Wo Long Fallen Dynasty is what you get when the team responsible for Nioh and Ninja Gaiden takes on a Souls-borne concept where the core concept is parrying. Like Sekiro, Thymesia, and others like it in the genre though, Wo Long manages to wrap it up with RPG progression, and incredibly fun, and accessible gameplay.
Taking place during the dawn of the tumultuous Three Kingdoms Period, you’ll be taken to famous battlefields of the era, and the lesser-known parts of it as you explore the towns, caves, and untold parts of the war in that bloody period’s wake, as you cut, slash, incinerate and pulverize your enemies to death with fast-paced combat, and brutal consequences or failure.
While Wo Long is an incredibly fun action game, and one that even newcomers to this genre can enjoy with its exhilarating parry mechanic, engaging combat system, variety of options, and simplified RPG mechanics, its weak story-telling and puzzling UI elements may hamper the experience of an otherwise amazing action game.
Gameplay was captured from the PC version of Wo Long’s Demo and immediately after its release and played using a controller
▍Straight into the Front Lines
Wo Long is a 3D action RPG that follows your custom character through the battles that kicked off the three Kingdoms period, from the rise of the Yellow Turban Army that lead to the fall of the Han Dynasty, and to the beginnings of the Three Kingdoms Period, where Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Sun Jian started coming to power.
This game isn’t just a retelling of that time period though, as it adds a mythological twist in the form of an Elixir. In the period of the Qin Dynasty, China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang had supposedly been obsessed with the search for immortality, leading to the creation of an Immortal elixir that could bring great power.
Knowing of this, a Taoist in Black, a sinister figure behind the scenes orchestrates the events leading to one of the deadliest wars in Chinese history by spreading a false version of an elixir to spread turmoil and bloodshed throughout the lands, in a bid to create his own elixir of immortality. It’s up to you to chase down this Taoist while aiding the many factions during this era as you inch closer to him through multiple battlefields.
Wo Long’s story is fine for lack of a better word. It really just serves as an excuse to get you to the next battlefield. It is kind of nice to see these historical figures again outside of Dynasty Warriors, but if you’re not a fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story or know much about this period of history, the game’s story won’t really do anything for you since it barely gives any time to the characterization of these figures, or build upon them in any meaningful way. Even as someone that has a rough idea of the events in that period, I found myself less and less engaged with the story, and even started to skip cutscenes.
So the story is kind of just meh, but otherwise, Wo Long’s presentation is pretty good. Maps use a vibrant array of colors depending on their setting, with the entire color palette of the level shifting depending on whether you’re up a mountain, fighting in a rainy village, or navigating through a burning city.
The more impressive part of Wo Long is how it uses its visuals to convey enemy attacks. Every enemy has a nice windup to their moves to help you visualize what that move will look like even before you’ve seen it, giving you proper time to react to it. There are also times when the enemy can heavily delay their moves to unleash a powerful red attack, but this is signified by a red spark and sound effect that you’ll need to react to parry them on the fly.
And parry you absolutely will because this game puts a lot of emphasis on its sound design. Attacks are punchy, the parry is absolutely satisfying to hear, and when you’re chaining multiple parries at once it just gets you incredibly pumped during a fight.
All in all, while the game’s story may be lacking, it does do a great job of conveying the world through its environment, and the developers seemed to have spent more time focusing on what aspects of its presentation can improve the gameplay, rather than much else.
Which definitely shows when you actually get into the game’s combat.
▍The Perfect Blend of Sekiro and Nioh
Wo Long is a fairly standard 3rd person hack-and-slash, you attack enemies with a Light and “Heavy” attack, with special attacks and magic mixed in, but the core of Wo Long’s combat lies really lies in its defensive option.
Unlike the saying “The Best Defense is a Good Offense”, Wo Long’s combat revolves heavily around its deflection mechanic, an ability that when timed correctly, lets you negate damage from any and every attack in the game, and man is it satisfying.
Combat and the deflection mechanic are tied to Wo Long’s Spirit Gauge. Unlike most action games that use a stamina gauge to force you to think about your options, here you can attack, parry, and dodge as much as you want, without any limits. This is because the spirit gauge acts less like a traditional resource, but like a “flow” system that constantly shifts between positive, and negative values during a fight.
Every time you perform a spirit attack, fail a parry, or get hit the spirit gauge goes down, and every time you land a hit or successfully deflect it goes up instead. As your spirit gauge fills up you can empower your spirit attack to reduce the enemy’s total maximum gauge, and can also power up spells and martial arts. On the flip side, if your spirit gauge hits a critical level and you get hit, you’ll be left wide open to the enemy.
This is a pretty interesting risk-reward system, as during the fight you’ll constantly see your spirit gauge shift depending on how the fight progresses. The enemy also has a spirit gauge too, and if it gets depleted it opens them up for a critical strike, dealing massive damage. You can opt to hang back to let it recover but it takes quite a while, so the only way you can get out of this risky situation, is to face the danger head-on. It creates a dynamic as now every action you take can either weaken you, or give you more tools to use, and you can either flee to slowly recover your spirit or push forward regardless to regain it all even quicker.
The spirit gauge is also tied into your character’s offensive moves, as spells, martial arts, and the spirit attack all use your spirit gauge, with spirit attacks also being able to reduce the enemy’s maximum spirit the more spirit you have. It’s an incredibly layered combat system that gives you a ton of options.
And options like these are definitely ones you’ll be taking advantage of because Wo Long doesn’t pull any of its punches. Maps are filled with tons of enemies, with sections often littered with enemies that can shoot at you from a distance while you deal with multiple foes. Attacks sap up tons of your health and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself seeing that death screen in a matter of seconds.
Despite that, Wo Long never felt unfair to me. If you need to you can always call upon reinforcements, Ai companions, or other players to help you out during a stage and they can help take much of the pressure away from you. You can still also exploit many of the game’s mechanics from using ranged weapons to snipe a troublesome foe, or using items like poison knives or spells to drastically weaken an opponent before going in.
Wo Long’s combat is fair, and despite how damaging enemies can be, I actually found the game far more fair and forgiving than something like the Nioh series. Not having a stamina system really gives you more freedom in whatever you do, and because you can negate every attack with a single button, it simplifies defense a little to have you master 1 mechanic, rather than understand multiple ones. Its a tough challenge that can be mitigated in many ways through preparation and progression, and speaking of which…
▍Progression’s Simple, but Feels Unfinished
While Wo Long’s gameplay is top-notch, the game also tries something new with its progression by simplifying its systems to be both permanent, and also temporary, and manages to make some aspects of it a little confusing until you wrap your head around it.
■ Wo Long’s Morale System
Wo Long has a Morale system that is a way of gauging your power compared to the enemy’s power during each level. This morale gauge doesn’t carry over into the next stage, so you can think of it as a temporary level in a stage, on top of your normal level-up system. When you start a level you’ll typically have 0 morale, and every time you beat an enemy your morale goes up, and as you progress you’ll find enemies of higher morale throughout the level. If you die however you lose all your morale and your opponent steals a bit of it until you can get revenge on them to take it back.
You can also set up flags throughout the stage that can raise your Fortitude rank, which leaves you with a minimum amount of morale no matter how many times you die, so the goal of each level is to basically find as many flags as you can until you can comfortably die to any enemy while still being at enough morale to fight them on equal footing. This sounds kind of simple on paper but the game doesn’t really tell you how morale actually works, and what happens if you’re below the enemy’s morale number.
The long and short of it is unless your morale level is at least at a difference of 6 compared to your enemy, it won’t affect combat much, and you’ll still be taking, and dealing normal amounts of damage.
If you are within that range though, the game indicates this by the color of the enemy’s morale. If it’s green, it means you’re ahead of them significantly and you’ll deal much more damage to them and take less, if it’s red you’re going to be in for a rough time, otherwise you’re pretty much on equal footing.
This is a pretty clever system. A problem, I found myself having in games like Nioh 2 was at some point I just didn’t want to engage with the normal enemies anymore and just decided to run through everything, skipping through a bunch of the game’s content and collectibles. By having a morale system you are now punished for not engaging with the enemies and the level design, so you have to play through it properly. Some spells also need a certain amount of morale before you can cast them, further incentivizing you to fight.
Unfortunately Wo Long doesn’t have a lot of enemies to offer. I found myself wanting to skip through certain stages since they just didn’t offer anything new, but because of the morale system I still usually had to fight through a bunch of them to make sure I wouldn’t end up getting 1 shot by an enemy down the line. Thankfully morale doesn’t affect the enemy’s attack patterns, so if you’re skilled enough the morale system is almost something you can ignore with the fodder enemies, but if you completely ignore it, boss fights just end up being a bit of a slog since they take so many hits.
■ Wo Long’s Level and Gear Progression
Wo Long features a pretty unconventional progression system. While the game does feature a level-up system, loot rarities, and a weapon upgrade system, there are aspects of the game that have been drastically simplified.
For starters you only have 5 major stats to level up, these being Wood, Fire, Metal, Earth, and Water. These stats modify your base characteristics, help you unlock new spells, and are generally attributed to 1 aspect of combat, like how leveling up Earth makes you gain more spirit when deflecting an attack. Gear on the other hand can be leveled up at a blacksmith and oftentimes has a rarity, but unlike Nioh doesn’t have a gear level attached to them. This means that once you’ve found a half-decent set of gear at maximum rarity, you can pretty much just stick to that for the entire game, which I did.
▼ Rarity doesn’t affect the stats of an item, but how many special effects it has.
The gear and level-up system is simple so that players that just want to get into the combat can ignore it most of the time but can get into it deeper if they want to, the real problem is when I found myself wanting to explore more of it, the one thing that made it hard to do so was really the game’s own user interface.
For a game made by the same team who did Nioh 2, you’d expect the UI to better facilitate things like checking up on gear, stats, and your build progress a bit better, but Wo Long’s UI is quite finicky in this regard. There’s no option to compare weapon and armor effects, some of the stats don’t make too much sense, and menu descriptions are unhelpful at times, like how you can’t see what a set bonus does until you’ve picked up, and received every part of that set and equipped it for yourself first, which means there’s no way for you to easily figure out what set you’d like to start farming until you’ve gone through them all.
▼ What’s a set bonus? Well, a set bonus is a set bonus… Thanks?
Also, some stats are outright confusing, one example being Water, the stat that affects your spirit consumption when deflecting. When you level up Water the % consumption rate for deflecting goes down, so the lower the better, simple enough.
However, weapons have a stat called Deflect Difficulty, and the lower that stat is, the more stamina you end up using, meaning what you want is a higher deflect difficulty percentage, while also having a lower spirit consumption % from the water stat to let you miss your deflections more often. This kind of thing is just one example of the confusing wording in the game, which adds a bit of unnecessary frustration to start building, which seems to be Wo Long’s end game as you unlock higher-end gear, and more variations of them as you go into New Game +, just like Nioh.
Also if you want to unlock some of the more powerful spells in the game, you need to invest upwards of 40 levels into a single stat, which is pretty impractical given enemies are weak to different elements, so if you’re looking to get the final spell, you’re probably going to pick them up on a second playthrough which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it is something you can look forward to later.
It feels like Team Ninja really wanted to make you think less about the stats in Wo Long compared to something like Nioh, but at the same time still wanted to add options to let you dive deeper into the system. At the same time though they forgot the important UI and systems that help make the set building so easy in the first place, leading to a system that felt half-baked, and as soon I as felt like getting into it, I was immediately turned off from it.
▍Wo Long is an Amazing Action Game, and Not Much Else
Wo Long isn’t a perfect game. Its story is fairly serviceable, it has some weird quirks when it comes to its build customization, and while the game’s Morale system is a unique way of getting you to play the level, its lack of enemy variety can make repeat playthroughs of certain stages a little tiresome.
Fortunately for Wo Long, all of that is fairly minor blemishes on an otherwise fantastic action game that is both brutal, and fairly accessible for those looking to dive into this genre of action games with its incredibly fun deflection system, a wide array of combat options, difficulty tweakers and incredible bosses. Wo Long also has a season pass with 3 pieces of DLC content planned, and who knows, those could rectify the enemy variety issue and even offer more fun weapons to toy around with, as the DLCs were also the best part of Nioh 2.
Wo Long is a must-try if you’re a fan of this genre of brutal games, especially if you’re looking for something to scratch that Sekiro itch Fromsoft left us with nearly 4 years ago. If you’re not a fan of the sort of slower-paced combat that the souls series has, this might be up your alley, and thanks to the game’s demo, you can find out if this is right for you or not.
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Wo Long Fallen Dynasty Review - An Accessibly Brutal and Fun Time
Wo Long is an incredibly fun Souls-like that scratches the itch left by Sekiro, but its story and progression feels like a step down coming from the Nioh devs.
Operating System: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Application Category: Game