As a big Dynasty Warriors fan, I’m not exactly hard to sell on the concept of a game set in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This game has Lu Bu, Guan Yu, Cao Cao, Zhang Liang, and all the other usual suspects. 10/10.
Wait, you want more? Ugh. Fine. Read on and find out if Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty should be more than just another forgotten relic.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Release Date: March 3, 2023
In all sincerity, as much as I’d love to simply say that this game checks all the right boxes for me – which it does – there’s a whole lot of criticism to be had about a game that is already skewed to this reviewer’s interests.
First off, let’s talk about the semblance of a story and why this might be the worst offense Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty makes. The game introduces you as a nameless soldier who sets out to stop a bad guy simply known as the Black Taoist from getting his hands on an elixir that grants immortality.
Throughout the game, you see people imbibe this glowing pill thing that makes them strong but corrupts them greatly. The story is filler at best, cause much like other games in this genre, only the nerds who are really into these games drill down to a point where they have any real understanding of what’s actually going on.
I wish the game’s story had been more interesting because, after a few hours, I was ready to skip cutscenes and just go explore the next area, which is a shame because historical storytelling already has a basic story you can weave and change as a baseline going in.
Creating a character lets you choose how your soldier will look, their body type (sex/gender), and most importantly their preferred pronouns. I know that nothing was more important to the people living in the second century of China than what pronouns people called each other. Representation matters. And now that I’ve said that with a straight face, it’s embarrassing and insulting that someone decided a game based on historical fantasy needed to cater to a vocal minority that complains about everything on Twitter.
I didn’t care when Demon’s Souls had body type A or B instead of male or female, but now that it’s becoming the standard, it’s increasingly sad to see that sociopolitical nonsense is invading games, but especially games where the setting was a real historical time frame.
Why is this a thing in a game set in a time where this sort of thing wasn’t ever even a concept that anyone alive on the entire Earth would have ever thought of? It’s ultimately a minor point, cause no matter what pronoun choice you pick, the characters in the game will refer to you in gender-neutral terms as often as they possibly can.
Level Clearing and Morale
Culture warrior nonsense aside, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Team Ninja’s take on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice using highly polished parry/deflection style combat in favor of Nioh‘s stance dancing. There are a lot of elements that remain here from the Nioh formula, such as the overly varied and clunky loot system and the timeline of moving from the main battlefield to sub-battlefields to progress the story as opposed to going for an open-world style.
Personally, while I never cared for Nioh‘s loot system, I don’t hate how they break maps up into selectable chapters. This makes it easier to revisit certain areas looking for particular mobs or secrets you’ve missed instead of having to wander aimlessly in circles and pray you find what you’re looking for like in Elden Ring. Inevitably, just wait a few weeks and someone will make guides that point out where to go, but it’s more fun being able to instinctively find these things yourself without feeling like you’ve gotta commit several hours of exploration in order to do so.
I’ve been having a ton of fun clearing levels systematically looking for all the hidden flag markers and banner placements, which is what the game uses for bonfires as well as increasing your base morale level. In every level, you start off with a morale level of zero and eventually, you can ensure that no matter what you start off at a level around 20 by finding all of the collectibles.
This rewards exploration but somewhat nerfs the game’s difficulty. Level doesn’t really seem to matter aside from basic stat distribution, so while it’s important for dishing out more damage per swing, doing more spirit damage with magic, or increasing your HP, the morale system ensures that you can’t just over-level and straight up waste anything that gets in your path because enemies with a much higher morale than yours can easily shut you down in a matter of milliseconds.
As stated before, this is good for trying to get players to explore all the levels, but it also makes the game feel like more of a tedious slog later on in the game when things start to look a little too identical. I like the basic idea here, but I’d like it scaled back just a tad so that in the next adventure I can spend less time meticulously clearing sub-battlefields while ensuring that I’m still rewarded for doing full clears of the main ones.
Spells in Combat
There’s also a paper-rock-scissors magic type system in the game, as well as combat abilities that are tied to the equipped weapon similar to combat arts in Elden Ring. They’re useful, but I didn’t find many that were worth the spirit cost or the window of vulnerability that enemies have if you miss.
The spells are an interesting idea, but they’re almost wholly an afterthought and they’re essentially a way to help lower the spirit of enemies that you can’t seem to master counterattacks on. An enemy casts fire spells, so casting a water spell will sometimes interrupt the spell or negate the spell itself.
Perhaps there’s more benefit to knowing if metal spells counter earth or lightning is countered by poison, but the game has minimal instruction on why it matters (hitting someone with a counter element causes their spirit to decrease or drain).
From my experience, it seems mostly useless aside from learning some great team buffs like the ability to heal via attacking, or for single player advantages such as using the water tree’s stealth to get through tricky segments. I found myself being able to break a majority of enemies with well-timed quick attacks and following up with a spirit attack once their bar blinks red.
Magic to Beat Bosses
The only time attack spells ever really seemed to matter were for breaking bosses, but honestly, none of the magic compares to learning proper dodge timing so you can break their parts and capitalize on their weaknesses.
For example, in the first boss fight, during the second phase, you’ll be grabbed and smashed into the dirt if you can’t parry or deflect properly. But if you time it right, you’ll parry that unblockable attack and shatter his arm so that he can’t grab you for a few minutes until he uses spirit to regenerate his broken limb.
There’s a fight later on where a boss heavily uses fire spells and while lobbing water at him did stop him from spamming fire, well-placed dodges and parries were equally as effective once you figure out the gimmick in that fight.
There’s also an ally system in this game where you can recruit two other warriors to assist you on your travels. This makes it a little more forgiving and easier to deal with being overwhelmed as you’re not forced into being the one-man army these games typically cater to. You can play co-op instead of taking the NPC heroes when playing online as well.
Overall, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty probably isn’t going to convert random people who play this game on Game Pass into soulslike fans, but it’s got a tremendous basic combat system. Each weapon has its own animations and feel, and it’s a great way to bring Dynasty Warriors fans into the soulslike fold.
With a little bit of loot system reduction, refinement to the morale system in regards to player level, removal of sociopolitical nonsense, and tweaks to make spirit attacks a bit more useful, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty could have a sequel that goes from pretty good to superb. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t perfect, but it sets a great baseline for what could become a terrific franchise much like Nioh did before it.
Wo long: Fallen Dynasty was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.