The twin joys of D&D nerdery and automatic weaponry come together at last in Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. I knew the fourth (and possibly last) Borderlands 2 DLC was an unusually pretty expansion thanks to my early preview with lead writer Anthony Burch, but after playing through the eight hours or so of the campaign, I can happily report that blasting through waves of skeletons and orcs is quite a lot of fun as well.
Several original Vault Hunters gather together to play the D&D-inspired tabletop game “Bunkers & Badasses,” with everyone’s favorite little psychopath Tiny Tina taking the role of Dungeon Master. So the expansion is a game within a game, which sounds confusing but it really isn’t. It basically means you’ll hear Tina, Brick and the other Vault Hunters plotting their moves as you journey through quaint villages and ominous forests. It’s pretty funny stuff, as you’d expect from a B2 expansion, but it also gets surprisingly emotional as Tina’s dreams and fears play out in the make-believe world around you. Her back-and-forth with the other characters features some of the series’ best writing.
The expansion is also loaded with nerd culture references, like the grenade mod that lets you yell “Lightning Bolt!” when you chuck an electrical blast. Watching Brick navigate the subtleties of a Dwarven negotiation is also hilarious, and it gets even funnier with the callbacks sprinkled throughout. Burch told me that Gearbox took every opportunity to break the fourth wall in Assault on Dragon Keep, and the gags pop up everywhere with clever send-ups on on everything from jumping puzzles to brainwashed enemies. Kudos to Gearbox for poking fun at the D&D culture in a loving way that manages to never come off as mean-spirited.
While the art is almost entirely brand new, the underlying gameplay is exactly what you’ve come to expect from Borderlands. My pulse was pounding as I slaughtered armies of knights and sorcerers while breaching a castle’s walls — but if all the shooting has worn thin for you then the same experience might be a chore. I played through the campaign as Krieg the Psycho, and his melee style worked well against the hordes of enemies who rushed in close to smother me. There were several thrilling boss battles where I was able to continuously pop Krieg’s cooldown to go on a killing spree as a Badass Psycho.
New enemies are everywhere, from treants and gun-toting Orczerkers to neutral fairies who follow you around and sprinkle the occasional power up on you. There’s even a variety of skeletons — from the suicidal ones who rush you with dynamite to the Immortal Skeletaurs who rise from the grave unless you yank the glowing magical sword stuck in their back. The skeletaurs bring a welcome strategic wrinkle, but even so, I found myself growing tired of the constant barrage of skellies, especially during the longish dungeon zone.
Although the gameplay and loot aren’t much different from anything that’s come before, the clever and surprisingly touching narrative makes this a must-play for fans who want to reconnect with Brick, Mordecai and the gang. The brand-new fantasy locations and enemies are a refreshing change from Pandora’s usual stable of baddies and Assault features some of the funniest and smartest writing in the series. If this is the final expansion DLC for Borderlands 2, then the game is going out with a worthy send-off.
Here’s The Rundown:
+Hilarious but loving parodies of gaming cliches
+Amazing new fantasy locations and art
+Thrilling boss battles
+Welcome new enemies
+Surprisingly touching narrative
-Not much “fantasy” loot
8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep was published by 2K Games and developed by Gearbox Software. It was released on June 25, 2013, at the MSRP of $9.99. The expansion was played to completion in about eight hours.