Wo Long Fallen Dynasty Review 6

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review (PS5)

I’m always down for a good Souls-like and was thrilled to hear that Team Ninja was developing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. I recently replayed Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, and I was ready to get back into action. Fortunately, though this game has some flaws and peculiarities, most fans of the genre will find it satisfying.

Big trouble in Three Kingdoms China

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Wo Long takes place in Three Kingdoms era China. The Yellow Turban Rebellion is in full force, and you take the role of a simple militiaman defending a village against a horde of raiding bandits. Unfortunately, this version of China has big (evil) Dynasty Warriors energy, so you’re quickly killed.

Luckily, you’re quickly revived through the power of a Divine Beast and sent on your way. You soon find that a forbidden medicine called Elixir has unleashed dark forces across China and caused man and beast alike to mutate into monstrosities. Of course, this is all set against the background of the fall of the Han dynasty, so you’ll meet historical figures like Zhao Yun, Zhang Liang, Lu Bu, and others.

Unlike many Souls-like games, there are no vagarities to the lore here. So if you’re someone who never cared to read item descriptions or chase down vague sidequests, this game is for you.

Han-to-Han combat

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Combat in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels like a blend of Sekiro and Nioh. Though you have a guard, there’s a lot of emphasis on deflecting and counterattacks, especially in boss battles. Since there’s no stamina gauge, it pays to be aggressive in this game. Almost every foe has some form of unblockable attack, so staying in their face and ensuring they don’t get the chance to unleash their best attacks is a viable strategy.

The game has 17 types of weapons, ranging from one-handed swords to dual-wielded halberds and giant hammers. Each type has a unique move set and Martial Arts, but weapons within a type behave very similarly to one another. For example, two hammers will have the same move set but may have different Martial Arts. Some Souls-like fans might find this disappointing since games like Elden Ring differentiate every single weapon from each other.

There’s also ranged combat, but it’s not great. Something about it feels off, and you never have enough ammo for it to make a difference. Unlike the Souls games, where archery is an incredibly useful alternative to melee fighting, it’s very tacked on in Wo Long. For the most part, I feel the same way about the magic system, but I admittedly didn’t dive into it super deep. There may be a way to optimize your build to make magic more useful.

By the numbers

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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty threw everything but the kitchen sink in regarding gameplay systems. You’ve got a traditional leveling system where you spend Genuine Qi (Souls) to raise stats. There are upgradable weapons, armor, and accessories, and each of these pieces of gear has randomized Special Effects and Martial Arts attacks. There’s also a magic system, Divine Beast special attacks, and an NPC recruitment system. So, if you’re into min/maxing, your work is cut out for you. The game’s premier system, though, is the Morale Rank.

Completely different from your character level is your Morale Rank. This number is constantly in flux, restarts at zero on each map, and helps determine your character’s strength and which spells you can cast. Each time you defeat an enemy or plant a Battle Flag (bonfire) or Marking Flag (checkpoint), your Morale Rank increases. You lose all your Morale Points (and half your Genuine Qi) each time you die, but you can get them back. Defeating the enemy that killed you will satisfy your Revenge (capital R gameplay mechanic), and you’ll take back what’s yours.

Morale Rank rewards you for going out of your way to explore each level thoroughly. The extra strength you get from having a high Morale Rank can make bosses easier, and the game tends to be balanced toward you keeping your Morale Points fairly high. Your best spells also require you to have a high Morale Rank to cast, which provides another incentive for reaching for the stars.

Who’s the boss?

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Souls-likes are known for their bombastic bosses, and Wo Long has plenty of gigantic and powerful enemies to fight. For the most part, though, I wasn’t a huge fan of the boss battles in this game. When you break down combat in most Souls-likes, it comes down to pattern recognition. Every enemy, bosses included, has a set amount of moves they can draw from, and they’re all choreographed. So, you can study a foe, learn their tells, and use that to avoid or guard against their attacks while hitting them with your own.

The best Souls-likes make the above process invisible to the player. Bosses can switch things up or have access to fringe case moves that can throw you off. However, in Wo Long, most bosses are so rigid in their patterns that there’s only one way to fight them. Each of these foes is intimidating at first glance, but most of the time, it comes down to avoiding their attacks until they charge up a Critical Blow so you can deflect it to drain their Spirit Gauge (stamina) and execute a Fatal Strike.

Not every boss encounter is paint-by-numbers, and there are ones the game hyped up beforehand that had me white-knuckling the controller. FromSoftware’s games certainly have their share of mediocre boss encounters, so Wo Long isn’t setting a precedent here. I would have liked to have seen less quantity and more quality out of these encounters as a whole.

It’s no Lordran

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Exploration is my favorite aspect of Souls-likes, and Wo Long disappoints in that regard. The game is split into dozens of levels, each of which takes place on a small map. So, instead of adventuring across a sprawling, interconnected world, each location is roughly the size of a Monster Hunter map.

That’s not to say that there weren’t secrets to find in them. There are hidden areas to discover, with fantastic treasures and powerful foes waiting within. But none of the environments pack the punch of Lordran, Drangleic, Lothric, Ashina, or the Lands Between.

The advantage to this is that you can have bite-sized Souls-like morsels. Each level only takes around 30 minutes to an hour to complete on average, which is excellent for players who want to get into the action quickly.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review: The final verdict

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a challenging romp through a dark fantasy version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and works well as a Soulslite. Each level is a bite-sized Souls experience to be conquered and moved past. The tight, challenging combat will thrill fans of the genre, but the lack of an interconnected world might turn off those that love the thrill of exploration.

  • Interesting take on Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
  • Tight combat.
  • Some bosses make for amazing fights.
  • Plenty of ways to customize your character.
  • Exploration suffers in comparison to many Souls-likes.
  • Some boss fights stick way too close to one attack pattern.