Wo Long Fallen Dynasty is the game with the most satisfying combat system, which simply cannot compensate for the lack of other very important elements that a game of this calibre should have.
What you need to know
- What is it? An action RPG set during Later Han Dynasty China.
- Reviewed on: PC
- Developer: Team Ninja
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo
- Release date: March 3, 2023
- Available on: PC, PlayStation 4 , PlayStation 5 , Xbox One , and Xbox Series X|S
Wo Long Fallen Dynasty review copy provided by the publisher.
As someone who hasn't much experience with souls-like games, I was thrilled when I was asked to write the review for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty for two reasons: first, I expected to be more objective due to the lack of souls-like fanboying, and second, I expected to experience the game as it should be experienced, without comparisons to Nioh , Dark Souls , Elden Ring , and so many other souls-like games out there.
And after many hours of adventuring throughout Later Han Dynasty China, cutting down hundreds of Yellow Turbans and mythical creatures, I came upon a couple of conclusions: Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo made a game that shines so brightly in some moments that you might think, "OK, this is it; this is game of the year material," while in other moments, your reaction will be, "This is it; I will never lay a finger on this game, ever!" due to some obvious flows that could easily be avoided.
The simplest way to explain the story in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is to say that it is so insignificant that I spent most of the game thinking, "Who are these people fighting alongside me, and where am I going?" "Never mind, let's just kill some bad guys because it's so much fun." And that's pretty much how you'll feel while playing this action RPG.
You will play as a nameless warrior during the Three Kingdom period in China, infested with demonic creatures and rebels, fighting your way to survive and also stopping the Yellow Turbans from taking over the kingdom and using the spiritual magic for dark purposes.
To be honest, the story is not something that will keep you interested in finishing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, but rather the interesting gameplay and very good combat system. I personally believe there was so much potential in telling a beautiful story considering the time period of the game and the many possibilities, but it seems telling a good story was not one of the top priorities for Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty's gameplay can be divided into two categories: combat encounters, which are Wo Long's strongest asset and unquestionably the best part of the game, and exploration and character buildup, which is a big letdown in comparison to the combat.
To clarify, the combat in Wo Long is so satisfying that you can't get enough of it. Sword clashing is stunning; attacking, parrying, blocking, rolling—everything is so well-crafted and responsive that you will greatly enjoy every battle, especially those with the bosses. However, there is a catch to the combat. It is difficult and unforgiving, but once you master it, it becomes enjoyable and satisfying; however, prepare to be frustrated beyond measure. For example, the first boss you encounter in the game will be by far the most difficult, and if you manage to defeat him, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty can be a cakewalk.
You will have a vast arsenal of weapons at your disposal, including swords, spears, double swords, hammers, and every imaginable melee weapon. Ranged weapons such as bows, crossbows, throwing knives, throwing stones, and so on will also be used. Every weapon has a traditional attack as well as a more powerful spiritual attack that drains spiritual energy there are also martial arts attack that drains your spiritual energy and cannot be blocked by the enemy.
Enemies, on the other hand, can attack you with both classic attacks that can be blocked and more dangerous red attacks that can only be parried, and this is where Wo Long's combat system shines the brightest. If you are hit by the red attack, half of your health bar will be depleted; however, if you successfully parry the attack, you will stun the enemy and open him up to your very dangerous spiritual attack, which will instantly kill the weaker enemies while seriously injuring the stronger ones, such as bosses and minibosses. Not to mention the sense of accomplishment you'll feel after successfully deflecting the red attack and feeding the enemy his own medicine.
The placement of the dodge and deflect commands on the same button, however, is a major flaw in this combat system in my honest opinion. To clarify, you must time the deflect perfectly by pressing the circle button (on the PlayStation controller) once. However, pressing it twice causes your character to dodge, and if you accidentally dodge the red attack, you will be hit, costing you half your health. And, because Wo Long's combat is fast and chaotic, especially when you're surrounded by enemies or fighting bosses, you'll almost certainly use the dodge instead of the deflect. Make this mistake twice, and it is game over for you.
You will be able to use magical or elemental powers in addition to traditional attacks and weapons. As you progress through the game, a special section of your arsenal will become available, where you will be able to learn to use fire, ice, earth, and air to aid you in combat, as well as other abilities that can serve as temporary armour or weapon enhancements.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, as a souls-like game, shares some souls-related elements, such as the camps that restore your health but also respawn all the enemies in the level. This ability can be extremely useful in raising your morale, which is another crucial aspect of Wo Long's gameplay. In addition to the standard levelling in the game, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has something called moral levelling, which is a type of levelling within each level.
Every level has common enemies, and at the end of each level, you'll face the boss. When the new level begins, your moral level will be zero, and as you kill enemies, your moral level will increase. To reach the morale level of the boss at the end of the level, you must kill all of the enemies and find all of the flags in the level, because finding the flag will prevent your morale level from falling if you are killed within the level. Long story short, find all flags within the level, and your morale will match that of the level's boss.
The bosses are well-designed, and each one is quite unique. Some will be more human-like, while others will be more creature-like, but all will be extremely dangerous, requiring patience and well-executed attacks to be defeated. However, the loot they leave behind once defeated appears to be a disappointment. You will make a concerted effort to defeat the bosses, and you may die several times in the process, but in most cases, the weapon or armour they leave will be far worse than the one you are wearing by default.
Graphics and Sounds
Graphically, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a letdown. There are some sections of this action RPG that look stunning, especially during the cutscenes where the character design shines, but the developers didn't do their best in terms of visual presentation, to put it mildly. The game employs modern graphic tools such as particles and enhanced lighting, but it appears that these effects were applied in the wrong places and do not contribute to the atmosphere.
To say nothing about the level design, which looks completely lifeless and mostly repetitive. On some levels, you will feel like you are playing a twenty-year-old game, while others will feel like an old black-and-white movie. If the developers of a level want to evoke the destruction of the environment following a battle, they will use, for example, the yellow colour to the point where everything looks yellow and monotonous, with no liveliness or imagination in the level design.
The only thing that can be praised in terms of graphics is the character design, as well as the character maker, which allows you to create a very unique character that fits your liking with a lot of sliders for changing the shapes of various body parts, whether you choose the male or female protagonist.
As with the story, the graphics could be significantly better given the game's timeline. When you think of China during the Three Kingdoms period, you think of dragons, fireworks, beautiful nature, and a lot of potential that could turn Wo Long into one visually appealing title. Unfortunately, that did not occur.
The soundtrack and sounds in general are excellent, and if someone is listening from another room, they may conclude that you are playing a Chinese-themed game. The other sounds, like battle screams, sword clashing, and weapon and armour rattling, are just perfect and add to the atmosphere big time.
To sum up, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has the most satisfying combat system, which, once mastered, can provide hours of pure enjoyment and fun, but if you want to play it for a good story or to enjoy beautiful ancient Chinese scenery, this game is not for you. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty would definitely deserve a higher score if its level design and visuals weren't that simple and outdated. Although the combat is very good, it simply cannot compensate for some obvious flaws.