The year is 184 AD, and while chaos and political conquest threaten the remaining days of the Later Han Dynasty in China, a demonic corruption plagues the lands of the Three Kingdoms. You play the role of a nameless militia soldier who, at first, begins their journey fighting back against the Yellow Turban Rebellion in their attempts to take over a small village in the Xu Province. After saving a villager, you’re given a mystical Jade amulet that bestows the wearer the protection of a Divine Beast, and soon discover the powerful bond that unites yourself with famous warriors across the Three Kingdoms.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a tale of perseverance, courage, and retribution wrapped up in rich Chinese history.
Related: Redemption Reapers Review | Condemnation Cultivators
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Lessons in Brutal Defeat
Listen, my eyes couldn’t possibly roll back any further whenever a slightly challenging video game is compared to Dark Souls, but it’s hard to ignore the obvious Soulslike inspiration in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. That being said, I’ll be comparing and contrasting between the two IPs pretty frequently here.
Speaking of difficulty, Wo Long bursts right out of the gates, swinging like a pair of liúxīng chuí straight to your face with brutally challenging combat that forces compliance or death. Combat consists of methodical duels between yourself and a variety of other militia soldiers, demonic beasts, and mythical entities. Whittling down your opponent’s posture, or Spirit gauge, consists of perfectly-timed deflections that slowly shred the maximum amount of stamina they can exhaust before being staggered and open to a Fatal Strike.
“…Wo Long bursts right out of the gates, swinging like a pair of liúxīng chuí straight to your face with brutally challenging combat that forces compliance or death.”
Deflecting and connecting normal attacks will build up your own Spirit gauge, while blocking, dodging, and using Martial Arts and Spirit Attacks will consume it. While most attacks can be blocked, enemies will often perform Critical Blows that can only be deflected, decimating their Spirit gauge when successfully parried. This tug of war, strikingly reminiscent of Sekiro, creates a fluid, fast-paced dance where impatience can cost you most, if not all, of your health bar.
The majority of battles are a struggle, yet fairly balanced. Though, there are times when playing Wo Long feels like you’ve been thrown into a pit of snakes and asked to escape with no bites. Being surrounded by multiple foes and constantly struck with deadly attacks from every direction can feel like artificially padded difficulty, but Wo Long supplements you with plenty of tools to overcome even the most dire situations. To the game’s credit, you’re normally accompanied by NPC companions in each stage, but I quickly shooed them away once I figured out how to, as I couldn’t stand their constant chirping of cliché quips and heroic battle cries. Plus, I’m too stubborn to accept the help.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Patience is Also a Virtue
Typical RPG attributes like Strength and Intelligence are instead replaced by the Five Virtues: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, and investing points in them will increase the respective attributes of your character. The Wood Virtue, for example, increases your maximum health and the amount of Spirit lost when attacked, while the Earth Virtue increases your maximum equipment load and the amount of Spirit gained when deflecting attacks. Strengthening your bond with any of the Virtues unlocks the ability to cast Wizardry spells within the same category, without the need to dedicate points towards a specific “build.” You’re sort of a Jack of All Trades in Wo Long, where every talent point spent improves your killing prowess in ways you may have not even intended.
The equipment system mimics the Souls format almost identically – you’ll equip two melee weapons, some ranged weapons, your four pieces of armor that affect your equipment load and dictate your mobility, plus a few accessories. Wo Long then sprinkles its gear with a level of complexity that nobody really asked for, adding rarity levels and randomized minor perks to each and every weapon and armor piece. Cool if you’re into min-maxing on such a minor level, but too troublesome for me to bother paying attention to. Just give me the gear with the bigger numbers, man.
Related: Like A Dragon: Ishin! Review | Legacy Bound
Where things get interesting in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the Morale system – a sort of sub-stat that strengthens your character based on their notoriety in any given stage. Much like the large-scale conquests of the Three Kingdoms, your character’s Morale Rank is increased as you explore each stage, defeating enemy encampments and staking your claim with victorious Battle Flags. As your Morale increases, you’re able to take more hits and cast higher level spells, incentivizing exploration and completion with the promise of a leg-up in the upcoming boss battle.
“While Wo Long has the traditional co-op summoning and hostile player invasions that you’d expect in a Soulslike game, it’s the Vengeance system that really slices through with enough originality to call it unique.”
On death, you’ll lose half of your “souls,” or Genuine Qi, and some of your Morale Rank, which will be held by your murderous aggressor. Reclaiming your lost Morale isn’t as simple as running to your grave and picking it back up – instead, you’ll have to exact revenge on the enemy that killed you. You’ve got a reputation to uphold, after all. This “Vengeance System” cleverly ties into the online aspect of Wo Long as well, where Burial Flags are scattered around each stage, indicating where other players have died in their worlds. Instead of bloodstains that recount the last few seconds of another player’s life, these Burial Flags inform you of which enemy killed that particular player, giving you the opportunity to avenge them for more Morale and valuable rewards.
While Wo Long has the traditional co-op summoning and hostile player invasions that you’d expect in a Soulslike game, it’s the Vengeance system that really slices through with enough originality to call it unique.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Wisdom in Glorious Victory
Some aspects of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty miss the mark; the writing and story failed to really capture my attention, and the English voice acting was so laughably corny that I considered switching languages. It doesn’t have a massive, beautifully interconnected world like a Dark Souls game, and some of the encounters had me throwing my head back and shouting in disbelief.
Yet, I kept coming back, fiending for that massive dopamine rush that courses through you when you finally achieve the impossible in this type of game. In a sea of Soulslike imitators, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty sails above the rest, carried by its stylish execution and the experience from Team Ninja’s unforgiving pedigree.
- Tight, responsive controls
- Hard as Hell, but fairly balanced
- Creative take on Morale and Vengeance systems
- Hollow, bland locales feel uninspired at times
- Inauthentic voice acting
- Some boss fights are exciting, while others dull
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.