The road to Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty began with Ninja Gaiden and then continued with the Nioh franchise. That's why Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels less like Nioh‘s successor and more like a Soulslike entry, albeit one that's more approachable thanks to combat systems that are more akin to Sekiro‘s. From as early as the first boss fight, the going gets tough enough to warrant a few tries before cracking the game’s combat code. Perhaps that’s the feel Team Ninja was going for, to set the pace for how difficult this particular trek was going to be.
However, “cracking the code” meant you’d have a better idea of how to approach future boss fights, making them easier undertakings and, thus, causing a shift in difficulty. Were the difficulty level progressive, or even constant, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty would have hit the Soulslike mark like a pro. But what other mishaps are there, if any? What hit the mark as far as the making of action RPGs is concerned? Is Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty better than Nioh? Well, make sure to stick around till the end of this Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review to find out.
Tale As Old As Time
If you’re a fanatic of the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, you may want to settle for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, which adapts itself to a dark fantasy version of the events just before it. These were the days when the imperial Han Dynasty had ruled over ancient China for many years and was, in 184 AD, about to collapse.
Chaos and destruction ensure as a nameless militia gets caught in the middle of the political struggles. In addition to the mayhem, the land is infested with demons and deadly creatures, thanks to a powerful elixir that promises eternal life but delivers quite the opposite of what you expected. And so, as enemy soldiers partake of this portion, their lives are turned around, and they become the nightmares that haunt the Three Kingdoms.
Now, I have to admit that Team Ninja's strongest suit has never been storytelling, and I, therefore, didn’t hold high expectations coming into Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Still, there is some potential here if I had background knowledge or interest in the Three Kingdoms era. The characters don’t alleviate the plot either, thanks to their speedy introductions and goodbyes. You barely have enough time to start to care, which, frankly, isn’t at all what we’re here for.
Follow the Path
A few notes on the environment. First, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t an open-world game at all. You have very limited exploration, with most of the game taking on a more level-like structure that essentially takes you up to a location, teams you up with some warriors, and fights through the enemies that come at you leading up to a boss battle. And then move on to the next level, that’s it.
There’s much to admire on your journey, though, with some environs looking lavish, and others, crumbling to pieces. So, even though it’s a mostly linear endeavor, you do trek within areas pleasing to the eye. Oh, and there are other shortcuts or ways to backtrack besides the formal route, like ladders, bundles of wood, and more. In short, if you’ve played Nioh 2, you should feel right at home.
Soulslike, Here and There
Soulslike fans should feel right at home, too, thanks to Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s similar brutal difficulty and progression system. Like Sekiro, the game puts more emphasis on parrying than blocking. Each hit feels precise and lands where it should. The enemies put up more than just a challenge that constantly keeps you on your toes. Honestly, the combat is just so good. The issues with the story start not to matter at all.
While playing, remember your spirit, which increases the more blows you deflect. Spirit allows you to charge up your attacks and defenses and even cast elementary spells on your opponent. Remember that blocking won’t work at times. Instead, you’re free to parry with almost anything, from sword swings to lightning bolts.
Enemies won’t go down easily, so you must probe their weak points. On the other hand, bosses will take a lot more diligence in studying their moves to execute well-timed deflections and counterattacks. Especially in the first encounter, most gamers have put hours upon hours into trying to defeat the first boss. But, once you’ve figured out the exact puzzle needed and the type of combos they use, every encounter becomes exhilarating to solve.
Oh, the enemy combos vary, too. So, it’s a constant growth experience. Although, the first boss would take a toll as you’re just learning how combat works. Even so, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty finds the perfect balance between difficult, fair, and fun. Just be sure to manage your spirit meter, carefully time your deflections, and exploit an enemy’s weakness, and you’ll be good to go.
Morale, We Need You
Much of the combat systems, so far, are likely familiar ones you’ve seen in other games before, albeit with tweaks here and there. But, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty introduces an innovation to the Soulslike experience called the Morale Ranks system.
It essentially means starting from zero and earning more points with every defeated enemy. Use Spirit attacks, your martial arts skills, or critical strikes, and you gain points much faster. The trick comes in when you die. Morale points are deducted from you and added to whoever killed you. There are other ways to increase morale, and that’s through finding Dark Souls bonfire-like flag poles.
Why do morale points matter, you ask? Well, remember how your enemies’ morale points increase when they kill you. If they have a higher rank than you, they deal more damage to you, and vice versa. That’s where it gets fun because you could hunt down enemies with a higher rank, especially those who earned from your demise, and enact revenge.
But, it’s also a risk-reward scenario that could mean putting in more effort to defeat them. Toward the end of the mission, morale ranks should naturally start to go up, so enemies become tougher to defeat, and bosses pose more of a challenge if your morale rank is still wanting.
There’s a lot more I could say about Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. It’s clear the storyline could use some work. Same for its environments, which, even though they perfectly portray warring factions, could use a sense of adventure. For a game of this size, I’d have loved to see some larger enemy variety, too. And playing on PC and Xbox does have some glitches here and there, according to reports by the respective platforms’ users.
But, I didn’t come here for any of the aforementioned elements of gameplay. However, the combat is what tickled my fancy more, coming in from Team Ninja's previous work on the Nioh franchise. And boy, am I glad to say they absolutely nailed it. Not only is combat lightning fast to play, but it’s also precise, in sync, and poses a challenge that keeps you coming back for more. It encourages you to develop a relentless attitude, so much so that keeping tabs on any other issues that may come up is a waste of time.
The spirit meter and morale rank systems raise the bar higher. It forces you to think rather than go at your enemies blind. It’s cool that enemies have a spirit gauge and morale rank, too. So, you also keep tabs on how they’re fairing and how close you are to delivering that devastating final blow. While Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t the most challenging Soulslike game, it’s the most approachable one that still emulates the essence of the genre. That way, anyone can feel welcome to give it a try, provided your sole aim is checking out the combat and not the storyline or exploration because the latter two definitely fall short.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, & PC)
Master Weaponry and Wizardry Against Divine Beasts
A nameless militia is caught in the spinning web of the political struggles of ancient China’s later Han Dynasty’s collapse. This dark fantasy takes place in the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. As chaos and destruction ensue, so does a mystical drug that raises the dead and turns them into demons and deadly creatures. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty prides itself on being a very hard Soulslike venture, so get ready to face some grueling bosses, enemies who grow stronger with each mission, and a whopping set of combos, weaponry, and wizardry to unlock. Each progressive fight feels exhilarating, fast-paced, and deadlier than the last. Will you survive?