[Disclosure: Anthony Burch, the writer of Borderlands 2, was previously employed at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.]
Dungeons and Dragons is a game of alliances, treachery, and triumph -- in short, the experiences and emotions you accrue as a result of various campaigns are very much real. The newest Borderlands 2 add-on tackles that concept, as Tina hosts her own very similar fictional game of "Bunkers and Badasse"s in Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, and you're the star.
This isn't your typical DLC, as all gameplay takes place within Tina's fictional fantasy realm, ranging from medieval towns plagued by a dark sky, to underground dwarf cities, to eerie swamps filled with Orcs.
Gearbox really went all out on this one.
Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: June 25, 2013
MSRP: $9.99, 800 Microsoft Points (Part of the Season Pass)
After teleporting to the unassuming Docks waypoint, you'll immediately trigger an even that whisks you away to Tiny Tina's made up topsy-turvy world, consisting of rainbows, magic, and of course, death. Tina is a dungeon master -- the overlord and host of a deadly tabletop simulation involving your character as the hero. The world is constantly evolving to fit Tina's ADD-riddled mind, with day becoming night, havens becoming hazards, and so on, on a moment's notice.
Now, Tiny Tina is a pretty polarizing character, so let me make this part clear -- she narrates nearly the entire DLC. While there are many moments of pure action and questing that involve no narrative whatsoever, Tina does have a marked impact on the story of the DLC, which transcends the fictional tabletop realm on occasion. While I'm not entirely fond of the character, I don't dislike her either, so I never found her to be particularly funny or offensive -- she's just kind of there, and the same goes for this DLC.
But the main hook isn't just Tina herself -- it's the really cool transitions where she changes the world around you to suit her story. As in, "bam," a magical flash of light happens, and all of your surroundings have changed. It's a neat mechanic that I wish was used more often, but the few times it is used for "wow factor" and as comic relief were brilliant. "Relief" is probably the best way to put it actually, as Anthony Burch's signature potty humor permeates through practically any serious tone. In other words, if you dislike fart jokes -- get out while you still can.
That's not to say the narrative doesn't attempt to get serious on occasion however, as the "B" plot so to speak deals with Tina and her inability to cope with a recent death in the game's cast. This event is only barely touched upon as the DLC gets underway, but by the end, the concept of false reality is abandoned, and the conflict is resolved. It isn't nearly as poignant as the team may have hoped, but it's a great way to tie this otherwise gaiden-esque story into the core narrative at large. You'll plainly see where both sub-plots are going very early on in the adventure, but you'll have a lot of fun getting there.
Besides the interesting concept and the unique set transitions, what excited me most about the DLC was the refusal to re-use assets -- which is usually a Gearbox staple tactic. As many people know, one of my chief complaints about the first Borderlands is the fact that nearly every enemy was either a Bandit, a Skag, or some kind of Dr. Moreau-ian hybrid of the two. But similar to Borderlands 2 proper, you'll take a break from the typical enemies you've become familiar with, as Skeletons, Dragons, Orcs, Wizards, Dwarves, and many more brand new enemies join the fray.
Heck, even the game's chests, posts and Vending Machines are re-done and re-worked, the latter of which look natural as stained glass arrangements. I also have to hand it to the design team for creating one of the most genuinely terrifying Mimics (a fake chest-monster) in all of gaming -- a creature that's Dungeons and Dragons to a tee, and will have you wary of opening any big chests.
The town of Flamerock serves as your last bastion of safety, doling out sidequests at your leisure. Sidequests this time are a bit more meta than usual, with one particular quest called "Fake Geek Guy" as a standout, involving Mr. Torque's desperate attempt at approval, and Lilith's cold insults and challenges of his "geek cred." While there's easily a chance for over-indulgence here, these quests manage to keep the message light-hearted, and within the tone of the game and the DLC -- in short, it's all good fun.
Assault on Dragon Keep is easily the longest DLC yet, trumping the other rather brief main questlines. In fact, Dragon Keep manages to go on for quite a while, nearing 10 hours of story content and 15-20 hours if you tackle everything. Thankfully, it just manages to not overstay its welcome as it culminates in one of my favorite boss fights in the series, which is always a good thing. Raids are also back, as are brand new weapons and items centered around the theme, so there's plenty to do.
Looking back, although I did enjoy Captain Scarlett and Mr. Torgue, neither of them were nearly as in-depth as this DLC, which is a benchmark for future Gearbox add-ons. Although they could have stood to have gone a little farther with the concept, if you can only choose one campaign, this is easily it.