Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty comes to us from developer Team Ninja; yes, the same Team Ninja behind both Nioh and Nioh 2. Much like those games, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a challenging and satisfying romp that largely succeeds at providing consistently cohesive combat mechanics and confident pacing. While its boss battles serve as the main highlights, this is without a doubt a successful entry into the ever-expanding Souls-Borne games that rarely pushes the medium forward, but uses past tropes and successful aspects to deliver something that feels relatively fresh.
Save the Kingdoms
While Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty actually takes place in 184 AD China during the battle of the Three Kingdoms, players can create a unique and customisable character, who is tasked with ridding three surrounding kingdoms of the demons that have now risen to plague them. While the lore is admittedly more interesting than the story itself, its structure exists to guide your character through each of the demons that inhabit the lands, inspired by various Chinese mythological creatures. The supernatural approach to the last days of the Han Dynasty definitely encourages a little research prior to playing, should you want to understand exactly how this world has been manipulated to suit Wo Long’s approach, but should you be in it for the combat, the story sits largely in the background. Thankfully, there’s plenty to admire, from gorgeous and unique enemies and bosses to larger environments that remain ravaged from a previous battle. It’s also worth noting here that Wo Long also runs quite well on next-gen consoles.
When it comes to general pacing, there are indeed various elements that propel the story forward, be it pairing you with a historically important companion or mythological beast to help you through each stage. While they rarely make combat easier, their involvement adds context to the story as you progress, but once again, do little to add much levity and weight to the story. It’s not that the narrative is even particularly bad, but it feels like Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty knows what we’re all here for; the combat.
The Art of Combat
Right out of the gate, combat in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels fantastic. It’s fast and frenetic and presents the challenge that most fans of the Nioh and Souls-Borne games, in general, would appreciate. You’ll be able to utilse both light and heavy attacks, in addition to special Spirit attacks which deal greater damage. The real key to combat is managing your Spirit Meter, which builds as you block attacks. It sits under your health bar and acts almost like a traditional stamina bar that holds both positive and negative effects. You’ll need to combine attacks without taking damage in order to build your Spirit Meter in a positive direction, allowing you to take advantage of more powerful attacks. However, if you block for too long or take significant amounts of damage, it will shift left in the negative direction. Once this negative portion is full, your character will be left vulnerable and open to any attack for a small amount of time. It’s this system that makes each encounter feel like a strategic dance of give and take, where you must aim to deal as much damage as possible to create a larger chance of dealing devastating blows in the process.
While this system largely succeeds at creating tense encounters, parrying feels like the key to success. By pressing the parry button right before an enemy attack, you’ll knock them off balance and leave them open to a flurry of attacks. However, Wo Long rarely telegraphs these attacks, meaning you’ll have to learn patterns and general attacks to succeed. Wo Long’s combat variety is also impressive, allowing you to wield multiple weapon types and discover new loot and gear which help with offensive and defensive statistical boosts. This all ties together nicely during the epic boss battles, where you’ll usually need to compile everything you’ve gathered in a brutal test of skill. Keep in mind, however, bosses are excruciatingly difficult, with the first boss taking me well over an hour to conquer.
The Way Forward
When not throwing you into combat, Wo Long feels admittedly linear in terms of exploration. Most environments only provide a few additional paths off the beaten track to uncover loot, you’ll rarely lose your way. However, there are aspects of Wo Long’s approach between encounters that can make this worthwhile. Along the way, you’ll have to manage your Morale Rank, which acts as a leveling system of sorts that builds as you progress through each level. Ranging from 0 to 25, you’ll need to defeat multiple enemies without dying in order to build your offensive effectiveness in combat. When you die, this level will reduce, leaving you a little more vulnerable to surrounding enemies with higher Morale Ranks. Much like Souls games, this rank can be regained by making it back to where you died but ultimately keeps you on your toes when you’re on a roll.
Players can also plant flags at checkpoints to preserve their progress, which feels generously placed throughout each level, meaning you’ll rarely have to grind far to reach your last encounter. Here, you’ll also get the chance to take a break and dive deeper into customising your character with load-outs, like new gear and weapons. The looting system works well but feels rather inconsequential after a few hours. Most items of clothing will affect some sort of major stat like defensive effectiveness, but can also affect more minor stats like Spirit attack effectiveness, usually by a small percentage. It’s here that Wo Long’s loot and gear system boils down to a numbers game, which rarely translates to gameplay in any way that feels meaningful or helpful.
Aside from churning through the story, players can also complete smaller side missions that take you back through previously cleared areas that present new and unique twists on previous encounters. They generally play out like small combat arenas and only really serve as a way to grind for new gear, should you need to buff yourself before the next main mission.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty does enough to separate itself from previous Team Ninja and Souls-Borne games alike, through its unique setting and epic boss battles, but definitely relies on what has worked before. While the story sits in the background for most of your playthrough, combat is without a doubt what most players will stay for. The loot system provides variety but largely feels inconsequential due to the numerous minimal stats that don’t affect gameplay. That being said, it’s still a fun adventure that poses a brutal challenge, should you deem yourself worthy.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Engaging combat; Satisfying challenge; Unique boss battles; Smooth performance
Lowlights: Oversaturated loot system
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.