Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, an action roleplaying game (RPG) from Team Ninja, will feel familiar to fans of the developer’s earlier action beats, but also to their Nioh franchise. The RPG is set in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, but has a focus on hoovering up loot, punishing Soulslike mechanics, and linear mission-based progression. Don’t expect Dynasty Warrior level cheeriness though, Wo Long has a heavily fictionalised dark fantasy take on historical events.
Wo Long glows brightest with its combat, which nabs inspiration from the likes of FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, sprinkling some of its own frenetic flavouring on top with the ingenious Spirit Gauge system. It’s an elegant mechanic that ties every core combat activity into2 a singular, easily understandable system. Being too liberal with blocks, dodges, strong attacks, special martial arts moves, and magical spells will quickly deplete the Spirit Gauge, leaving the player character slumped over and wide open for a meaty smackdown. The way to avert this is by using precise deflections, which, in combination with your various offensive options, refills the protagonist’s Spirit Gauge while in turn lowering that of your enemies, opening them up for a critical blow.
The martial arts abilities, which vary based on the equipped weapon, and spells act as supplements to the hacking and slashing, lowering a substantial amount of the Spirit Gauge at the cost of performing a more powerful ability. There are also some minor splashes of stealth in the game, although this only extends to jumping down on an enemy from above, or slowly walking up from behind for a backstab, so don’t expect to be able to glide through each level going undetected.
It feels consistently rewarding to tear through basic enemy types with a violent dance of beautifully animated movements. Meanwhile, Wo Long’s boss lineup is largely stellar, providing more extensive and exhilarating showdowns, each with their own distinct tricks, offsetting potential battle repetition that would otherwise set in from the game’s frequent recycling of other enemy types.
Unfortunately, the rest of what the game has to offer is far less spectacular, and shines a light on a seeming unwillingness to stray too far from Nioh’s formula. Despite being a brand-new IP, Wo Long feels more like Nioh’s not-so-long-lost-twin-sibling. One area where this is apparent is the return of the hideous loot system that’s plagued some of Team Ninja’s other games.
Upon finishing a single main story mission, which will usually take around an hour of playtime, it’s likely that you’ll come across roughly 100 pieces of gear (give or take a dozen or so) from enemy drops, with the vast majority of them being the slightest variations on previously acquired equipment. It’s a frustrating, migraine-inducing slog to periodically re-open equipment menus, constantly examining and comparing new loot drops for the slightest of stat increases in a snappy action game. Many of the variants are so granular, (such as an inconsequential one per cent resistance increase to fire) that most of the loot is almost completely worthless, especially since weapons and armour can be tinkered with and customised extensively at the game’s blacksmith.
It has a couple of other new mechanics, namely Morale and Reinforcements, but the former is a fluffy feature that does little to affect the game, while the latter is a simple iteration upon the NPC summoning system that’s been prevalent in Soulslikes since 2011’s Dark Souls.
Morale affects the player’s core strength in each mission. If more flags (Wo Long’s checkpoints) are captured, and enemies are slain, then the base Morale increases, meaning enemies with higher morale levels can be fought on more equal terms. For all intents and purposes, it’s another interpretation of player and enemy levels that does little to change the dynamic of the game, as you’ll naturally increase your Morale by progressing through the levels with no further thought or consideration needed.
Reinforcements are a similarly lacklustre addition. You can summon up to two fighty assistants at a time, and repeatedly summoning the same sidekicks will gradually increase their rank. Outside of slight stat boosts though, it doesn’t change their behaviour or move sets, at least as far as I can tell. Instead, it just slightly increases the amount of hits they can take, and the damage they dish out.
There’s no additional depth to them in terms of giving the partner NPC’s new equipment, abilities, or direct command inputs to make them more efficient in battle. As a way to give struggling players some extra help, Reinforcements are totally fine, but in the context of a game that’s largely lacking in fresh ideas, it feels like a wasted opportunity to include something a bit more inventive.
The quality of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s combat can’t be understated, but as a new IP it feels bereft of much of its own identity, idly coasting on the cottails of the developer’s previous action RPGs. This will probably be a blast for any newcomers, or those who simply can’t get enough of what Team Ninja has to offer. For everyone else, there’s still fun to be had in spite of its underwhelming lack of ambition.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. This review was played on Xbox Series X.
Ferocious combat clashes with a debilitating sense of familiarity, as Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty struggles to find its own identity amongst Team Ninja’s previous action RPGs, as well as other Soulslikes.
- Combat is fast, fluid, frenetic
- Boss fights are a treat
- The loot system quickly becomes overwhelming and tiring
- Outside of combat, the game struggles stand out from its contemporaries