Nioh had the most basic and straightforward DLC. Its expansions added new story levels, a weapon, spells, more gear, a handful of side missions, and perhaps a new difficulty. It was, in the purest sense of the term, more. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s Battle of Zhongyuan DLC follows those same rules, too, but “more” isn’t always exciting.
Wo Long’s fantastic combat does, however, ensure that “more” isn’t a big problem. Deflecting blows is still a brilliant core mechanic since it forces players to pay attention and learn patterns. The window is generous, but it’s empowering to parry blows without the split-second timing that so many games require. Managing the Spirit Meter is also a fantastic core mechanic since it constantly has players assessing risks and rewards and how best to spend each precious bar. It’s great for dealing Spirit damage to opponents, as well as performing spells and special abilities.
Battle of Zhongyuan’s new standard enemies are mostly not noteworthy — the spindly elemental reptiles are a highlight, though — yet the bosses live up to (and sometimes exceed) the standard set by the main campaign. Each is unpredictable and has a wide variety of attacks. Allies still water down some bosses in the story levels like they do in the base campaign by providing unnecessary help, but they’re harder to take down so it isn’t as much of an annoyance.
Aside from the monochromatic secret boss that’s a hard-to-read eyesore, cranking up the dial just a bit means these new battles are more rewarding, especially the ones in the side missions. They’re still nowhere near as tough as the average Nioh boss, but Wo Long’s mechanics are strong enough to withstand even more pressure and they deserve to be put to the test.
Battle of Zhongyuan’s other additions to the combat aren’t as noticeable. The new gear gets lost among the swaths of gear already present in the game. The additional Divine Beast is useful and has a unique feature that lets it strike twice, but it’s a rather small change. The new cestus gauntlets are the most obvious inclusion since they add another layer of depth to the Spirit Meter. Equipping these quick, short-range gloves adds more bars of Spirit Meter that grant up to three buffs when filled, yielding even more depth to this flexible meter. It’s a thoughtful addition to Wo Long’s arsenal since skilled players can stack temporary upgrades or deal more Spirit damage.
The climactic boss battles are thrilling, but, like most of the other combat upgrades, the rest is mostly standard Wo Long fare. The story is full of poorly contextualized cutscenes and well-choreographed action scenes of obscenely strong dudes with giant weapons destroying whole platoons of goons. The level design is straightforward and artistically bland. Loot drops at an alarming pace and clutters up the whole experience. There are cute panda-like creatures called Shitieshou that eat old gear and spit out something new.
Wo Long, while still a great action game, already felt like Team Ninja was getting a little too comfortable. Many of its systems were ripped straight from the Nioh games or, in the art style’s case, carried over from the Ninja Gaiden trilogy. This DLC was naturally going to bring over a lot of the base game’s features because it is an expansion, but Battle of Zhongyuan more clearly points out how iterative Wo Long is since that base game was already a clear iteration.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty: Battle of Zhongyuan DLC Review: The final verdict
Even a somewhat disappointing expansion for Team Ninja, Battle of Zhongyuan is still more gratifying than many of its peers in the genre because of the strength of the core combat. The deflect mechanic at its center is as smooth and responsive as ever, as shown by the many new climactic bouts that require dedication to overcome. It doesn’t set the best precedent for the next two expansions since it seems likely they will also highlight how Team Ninja needs to shake up its formula. But they’ll at least be somewhat successful if they have as many fulfilling fights as Battle of Zhongyuan.
Disclaimer: This Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty: Battle of Zhongyuan review is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed on version 1.011.000.