Team Ninja, the development team that gave the world some of the best games ever, with Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive (I said what I said!), and more recently Nioh, is back again with yet another surefire hit, and ironically, a spin-off of the Nioh series. Introducing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, which feels like Nioh but isn’t, and does things that Nioh only wishes it could. Maybe I sound like a fanboy because I’m completely hooked on this game, as you’ll find out why in this review.
Game Name: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation, Xbox Series X|S (Reviewed)
Publisher(s): Koei Tecmo
Developer(s): Team Ninja
Release Date: March 3, 2023
There will be several similarities drawn between Wo Long Fallen Dynasty and the Nioh series (and quite frankly, there are), while at the same time, things are entirely different. The thing is that this isn’t Nioh, and there are fundamental changes that separate the two games. This is not a Nioh 3, but it easily could have been. Instead, it’s as if Team Ninja wanted to try new things, but not without distressing fans of Nioh. Regardless of this, Wo Long, at least in my eyes, is a good spin-off and has enough for fans of Nioh as something different and not a bad thing.
Koei Tecmo is obsessed with the Three Kingdoms because we’re back there again. Only this time, it’s a dark, fantasy version that is heavy on Chinese folklore, with lots of monsters and demons. The story is interesting to follow, and I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s say you’re a militia soldier who has this incredible power, and now it’s up to you to stop all the wrongdoing. No pressure!
Hello there, good-looking
Immediately jumping into the game, players can create their character with the robust character creation tool. After playing around with it for a while, I can safely say it’s on the same level as the one found in Nioh 2. Though I did feel that some of the hair wasn’t as textured as those in Nioh 2. There are so many options to choose from; I’m sure that once the game is available, we’ll see masterpieces as people attempt to recreate their favorite anime characters, themselves, or some very off-the-wall stuff. I kid you not; I spent 30 minutes trying to create a character who looked like me. These creators have way too many options, but you won’t catch me complaining about them.
You can also customize the battle flags that you’ll plant at the checkpoints you’ll encounter (more on those later).
It’s all about that sexy gameplay
You’re able to equip up to two melee weapons, and two ranged weapons at a time. With the melee weapons, you’re able to attack, perform a special spirit attack, and also deflect just about any attack that comes your way. You can also guard, but doing so will deplete your spiritual bar and leave you wide open to attack. There’s also a Deflect Counter move that not only lets you deflect an attack but also swaps out weapons simultaneously. Think of it similarly to the Ki-Pulse from Nioh. Early on, it’s a risky move, but as you practice it, it really changes the way you view the combat in Wo Long. It can enable you to swap out weapons on the fly, pulling out the meaty weapons when needed while using a much-needed deflection.
While attacking is mostly handled by a single button, you do have access to a spirit attack button that eats away at your enemy’s spirit gauge. Use it enough, and you’ll leave them open for a spectacular attack that does massive damage and will differ depending on which weapon you’re using at the time. It’s also a double-edged sword. If you use it too much, you’ll run out of spirit gauge resources, and if you get hit, you’ll be put into a momentarily weakened state.
The resource system used in the game is similar to that of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Instead of utilizing something like FP or something along those lines, what we end up with is the spirit gauge mechanic that requires you to be aggressive while managing what abilities you use: spells, special attacks, and, yes, even deflecting attacks. This spirit gauge has two ends, the left, which is orange, and the right, which is blue. By default, the bar is neutral, meaning you can attack and get overload the spirit bar, giving you as much spirit as you need, or you can just sit idle and spam your abilities, putting yourself into the negative.
In other words, be aggressive but also pay attention!
The thing here is that the spirit gauge system is very generous, and even if you put yourself into the negative, as long as you have even the tiniest bit of spirit gauge available, you can still manage to squeeze off something. It’s only when the orange portion of the spirit bar is glowing that you’ll have to wait until it stops glowing or start hitting regular attacks until you push it into the blue. It’s an interesting mechanic, and once I got the hang of it, I preferred it more than what’s found in other games.
While there aren’t any Guardian Spirits from Nioh, we do have Divine Beasts, which work in a similar fashion. They can be summoned to perform an attack or special ability, or another ability called resonation. Resonation is just a fancy way of saying that the Divine Beast can imbue your character with various effects, which will differ depending on which Divine Beast you have equipped. For example, the first Divine Beast you gain access to is Qilin, whose resonation ability applies stone damage on a weapon, decreases damage taken, and increases your spirit recovery for as long as the resonation is active.
Lastly, there’s no damned stamina! I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate this mechanic and how I wish more games would just do away with it. I hate it in Dark Souls, I hate it in Nioh 2, I hate it in general. I’m immensely grateful that Team Ninja has done away with it with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty — another thing borrowed from Sekiro.
Plenty of stuff to collect
Throughout the game, you’ll come across various weapons and armor that will provide various different amounts of protection and perks. Unlike some games, it won’t just be about how much power a weapon provides or how much protection the gear affords you, but also which type of martial arts, which are powerful attacks that use spirit gauge resources, and perks it granted me. Not every weapon, nor weapon type, will be the same, so you’ll be constantly trying to maximize your damage output.
There were plenty of times I took a much weaker weapon or armor over a stronger one due to perks and its martial arts. Sure, those pieces eventually required me to replace them, but thankfully, there’s also a blacksmith-type person located on specific levels who could upgrade just about any item, as long as you have the materials and the gold for it.
Should I block or deflect?
For those who didn’t like FromSoftware’s Sekiro due to the parry mechanic being a major part of the game. You couldn’t progress if you didn’t master it, and you’re going to be in the same position here. Heck, I think that being able to deflect on cue is definitely something that will cause people more of a conniption here. You simply need to master this skill as soon as possible, or you’re not beating the first boss, let alone the number of enemies you’ll encounter in the first level.
Thankfully, the deflect window is much more forgiving than it was in the first demo for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. It’s also not an exaggeration when I say that you can literally deflect anything. At one time, I saw an arrow being shot at me, I panicked and tried to dodge it, but ended up deflecting it. I then decided to try to deflect everything, and so far, I haven’t found much that couldn’t be deflected.
Sure, you can also block, but doing so takes up precious spirit gauge resources, which, if you block too often, will leave you in a bad state. You also can’t block critical hits, while you can deflect them.
You are not alone
If you’ve played the newly released demo for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, you’d notice that now you have various computer-controlled, historical figures that will join you throughout the demo. Well, this also happens in the full game, and sometimes you’ll have up to two extra players fighting alongside you. While they’ll attack whatever they see, you can also instruct them on what to attack, and I felt that it cheapened the experience early on. After a while, I treated them as just an extra means of attacking, and they’re also useful when you need to peel enemies off of you, like when you need to heal.
You can get rid of them using an item called the Willow Branch. This will remove all of your companions so you can do everything on your own. Though, I preferred to keep my allies at my side.
The Morale Rank system separates this from anything
While the combat is challenging and deflecting is key to surviving, it’s the Morale Rank system that totally makes everything come together. Unlike other games where there’s progression-based leveling, in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, both the enemies and the player have a morale rank that dictates their power. By going around and bopping enemies on the head, you’ll eventually raise your morale rank. However, should you (and you will) encounter and defeat an enemy with a higher morale rank, which is shown over them before engaging, you’ll gain morale ranks faster. The higher your morale rank, the stronger you are.
By the same token, should you be defeated, your morale rank will drop, and the enemy who killed you will see their morale rank go up. Then you’ll either go find that enemy and defeat it for some sweet revenge and see your morale go back up. Sounds simple so far, right? Well, it isn’t. In addition to killing enemies for morale, you’ll also find a number of flag posts scattered across each level that, when found and capped, will increase your Fortitude Rank. Getting killed decreases your Morale Rank, but it will drop below your Fortitude Rank. This adds an incentive to seek out those flag posts, as those will increase your power and will ensure that despite dying multiple times, you won’t eventually gimp yourself.
The flag posts also function similarly to the bonfires found in Dark Souls; however, there are two different types of flag posts: Marking Flags and Battle Flags. While all of these will increase your Fortitude Rank, only the Battle Flags will let you reset the enemies, regain health, change your spells, and other important aspects.
Then, when you progress to another level, your morale and fortitude rank drop down to zero, requiring you to go seek out the flag posts on every new level. These flag posts on the earlier levels are usually in plain sight, but as you progress levels, they’ll be hidden and waiting for you. Some are hidden in rooms above or below you; others are hidden behind some bamboo that you didn’t even know you could cut down unless you tried it on a whim. Others are protected by high-level enemies that dare you to approach them.
It’s an incentive and also a challenge. You can find all the flag posts and get your levels up, or you can make a dash to the boss of the stage — it’s your call.
Just how long is this game
I originally posted that it took me around 13 hours to finish the game. This was basically me running from the start of the levels, fighting enough to get my morale up, finding several flag posts, and going straight to the boss, while skipping as many cinematics as I could. I want to stress that there’s a ton of content in this game and that NO ONE should be running through the game as I did. Enjoy it, search out the collectibles, do some co-op with others, play through the side missions, and upgrade your weapons so that you can earn some trophies or achievements.
Did you know there’s an achievement for reaching level 80? Yeah, I missed out on a lot of stuff, and I’m already back into the game, enjoying everything I didn’t on my first pass.
I find your performance lacking
The Xbox Series X|S version allows players to switch between a mode that prioritizes FPS and another that prioritizes resolution, though when playing through the resolution mode, I definitely noticed more frame rate drops, and it didn’t feel as consistent compared to playing the game with the performance mode. Regardless, I still noticed some frame rate drop when fighting off multiple enemies or when performing deflects, as they displayed lots of particle effects and lightning, regardless of which mode I used. Honestly, I didn’t see a big difference from playing in resolution mode, and I would rather get more frames per second using the frame rate mode.
I don’t want to make it seem like it’s a terrible port or that you should avoid the Xbox Series X|S version, as that’s not the case. It’s perfectly playable; I just wanted to point out that it doesn’t hold 60fps in either mode. Is that a bad thing? Not in my eyes, but at least you can say that we told you so.
Oh, and the game crashed several times. Why is that still a thing?
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is amazing fun. There, I said it. It’s no Nioh, but it feels like Team Ninja wanted to do something else, then used Wo Long as a testing bed and pulled it off. The action is fast-paced and solid, while the inclusion of the deflect spirit gauge, and the morale/fortitude system give players freedom and don’t force them into a cookie-cutter gameplay style. I also appreciate the level design, which really opens up once you get to the later levels; I literally got lost at times.
I know there are going to be people who call this a Soulslike, and while the similarities are there, I don’t think that Wo Long is. It feels more like an action-adventure game. Yeah, I know, games get tossed into the Soulslike genre all the time, but it’s how I feel.
It’s funny how a spin-off of the Nioh series ends up being as refreshing as it does, and I’m enjoying it more than the original series.
Please give us more, Team Ninja!
Review Disclosure Statement: Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review code was provided to us by Koei Tecmo for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a fantastic spin-off of the Nioh series. While it feels like Team Ninja had a checklist of features to borrow from other games, in the end, everything feels fresh and exciting. Despite the performance issues and the occasional annoyance of AI-controlled players, I found myself immersed in the game for hours. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty transcends being just a Soulslike or an action game; it’s a genuinely fun and enjoyable experience. Now, can we get a sequel, please
- Combat is an interesting mixture of Nioh and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
- Pulling off deflections is super satisfying and changes the combat dynamic when mastered.
- The moral and fortitude systems is both a blessing and a curse
- Interesting and unique-looking bosses (well, except that one)
- Sadly, the Xbox version drops frames, stutters occasionally, and has long load times.
- The moral and fortitude systems is both a blessing and a curse
- Some of these boss fights are a huge pain.