We played Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and here is our in-depth review of Team Ninja's latest action title.
It must be said that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is just the latest of Team Ninja's attempts to trick gamers into playing Ninja Gaiden without noticing.
Lucky for them that they only had to make it look like one of those From Software games. Then dial the difficulty down just enough that the average person at least had a chance to finish them. And that's also where the comparison between Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and From Software's Sekiro ends.
I've read a couple of reviews that mentioned Sekiro's parry-heavy action title set in demon-infested feudal Japan and spoke of how similar it is to Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty parry-heavy action combat set in demon-infested ancient China.
And I believe that is a little disingenuous, for one because both settings and vibes play in completely different ballparks. And if we talk gameplay, Sekiro doesn't even come close to the pace and finesse that is on offer in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.
They might look similar, but the comparison also ends there. That's why I'll try to refrain from mentioning From Software's work because the ‘It's just like Dark Souls because it's kinda hard' takes make my head hurt.
Romancing the Three Kingdoms
While the Three Kingdom setting isn't exactly new to the space of video games, especially for Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja; with Dynasty Warriors being kinda their thing. But Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the first time I've seen this story put in the Wuxia/Xianxia genre.
Well, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes place before the Three Kingdoms even happen, the game's story actually takes place in the lead-up and fall of the Han Dynasty. And here already is the first hurdle you'll have to overcome.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is not exactly as widespread here in the West, as it is in Asia. Sure, knowing the story will definitely spoil some of the game's bigger moments. But it also makes it much more fun to spot the differences and see how well Team Ninja has integrated its dark fantasy take on ancient China.
Actually, it's kind of surprising no one has put Three Kingdoms —with all its iconic figures and famed warriors— into a fantasy setting. Sure everything from the fall of the Han Dynasty to the rise of the three kingdoms makes the game of thrones look like children's play, even if some of the facts are all over the place.
And while you can enjoy Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty as a campy (and I say that with affection) dark fantasy take on the fall of a nation. Having an idea of who some of the characters are, greatly improves the experience. Especially when you play with Chinese voice-over.
Personally, I liked Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty's tale of corruption overwhelming an already suffering dynasty. The supernatural elements are used to give context to the events leading up to its fall. The evil Qi plaguing the land is simply a stand-in for the real-life corruption and manipulation that ran rampant in that age.
Sure you'll have to suspend your disbelief, and imagine there were demonic apes and peacocks running wild, but they just add to the twisted dark forces that haunt ancient China.
General strokes of the story have your player character hunt a warlock who's the source of the corruption. This fits surprisingly well into the events leading up to Romance of the Three Kingdoms. And knowing this story and its players makes some later reveals exciting. But if you aren't familiar with this story and its characters, I'm afraid it might fall flat for a lot of people.
Skill Ceiling of the Heavens
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is so far up my particular alley of video games, it's hard to go into this without any bias. If you're familiar with Team Ninja's more recent work, namely Nioh 2 and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins. You'll find Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty as a natural evolution of their systems.
Gameplay is fast, and requires timing and perfect execution. While the game is very heavy on parrying instead of evasion, that doesn't mean you'll be on the defensive. Quite the opposite, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty wants to play extremely aggressively and stay in the fight as long as possible.
The spirit gauge heavily promotes this. You accumulate a negative spirit by dodging, messing up parries, getting hit, or using special attacks. Successfully parrying and hitting basic attacks can reduce negative spirit and even get you a positive spirit, which can negate the costs of any action.
Because of that, you're always encouraged to stay in fights. The harder you go at enemies and the more successful parries you land, the more resources you have to spend on your most powerful spells and abilities.
Which is why I don't really see the Soulsborne comparison here. You're not supposed to play carefully. You're supposed to go ham on every enemy you come across and style on them as if this was a character action game.
You'll also have several types of weapons that come with their own move set and speed of play. We'll talk about build variety in a bit, but any game that lets me swing a gigantic hammer around and then switch to dual swords mid combo should be commended. While the combos available are not that deep, you have a lot of options that all weave in and out of each other.
There's also a magic system and weapon skills that are tied to your weapon. Magic ranges from the usual like throwing fireballs or buffs and debuffs to hurling little comets around. Your weapon skills on the other hand can range from extremely long combos to movement options. Trust me, nothing's cooler than dodging an attack with an uppercut.
While haven't messed around with magic too much yet, a lot of it comes off as abilities you can use whenever you have distance between you and an enemy or whenever you need to create some. But I can already see someone going really ham on this and create
I can't really complain about anything here, as the combat system just works. Sure its mechanics, as the spirit gauge seem a little unorthodox at first if you're expecting your normal stamina system. But you'll get a lot to play around with, with 8 weapon types and many special abilities.
The only thing you could put against Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the high skill ceiling the game has. The first boss is the first hurdle that'll teach you very quickly that if you don't try to parry and block, you're gonna have a bad time. You can't just get out of a bad situation by dodging, because many enemies have attacks that'll track you with multiple hits.
So you need to stand your ground. The parry window isn't that tight and with a little practice, you should be able to parry most attacks consistently by just watching the animations.
What surprised me however is that you can parry everything. From normal attacks and special attacks which will stun the enemy extra hard when parried correctly all the way to poison damage ticks. You can also parry several enemies attacking you at the same time if you can get the timing right. And it is beautiful.
Morale and Exploration
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn't exactly a pretty game to look at. Even on PlayStation 5, textures look stretched out and the geometry of some levels is a little rough. The art style saves it a little here, as all the levels look like the disgusting, infested battlegrounds they are meant to be, and I understand that this wasn't the focus.
The level design on the other hand is fantastic. Levels are a little linear at first, but later you get full-on dungeons with multiple roads to take. As well as shortcuts that'll bring you back to previous checkpoints. In short, many of the levels in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feel like actual places and battlefields, not just levels in a video game. And going off the beaten path will often lead to optional encounters and extra loot. You want to do these as much as possible as they'll raise your battlefield morale.
The morale system is probably the most interesting mechanic you'll find in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Morale is increased by raising battle flags defeating enemies, especially stronger ones, or landing parries, and special attacks. It's lost when either dying, or getting your ass handed to you.
Having high morale will give you a significant boost to all your stats. These high morale levels will also have the same effect on your enemies, which rewards taking down stronger enemies early on to breeze through later parts of the level.
The boost is never too strong but feels significant enough to encourage exploring more of the level and taking tougher fights. And if you're struggling with a boss or a section of the level, you can always backtrack a little and grind to even out the scales. This is a clever way to make those salty run backs to boss' easier on the nerves. Because I don't think anyone actually enjoys getting smacked around by a boss, just because their 5 hit combo kills you in 2.
A bit more odd are the side missions. Which are smaller sections of the main missions slightly altered with new story beats. While the game will always naturally progress you to the next main battlefield, it seems like it always wants you to side-quests first, which are often follow-ups, story-wise, to the previous mission.
These also include some interesting character bits, especially for some characters that will just disappear from your radar altogether. While these side missions are inoffensive at best, I just wished the game would throw me into a level select screen after a main level instead of just progressing into the next one.
Build Variety Galore and Gear Expression
There are two things that lord over your character in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Your stat distribution and your gear. Your stat distribution is kind of like you'd expect it to be but also not at all. Instead of putting points into endurance or strength, you put them into one of 5 phases based on the Chinese elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each boosts and promotes a specific playstyle, while also making wizardry spells available depending on how many points you've spent on each of the elements. Weapons will have certain affinities towards certain elements and equipment will have specific resistances.
Sounds complicated in theory, but it ends up just giving you a lot of options in all the builds you want to try out. Wanna build a fast warrior who focuses on melee attacks and poison damage? Or want something that hits like a truck and can spam wizardry spells? Go ahead!
After a few missions, you'll even unlock the ability to respec all your points. The only downside is that you can't use some of the spells if you don't have the required points anymore. The game really pushes you to try out new builds, since there is even an option to save different gear and status point setups.
Gear comes in that weird rarity system that we're all slowly getting sick of. But credit where it's due, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty does this a bit more gracefully than other titles. The rareness of your gear only influences how many bonuses it can have. While other stats like defensive points or elemental resistances are fixed per item.
You'll probably see the 500 different pieces of equipment and wonder how and why you're supposed to upgrade all of those. Easy, set bonuses. Every set has very specific bonuses depending on how many pieces of those sets you're wearing. I'm pretty sure this is just the devs' way of avoiding clown suits, but it also makes putting together sets way more fun.
It's the rareness level of every piece of gear that kind of makes me scratch my head. But since you can just dismantle them into upgrade materials, it makes it easier to make new sets. And I assume in the endgame and DLC, we'll reach Monster Hunter levels of needing very specific gear to make it past certain fights.
You can also slot in and change optional bonuses for each gear piece (besides the accessories, for some reason). Which gives you that extra bit of customization. For some, this system might seem a little tedious, but it also makes building very specific builds very accessible. Especially once we get to Co-op and PVP.
PvP, Co-op, and Companions
Being somewhat Dynasty Warriors and Three Kingdoms adjacent, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has to find a way to shimmy in those characters in some way or form. On some main missions, you get one of them as an AI companion or summon them via the recruitment feature.
They're kinda stupid, as in they'll throw themselves at a crowd of demons with no regard for their own lives. And depending on your level of morale, they'll either get eaten alive or eat them alive. That said, fighting with Sun Ce and Cao Cao against demons is kinda cool, so I'll forgive it.
While they will never replace genuine co-op partners, you still take them into battle with you to level your bond with them. A higher bond level means they'll have access to more abilities, but importantly if you max them out you'll get access to their gear sets and special abilities.
Co-op on the other hand functions great. During the first weekend, it was a little tough to find partners for some of the later missions, so joining someone took a bit. But what amazed me is that multiple people can parry the same attack. That seems like a little thing at first, but having three battle-hardened parries at the same big sweep of some monster was just cool. Sure it derails the difficulty and makes most bosses a cakewalk, but I expect that to change come the new game+.
It should also be noted, that just like previous entries of Team Ninja's work, you can play through the entire campaign with up to two friends. You don't have to repeat missions and everyone gets the same rewards. And honestly, why wouldn't you play this game with friends? Some of the levels basically beg for 3 warriors tearing through them.
Oh, and we should also mention that there is a PvP mode. Don't worry, if you don't want to be invaded you can simply turn it off in the online options. But in my experience, it didn't happen that often outside of NPC invasions.
I did not expect the net code to hold up as well as it did. I managed to consistently parry player invaders without ever feeling like I got out lagged by someone with an internet connection from Mars.
But Invasions also came off as a very one-sided affair, as whenever I invaded someone I could usually solo steamroll a full co-op by charging at them with no fear. Whenever I was invaded it was a bit more of a challenge; but I can't say I've lost a duel yet. I also expect this to change within the next week or so, once a meta forms.
It will be interesting to see what Team Ninja is cooking up with PvP in this game. An online arena with 3 vs. 3 team fights seems like the obvious choice here. Especially with all the variety in builds and supportive spells the game has to offer. (Please more of that.)
If you run through the campaign of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, you'll probably clock around 30-40 hours depending on skill level if you clear the entire game once. But there's also an elaborate endgame with new game+. Here you can play all the missions again on a higher difficulty.
And while the layouts of the levels remain the same, enemies get significantly tougher and more aggressive and some even have new moves. This also unlocks the new rarity tiers for all your gear. So all that stuff you've farmed in the base game can be slowly replaced and upgraded once again!
I only played a few missions so far and it has been good fun. And if Nioh 2 is anything to go by, Team Ninja will probably elaborate and brush up the endgame even more until it is time for DLC. And while the season pass comes with a hefty price tag, the DLC for Nioh 2 and Stranger of Paradise didn't disappoint in scale in content.
8.5/10 Up My Alley
I will admit, that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a game so much up my alley that there is barely anything I can complain about. Sure the story is a bit weak, as the good stuff from the Three Kingdoms storyline will probably be included in future DLC. And I already see people going into this game expecting it to be their next hard game to beat till Elden Ring DLC drops.
But what you get is a really great action title with a surprisingly in-depth, maybe a little complicated gearing system. There is a lot of room for player expression here, probably even more so than the soulsborn titles this game will inevitably be compared to.
It works as a fun, action title with a deep combat system but also as a crisp challenge for players who want to hone their skills. There have been some reports that the PC version has issues, especially when it comes to keyboard and mouse inputs, so I'd recommend waiting for a patch on that situation.
Other than that? I'm looking forward to wasting my life on the harder difficulty. And I'm looking forward to the DLC that'll take the story of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty to the mess that is the rise of the Three Kingdoms. In the 3 planned DLC packs.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is available on PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 and available on Xbox Game Pass for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC as well as on Steam.
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