Soulslike has become a genre of its own, but it does a disservice to the developers that simply take inspiration from FromSoftware’s seminal franchises, and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty does more than tip its hat. In fact, developers Team Ninja has successfully carved their own place in the genre, while adding their own creative strokes. Despite its technical issues and initially confusing mechanics, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty rises up to the occasion.
Familiar Setting, Decent Story
The premise of Wo Long is fundamentally placed within Chinese lore and mythology. If you ever played any previous installment of Dynasty Warriors, you’ll recognize a lot of the characters in Wo Long. That familiarity immediately jumped out to me, especially since they are recurring in other forms of media as well. Team Ninja has taken the success Koei Tecmo’s other franchise and naturally embedded them into Wo Long. Though with a more supernatural twist to it.
When it comes to the narrative of Wo Long, it’s nothing special but did enough to keep me engaged with it. But in order not to spoil it, we will just provide the general gist of the game’s conflict. In a nutshell, people would consume a mysterious elixir that was supposed to give the drinker immense power but instead turned them into demons causing mayhem throughout the realm. The protagonist is out to find the source of who concocted the elixirs and bring them to justice.
Despite the simple premise, the game’s narrative was compelling enough to pique my curiosity. Though the narrative was ill-conveyed. As a comparison, Sekiro’s narrative is also explained in a similar fashion. Though FromSoftware did a slightly better job of conveying the plot compared to Wo Long. So, if you enjoyed the story beats from Sekiro, chances are you’ll likely enjoy Wo Long‘s narrative too.
Graphics and Art Style
Wo Long’s art style is generally good overall. There are a lot of dark and grim areas throughout the game, which helped present an evil and desperate atmosphere. Wo Long boasts some impressive special effects, especially for the elemental attacks, and silky smooth animations as well. Character models looked impressive overall and were well-detailed. Especially the boss character models that were highly detailed and had some impressive animations.
During your journey, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes you to different biomes that truly add variety. Locations are impressive such as include a snow-covered area to feudal Chinese castles engulfed in flames. It helped create a varied, yet consistently dark aesthetic that serviced the atmosphere Wo Long was going for. Usually, in soulslike games, it’s hard to find a title that has decent character/boss models, animations, and diverse settings. Fortunately, Wo Long offers all of those aspects in spades.
Performance Issues in Wo Long
Let’s not beat around the bush, but the performance of Wo Long is its Achilles heel. The Xbox Series X version of the game was tested, and there were multiple instances of stuttering. During the playthrough, there were several crashes as well that have to be mentioned as well.
Performance issues were common during intense scenes where a lot of things were happening on the screen at the same time. For instance, a lot of enemies and special effects from fire, ice, or poison areas preluded crashes. Though, it was not the biggest nuisance during the review, if you are interested in picking up the game, monitor if any new patches are available to address the game’s performance.
In hindsight, the game performed well for around 85-90% of the time during our playthrough. Though for the remaining 10-15%, there were random pauses that would occur. You could either wait for the game to resume on its own, or what most likely happened, the game would crash to the dashboard. But these issues were not persistent enough to warrant detracting from the game. Especially when it comes to Soulslike titles, the gameplay is the main foundation of its draw, which is true in Team Ninja’s latest offering.
Team Ninja has outdone itself when it comes to gameplay. It is by the far the strongest gameplay showing yet. Previously, Ni-Oh had a floaty feel to it, and luckily, Wo Long does not suffer from that floaty feel. The combat was fast fluid and responsive. You felt your inputs immediately reflect on the screen. It’s a testament to see Team Ninja up its game when it comes to combat. Unfortunately, Wo Long does include an infamous Team Ninja trait of including an overwhelming amount of weapons and gear.
Overwhelming Gear and Solid Transmog
To say there are a lot of weapons and gear in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an understatement. It is mind-boggling navigating through the menus and see long lists of weapons, armor, and accessories. Options are one thing, but overwhelming players with so many gear options is too much. Even games like Elden Ring, which provide plenty of different gear and weapon setups, have streamlined their build options in a manageable way. But seeing all the options in Wo Long disheartened any enthusiasm to experiment with different builds.
On the flip side, one thing that Team Ninja brilliantly implemented was its transmog system. The feature helps keep your character’s look consistent to the way you want it without having to equip gear with unattractive stats. Overall, Wo Long’s transmog system was well implemented and a quality-of-life feature that more games should implement.
Epic Boss Fights
Kudos to Team Ninja for creating well-designed boss fights. There were occasionally repeated boss designs, but it wasn’t for one of the main bosses in the game. But for the most part, each main-story boss felt unique and provided a hefty challenge to overcome. However, there was one boss – cough Lu Bu cough – that will push players to the brink.
Lu Bu was particularly frustrating. Instead of giving up on the playthrough, it’s best to hunker down and learn to parry his moveset and the best ways to attack and counter to defeat the legendary boss. Truth be told, these types of fights are what soulslike games are famous for, despite the likelihood of raging at the screen. In true soulslike fashion, this is what Wo Long successfully pulled off. Each boss encounter was a fair fight. There was no feeling that the game was working against players, instead, it encourages you to overcome an obstacle to achieve sweet victory. Now the same can’t be said about the game’s stealth mechanics.
Inconsistent Stealth Mechanics in Wo Long
The game’s stealth system felt like an afterthought. Without trying to confuse our readers with too many details about stats, stealth had a lot to do with what stat you level up. There are 5 different element tiles (i.e., water, fire) for you to level up. Each element is linked to specific abilities. Stealth is directly tied to the water tile. If you want to improve your stealth abilities, this was the only way to do it. In a way, this limited experiment with stealth builds as it is locked away in the water element tile.
Strangely enough, the game does not have a crouch mechanic. Meaning that stealth occurs when standing only, which is bizarre. Enemies walk certain paths and the inability of being able to fine-tune your movement speed is a hindrance to the game’s stealth mechanics. It felt like the stealth aspects of the game were not fully thought out. Unlike Sekiro, which has a dedicated crouch button and it works well to complement its stealth mechanics.
The Fortitude and Morality Systems Can be Confusing at First
When you first play Wo Long, you might get overwhelmed by the number of different systems found in the game. Especially when it comes to the Fortitude and Morality systems. The Morality system helps indicate your level vis-a-vis your enemies. You level your morality level when you defeat enemies in the game. in Wo Long, it accumulates into a bar that goes up to a maximum level of 25. For example, if your morality level is 20 and enemies around you are level 15, that means players will be stronger.
The Fortitude system works in tandem with the Morality system, but it is leveled in a different way. Players increase their Fortitude level by planting flags in certain locations that appear to act like typical bonfires from Dark Souls. But in reality, they are related to the game’s Fortitude system. When you die, your morality system resets to the level of your Fortitude level. For example, if your Fortitude level is 15 and you die with a Morality level of 18, your Mortality level resets at your Fortitude level, which in this example is 15.
Expect to be confused when you first play Wo Long. There are too many systems being played simultaneously. Add on top of that the overwhelming gear system and it can be jarring at first. Though later on in the game, players will begin to understand the design decisions behind these systems. In actuality, it’s a smart system that helps gauge your level to your enemies, though it may be confusing at first.
Final Thoughts on Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Despite the game’s technical shortcomings and confusing mechanics, Wo Long was a tremendous journey from start to finish. The game sports intuitive and tight combat and has some of the most epic boss fights that will push you to your limits. Though not at the level of FromSoftware titles, Wo Long is a step in the right direction and is diligently carving its own place among its peers.
Wo Long releases on March 3 and is available on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S. It is also available day one on Xbox Game Pass.
Note – An Xbox Series X code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.