What do you get when you cross Team Ninja’s signature Nioh combat with learnings from FromSoftware’s Sekiro? You get Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a fantastic new fast-paced souls-like, set in warring Three Kingdoms China.
While Nioh and Nioh 2 were set in late feudal Japan, the move to China for Wo Long is similarly based in a specific historical period – one that is no stranger to video games, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There is a story to the game, but if you’re looking for the deep, complex, often vague storytelling of a Dark Souls or Elden Ring then you’ve come to the wrong place. The narrative is serviceable, but like Team Ninja’s Nioh games, ultimately boils down to “go along relatively linear paths fighting everyone you come across, human, undead or demon.”
The combat has always been the centre of Team Ninja’s games anyway, and Wo Long is no different. It makes interesting tweaks and changes to the core soulsborne / action adventure combat to keep it fresh, with a focus on reaction times.
While there is a standard block button, combat in Wo Long focuses on deflection, which is like a parry in other games. You deflect attacks to build up your strengths and decrease your enemies, which allows you to unleash more powerful moves such as unique martial arts moves, wizardry and powerful divine beast attacks.
It all adds up to a complex web of moves that rewards both patience and quickly reacting to enemy movements, while punishing spamming attacks, as quick as they are.
It was always gratifying to correctly counter enemy power moves and follow them up with a life-draining spirit attack. There are so many paths to take though, skills to learn and spells to assign that it can become overwhelming quite quickly. I’m sure as time goes by the meta will evolve but playing the game blind it can be difficult to see what works well with what.
Overall, once you gel with combat, with a weapon you like and skills that make sense for you, combat is extremely satisfying. I found myself setting challenges for how long I could go without using a healing flask or how many flag markers I could unlock, all down to the ability to play large chunks of the game without taking significant damage, if you can play well. And given how small most areas were, death wasn’t the obstacle it could have been, though some paths to bosses were a bit long or full of enemies for my liking.
There is online multiplayer as well, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to try that during my review as I couldn’t find other matchmade players to partner with.
Unlike the open world of Elden Ring or the interconnected areas of Dark Souls, Wo Long is set in distinct levels – regions and combat scenarios that focus on something unique. In each of these levels you’ll have an ally or allies specific to that area. You can command them to attack enemies and they will draw aggro, leaving you free to attack.
Given how specific timings are for deflection, I actually found it more difficult at times to have an ally or allies in the combat mix, making enemy actions more difficult to see and react to. Allies will also trigger enemies that you might be trying to avoid or sneak up on, getting you into situations that might have best been avoided.
In an interesting move, a “Morale Rank” level resets at each stage, and goes up as you unlock major checkpoints and more minor flag markers. Gear level and character level are separate, these stay the same, but otherwise this acts like Destiny’s power levelling where if you are under your enemies level they will damage you more and you will damage them less.
I’m sure there will be excellent level 0 speedruns of the game but for most sane people you’ll want to unlock every flag and marker on the map to even the odds, especially against each area’s bosses. This encourages a deep exploration of each zone, which felt great to me as someone who has always, on balance, preferred the exploration to the bosses.
You’ll also gain Moral Ranks by using your full set of capabilities against enemies, though it will reset down to a “base” level following your defeat. It encourages scrupulous play, but also lets you outrank normal enemies and even bosses, making them much easier than before.
Gear remains an unsolved problem for Team Ninja. As in their previous titles, you’ll be picking up literally hundreds of pieces of swords, armour, upgrade materials and more. Your inventory will quickly fill up with all of these pieces and it is difficult to understand what they all are, what build options they provide and how they integrate with each other. I found I kept the same gear sets on for probably too long.
Graphically, Wo Long unfortunately doesn’t impress.
It appears to be using the same basic tech stack as Nioh and Nioh 2, which has aged somewhat since those games’ release. Honestly, the basic visuals don’t get in the way too much and once you’re in the heat of the action the focus is on the combat anyway. Still, Team Ninja’s next game will need some work put into it, especially as it leaves behind this extended cross-gen period.
I wasn’t impressed with the PC port either, with very basic graphical options and ways to tweak the experience. It does support ultra-widescreen which is nice, but there is no support for any upscaling technology such as FSR2 or DLSS2 / 3.
There’s no ray tracing support and the graphical options that are there appear to scale only slightly above the premium current gen consoles. I experienced a number of complete crashes that interrupted some boss fights where I might have had a chance to win. A final issue was that no matter what controller was connected the PC Game Pass version of Wo Long showed only PlayStation 5 button prompts.
That said, it is fantastic to play Wo Long at higher than 60FPS frame rates, especially with the game’s focus on precise input timings. Going back to the console versions, especially the 30FPS PS4 / Xbox One versions was a dramatically downgraded experience. Playing at ultra-wide 1440p with my RTX 3070, I locked to 90FPS at highest settings, all of which made for a great way to play the game.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels like Team Ninja’s reaction to feedback from the punishingly-difficult Nioh 2, which was truly for the hardcore. There are so many quality of life upgrades here that make it a great jumping in point for players who might otherwise be put off by the Nioh games’ reputation.
I personally found it a much easier game, with more options at your disposal to counter the exceedingly tough enemies, if you wanted to put the time into it. Now, that’s not to say it’s easy – I died plenty during my time with Wo Long, but overall I didn’t struggle as I have with other Team Ninja titles. It is accessible within the frameworks of tough action games, and hey it’s on Xbox Game Pass so if you wanted to dip your toes in then it’s right there for you. Just know that the first boss is quite tough, so I encourage you to persist past him to see the rest of the game.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is out now on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles, as well as PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Released: March 2023
Platforms reviewed: Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo