Recently we got the chance to go hands-on with a small section of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
, where one of the takeaways we had was just how much it reminded us of Borderlands 3
. Of course, the high-fantasy setting, comedy and focus on magic and spells and enchanted rings added a new feel to the lootin’ and shootin’ (now with added spellcastin’). But the map and quest structure was in-line with, say, any of the Borderlands 3 expansions we got.
Which wasn’t a bad thing per se, classic Borderlands action (especially in co-op) is always welcome. As is the more RPG and tabletop-like take on the ol’ shiny gun formula.
Taking a step back and setting our +2 insight, err, sights on the broader action-RPG genre, and you begin to realise that there are some ‘out-of-the-gate’ expectations for those that love to play, play some more, and keep on playing. Often called the endgame, it's the part of the experience where you refine a build, chase rare or legendary loot, challenge yourself, and get to the point where you can feel
the difference a positive swing of 1.6% in crit-chance can bring.
As per our launch review of Borderlands 3
(the game has since changed quite a bit) we lamented its lack of an engaging endgame. That is a dedicated system, mode, feature, or in-game thingy that could serve as the basis for… more
A Significant Change
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
changes all of that. It’s launching with a robust endgame called the Chaos Chamber
and it’s design draws on everything from D&D-style dungeon runs to Diablo III
Rifts and Greater Rifts modes and even a little bit of Hades
-style player agency for good measure. If you’re a fan of Borderlands or any of the above name-drops, Chaos Chamber is reason enough to be excited for Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands changes all of that, it’s launching with a robust endgame called the Chaos Chamber and it’s design draws on everything from D&D-style dungeon runs to Diablo III Rifts and Greater Rifts modes and even a little bit of Hades.
And with that we got the chance to sit down with Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Creative Director Matt Cox and Chaos Chamber Lead Designer Kent Rochefort to get all of the details on the new mode, how it works, the inspiration, what led to its creation, and more. And hey, as for the seemingly 180-degree difference to Borderlands 3’s lack-of-proper-endgame at launch, we threw that out there during our chat too.
With the answer being that it comes down to the new setting and the team wanting Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands to feel like its own thing. “I wanted us to develop something that was our own for Wonderlands,” Matt Cox says. “I didn't want it to feel like we just did what Borderlands 3 did with Takedowns and Circles of Slaughter, stuff that was very Borderlands. The way that we were thinking about the overworld with random encounters and dungeons it made sense to leverage that technology to build a rogue-lite experience.”
“And I hesitate to say rogue-lite because that comes with a lot of expectations,” Matt continues. “But the idea that with every room you make a choice and it affects the next room and you chain that together in an experience. And then leveraging 60 arenas where we can mix and match armies with traps and rewards and bonuses and curses and blessings. We wanted to be able to leverage so many things that could be random, but also have that agency. It became clear to us very early that we were stumbling onto something that's very unique, but it was also important from the beginning to deliver an endgame experience, full stop, so our fans didn't have to wait.”
Curses, armies, player choice, arenas, blessings. Okay, it’s time to break it all down and explain how Chaos Chamber works.
Chaos 101 - How Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands Endgame Works
The Chaos Chamber is where players will end-up after the story closes, and it’s an endlessly replayable dungeon run where player agency, choice, randomness, skills, and loot come together. A typical run will consist of randomised rooms, a mini-boss fight, and a main boss to tackle; and will take roughly 20-30 minutes to complete. Completing a run will lead to a loot room, the Loot of Chaos, where a big ol’ chest will explode in rays of light in the form of weapons and items.
The Chaos Chamber is where players will end-up after the story closes, and it’s an endlessly replayable dungeon run where player agency, choice, randomness, skills, and loot come together.
Runs will come in a few flavour varieties too, Normal, Extended, and Featured. The latter being a sort of weekly challenge for the community.
“The dungeon crawler was definitely the beginning of what we wanted to create here, like you see in many Dungeons & Dragons games that have rules and randomisations to create a new experience,” Kent Rochefort says. “The Rifts of Diablo III’s endgame was also an inspiration, but we also wanted to go another way. We wanted to give as much leverage to the player as we could, where customising your experience is equal to the reward that you get. You don’t feel the effects of the system, in a way you use the system to get to the point where you want to be.”
The idea of player agency, player choice, was a core pillar of the design. Which can be found in a very literal pillar-shaped sense with the bunny totems found in the Loot of Chaos room. Here you’ll find a bunch of them, each representing a different type of weapon or piece of gear. Feed them Crystals to get targeted loot, helping you find exactly what it is you’re looking for. Need a shotgun? Time to appease the bunny lord of pump action. Crystals are a per-run currency, earned by completing rooms, and can also be spent for run-limited Blessings to boost stats and abilities.
Throw in a decision to make before each new room, where one of two portals will signify a modifier in the form of a Curse (one usually easier in terms of what it does than the other), and you begin to see shades of Hades and the rogue-lite genre.
“Yeah, we were playing lots of Hades,” Kent admits. “The icon inside the portal is definitely from that.”
“I don't want to say first-person Hades but saying that gets you 90% to what the Chaos Chamber feels like,” Matt Cox adds when we outright said, in a good way, that this was all sounding great and reminded us of Hades. “But [that’s] without the narrative of Hades and its story, hub, and customisation. That's not necessarily what our hub is like, but the flow is very, very similar.”
Like the Greater Rifts of Diablo III, there will be an almost infinitely scaling difficulty. Difficulty in the Chaos Chamber will be determined by Chaos Levels, where everyone starts at Chaos Level Zero. Complete a Chaos Trial and you progress to the next level. New level = new loot and Chaos Tiers of gear that are “significantly more powerful versions of the types of loot and gear that drop in the regular game”.
The idea of player agency, player choice, was a core pillar of the design. Which can be found in a very literal pillar-shaped sense with the bunny totems found in the Loot of Chaos room.
“The more you level up your Chaos level, the higher chance you have of seeing drops,” Matt Cox explains. “The higher your level you start to see the different Chaos Tiers. Chaos Tiers are good for several Chaos levels so you don't have to keep farming every level. It's designed to increase the difficulty of the game while at the same time providing greater rewards. We've designed it to theoretically be infinitely scalable. At launch you can earn up to Chaos Level 20, and then at a certain point post-launch we will increase the Chaos level cap.”
Creating the Chaos Chamber
Chaos Chamber is a very specific systems and design driven bit of endgame content, with the core idea of dungeon runs serving as the basis for the mode. It’s also something that was born from the main Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands experience, where a proto-version of it will be presented to players.
“When you're in the overworld, which is our third-person zone that connects all of our first person experiences, you can go into random encounters in caves and dungeons that might have one, two, or three of these stitched together rooms,” Matt Cox says. “So before you even get to the endgame, you kind of get a little bit of a piece of how the Chaos Chamber works. By the time you get to the Chaos Chamber you're used to how rooms are stitched together, but then it gives you all the agency over the things that can be random.”
Stitching combat arenas together, rooms that are designed and built around combat and different armies and bosses, proved to be a new bit of technology built specifically for Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. It also expanded the combat playground the team could, well, play with.
“Having rooms was a blessing in terms of level design,” Kent Rochefort says. “We’re creating these combat arenas on a smaller scale but we can expand them in terms of verticality compared to a normal level because you don't have to find your way to a specific point. It's an arena that you can fly around and around without hitting a dead end. We really made them feel different too, and we have over 60 rooms. And it’s not only the design that flows differently, it's all the artwork that goes into it too.”
"We've designed it to theoretically be infinitely scalable. At launch you can earn up to Chaos Level 20, and then at a certain point post-launch we will increase the Chaos level cap.”
“A lot of these environments are also tailored for certain types of enemies and armies,” Matt Cox adds. “We wanted to be able to have different types of enemies all in one arena. So there was a lot of consideration put into building out those arenas that could accommodate a bunch of different enemies. We also wanted to make sure that it was fast technology. So by the time a portal appears or the next room appears, there's not a hard load, you take the portal and it sucks you into the next thing. We wanted to make sure this dungeon experience with all the rooms is a fast, seamless experience. And the same is true for random encounters in the overworld, they’re instant. You get hit, you go in, you fight and you pop back out.”
With so many elements in play, as is the way of the action-RPG, if it all comes together then it’s on par with the magic you get to equip. Except, you know, not at all like shooting fireballs. Purely hypothetical. And it’s here where our conversation dug a little deeper into where the balance might be in terms of pure FPS-skill, how you distribute skill points, and whether or not a single awesome weapon does most of the work for you. For Gearbox and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands it’s about taking the fun, comedic, and lighter tone of the franchise and using that to create something accessible and something with the sort of depth and variety that can support something like Chaos Chamber in the first place.
“The thing that's important to us for this type of game, at Gearbox, is for our designers to have fun with the type of combat and the type of items they create,” Matt Cox says. “But, balance is right there and almost just as important. In the main story we want people to feel rewarded for diversity, for paying attention to their build and how a ring impacts a skill, and how a melee weapon impacts your gun. We want them by the end of the story to feel rewarded for that and feel that they’ve become more powerful because they’re paying attention.”
“Chaos Chamber is where the pressure to fine tune your build becomes the thing,” Matt concludes. “And as your Chaos level increases, you continue to be rewarded for paying attention to how everything synergizes and everything speaks to everything else, while also introducing different tiers of gear to freshen up the gear chase.”
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is out March 25 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S