Initial release date: March 3, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Developers: Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo
Publishers: Koei Tecmo, CE-Asia(Asia), KOEI TECMO AMERICA Corporation
Genres: Action-adventure game, Hack and slash, Adventure
Mode: Multiplayer video game
Producer(s): Fumihiko Yasuda; Masaaki Yamagiwa
"Review Copy Provided By Koei-Tecmo"
The “Souls” genre has gone from being something only made by genre creators From Software, to being something that so many other developers have taken a crack at. While the Souls games from From Software are always regarded in a positive light, Koei-Tecmo have gone on to make several games in the genre that not only rival what From Software creates, but in many ways innovates and evolves the genre and merges it with what they’ve been able to craft with the Ninja Gaiden series offering players a faster paced and mechanically deep “Souls-like” experience. Koei-Tecmo created the Nioh franchise which added a samurai flavor to the Souls experience and utilized various stances with each weapon you gained. They then created the cult classic Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin which took concepts from Nioh and merged it with mechanics from Final Fantasy. And now we have Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty which is set in the Three Kingdoms era of China and looks to incorporate various aspects from their previous games as well as recent games like Sekiro and Elden Ring with a martial arts centric focus. Is this new game a worthy addition to the genre or is it a failed experiment? Let’s find out!
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a dark high fantasy version of the Three Kingdoms that is challenging but not unfair
Set during the year 184 AD, China is in turmoil as the Han Dynasty is in its twilight and the Yellow Turban Rebellion threatens to overthrow it. A nameless soldier journeys to Xu Province to join the fight against the Yellow Turbans, where he meets a young man who gives him a Jade amulet that has the power to heal its wearer. With the aid of the Divine Beast Yinglong and the Jade amulet, the warrior defeats one of the Yellow Turban leaders. However, their victory is short-lived as dark magic turns friend against foe and fatally wounds the hero. But thanks to the power of Jade, death is only a temporary setback.
While Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty's gameplay is more similar to Nioh than Dynasty Warriors, fans of the latter will still recognize many familiar characters. The game takes place during the same period as the Yellow Turban Rebellion, so it's no surprise that they are featured prominently. However, players will encounter many other recognizable faces from the Three Kingdoms era as well. Some of these characters may be enemies, but having someone like Zhao Yun as a companion is a satisfying experience for fans of the Dynasty Warriors series.
One of the advantages of being a nameless soldier in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the freedom it gives players in terms of character creation. Since there is no set identity to adhere to, players can design their character based on themselves, characters from other media, or create their own unique character. The customization options are varied, including hairstyle and color, makeup, and accessories such as an eyepatch. In addition, there are two different body types to choose from and the game follows the trend of inclusivity by allowing players to select their preferred pronouns regardless of their chosen body type.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is like a mixture of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Nioh as it focuses on mobility fitting of warriors of the east while also still having a strong emphasis on positioning and is generally a more refined and fluid experience. The similiarites to Nioh don’t end there as while Nioh and its sequel take place in feudal Japan, where prominent historical figures engage in battles for crystals possessing both glimmering allure and potent abilities; Wo Long, on the other hand, follows a similar formula. The main difference is that it transpires during the Han Dynasty in China, with the aforementioned crystals replaced by glittering spheres. Predictably, the historic figures are not immune to the corrupting influence of these balls, leading them to transform into frenzied fiends. The story fails to captivate, and it is a pity that Team Ninja did not attempt to incorporate more distinct elements into Wo Long. Nevertheless, the game's combat is so gratifying that all is forgiven once you step onto the battlefield. Unfortunately, the storyline fails to captivate, and it is regrettable that Team Ninja did not try to introduce more novel elements into Wo Long. Nevertheless, the game's combat is so satisfying that any flaws in the narrative can be overlooked once players enter the fray.
For Nioh enthusiasts, the battle mechanics in Wo Long will feel quite familiar. Unlike the expansive open world in FromSoftware's games, Wo Long features a map menu where players can select separate missions to embark on. As they progress, players will unlock "sub missions" that utilize and remix portions of previous levels to create more challenging scenarios. These missions not only provide a means of satisfying completionists, but also serve as opportunities to strengthen your character, acquire loot, and enhance your abilities.
In many ways, Wo Long adheres to the conventions of a Soulslike game: players gather Qi (or souls) from formidable adversaries and progress through checkpoints until they reach a boss. However, the game also adopts a more traditional approach, with missions that are self-contained and clearly labeled, allowing players to easily scroll through and mark their progress. This system works more effectively than in Nioh, where character progression is entangled in an intricate web of menus and percentages that can be overwhelming and tedious to navigate. In contrast, Wo Long streamlines this process, making the act of completing missions not only enjoyable but also more accessible and less overwhelming. The result is a game that is both satisfying to play and easy to engage with, without threatening to induce a total cognitive overload.
The combat system in Wo Long is addictingly deep and satisfying! True to Team Ninja's style, the game's combat is weighty and intricate, featuring a range of systems that add depth without weighing it down. Unlike Nioh's sharp and jarring fights, Wo Long's combat is smoother and more rhythmic, taking inspiration from Sekiro's emphasis on parrying and counterattacking. Mastering deflection is crucial in Wo Long as battles are won through patience and precise timing. While weaker enemies can be dispatched with quick aggression, anything higher than cannon fodder requires finesse. Boss fights can feel more like a dance than a battle, where the player must duck, block, and deflect in order to stay alive and take advantage of opportunities to strike. Reading enemy cues is key to success, but it can be discouraging at first. The first boss encounter serves as a tutorial, where the first form allows for aggressive play and the second emphasizes defense and patience. Mastery of defensive techniques and learning the different types of attacks, including the thirteen different weapon types in the game, is crucial. Each weapon has a different set of pros and cons, and the player must carefully balance their attacks with their Spirit Gauge.
Aggression is highly rewarded, with players becoming more powerful the more they press their advantage. In the heat of battle, it's immensely satisfying when a risky move pays off and players are able to unleash a flurry of attacks and spells. Wo Long's combat system is a joy to experience, with a satisfying sense of weight and depth that makes it stand out from other action games. Mastering defensive techniques, understanding attack types, and carefully balancing character progression are essential to success in Wo Long.
Players must balance their own Spirit Meter, a stamina bar that's split into two halves. Every time players dodge, parry, or use Martial Arts, they'll drain their meter, and getting hit while it's maxed out will leave them vulnerable for a short period. However, landing successful hits will flip the meter from negative to positive, granting players access to powerful Martial Arts and Wizardry Spells that can turn the tide of battle.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty boasts an exceptionally high level of difficulty that is not for the faint of heart, and there is no easy mode available for players seeking a gentler challenge. The game does ease players into its mechanics and challenges in the early stages, but the difficulty spikes dramatically when players encounter the first boss battle. That first boss stomped a mudhole in and me and walked it dry as I was getting destroyed over and over for hours on end until I finally understood the games mechanics and how it goes about teaching you “how” to play the game. Despite its reputation for grueling difficulty, Wo Long manages to maintain a surprising level of accessibility, as players can usually reach the boss of each area without too much trouble. However, the boss fights themselves are incredibly challenging, often requiring several attempts to overcome even the first boss. Though these encounters can be frustrating, there is a tremendous sense of achievement and adrenaline rush when players are able to emerge victorious with no damage taken against seemingly unbeatable foes. Furthermore, Wo Long offers online cooperative play for up to three players, which can enhance the enjoyment of the game immensely.
Character progression is a slow grind in Wo Long, with each level offering only small stat boosts. The player can choose to increase the value of one of the Five Virtues (Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, or Wood), with each virtue tied to a different set of attributes and unlocking more powerful Wizardry Spells. Elemental attacks can inflict different status effects on enemies, such as draining their Spirit energy or setting them on fire. Divine Beasts are an interesting feature that can be summoned to carry out unique abilities or grant passive buffs through Divine Beast Resonance. Leveling up also removes some barriers by allowing you to pour Qi into one of five elements, which occasionally yields points to be spent on a wide range of spells. Although the system may seem vague at first, it is more generous with health and damage boosts than in similar games like Dark Souls and Nioh. Additionally, the game offers an impressive variety of weapons to choose from, each with their own unique moves and combos that are satisfying to execute. It's a game that caters to all playstyles.
Team Ninja has incorporated features to elevate the traditional mission gameplay in Wo Long. The Morale Rank system adds an extra layer of excitement to the game. At the start of each mission, your rank is zero, with the maximum being 25. You can increase your rank by defeating enemies and surviving without dying. However, if you engage with an enemy that has a much higher rank than you, the odds of getting squashed are high. On the other hand, if you successfully defeat them, you'll be rewarded with better loot drops. The system creates a balance between risk and reward, making the gameplay even more engaging albeit kind of grindy.
The Morale Rank feature adds extra layers to each level in Wo Long. With a quick glance, you can assess how strong an enemy is and determine whether it's worth the risk to engage. However, it also incentivizes exploration and defeating more enemies to increase your rank, which can be very rewarding. This is one of the aspects that makes Wo Long more forgiving than Nioh and perhaps even Sekiro. While it is still a challenging game, it strikes a balance that will appeal to players who have struggled with the difficulty of other games in the genre.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is ROUGH on Steam Deck
I ran the game on my Desktop that has an RTX 3070 rocking a i7 10700K with 32GB of DDR4 3200MHz on Ultra settings – 4K 60FPS. On my gaming laptop which is an ASUS ROG M16 with a RTX 3060 rocking an i9 11900H 16GB of DDR4 3200MHz, I was able to run the game on High settings – 1440P 60FPS. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an option for 120FPS or higher as of yet.
On the Steam Deck the game runs ROUGH, albeit it isn’t unplayable by any means yet you’re better off turning every setting down to low and reducing the frame rate to 30FPS even though the game will often struggle to maintain that. This game wasn’t initially built with the Steam Deck in mind, although it can and will be patched down the road for a more optimized experience. On Deck, I was able to get about an hour and a half of battery life from a full charge but you will hear those fans kicking in heavily.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty presents a dark fantasy version of the Three Kingdoms that is challenging but not unfair and yet surprisingly is more forgiving and a streamlined experience compared to its predecessor Nioh, while still retaining its challenging and satisfying combat mechanics. The gameplay encourages players to learn their enemies' fighting style and use their own skills to overcome them, which requires patience and perseverance. However, the sense of accomplishment when finally triumphing over a tough opponent is incredibly rewarding. The Morale Rank system adds a layer of strategy to encounters, and the game offers a wide range of weapons and playstyles to cater to different preferences. However, the game still struggles with some of Nioh's issues, such as convoluted loot and stats management, and the missions can become repetitive despite the addition of a jump button. The game is not solely great because of its difficulty, but also due to its excellent artistic design and smooth gameplay mechanics. Seeing the unnamed protagonist execute their moves is like witnessing a graceful and brutal dance. The mechanics are highly responsive, making it a pleasure to spend time mastering the battle system. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty may not be what was expected from a Three Kingdoms game, but it is certainly the one that was needed, if players can embrace the game's complexity and messiness, they will find a rewarding Soulslike experience with impressive combat mechanics.