Team Ninja, well known for its intense games, ranging from Ninja Gaiden to Nioh and Fire Emblem Warriors, has decided to bring players back to their universe of the Three Kingdoms with both punishing and painful game in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. This one is also developed and published by Koei Tecmo.
Wo Long’s Got His Work Cut Out
Set in the Han Dynasty era, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty invites players to journey through the universe of the Three Kingdoms in a fictionalized and very dark story. Your role as a warrior will be to defeat the forces of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, a major peasant revolt at the end of the 2nd century. This rebellion will be both dark and sinister and will put you to the test against fiersome demons and other creatures inspired by Chinese folklore.
With multiple familiar historical characters fighting alongside you, you will have to defeat noble heroes corrupted by demonic Ki.
The story of the game, both deep and well-told, will take you through many moments of this universe, either through the different protagonists or even that of the antagonists. Using well-animated moments or sublime well-narrated sequences, you will immediately be immersed in this universe that will only want one thing: to devour you again and again.
Fast and stiff gameplay
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a game that is very reminiscent of Nioh and even Sekiro: Shadows Dies Twice with unforgiving gameplay. Moreover, certain areas of Wo Long will inevitably make you remember one of these two games without any hesitation.
With a runtime of around 12 hours to successfully get through the main story, Wo Long has a lot of additional content, like its secondary missions, its New Game+ mode as well as the fact of being able to play with friends or even invade others in order to put an end to their misery.
The different maps are very linear and not hugely large. That said, as in all good Souls-like, enemies are waiting for you in every corner, even those you least expect. Each map also has the same structure and model: that of the miniboss, the stronger-than-average miniboss as well as the final boss of the map. The more powerful monster is completely optional but, on the other hand, the miniboss, as well as the final boss, are mandatory.
Wo Long introduces you to each miniboss and boss in a fairly tight arena with a great cutscene that’s bound to scare you away from these huge creatures the first time you see them. On this point, Team Ninja clearly did not skimp.
The various enemies, while perhaps lacking in diversity in my opinion, are both simple and dangerous. One wrong move could be your downfall if you hadn’t paid attention to your assailant or the other lurking in the shadows. If, on the other hand, you spend your time being beaten, there is also the possibility of travelling to go back to another area, allowing you to accumulate Ki in order to level up on the different outposts that you will have released. Of course, if you rest at an outpost, enemies will reappear on the map, ready to take you down.
You can also, thanks to this travel system, go to the blacksmith to improve your weapons and armour and then pick up where you left off, without having lost any progress. This can clearly be an advantage if you don’t feel strong enough to face what will be in front of you.
Nioh with a bit of Sekiro
Wo Long has a very stiff and nervous gameplay system, but one of his particularities is the insertion of the spirit gauge rather than a stamina gauge. This gauge, which your opponents also have, allows you to disturb the enemy’s spirit if it is broken, allowing you at the same time the possibility of performing a blow that can be fatal. If, on the other hand, the enemy breaks your gauge, you will be stunned for a few seconds, thus, leaving the field open for your opponent to hit you without you being able to defend yourself.
This is a bit reminiscent of the stance system in Sekiro: Shadows Dies Twice, actually.
This same spirit gauge will also be used to use the special techniques of your weapons as well as the different spells that you can unlock according to the five phases of Ki which are composed of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These five elements of Yin and Yang respect the fact that the earth blocks water, which extinguishes fire, which melts metal which cuts wood and compresses the earth with its roots. It’s really a very interesting system that can leave room for many combinations, especially against the different bosses you will face.
Spells are nevertheless very expensive and can take a long time to use, especially when the creature in front of you strikes several times within two or three seconds. I must admit that, for my part, I preferred to use my gauge to chain the special attacks of my weapons, which forced me to equip myself accordingly, of course.
Your gauge fills up when you hit your enemies or you manage to parry the blows, but each time an enemy manages to hit you, your gauge decreases until it breaks, which will prevent you from using the different attacks or the few spells that you will have on hand. Your only way to not lose your spirit is therefore to deflect your opponents’ attacks, which requires you to press the button at the right fraction of a second, which can be very difficult at times. You also have the option of blocking the blows at any time, which reduces the damage inflicted and lowers your spirit gauge slightly, but at the speed where everything is played, I’ll be honest: I hardly ever worry about using it.
You will also be able, as you progress in the adventure, to unlock summoned spirits that will come to support you when the summoning gauge is filled. Some will damage opponents while others will temporarily heal you or boost your stats. Also, there will be the possibility of having resonance effects. These invocations are really very beautiful and will be offered to you after each oath of allegiance is obtained.
Another very important point is the morality system. Enemies have a morale level, and the higher it is, the harder they will be to defeat. This applies to you as well. At the start of each mission, you start with zero morale and with each defeated enemy, the gauge will increase for a certain period of time. Placing pennants and opening outposts will raise your base morale level, so you don’t have to reset morale every time you die. For enemies, if you manage to kill certain creatures, such as wizards who cast incantations on groups, you will reduce their morale.
Finally, there is also the system of courage and revenge. You will find purplish-coloured flags on the ground, a sign that a player has died. If you decide to avenge this player, the creature you’ll face will be slightly stronger, offering a challenge to the player. On the other hand, if you are killed by a non-boss creature, that creature will have a golden halo on its level above its head, indicating that it is much stronger and is the actual target to exact your revenge.
I love the concept that comes with this because, although we level up directly on our character, facing a boss with low morale can make your fight very painful.
Wo Long’s got some issues to face
Wo Long is unfortunately very repetitive in several aspects. The creatures we encounter are often the same, except for a few weapons they hold. The environments all have the same mechanics but only the scenery varies. The maps are not very big, although they have many nooks and crannies and everything is very dark, sometimes even too much.
The morale system, I love it! But it can also be a negative element because it will often happen that you want to go through some corridor and you find yourself in front of troops who have a much higher morale than yours, forcing you to turn back to try to find a place where to put your pennant or an outpost to rest.
The skill tree is good but, alas, I find the choice of weapons and armour to be very average. You will have light, medium, and heavy equipment but the only real differences will be in the stats. There are about ten weapons, ranging from the samurai sword to the heavy hammer, including the double halberds and the crossbow. So you very often collect the same pieces of equipment, over and over again, with a different star level and a few different bonuses as well.
The other negative aspect is at the level of the camera angle because, at times, it will remain stuck because obstacles will prevent it from taking its proper place. When you’re in a boss fight and the boss hits you five or six times in the space of two seconds, believe me: you don’t want the camera to go off at an angle that will cause your opponent to go out of sight.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an excellent Souls-like that brings a good dose of adrenaline and will make you swear many times. Where I may have experienced some disappointment was the idea of seeing how Nioh and Nioh 2 are great games and was maybe expecting more from Wo Long. I have a vague feeling that this new title from Team Ninja is a bit too similar in several aspects. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was expecting something much more evolved.
Don’t worry, the game has very good foundations but may lack polishment, especially in terms of equipment and environments. If you like facing hordes of enemies at lightning speed where the redneck hiding in the shadows kills you with a throwing dagger without you realizing it or facing colossal monsters that will kill you after three hits, you will be served. The fights are really solid and this is clearly my favourite part of the game as well as its story.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5