Review – Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

A lot of companies have tried to jump into the soulslike (I’m not going to call it “masocore”, give up) bandwagon, but very few have managed to carve a niche of their own, making their games feel like an extension to the genre, and not just some average Dark Souls carbon copy. Out of those, Team Ninja might be the one achieving the best results. Their Nioh games were clearly inspired by Dark Souls, but they had their own level structure, hoarding system, and overall gameplay feel that made them stand out from the many other games in the genre. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Team Ninja experimenting even further, being one of the most creative games in the genre, even though it features some noticeable flaws.

Wo Long Leigong

“Aw s***, here we go again”.

In true Koei Tecmo fashion (more on the Koei side of things, though), Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is their Nioh-fied take on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms lore, the same tales that spawned the similarly-titled strategy series, as well as the ten quadrillion Dynasty Warriors games the company has developed since 2000. That means that fans of the novel, or the aforementioned games, will get a kick out of dramatization of the same events, but with a heavier dosage of supernatural crap being plastered onscreen, in true Souls-y fashion. It also means that, if you have never given a second thought about the plot in a Dynasty Warriors game, the wall of (well-acted) dialogue and names to remember in Wo Long won’t make you change your mind.

If you decide to pick up Wo Long, that will be because of the gameplay. This is what you’re here for, and Team Ninja did a great job, as always. With that being said, the game isn’t just Chinese Nioh, as previously expected. It’s not also just Chinese Sekiro, as its demo may have made it look. Wo Long is a neat little take on the Nioh (and consequently, Souls) formula, with some elements that felt welcoming, and others that just didn’t hit the landing as gracefully as initially expected.

Wo Long Stealth

Use stealth kills to drastically raise your morale.

For starters, there’s the controls. If you’re used to your typical From Software schtick, you might find Wo Long‘s gameplay to be overly complicated and prone to feature creep. There’s a lot to swallow. First of all, X jumps, Square is your main attack, and Triangle is your stupidly slow strong attack. Holding down R1 opens up an array of physical art moves to use, while R2 opens up your list of spells. More on this particular one later. You can still defend with L1, use a ranged weapon with L2, and use an array of deflecting moves with Circle. This latter one is a bit confusing at first, because Wo Long gives an initial impression that this deflection is meant to be a dodge mechanic. It’s not. In fact, you’ll quickly learn you’ll use this mechanic to parry enemy attacks.

This parrying is not unlike Sekiro‘s, but a bit simpler. You use this timed deflection to basically leave an opening for your attacks. You don’t exactly need to worry about a balance meter. Certain enemies and most bosses, on the other hand, have special attacks where they’ll flash red before performing them. These are the moves which should be parried, as one or two of these will ensure they’ll leave their guard open for an ultimate attack. The game tests your parrying knowledge right at the first boss, one of the most annoying bosses I have ever faced in a soulslike. I died at least twenty-two times and was cursing each Team Ninja developers’ mothers until I got to kill that bastard. I was worried the rest of the game would leave up to the “masocore” tag Team Ninja was using while promoting Wo Long. Thankfully, it wasn’t the case.

Wo Long Fengxi

I am pretty sure this boar was in Twilight Princess.

I’m not going to say that the rest of Wo Long was “easy” or devoid of challenge, but nothing tested my patience as much as this first boss. The reason might have been a complete lack of secondary skills to use besides some basic spells and parrying. Wo Long gives you a ton of weapons and skills, and even lets you summon players to help you out in co-op during a level. Here’s the thing, though: you can still summon allies while offline, meaning that you’ll never actually need to face a level by yourself.

With two allies following you, with well-coded AI and attacking patterns, bigger boss battles started feeling less like a strategic parrying battle and more of a full-on lynch mob. It was still tons of fun, mind you, but it felt less strategic. It felt more aggressive. That didn’t shock me upon finding out that one of Bloodborne‘s main producers, Masaaki Yamagiwa, worked on Wo Long. Bloodborne, the king of full-on, maniacal, aggro fighting in a soulslike. So yeah, think of it as a mixture of Nioh’s more frantic gameplay, a bit of Sekiro-esque parrying (complete with an occasionally unreliable camera) and platforming, and Bloodborne aggression. Also, a bit of… Battlefield?

Battle Flag

Battle Flags are this game’s bonfires.

Yup, you read that right, and mind you, it’s more of the most unique elements featured in Wo Long. So, just like in Nioh, levels are linear: there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, usually with a boss fight. You need to liberate the level from enemies by placing battle flags on specific areas. Those battle flags work just like your typical Bonfire, but there’s a second type of post you can interact with: marking flags. These are liberated not to create more resting spots for your warrior, but to increase your and your allies’ morale.

Morale is one of Wo Long‘s most unique features. You can acquire morale by killing foes (doubly so if you kill them stealthily), liberating posts, and, well, not dying. The higher your morale, the less damage you’ll take from enemies, and the more damage you’ll inflict. It’s a neat little buff that incentivizes you to further explore a level in order to kill more enemies and fully complete the list of flag posts to liberate: it then turns the boss battle into a much more bearable experience, since your allies can also have their morale boosted.

Wo Long Ranged Attacks

Use ranged weapons for stealth, not when s*** actually goes down.

Then there’s the spells. Wo Long is plastered with spells. You unlock them by, first and foremost, leveling up with the game’s neat skill tree, where your typical attributes (HP, offense, defense, weight burden) are slotted into five elemental categories: wind, metal, fire, earth and water. Upon leveling up, you acquire points to unlock spells in yet another skill tree, and boy oh boy, there are plenty of options to choose from. I went with passive buffs, such as a spell that allowed me to recover HP whenever I hit an enemy, as well as covering my sword with electricity to deal extra damage alongside the previously mentioned buff, for instance.

The possibilities are endless, allowing you to come up with tons of builds and strategies. I didn’t even mention you can summon gigantic spirit animals you acquire by befriending NPCs (pretty much making Wo Long yet another “power of friendship” tale at the end of the day) and even save different presets, since enemies have their own spells and elements, and you bet there is a rock-paper-scissors catch to the elements you can use against them. Yes, it is borderline feature creep. Wo Long never stops throwing features and new abilities at you, becoming somewhat overwhelming at times. That being said, if you pay attention to the tutorials, you’ll realize none of these features are there to hinder you. They are just a truckload of crap you can use to kill everything in sight.

Wo Long Plot

I don’t think I have managed to understand a single plotline while playing Wo Long. I was there for the violence.

We may live in a post-Elden Ring era, with soulslike fatigue permeating through our veins, but Wo Long is proof that Team Ninja has masterfully managed to craft their own niche within the genre, solidifying what they have managed to create with their previous Nioh titles. Even if I didn’t care at all about its plot, and there were a handful of issues with its gameplay, namely feature creep, I played it for hours and hours. The brilliant mixture of Nioh, Sekiro, Bloodborne, and even a bit of Battlefield resulted in a game that feels familiar and fresh at the same time, and one of the most exciting action RPGs released in recent memory.


Graphics: 8.0

A pretty good looking game with an excellent art style, but one that didn’t exactly wow me with its complexity and effects. I did appreciate the excellent framerate, however, even if it dropped a bit during a handful of demanding moments, with tons of enemies and particles onscreen.

Gameplay: 8.5

There is a big emphasis on parrying, which is slightly hampered by the occasionally faulty camera, and the fact you can just summon NPCs to turn every single battle, including bosses, into an all-out pummeling. I did appreciate the morale and spellcrafting systems, and the pretty good performance.

Sound: 9.0

Three completely voiced languages (I went with Chinese for the legitimacy) and an excellent soundtrack comprised of ancient Chinese instrumentation and scales. A true highlight.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Even if I didn’t care at all about its plot, and there were a handful of issues with its gameplay, I played Wo Long for hours and hours. Team Ninja has managed to carve its own identity within the genre, with this game being a clear example.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty was provided by the publisher.