'Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty' Review: A Tactical Soulsborne Jampacked With Outstanding Combat
On the outskirts of a village devoured by a blaze of demonic flames and scalding arrows, I triumphed defiantly in combat against a commander of the invading army over a once-peaceful meadow. Throughout our battle, my brutish opponent constantly kept me on the back foot, exhausting my healing resources after I failed to deflect strikes and recklessly took mighty hits. I could have done better, I thought.
But I was thankful to pull through the first boss battle during my review of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty without help.
My bittersweet feeling of accomplishment was swiftly dashed as my adversary rose again, swallowing a bead with malicious energies and transmogrifying into a nightmarish beast, queueing the second half of an already-exhilarating fight.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a Soulsborne game that will truly test the limits of players, from their mastery of deflecting Critical Blows to the tactical uses of Wizardry Spells to turn the tide of battle. The game's outstanding breakneck combat merged with its Chinese themes molding its gameplay mechanics breathes new life into the ever-popular formula.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an outstanding Soulsborne expanding on the foundation of Nioh with inspirations from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Bloodborne tightly holding together its adrenaline-pumping combat.
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Release date: March 3, 2023
Crafted by Team Ninja, the video game studio behind Nioh and Ninja Gaiden, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an upcoming action RPG launching on March 3. Based on the work of Chinese author Luo Guanzhong, Wo Long's narrative brings his Romance of the Three Kingdoms to life in video game format, throwing players onto war-torn lands as a nameless militia soldier.
As I waded through years of chaos instigated by unscrupulous figures and demonic entities, I encountered several characters based on historical individuals, such as warlord Cao Cao from the Eastern Han dynasty and Liu Bei, who founded the state of Shu Han.
They became my sworn-bound allies against the enemies barring my path as summonable AI — often saving my skin during battles with insanely-fast tigers and agile zombified soldiers.
These companions can shave off some of the grueling challenges in Wo Long — much like Spirit Ashes in Elden Ring — but never sapped my enjoyment of combat because the game proactively put me in the hot seat to make split-second decisions and kept me on my toes.
Story-wise, Wo Long has a solid grasp of the events it wants to capture. The game doesn't linger in cutscenes too long, slinging players back into the action faster.
And even though the combat is the shining star of this title, Team Ninja’s adaptation of a turbulent China factors closely into the creativity behind gameplay mechanics.
For instance, the Spirit Gauge in Wo Long represents an individual's willpower during battle, acting as a power resource and stamina bar that rises when making aggressive strikes and decreases when under attack. Managing that bar while deflecting regular and unblockable Critical Blows from opponents turned every battle into a fiery tango.
I needed to be fierce and my reactions lightning-fast, but the tempo of combat also required a balance of speed to avoid sapping my Spirit. Finding a rhythm against enemies with powerful delayed attacks and a flurry of blows was incredibly difficult but gratifying once I got the hang of their movesets.
The nuance of this system expanded when I unlocked Wizardry Spells allowing me to conjure balls of scorching flames or beef up my defenses with earthy elements at the cost of the Spirit Gauge.
I loved snapping between utilizing deadly martial arts and situational spells — making battles engrossing and open-ended enough to experiment with different playstyles.
While Wo Long does focus primarily on its intense combat system, I was pleasantly surprised by its tactical mechanics that made the formulaic missions and zones refreshing and engaging many hours into the game.
By growing the Morale Rank through combat, a leveling system that determines the difficulty of opponents and opens access to new Wizardry Spells, I could chart out my approach over a map and challenge higher-ranked enemies for rare equipment.
Capturing locations with Battle Flags — whether controlled by enemy leaders or open for taking — also raised my Morale Rank and even replenished my healing items.
Making an effort to claim Battle Flags and the somewhat hidden Marking Flags behind enemy lines and off the beaten path became a massive priority, propelling me into the role of a war tactician making deliberate judgments while on the move.
With how enemies are placed on the map, jumping between dilapidated rooftops of a manor under siege and skulking through canals to reach these points felt rewarding and revealed areas obscured from vision.
Throughout my journey with Wo Long, the entire experience felt like a familiar romp through a Soulsborne game but with drastically new additions to the formula that creates a chasm between it and those within the genre. Team Ninja managed to stand apart from the FromSoftware games with Nioh and has again unearthed another, bringing together past features that culminate beautifully in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.