2023 is already shaping up to be a great year for games. From the Dead Space remake to the surprise releases of Hi-Fi Rush and Metroid Prime Remastered, many titles seem to be winners (with the exclusion of Forspoken and maybe a few other titles). Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is no exception to this. After my first playthrough, I would experience it all again in a heartbeat, and I have already begun to. I believe that almost any game that makes me want to replay it immediately is a truly great one.
What makes Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty so good? Well, first of all, it’s developed by Team Ninja, the same studio behind the 3D Ninja Gaiden games and Nioh. They’ve shown that they’re more than capable of creating great action experiences. Sure, not every title they have made has been a hit, but Wo Long continues the momentum they have gained in recent years. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the actual game itself.
Admittedly, before playing this game, I barely had any knowledge of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The only Dynasty Warriors game I have played to completion is that Berserk spin-off from a while back, which obviously has nothing to do with Three Kingdoms. Now, it should go without saying that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t trying to be the most historically accurate piece of media. However, it does incorporate several historical figures and takes inspiration from real events.
The story of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty spans from 184 AD to 200 AD, during the chaotic events of the Later Han Dynasty. There’s clearly a lot of passion for this period of history in this game, and it shows. As someone who isn’t too familiar with Chinese history, I could find myself a little lost at some points, as the story introduces many characters and events at a breakneck pace. However, the game provides a lot of reading material to help you catch up.
You play as a nameless soldier that’s been dragged into the Three Kingdoms conflict during the Yellow Turban rebellion. As this is a dark fantasy twist, your job is to try and stop the spread of demonic qi throughout the land as the chaos of the conflict ensues. While I absolutely adore this game, I can say that the story was the weakest part of the whole experience. The primary issue with it is that it is trying to cover an insanely complex political conflict with a somewhat simple fantasy story at the forefront. However, if the purpose of it was to make me more interested in this period of Chinese history, then it succeeded.
An Addictive Structure
I promise to keep my Elden Ring and Dark Souls comparisons to a minimum throughout this review, and there’s only one reason I’m making one now. Besides some surface-level similarities, Elden Ring and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty are very different games. If you’re familiar with the Nioh games at all, you may expect this, but it is important to note if you are a newcomer to Team Ninja’s action RPGs. You may be disappointed by Wo Long if you prefer the often slower, more methodical, and interconnected approach of FromSoftware games.
However, the structure of Wo Long has its benefits. As you may know, this is not an open-world game. However, Everything is tightly paced and keeps you on your toes throughout the majority of an entire playthrough. Moreover, splitting the game up into separate levels allows for a greater deal of variety in environments. While it is linear, some levels can get quite large and allow for a good amount of exploration.
Thanks to this structure, I had a very hard time putting the game down. While some levels are longer than others, none overstay their welcome. The morale system gives each stage its own sense of progression alongside the game’s main progression systems. After completing a stage I would often want to at least clear a bit of the next battlefield.
The Fantastic Combat of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Perhaps the best aspect of Wo Long is its combat. I’d go so far as to say that it is one of my favorite combat systems of any action RPG. That’s not to say that there aren’t combat systems that could be better, it’s just that it hits a sweet spot for me. If you like Sekiro, but wish it had more RPG and tactical elements, then this game might be for you. Then again, if you have concerns that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty‘s combat is too reliant on deflecting, I have some good news. Learning how to deflect every attack is not necessary, and I don’t recommend beginners do so.
Instead of typical stamina and MP gauges, Wo Long features the spirit gauge, which manages the majority of your actions. Light attacks and successful deflects will give you positive spirit, while strong attacks, whiffing deflects, and more can give you negative spirit. This leads to many instances of quick decision-making and tactics. The spirit gauge does a great job of incentivizing people to play aggressively, but not mindlessly.
Instead of trying to deflect every attack, you can simply block. Of course, attacks that you block will chip away at your spirit gauge. However, it may be wise to block longer strings that you have a more difficult time deflecting. This way, you can learn your windows of opportunity instead of focusing all your effort on deflecting. However, you will definitely want to learn the deflect timings for critical blows, as these can give you a significant upper hand in combat.
A Fair Challenge
The vast majority of times I lost a fight, I knew it was my fault. I could often pinpoint what I was doing wrong and knew what I could do to improve myself. Even when facing an enemy that can kill you in two hits, victory always feels within reach. While enemy attacks can come out quite quickly, they are often telegraphed clearly.
Boss battles can feel very dynamic, and I love that. While your opponents are tough, the game makes it clear that you are a force to be reckoned with as well. However, if the difficulty of the game intimidates you, the game allows you to bring along some AI companions that can draw aggro from bosses and enemies in sticky situations. This certainly makes the game a bit easier, but it still won’t allow you to play mindlessly. If you want more of a challenge though, you have the option to disable these partners.
Wizardry and martial arts add a nice, strategic layer to combat encounters. I often found myself optimizing my picks of wizardry spells depending on each combat encounter. It can be incredibly satisfying to combine a damage buff with a fatal strike, making a once terrifying opponent crumble beneath you. The difficulty of encounters can fluctuate a bit, but nothing feels impossible to beat.
Compared to several other soulslikes and/or hardcore action RPGs, the player character is considerably more agile. Of course, you can still go for a slower, more defensive build, but you’ll be doing some platforming regardless. I enjoyed this aspect of the game quite a bit, and it did help add some layers to combat encounters. I found myself jumping off the heads of enemies when I was cornered and using the terrain to my advantage.
Wo Long‘s double jump can feel a little underwhelming, as your second jump acts more as an extension of your first. However, you can essentially grab ledges, which minimizes any frustration that the double jump could cause. Although, a few jumps did require some more precise timings. Overall though, I did enjoy these traversal mechanics and I hope to see them expanded upon in future games.
You can tell that much of Wo Long‘s level design is built around combat encounters, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. I still found many of these levels to be a joy to explore, thanks to the verticality and mobility the player has access to. The morale system also does a good job of incentivizing the player to explore as much of a level as possible. Many levels were memorable for me and a few even included some neat gimmicks.
Some Other Things I Like About Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Character creation is fun and I can imagine myself wasting several hours on it. While you can modify the appearance of your character later on, I’ll be making new save files so I can keep all my different designs. However, you do not need to create new save files to experiment with different builds. Pretty early on, you will unlock the option to reallocate your stats. This is very welcome in my opinion.
I also enjoyed playing around with the game’s photo mode. In fact, most of the screenshots you see in this review were made through the use of this mode. It gives you several options for taking some great photos, such as being able to change the field of view, set different filters, make your character invisible, and more. It’s a fun tool and I’m looking forward to seeing the creative ways people make use of it.
If you need the stats of certain equipment, but don’t like its appearance, there’s no need to worry. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty allows you to change the appearance of all your gear. I definitely made use of this feature throughout my playthrough, as I wasn’t always satisfied with how my gear looked by default. This will probably be great for online play as well, as players will be able to make their characters look unique.
Some Things About Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty I Don’t Like As Much
While I think Wo Long is a fantastic game, like most things, it has its flaws. Visually, the experience can get quite uneven. While outdoor locations can look great, interiors often suffer from poor lighting and lackluster assets. The solid art direction generally makes up for the game’s somewhat dated visuals, but these interiors could feel like something out of a PS3 game.
Another thing I have to point out is how the game runs on PC. Now, a day one patch could make this all irrelevant, but the build I played definitely had issues. Frame pacing was all over the place and I would get strange performance drops. For the vast majority of my time, I was playing this game on a rig with an RTX 3070, a Ryzen 7 3700X, and 32GB of RAM, so my hardware wasn’t the issue. Strangely enough, however, most of my issues (but not all) were fixed by attempting to interact with the game’s online features such as co-op and invasions. The game could be fine on consoles for all I know and this could get fixed very soon, but it would feel irresponsible of me to not mention it.
I’ve already mentioned that the story isn’t amazing, but it’s not the main draw of the game and I don’t think it’s trying to be. Despite this, it’s worth noting the voice acting. To put it nicely, The voice performances feel like they’re from a bygone era of gaming. It’s almost endearing in a way, especially when you hear the voice of Eggman (Mike Pollock) as the tyrannical warlord Dong Zhuo. I like Mike Pollock, but you can tell the voice direction is lacking.
A Rewarding Journey
While I did beat Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, I still have yet to master it. My first playthrough lasted me around 45 hours, completing main missions as well as some side content. However, I can already tell that my subsequent playthroughs will be shorter since my skill has improved, and am now familiar with level layouts, but this is not a bad thing. I’m very much looking forward to cutting down my playthrough times as I master the game’s mechanics and create more optimal builds.
If you have access to Xbox Game Pass, you will be able to play Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty as soon as the game releases. For those who are still on the fence, this will be a great option to experience the game. However, if you don’t have Game Pass and still want to try out the game before you commit to a purchase, fortunately, there is an option for you. A demo is available to play right now on all platforms. We will also be putting out some guides for Wo Long to help out with your playthrough if you decide to play the game.
I really loved my time with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. It’s a game I still can’t put down after completing it. While there is still a long way until the end of 2023, I think that this game could potentially be a serious game-of-the-year contender for me. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty might not be for everyone, but it is an excellent action experience for those who are up for the challenge. Even if the game seems intimidating, at the very least I strongly recommend giving it a try.
Disclaimer: Koei Tecmo provided Final Weapon with a copy of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty for review purposes.