Just like any other Team Ninja game, you know what you’re getting yourself into; break-neck combat, fantastical creatures, magic and a high chance of throwing your controller—exactly how we like it. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty aims to capture that same essence, while also trying to pin down it’s own niche as an approachable, high-octane soulslike.
Unlike the intricate weapon skill trees, stances and loot mechanics found in Nioh, this game instead streamlines all those RPG elements and favours fast-paced, scintillating offence; putting an opponent’s spirit gauge on the back foot before they can return the favour—and they are often brutal. Since several actions like guarding and wizardry consume spirit, (a stamina-like meter that appears under each combatant) knowing when to attack and deflect is crucial. It’s especially useful for lowering an enemy’s guard, scaling damage from the dynamic morale system and dishing out deadly Fatal Strikes.
The latter can be executed when a standard foe’s back is turned or when they’re caught unaware. Sneaking up from behind or leaping from above can devastate HP bars in one fell swoop, but it can also be unleashed mid-battle when an enemy’s spirit gauge has been broken. This is an awesome, risk/reward system that encourages aggressive assaults, as the gauge will all too quickly deplete from inaction. Granting players stronger wizardry, guard potential and more combat capabilities, but also leaving warriors almost completely defenceless if the shoe’s on the other foot.
If boss battles are proving a little too difficult, the morale system can help. During a mission, players will accrue spirit through combat and by finding two types of flags (Battle and Marking Flags) which both increase a player’s morale, making them deal more/reduce incoming damage over those with a lower morale number, while also granting them the ability to use higher level spells. It’s a fairly simple system where Battle Flags act as a checkpoint, but they also lock in the current morale rating. Meaning that if players take down as many nearby enemies as possible, they can effectively tackle the next area at an advantage and not have to worry about their rating being too low for any given situation. It may be a novel idea, but it is a clever one at that.
Carving A Niche
Even though most of the Nioh formula has been unceremoniously tossed out the window here, it’s gameplay is just as tight, and you can still choose from a variety of different weapons and gear. Although, it would be nice if the camera didn’t caught on geometry in tight spaces. While loot doesn’t drop anywhere near as much, players only have to focus on choosing which limit break animal to summon for stat boosts or straight-up damage, alongside the unique build types they’ll prioritise. Called the Five Phases, each discipline favours specific parts of battle. For example, the Water Virtue affects your stealth stats and the amount of spirit consumed when deflecting. Whereas the Fire Virtue affects the amount of spirit gained from attacking and spirit lost through the consumption of martial arts. Since Wizardry spells are also tied to these Phases, it’s completely up to the player on how they want to spend Qi points for levelling up, making for simple yet highly customisable build varieties.
In Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, players can physically jump and search for items, equipment and Battle/Marking Flags, although the mission-based structure can start to feel repetitive and limited in scope. The main gameplay loop involves moving from fight-to-fight with some lite exploration thrown in… but that’s all it really amounts to. Don’t get me wrong, the combat is excellent. I just wish there was something extra this game could offer. And before you ask—the optional missions are virtually the same. Go through a long hallway, swing some swords and beat the boss. Repeat, ad nauseam. Doesn’t help that there’s a diminishing lack of enemy variety or how the difficulty spikes at certain points, but I still found it extremely tense and exciting to play.
That all being said, Dynasty Warriors fans will love teaming up with classic characters from the Three Kingdoms era. Even if they aren’t the most capable of allies, they make for good distractions at the very least, and it is cool how you can command them to charge with their best attacks at the cost of spirit. Although, this could draw in additional enemies and quickly become disaster-iffic if you’re not careful… Throughout the game, it’s possible to summon a selection of NPC or human allies at Battle Flags, but you will need to consume a Tiger Seal upon each attempt/death inside a mission. However, at a certain point in the story, players can invade other sessions or join forces with 1-2 friends online without having to consume Tiger Seals to stay together. And while there is cross-gen functionality for PS4/5 and Xbox One/Series S|X owners at launch, cross-play is not on the cards, unfortunately.
Not Quite There
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s hype action and narrative-driven story scenes are fun to witness, though I found it difficult to become attached to the drama or cast in any sort of meaningful way. Doesn’t help that the English dub is not lip-synced to the characters at all, making the presentation feel like an early PS2 title—and not in the good way. The main protagonist is also silent; one trend that really got on my nerves here. While William from Nioh was about as stiff as a British upper lip, he at least had SOME sense of personality. In Wo Long, it honestly seems like the main character doesn’t even exist at points. I would’ve loved to watch the protagonist banter back and forth with Zhang Fei or talk all sombre-like with Zhao Yun. But instead, these missed opportunities ultimately just turn into mindless exposition dumps to progress the story. Such a shame.
The graphics look and run better than Koei Tecmo’s Wild Hearts did at launch, however. Although they fall into the ‘last-gen’ category to cater for PS4 and Xbox One, the art style and fidelity is still pretty nice to look at on the best possible settings. It ran at a near-constant 60FPS on my PC, even when multiple combatants and special effects were going off at once. My only gripe is that some of the HUD elements would occasionally start flashing for no apparent reason, making it tricky to see how much spirit or morale I was gaining/losing in real-time. In terms of stability, the game only crashed on me once, and it was right after the initial boss; a multi-phase encounter that took me over 30 tries—no joke. Luckily, the game auto-saved during the cutscene, so I was in the clear. But man, that first fight is a real litmus test. Not only for your skills, but for your sanity as well.
Cutting it’s teeth as a swift soulslike, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is all about the intense battles and not much else. Although, the mission structure of fighting down hallways with some lite exploration can start to become repetitive, the combat puts you into this entranced state that’s tremendously hard to quit, especially when playing with friends. Many RPG elements have also been streamlined to keep the focus purely on action, albeit it does feel like something is missing here. However, Dynasty Warriors fans will enjoy journeying alongside the iconic Three Kingdoms heroes and witnessing a story with several glorious action scenes, even if it’s not the most memorable narrative by a long shot.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PC
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a big-time adrenaline rush, dropping the overwhelming RPG systems of Nioh for a more streamlined, arcade-like approach to battle. It’s a very basic formula: move through hallways while fighting, explore a little, then face the big bad—but it’s just so much fun to play. Even if your NPC allies can be a little dim-witted and the camera can get in your way at times, battling through this more fast-paced Three Kingdoms setting is as tight and challenging as you’d expect.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Koei Tecmo. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.