We're looking for new writers to join us!

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

Written by Henry Yu on 3/4/2023 for PS5  
More On: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

It’s about time we receive a full-fledged gaming experience set in the time period of the Three Kingdoms. For those unfamiliar, this particular period of Chinese history was a time of political unease that led to the ultimate demise of the Han dynasty. Though we do have Koei Tecmo Omega Force’s rendition of this famous narrative with their Dynasty Warriors franchise, it wasn’t until now that Team Ninja was ready to show the world their take on this epic saga with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. I was ecstatic and at the edge of my seat when the masterminds behind the Ninja Gaiden and Nioh games, some of my favorite series, announced their newest project last year during the Xbox developer showcase. Much like how Nioh raised the bar for non FromSoftware Souls-likes, Wo Long does the same with its exhilarating and refreshing gameplay systems to the point where it deserves a genre of its own.

First and foremost, Wo Long bears a lot of resemblance to Nioh, especially in its not-so-impressive visuals. Color palettes are dull and murky, with texture quality similar to what you would expect to see in a last-gen game. At times I even feel like Nioh 2 looks better visually than Wo Long. The in-game UI and heads-up display pretty much look the same as they do in Nioh, for better or for worse. Repetitious level design and re-use of assets and occasional pop in definitely bring the overall experience down. It’s okay though, because the game still captures the essence of 3rd century China, with intricate character and environment designs that remain faithful to history. Team Ninja’s titles are never really known for their technical marvel, but are lauded for the actual gameplay elements instead.

If you were to interpret Nioh as Team Ninja’s unique take on the Dark Souls games, then Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty can best, although not quite, be described as their rendition of FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The game is still bucketed into the generic category of third person action role playing games, so let’s get into the nitty gritty details on what makes this experience stand out from others. Much like how FromSoftware ditched the concept of stamina in Sekiro, Team Ninja has done similarly with Wo Long. Instead, a concept known as the spirit gauge is introduced that can go in the positive (blue) or negative (orange). Light attacks and parries increase this gauge whereas heavy attacks, dodges, martial arts, and spells decrease it. In a way, this gauge acts somewhat like stamina as once you hit the negative end of the spectrum, you become vulnerable to enemy attacks. An emphasis is put on deflecting and perfect-parrying attacks, which takes some practicing and getting used to, but feels immensely satisfying when mastered.

The boss battles are the true spectacle in Wo Long, as each provides a challenge that requires immaculate game expertise to conquer. These range from gigantic demonic creatures to other humans that possess the same battle abilities as you. That being said, many of them are re-used or seen multiple times, which is fine by me since I love these types of duels. Random difficulty spikes are encountered though, where particular bosses are way too easy or hard given your current level. 

Wo Long ditches Nioh’s usage of the stance system and instead adds in martial arts and elemental wizardry spells. However, there is a similar spirit animal that can be called upon in dire situations. Dozens of weapons, ranging from podaos and spears to hammers and dual blades, each contain a special skill that can be executed. Leveling up revolves around the five elements: water, fire, earth, metal, and wind, which unlock points to be spent in a relevant skill tree. For example, the fire elemental tree might allow you to spit fireballs whereas the wind skill tree allows you to unlock more defensive lifesteal abilities. Certain spells also have a morale level requirement (more on this later), meaning you cannot cast it if your morale is too low. Gear progression remains the same as it was in Nioh, randomized and colored similarly to Diablo, which promotes replayability in terms of farming for weapons and armor that best suit your wants and needs. There’s plenty of build variety here, and respeccing is also available for those wanting to experiment. 

One of the new elements that Team Ninja introduces here is the morale and fortitude system. Scattered around each environment are two types of locations that you can place flags in. One acts as your generic bonfire check point where you restore your health and potions at the cost of respawning enemies and the other simply raises your fortitude level. You’re at war after all, and it only makes sense to raise flags on the battlefield to lift the spirits of your comrades. Each level in the game offers a secondary rank that dictates your power level, called morale. Defeating enemies and raising the aforementioned flags increases your morale, whereas succumbing to enemy power attacks and dying in battle lowers it. No matter how much you die, your morale can never drop lower than your fortitude level, which acts as your baseline. It’s a refreshing mechanic that effortlessly immerses you in the premise of the narrative.

The one aspect that made me giggle in excitement was meeting and teaming up with notable historical characters that existed during the Three Kingdoms period. Legendary figures such as Cao Cao and Liu Bei aid you in the battlefield as you progress through the campaign. You can form and deepen bonds that reward you with special exclusive weapons and armors used by the famous generals themselves. These AI companions can be seen as Team Ninja’s approach to making the game more accessible to non-hardcore players that want a less stressful time, as there is no difficulty slider option in the game. Those who wish to team up with their real life friends instead can also do so as Wo Long supports online co-op of up to three players. 

System intricacies are not very well explained, which was the case for Team Ninja’s previous titles. New players can easily become overwhelmed with the number of gameplay mechanics to learn and memorize. This is especially true during the beginning moments during the first boss encounter, as he serves as an extremely punishing gatekeeper to the rest of the game. As a side note, the English dub is terribly voice acted, and you can’t switch audio language unless you quit back to the main menu. So I recommend starting and playing the game in either Chinese or Japanese.

Performance on the PlayStation 5 leaves a lot to be desired, considering load times are impressively long, sometimes taking upwards of 20 seconds to load, and no DualSense controller features are utilized. I played on performance mode, which did run at a smooth 60 frames per second, but it did seem like a downgrade from Nioh 2’s unlocked 120 fps mode on PS5. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty does feature a new game plus mode at launch so there’s plenty of content here. Also expect more DLC on the way that raises the level cap if Team Ninja is thinking about doing what they did with Nioh.  

It’s without a doubt that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an excellent game, perhaps one of Team Ninja’s best, but sadly it doesn’t reach the heights that Nioh 2 did for me. The game is needing some extra patches and DLC to fix some issues and fill some gaps. Those looking for a challenge and endless hours of gameplay will surely enjoy their time with Wo Long, but I’m still patiently waiting for Nioh 3.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty pushes the boundaries of a Souls-like game by introducing refreshing and unique takes on otherwise overused formulas. The emphasis on deflecting and the new morale mechanic makes for a challenging and rewarding combat system only to be further enhanced by the dramatic backdrop of the Three Kingdoms. 

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

About Author

View Profile