What is the concept? Borderlands 2’s previous downloadable content shepherded players to the peripheries of Pandora, allowing gamers to explore Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty’s dehydrated ocean and the swamps and jungles of Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt. For what is purportedly Gearbox’s final DLC installment, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep, gamers explore the ADHD-afflicted mind of the eponymous character, as she assumes the role of dungeon master for a game of ‘Bunkers and Badasses’. This Dungeons & Dragons lampoon is more than an impetus to unite Borderland’s original roster of characters. In execution, the DLC completely recontextualizes Gearbox’s game, offering a fresh collection of environments and enemies as well as handful of mods and weapons which match the expansion’s new setting.
Satirizing World of Warcraft, Game of Thrones, Dark Souls, and a host of other Tolkien-esque works, the content commences as players fast travel to Flamerock Refuge Docks. Narratively, Dragon’s Keep employs familiar tenets such as the malevolent sorcerer and princess-in-peril to poke fun at the genre, allowing Tina and her troupe to survey the derivative formulae of fantasy. Adeptly, writer Anthony Birch straddles the space between cynicism and admiration, dispensing dialog that captures the zeitgeist of contemporary geek culture.
What are the content’s strengths? Recalling Call of Juarez: Gunslinger’s best virtue, Assault on Dragon’s Keep uses an unreliable narrator to great effect. As the impulsive protagonist describes events, other characters point out her contradictions. As Tiny corrects herself, settings change from rainbow-filled grasslands to stormy, forbidding moors. Likewise, characters can suddenly shift demeanor, most literally in the form of Mimics- creatures that look like treasure chests, but are actually camouflaged foes. The game’s cavalcade of quests is particularly meta- minded, with many mimicking- and then making fun of gaming trope.
Whereas previous DLC for Borderlands 2 has felt slightly derivative, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep feels wholly fresh, thanks to a new asset pool. After shooting skags and psychos for hours, it’s gratifying to take on an assortment of opponents, which range from dwarfs, dragons, orcs, and trolls, wizards. Most of these adversaries compel gamers to master new assailing tactics- such as the undying skeletons which rejuvenate until a sword is pulled from their carcasses, while pixies offer the potential to become either antagonist or ally. Beyond the Dragon’s Keep campaign, players will also find a hectic survival arena as well as an optional raid that wraps up with one of Borderlands’ best boss battles.
What are the content’s weaknesses? Gamers who weren’t enamored by Tiny Tina will find little redemption here. The character’s hook is her lack of internal censor. The product of a (apparently 201X-era) media-saturated upbringing, she spews a rapid-fire stream of pop-culture references. As the pack’s raconteur, this constant stream of consciousness chronicling isn’t going to win over her detractors. Although some will find her shtick amusing, others will likely focus their attentions of Borderlands 2’s core shoot-and-loot mechanics.
An attempt to add a bit of poignancy to the storyline struggles to sneak past the procession of poop jokes. While an effort toward earnestness is to be commended, the results don’t quite mesh, as the game shifts from the irreverent to the heartfelt. Admittedly, this two pronged approach is a challenging endeavor, and one that many other mediums stumble on. While Assault on Dragon’s Keep’s culmination does provide narrative closure, in hindsight this struggle might have worked better with a character other than Tiny Tina.
Is it worth the money? Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep needs no recommendation to Borderlands 2’s season pass holders- they’re already obtained access to the 1.77 GB expansion as part of their purchase. But for those who passed on Gearbox’s offer and have been contemplating the procurement of Borderlands 2 DLC, Dragon’s Keep is the ideal place to start. Offering ten to fifteen hours of gameplay in a new and entertaining context, the download offers more variation that the typical post-purchase package.