REVIEW: ‘Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’ is the Most Fun I’ve Had While Failing (XSX)

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Wo Long Fallen Dynasty — But Why Tho (3)

Published by KOEI TECMO America and developed by Team NINJA, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a souls-like RPG that brings beautiful environments, fantastic character designs, a phenomenal score, and some of the best combat gameplay I’ve experienced in awhile. The game follows a nameless militia soldier fighting for survival in a dark fantasy version of the Later Han Dynasty in China. There, demons plague the Three Kingdoms as does the Yellow Turban Rebellion. That’s where you find yourself, in a pillaged village in the Xu Province. Near death, you meet a young man who gives you a Jade amulet, healing you of your wounds and starting you on your path, and throwing you in the middle of a vicious rivalry between warring factions. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty players use swordplay based on the Chinese martial arts against increasingly difficult battles.

I’m going to be very honest. I died 63 times against Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty‘s first boss…and that’s just when I started talking. Excited about the game’s take on Chinese Mythology, Ninja Team, and just how gorgeous it looked, to say that I was woefully unprepared for the game’s souls-like genre is an understatement. I died over and over and over, and yet, I didn’t get angry. You see I’ve tried to play souls games before, but each one added anger to each death. However, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has a number of mechanics that are built to help push you further once you master them.

The first of which is that you can parry every, and I do mean every, boss’s critical hit. Instead of having to guess or learn a new fight mechanic for each fight, Wo Long wants you to parry and parry often. When you do this, you negate damage and you cause the boss’s soul gage to fill and ultimately cause them to stagger, allowing you to perform a special that substantially deals damage. Once you master the parry or can at least hit it two out of three times, you’re mostly golden. While this allows you to easily master boss fights, it also means that the combat is heavily dependent on calmly reacting to the enemy instead of pressing buttons continually. A bad parry attempt is the difference between beating the boss and dying repeatedly.

While that happened to me in the first boss which almost made me stop playing the game, there are other ways to handle a tough boss. While you can’t change the difficulty, you can take advantage of the Genuine Qi system. As you kill enemies, you gain Qi, with more coming from those you get revenge on, meaning you kill them after they’ve defeated you. You then use Genuine Qi to increase any of your Five Virtues Values: Wood Virtue (HP), Fire Virtue (Attack), Earth Virtue (Equipment weight limit), Metal Virtue (Spirit), and Water Virtue (Stealth). So to put it simply, if you’re stuck, you can farm to increase your level in any of the virtues (Wood was the way to go for me) until you feel comfortable enough to progress. That said, increasing your level doesn’t make you indestructible, but it does move you from being killed by one missed parry of a critical hit to three depending on what you increase. Additionally, the ability to do this is balanced out by the fact that each level requires an increasing amount of Genuine Qi.

Additionally, the fact that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty uses a Morale Rank system, you know exactly the level of enemies you’re getting into, which can be a mixture of low ranks and even high ones. As you defeat opponents, you gain morale. As you get hit you lose morale, and when you get defeated your Morale Rank plummets, only staying above zero if you’ve increased your Foritifue by planting Battle Flags. For the particularly difficult bosses and mobs, spending time increasing your rank before fighting them can allow you an edge against an enemy (particularly mini-bosses) to help you on your way, even if you’re struggling.

All of these things worked together to turn what could have been a frustrating and controller-breaking experience into something I wanted to keep playing, even after I rolled credits. The truth is, the hours and fast combo combat usually does a number on my joints when I play, but here, there were enough elements to encourage you to slow down your button speed and respond to attackers that it allowed me time to breathe and to relax. I won’t speak to the state of souls games, but Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has set me on a path to explore them all.

On top of a balanced combat system that manages to give you ample tools to make it through even the most daunting of bosses, the variety of weapons also helps you figure out what combat style fits how you play or what combat style best fits the boss that you’re facing. With 13 weapons categories, you can choose between, swords, straight sabres, curved sabres, spears, slashing spears, glaives, halberds, staffs, dual swords, dual sabres, dual halberds, poleaxes, and hammers. Not to mention, that each weapon has its own unique set of movements that keeps them all unique. For me, while I tried every sword, the straight sabres did what I wanted with them. With the ability to equip a primary and secondary melee weapon, throwing weapons, and primary and secondary ranged weapons, you have a lot to work with in terms of exploring combat.

Additionally, while you may become fond of a weapon that you can upgrade over time, each weapon you pick up from enemies or hidden chests also sometimes has different spirit attacks (one or two) that usually warrant at least testing out. The variation of combat from normal attacks, spirit attacks, and martial arts is what keeps you engaged in the fight even if you’re fighting the same boss. Combining each of these in different combinations allows you to find the best way to stagger the boss or interrupt their attacks.

But physical combat isn’t the only way that you can fight enemies in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. The game also features Wizardry Spells that can be leveled and changed out in relation to the Five Virtues. While increasing levels increase the number of points you have to spend to climb the Wizardry Spells skill trees, there is a certain level of complexity. While some skill trees usually result in needing an increasing number of points to allocate, Wo Long works a little differently. Yes, more skill points result in being able to unlock new skills, but some skills are locked behind your level in each of the Five Virtues.

For example, in order to use Absorb Vitality (an extremely useful lifesteal spell) you need to have at least three points in Wood Virtue before it can be used in battle. Additionally, certain spells also require you to have a minimum Morale Rank as well. This pushes you to adjust your play style in each section of the game since your Morale Rank repeatedly resets as you progress to new areas. As you move farther in the game, you’re also given a Divine Beast that can be summoned and honestly get you out of tough situations, with each one representing a different element of Chinese mythology.

Wo Long Fallen Dynasty — But Why Tho (3)

To sum up combat, it’s all about balance. It’s extremely difficult, but once you get a hold of it and understand how to explore the maps to make the most out of raising your morale rank, it becomes near perfection. While the first boss took me around four days to finish —yes, I admit it— each subsequent area only took me between three and five hours to complete while trying to find every boss, Battle Flag, and Marking Flag. Exploring each area this way is the best way to play in my opinion because finding all of these set you up for success.

As each enemy gets layered on top of the next, you’re pushed to adapt to each style as you play. First starting with soldiers, then demon-possessed corpses, demon tigers, demon birds, witches, giants hogs, and more, you have to pay attention to the enemy in order to defeat it, whether it’s a mob, mini-boss, or main boss. Additionally, because of how intricate the level designs are, you’re encouraged to keep finding more places on the map.

While you’re searching for Marking Flags though make sure you keep an eye out for the most adorable little demon: the Shitieshou. A friendly demon, dropping materials or gear in front of this little guy has the opportunity to yield big help when he gives you higher-level items. It is easy to get turned around in each area, following marked paths with yellow or white will help you find your way, and turning every corner and platforming every scaffold will help you get the most out of the game.

Each boss introduces you to new movement styles and Critical Strike animations to prepare you for larger battles. So this is the spot in my review where I implore you to fight each and every boss you can find because it pays off. Collecting each Battle Flag increases your fortitude rank (allowing you to keep from resetting your Morale Rank entirely) and gives you a checkpoint, respawning you at the most recently planted flag. And finally, Marking Flags increase your fortitude but are hidden throughout the environments and not always easily accessible.

While I didn’t play Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s multiplayer, the battlefields you walk through are littered with Burial Flags. The Vengeance System in the game allows you to see where other players have died, marked with flags. When you approach one of the flags, you have the option to use a Dragon’s Cure Pot which grants the player a buff that increases your Morale Rank by two for 30 seconds. This asynchronous online element of the game has some impact with each enemy labeled as a Vengeance Target giving higher item drops than normal enemies, giving accolades, and Tiger Seals when defeated. Not to mention it also offers a satisfying payoff when you manage to defeat a mini-boss surrounded by Burial Flags.

Wo Long Fallen Dynasty — But Why Tho (3)

Truly, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s combat and RPG execution is what make it stunning. It managed to convert me into a souls game lover, and that is because of the beauty of balance you see thoughtfully created in every interlocking element. That said, another amazing element of the game is the character creator which I spent about an hour in. With the ability to completely customize colors for every element, the variation of skin tone was a thoughtful choice as was not gender-locking character elements like facial hair. That said, while the hair customization allows you to do more than just select from pre-made hairstyles, there are few options for Black hairstyles, continuing a trend that spans every game type.

Stepping back and looking at the game, the only critique I have is how simple the narrative is. Driven by Chinese Mythology, the actual story is rather simple and sticks to a narrative structure that means you can see what’s coming next in it from a mile away. Additionally, the English voice acting is paced awkwardly to the speed of the dialogue and doesn’t always match the tone of the scene. But both of these things are small in comparison to how stellar every other part of the game is.

Overall, I have never died so many times and still been excited to jump back in and die again. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty may be my first completed souls-like, but it won’t be my last. If your game can launch someone into a new genre they used to avoid, it’s safe to say you’ve done something extraordinary—and Team Ninja has. And with the title available day one on Xbox Game Pass, this is absolutely a game to pick up regardless if you’re new to souls games and RPGs.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is available on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4|5, and PC.


Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

I have never died so many times, and still been excited to jump back in and die again. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty may be my first completed soulslike, but it won’t be my last. If your game can launch someone into a new genre they used to avoid, it’s safe to say you’ve done something extraordinary—and Team Ninja has.

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