Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
"Roll for initiative, suckas!"
Borderlands 2's last piece of season pack DLC is a break from the norm. Rather than shipping us off to yet another conveniently untrodden area of Pandora, Tiny Tina's Assault On Dragon Keep merrily throws canon out the window - presumably with a cannon - and instead presents an entirely separate game within a game. Lilith, Mordekai and Brick decide to sit down for a relaxing session of Bunkers & Badasses, the Pandoran version of D&D, which casts the second generation vault hunters as characters in a high fantasy tabletop adventure. Dungeons will need delving. Dragons need slaying. Die need rolling. Queens need rescuing. Crumpets need buttering. ALL BLIMPS MUST DIE, because Mr. Torgue COMMANDS IT.
With the irrepressible Tiny Tina as Dungeon Master, you just know that Dragon Keep will be a crunk crumpet crumpocalypse of the most insane order.
Once your party fast-travels to the Unassuming Docks Of Potentially Little Importance (heh), Dragon Keep unfolds over the course of several hours through a fantasy world on the brink. Retelling and parodying the events of the Borderlands 2 campaign, the Handsome Sorceror has laid waste to a peaceful kingdom, requiring you to destroy his henchman and thwart his machinations throughout a generous selection of expansive maps.
The art department has spared no expense in making each area thematically distinct, playing off classic fantasy tropes such as an evil forest and dastardly tower to ascend, with little details such as stained glass vending machines and D20-equipped loot chests blending the classic Borderlands western look with the high fantasy setting. Level designers, on the other hand, have spoiled us with truly gigantic levels that bristle with totally optional swathes of land to explore for extra loot and experience. Packed with set pieces and boasting a rich new colour palette, Dragon Keep is easily one of the most generous Borderlands expansions in terms of totally new content.
In a neat twist, Tina's lack of DM experience and preparation often leads to the world changing radically around you as she hurriedly rebalances bosses, switches out particularly tough enemies and even retcons entire areas to appease her constantly-moaning players. Watching the peaceful 'Tranquil Forest' morphing into the 'Forest Of Being Eaten Alive By Trees' or an NPC becoming Mr. Torgue when the burly arms manufacturer begs to play along is genuinely hilarious, especially for anyone with Dungeon Master experience of their own. Having made my fair share of THAC0 rolls in my time, I can definitely relate to Tina's struggle to keep the unravelling session together.
A fantasy setting naturally requires some fantastical foes to throw down on, and Dragon's Keep is no slouch in that regard. All our favourite cliches are present and correct: entire armies of orcs, skeletons, dwarves, treants and more are ready for the slaughter, all boasting a bevy of melee and ranged attacks that make for some unpredictable engagements. Though many enemies share AI behaviour with existing foes, there's still plenty of variety and a pleasing amount of diversification between different combatants within each faction - even if they only crop up for a single level. The last section in particular also features some satisfying bosses to destroy as you ascend the handsome sorceror's tower.
It's difficult to overstate just how much content you'll get for your eight sovs. A weighty campaign (lasting several hours, as long as most marketplace titles!) and enormous explorable maps notwithstanding, Dragon's Keep offers a wealth of optional sidequests, incredibly frequent powerful loot drops, some hectic set pieces and several tough raid bosses to test your mettle. Gearbox promised that Dragon Keep would be the "biggest Borderlands expansion ever," and they've delivered in sensational style. There's even a case to be made that some of the story missions feel overlong and perhaps slightly padded, but we're of the opinion that more is usually better when it comes to DLC (especially in the RPG genre).
As you'd expect, Dragon Keep is heavy on belly laughs. The realms of tabletop gaming and high fantasy are ripe for parody, leading to a wealth of references to classic roleplaying games, films, A Game Of Thrones, delicious crumpets and geek culture (look out for two especially acerbic send-ups of the reprehensible idiots who rail against 'fake geek girls' and the sexist revealing armour that MMOs tend to clad their female characters in). There's an enormous amount of sidesplitting dialogue, cameos and silly non-quests to enjoy, but I was amazed to discover that Gearbox made an earnest attempt to underpin the expansion with a surprisingly heartfelt storyline and flesh out Tiny Tina as a relateable and even tragic character. It works surprisingly well, and even those who previously hated her will likely find themselves warming to the profanity-spewing pyrotechnician.
More to the point, it's also a great excuse to spend some more time with Brick, Lillith and Mordekai. Dragon Keep may not be the very last piece of Borderlands 2 DLC, but it's still a decent sendoff, doubly impressive since the main campaign managed to comprehensively provide closure for its satisfying self-contained storyline.
In terms of flaws, Dragon Keep does run into a couple of bad habits beyond a handful of non-repeatable clipping and pathfinding issues. Many of the quests - especially subquests - offer drab and overlong fetch or kill objectives, while the core loot conveyor belt gameplay remains completely unchanged despite the new setting. The difficulty balance is also a little hit and miss; much like The Secret Armory Of General Knoxx, it's painfully simple on normal difficulty for game complete characters, but can be crushingly tough on True Vault Hunter mode for solo players. This is likely down to it being the last DLC pack, and in fairness, we prefer a stiff challenge to a cakewalk.
- Massive levels to explore, gorgeous new fantasy art style
- Entire armies of all-new enemies, plenty of loot and sidequests
- Swathes of hilarious referential dialogue; surprisingly strong storyline and characterisation
- Utterly crumpocalyptic value at £7.99
- Doesn't particularly shake up the core Borderlands 2 gameplay
- Some repetitive and bland sidequest objectives, challenge curve can be either simplistic or punishing for solo players
- More fantasy-themed loot might have been nice?
The Short Version: As you'd expect from the irrepressible explosives expert, Tiny Tina's Assault On Dragon's Keep ends the season pass with a massive bang.