Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty on PS5
The source material that is The Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been fertile grounds for studios and developers alike in recent years, allowing the creation of worlds and experiences that not just tell the stories in myriad ways, but also gameplay that covers all sorts of genres . In Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, it’s time for the action roleplaying to take the spotlight again, and what a thrilling ride it has turned out to be.
From the off, it is clear that both Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo have put all of their learnings working on the likes of Nioh, Ninja Gaiden, and to some extent, Bloodborne, into Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Rather than leaning too heavily into any one of those inspirations, this game works its own magic via different systems to deliver an experience that feels unique and more importantly, fun.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes us back to 184 AD in the Later Han Dynasty in China, with the land overcome by chaos and destruction. If you have any passing knowledge of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms or have played the Dynasty Warriors games, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels like an elevated and darker take on similar events, albeit in an original story told via the perspective of various heroes and villains that the player will meet as a nameless militia soldier.
Of course, as the chosen one, this is only the start of your journey across the epic saga, with players at the center of many pivotal events that have been slightly altered to make room for the demonic slant to the story. Between fighting off warring factions and the grim invasion of demonic forces, there is plenty to sink your teeth into in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.
That said, within minutes of the opening mission, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty teaches you the basics of what would be the foundation of much more complex mechanics that will guide your survival all the way through to the end. Attacking and defending, the hugely entertaining deflecting system, the spirit gauge, and the use of martial arts as well as wizardry spells are just the tip of the iceberg, but you will be taught all the necessary skills in an accessible way.
Set up in a structure similar to the Nioh games, the game is broken up into main and sub-battlefields, with the former being the crucial story missions that will progress the plot. At any given time after the initial stages, you will have the option to pursue the sub-missions in search of resources and conflict, with loot up for grabs to make your character even more powerful than before.
Once players have jumped into a mission, the real entertainment begins, with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty able to provide a great mix of platforming action and intense combat to keep things moving along at a steady pace, culminating in boss fights that are usually showstoppers.
While it is important to pay attention to the types of weapons, of which there are 13, and armor you’ll be giving and upgrading along the way, true mastery in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty comes in understanding its systems and using them to your advantage.
For starters, let’s talk about Morale Rank. In any given level, you’ll start things off at zero, with the higher it is, the less damage you’ll receive from attacks and the more bonuses come into play. Morale Ranks can be increased by defeating enemies, landing martial arts and spirit attacks, and Fatal Strikes, with it also acting as an indicator of enemy threat. Any critical blow from the enemy or death will drop your Morale Rank, so suffice to say, it is a tall task going after an enemy several ranks above you.
In fact, like the Souls games, you’ll be losing half of your Genuine Qi every time you perish, the precious currency that can be used for leveling up any of the five virtues that govern your stats. Not only that, being killed by an enemy sees it become emboldened, rising in rank and awaiting your attempt at revenge, which sets the stage for a tough battle ahead for players that are not keen on learning the system.
And what a combat system it is. The challenge of facing formidable foes is matched with the player’s ability to engage in exhilarating combat, transitioning from offense to defense and vice versa in a flash, keeping the action high-octane and in your control. While you can use standard attacks and block to defend, the spirit gauge is where the real strategy is at.
Similar to Sekiro with his posture meter, the combat in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty wants players to be proactive, with high spirit allowing for martial arts, wizardry spells, and spirit attacks to be used without penalty. Conversely, have your spirit too low, and you could be dazed by the next enemy attack, leaving you open to more hurt. The best way to increase your spirit is by keeping up the aggression and deflecting incoming blows, keeping you always at the center of things.
Deflection, in particular, is a really gratifying mechanic, staggering eager foes that can now be punished, or keeping the bosses at bay as the echoing clash of metal sounds off with multiple successful deflections. It becomes even more vital when facing critical blows, an unguardable attack that is signposted by a red glow on your opponent. Time it right, and you will strike a damaging blow to both health and spirit. Get it wrong, though, and you’ll suffer significant damage as well as a drop of Morale Rank. Needless to say, learning patterns and mastering timing will help players a lot in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.
Having proficiency on both sides of combat helps keep normal fights to a minimum fuss, and makes boss fights a spectacle. Aside from contending with larger health pools and more dangerous attacks, it is essential to break the spirit of these imposing enemies, so you can perform a Fatal Strike that deals high damage and lower their Morale Rank to make your life easier.
If flashy martial arts moves and spirit attacks are not enough, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty throws in wizardry spells aligned to the elements of the Five Phases. As long as you have enough spirit and the corresponding stats to use a spell you have learned, it can mean turning the tide in interesting ways. Since elements can counteract each other, weaknesses can be exploited and strengths weakened, and status effects can be conferred with enough elemental attacks.
Add to that various Divine Beasts that also boast their own enhancements to your stats and elemental prowess, and the smart warrior knows how to savvily use all of these mechanics to stack the odds in their favor. With the level of threat that even the smallest of enemies can bring in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, you can never be too careful.
Outside of the clashing of arms, the level designs in the game are also highly impressive. Different biomes play home to a variety of design elements, playing to the verticality afforded by the increased mobility of your character. Hidden paths and secrets are aplenty, along with collectibles like the cuddly Shitieshou creatures, while the use of shortcuts that round out an area always delivers a sense of satisfaction like no other. It pays to pay attention in this game, allowing the observer to get the drop on enemies and treasures alike.
The levels also allow another facet of the game to be on display with the Battle and Marking Flags system. Essentially acting as checkpoints, getting to these flags also raises your minimum Fortitude Rank, which serves as the base level of your Morale Rank should you die. Finding Marking Flags also heals you, while resting at Battle Flags does the same while allowing for leveling up and calling in reinforcements from other players or the AI at the cost of reviving your enemies.
Marking Flags are often hidden around in levels, so it will test your platforming and observational skills most of the time. As for Battle Flags, their important nature is clear with Leader-type enemies protecting them occasionally. These are difficult foes to deal with, especially if you’re not picking off their Followers first, adding another strategic layer to your approach in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.
It is a compliment to the developers that throughout the seven main acts of the game, there was always something to look forward to whether it be a battle against a famous foe like Lu Bu, or more secrets and lore to be discovered. You could always better your relationships with AI companions by riding into battle with them, with the sweet carrot of their equipment set as your reward for raising their Oath Levels, or visit the hidden village that serves as the hub area with other distractions in line.
As a game that follows in the footsteps of other contemporaries, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is definitely much more accessible and forgiving, even if the intricacies of the combat system seem to indicate otherwise. There is more onus on the player to engage and learn, while the presence of the flags reduces some of the penalties involved with death. The platforming also gives the alternative solution of avoiding certain enemies and exploring for rewards, in addition to keeping things moving briskly.
Yet, it could be argued that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a little too accessible at this stage, especially when it comes to the enemy AI. This is transparently obvious when it comes to stealth attacks, with enemies not registering the presence of AI companions while remaining oblivious to quick jumps instead of hushed steps to get near them. Even approaching from their sides can keep you undetected, allowing for an easy kill most of the time. Although there is a stealth stat that makes you less easy to be detected, it shouldn’t be that advantageous to the player when the combat system is the clear star.
Speaking of which, the AI companions are also a strange bunch. While it is recommended to always bring two of them along since they can help tremendously in the tougher fights, they don’t always seem keen to go on the attack even if you’re getting pummeled. Using the Encourage action kicks them into action, but just be aware that sometimes your backup is not going to do its job.
The enemy design in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is also a mixed bag, with the bosses obviously getting plenty of love and attention, but the poor cannon fodder does not. About halfway through the game, you would have probably seen all the types of foes that will stand in your way, save for maybe one or two more.
Although I loved the combat, it would have been ideal for more enemies to be thrown in that kept things fresh and unpredictable, so that players could continue to hone their craft and be on their toes. There are also bosses that will feel disappointingly weak and one-note, especially the gargantuan demons that pop up every so often, whose attacks were way too easy to read and make their fights more a test of time rather than skill. You don’t always have to be going up against amazing combatants like Zhang Liao or Sun Jian all the time, but some balance would be nice.
At the end of the day, I absolutely enjoyed my time in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, and am raring to go back for more with an additional unlockable difficulty level that has more powerful loot and more challenging fights awaiting. The blend of combat, RPG elements, platforming, and a much more serious and interesting narrative makes for an engaging romp through the ancient lands of China, and aside from some small AI hiccups and design choices, there really isn’t much there to dampen my revitalized love for all things Romance of the Three Kingdoms. All hail the newest and most polished Soulslike to come out in a while.
Reviewer: Jake Su | Awards: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Excellent combat system that rewards aggression and mastery of timing.
- Boss fights are always a spectacle.
- World-building and design are impressive.
- Intriguing narrative that weaves in history.
- Platforming adds another layer to the gameplay.
- Weird AI hiccups here and there.
- Enemy designs can afford to be more varied.
- Certain bumps can be disappointing.
March 3, 2023
Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo
PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC