Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review

Souls-like games have always been a terrifyingly tall mountain to climb for me. I’ve often sat at the bottom of said metaphorical mountain, wondering if it’s worth beginning the grueling climb. An opportunity to play Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty intrigued me because of a desire to test my might in this genre. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an easier, more accessible Souls-like game with a parry system mostly anybody could master, given enough practice.

Throughout this demanding journey, I found an appreciation for the hard-hitting combat on display, which did catch me unawares more than once. With an ancient Chinese landscape to boot, the core foundations of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty are impressive, to say the least. It’s when you venture later into the game’s world where, unfortunately, issues begin to crop up. Whether it’s the looting system, or spreadsheets, or some repetition, I have some quarrels with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, although it certainly gets more right than wrong.


When Fantasy and Reality Collide

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty reminds me of 300 (a historical fantasy book that was later turned into a film). Both are comparable due their dramatic, fantastical showcases of real-life events. As a historical fantasy action RPG, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes significant influence from the real-life events of the fall of the Han Dynasty. Players will battle with and against warriors who really existed in the second and third centuries, and alongside all of this, they will be fighting an array of mythological Chinese creatures. I personally adore this blend of fantasy and history because I get to explore mythology (which is why I love the God of War games) with a sprinkle of real history.

Narratively, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes this idea and runs with it, often encountering historical characters and beasts corrupted by what’s known as Demonic Qi. I didn’t find a great level of interest in the game’s narrative due to the repetition of the game’s structure anyway, but also because the cutscenes are a little cringey for my taste. However, these cutscenes do lead us to the grand reveal of characters with some really cool designs!


New Battlefield, Same Structure

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has plenty of battlefields for one to sink their teeth into. A total of 16 main battlefields alongside countless side-quest battlefields comprise this title’s locations. While they initially seem quite mundane due to colour palettes, there is a justification for this. Not only are the locations literal warzones, but as the game progresses, vibrant battlefields can appear offering refreshing change. Space comes into play too! Some battlefields appear more claustrophobic than others, making special awareness often a necessity.

Venturing across battlefields, landscapes are grounded – sometimes gritty – with enemies often representing the fantasy elements of this title (alongside spells). Notable enemies excluding boss battles included Suan Yu and Chang Gui, both of whom are powerful foes who can defeat you quickly if you lack a sharp awareness. Many of their abilities also represent the fantastical, using elemental abilities to attack from range. Bosses also home in on supernatural abilities to become quite the threat against the player.

Meet a new ally who’ll venture the upcoming battlefield with you. Defeat a series of enemies (with variety early on, in all fairness), claim land by planting banners and face the grand boss of that battlefield. This is essentially the structure of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s levels. Sometimes you have a sub-boss and some extra cutscenes sprinkled in, but it’s a consistent structure.

There are often routes off the beaten path in which you can encounter difficult enemies or find loot, but otherwise, the adventure takes place on one road. But why fix something if it’s not broken? Well, I did find myself enjoying the game less towards the tail end due the nature of this singular structure. Part of this is due to the enemy variety too. My main quarrel with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is how everything the title has to offer is introduced rather quickly, meaning that if you’re not hooked early on in your playthrough, chances are you’re not going to enjoy the later stages of Team Ninja’s 2023 title. Aside from the boss fights, hardly anything is implemented to shake up the gameplay in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty after the first three battlefields. Thus, it becomes pretty repetitive.


Brutal, Punishing, but Satisfying?

As implied in my prologue, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has not been an easy playthrough. In fact, there were many occasions in which I was briefly dumbfounded. This was often until I experimented with spells and weapons. Luckily, checkpoints/banners were frequent enough in which a death didn’t demoralise me too much. You’re not set back significantly in the form of distance, meaning you can swiftly jump back into the action. To make matters better for a newer player in this genre, consequences aren’t dire for failure. Yes, you can lose Genuine Qi (points that can be used to level up) and morale rank, but this can be earned back through defeating the enemy who defeated you or via beating other enemies.

With some minor similarities to the Nemesis system in Monolith Production’s Middle-earth games, the enemy who kills you can see their morale rank raised (with yours lowered). Morale rank affects damage you deal and health taken away from attacks. As such, it provides major buffs going into battles. It sounds like a great idea until the enemy who kills you is difficult to beat anyway. Making enemies who’re almost necessary to beat for progression even more powerful isn’t the wisest choice for keeping players engaged. Although, this does encourage the player to improve, and it’s incredibly satisfying to finally best an enemy who keeps getting the better of you.

Parrying – as previously mentioned – is integral to this game’s combat. Especially with bosses, parrying increases your characters’ spirit, simultaneously decreasing your enemy’s. In turn, this can lead to you having a grand opportunity to take a sizable chunk of health from your enemy. Unfortunately, parrying resulted in many bosses being defeated in a similar way. Parrying until an enemy’s spirit was low and then taking a hefty percentage of their health with a spirit attack proved highly effective. Even special attacks and spells do hardly any damage compared to this technique.

Early into Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, I was able to maintain motivation following deaths: getting back up, dusting myself off and learning from mistakes. Even common, weaker enemies here can be the catalyst in a death if you’re not consistently focused. Thankfully, your companions – which you can have two of at one time – can eat some hits as you learn attack patterns. The companion system in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty does the job. Commands to teammates are pretty basic, but I appreciated how as you develop bonds with certain characters, they became more powerful.


Stats Galore

Often in an action-RPG, it’s too expensive to purchase the best weapons and armour. Want a high-ranked sword? Well, defeat these high-levelled enemies and you’ll have a chance of one dropping. Occasional loot is a brilliant way to gradually upgrade your equipment, but here it can become egregious. In Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, looting became somewhat necessary yet so monotonous at times. Too often is loot dropped, and about 90% of the time, it’s useless. Yet, you must loot to find some decent consumables! Subsequently, looting and selling loot becomes a chore once you reach a certain level on your equipment.

Part of my reasoning for the mundane nature of looting is this wide array of stats applied to every item. Frequently, investing in these minimal percentage changes is not what I want to be doing in a game. I simply looked at defence and attack numbers and applied equipment simply on that. Perhaps too much effort went into this aspect of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty when work could’ve been put into additional enemy types, landscapes, and so on.

With weapons, I must say that choosing between them didn’t feel as egregious. This is because of the different attacks applied to even specific versions of a weapon type. That is the visual difference I want to see when I’m playing the game. Speaking of different abilities, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty incorporates an impressive selection of spells into gameplay. These are comprised into five sub-sections, with a system incorporating type weaknesses and strengths. This actively encourages the player to learn about enemy types and experiment with spells, which is great. Spells contribute to what’s ultimately a wide range of attacks for the player to use. This in turn aids depth pretty significantly; it’s fun to explore them all.


Final Thoughts

All in all, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has plenty going for it. With its hard-hitting combat and a charming aesthetic, I enjoyed venturing through battlefields and learning from mistakes to overcome obstacles. However, with something to be said for a lack of enemy variety – alongside more stats than I’m prepared to invest in – there are hiccups on this adventure. Core foundations are pretty solid (although the first boss fight is a real difficulty spike, to say the least), but it feels as though Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty plays all of its cards early on, introducing everything gameplay element simultaneously in a slightly overwhelming onslaught.

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Koei Temco Games

Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft Windows

Release Date: 3rd March 2023 (initial release), 6th February 2024 (Complete Edition)

Gaming Respawn’s copy of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty was provided by the publisher.

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