “nice place until the Handsome Sorcerer messed it up.” The rainbow etched across the sky in this land of make-believe you’re suddenly transported to doesn’t exactly reflect an air of desolation, so Tina rectifies her mistake by instantly changing the scenery to something more eerie and hopeless, music included.

It’s immediately obvious this scenario is a meta look at playing dungeon master and the way a D&D narrative can be altered so hastily. From then on, you’re exploring the entire imaginary landscape on Tina’s terms, which results in some giggle-worthy location names and terrain altering, as well as a bundle of surprises.
Borderlands 2 – Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep

Enemies like “skellymens” (skeleton archers), deadly treants named Stumpy, and “Mr. Boney Pants Guy” are spawned to greet your Vault Hunter as the journey wears on, as it’s clear Tina’s storytelling is in dire need of improvement. Each area is tailored to exude a classic western-RPG feel, with high fantasy-styled naming conventions. You’ll explore the Forest of Tranquility, until Brick declares it’s too boring for his tastes, at which point it then becomes the Forest of Being Eaten Alive by Trees. Brick’s outburst and Tina’s subsequent editing is hilarious, and it’s a blast to watch familiar BL2 personalities interact with each other while in-character.

Everything’s had its own high fantasy makeover, with the vending machines themselves sporting attractive stained glass accents. There are also new class mods that reinforce the central theme, such as “Chaotic Neutral Sorceress” or “Lawful Good Ranger.” Plenty of loot, places to spend hard-earned eridium, and new slot machines with even better weapons and equipment lie in wait. Even treasure chests get in on the old-school adventure action, rolling (you guessed it) a D20 to determine the quality of loot you come away with. Spend a bit of eridium, and you can roll two D20s to up the ante.

Despite these augments, mission objectives aren’t exactly novel: Find and collect X, defeat X, go to X. They’re all culled from the outline of a generic fantasy adventure. The allure stems from the world’s ever-changing environments, ambiance, and population. It’s completely different from anything you’ve seen on Pandora, deftly incorporating elements that adhere to classic Borderlands convention while randomizing encounters and even the land around you at a moment’s notice. It brings to mind finicky DMs from real-world tabletop encounters, or even the artist who’s constantly dissatisfied with his work; mind ever-changing and ideas ever-flowing.

Unique to your quest is a grand boss battle that will take every bit of your manpower: not one, but a group of dragons. It’s a grueling but exhilarating encounter, one probably best with a group of friends at your disposal. I had to go it alone, and assistance was sorely missed.

If that’s not enough to wet your whistle, consider this: despite the fact there are no additional characters this time around, there’s an expansive selection of enemies and campaign-specific weapons. They’re not simply re-skinned skags and the like – they’re orcs, golems, gnomes, and knights out for blood. You’ll gun them down with magical spells and armaments that shoot swords or even exude drunkenness (say hello to The Grognozzle and Swordsplosion).

As the culmination of what’s undoubtedly been a wild ride as far as the Borderlands 2 downloadable content packs are concerned, Tiny Tina’s adventure ends with a bang. There’s even a link to what could eventually blossom into something bigger at the end of the line, but that’s not for me to spoil here. Just know that the grind is certainly worth it, especially if you’ve been on board from the very beginning.

From the Pixie who adds special buffs as long as she’s not provoked to the snarky commentary from the Vault Hunters and malevolent wizards, Assault on Dragon Keep is a playful nod to tired fantasy tropes permeating the world of RPGs, simultaneously playing to them and turning them on their head. It’s a surrealistic trip through the imagination of a manic little girl who can’t quite grasp the fact that for some of her friends, there’s no coming back.

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