Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty - PS5 Review

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty by developer Team Ninja and publisher Koei TecmoSony PlayStation 5 review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty by Koei Tecmo's Team Ninja is a stellar Soulslike that easily raises the bar in the genre. Not afraid to tread into new territory, this adventure dives into Chinese history between the years of 184 to 200 AD, with fictional liberties of course, as you travel from battlefield to battlefield to protect the land from evil.

It would be easy to say that Wo Long is a great successor to Nioh / Nioh 2 however I don't think that would be a fair statement. While it may be the same team behind the experience, as well as that of Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, these two couldn't be more different. What makes Wo Long different from its predecessors isn't just the change in historical locations, but a change in the entire system. With a new system promoting a constant pushing forward, there’s an accessibility for new and old players alike that makes the whole experience more approachable and less aggravating than others out there.

Before getting into the actual elements of Wo Long, I think it’s fair to take a quick recap of what Soulslikes are. The core concept behind a Soulslike is easy, there is challenging gameplay and a penalty system in place if, and generally when, you fall in combat. We aren’t talking about game over and restarting from scratch a la old school NES days. Instead, we are generally talking about losing your leveling up currency that was on hand and that had not been used yet. Easing this penalty somewhat in Wo Long, the developers have reduced that loss to half of your current Qi that is on hand, not all of it. Once you make it back to the location of your death, an enemy that was present, the enemy that took you down or the boss room, you get that portion back as long as you don’t die again on your way to get it back.

As part of this system, mastering the core gameplay is fundamental to success and Wo Long nails it. Gone are the stamina bars and in their place is a tug of war system that lets you constantly stay in motion. Whether on the offensive hammering blow after blow at your enemy or on the defensive blocking attacks or dodging out of the way, this system can reward or penalize both you and your enemies alike. Landing successful blows will move your provided combat gauge to the right highlighted in blue. Blocking blows and performing dodges will move the combat gauge to the left highlighted in red. If the gauge makes it all the way to the left and you take a hit? You’ll be stunned and often open to some pretty nasty attacks.

So here is where things get interesting. I suck at parrying. I’m not just saying that, I really suck at parrying so the likes of seeing the credits of Sekiro or Thymesia will forever be outside of my reach. I have however gotten REALLY good at dodging thanks to Bloodborne which was my saving grace in Wo Long. The parry and the dodge button are one in the same, so with the constant flow of gameplay, well timed dodges can act as a parry to the incoming blows. Performing these in succession will move your combat gauge back to the right allowing you to perform more moves and abilities while also chipping away at an enemy’s combat gauge for devastating critical hits known here as Fatal Strikes.

Adding to your normal attacks that will move your gauge to the right, you have both martial arts and spells that will move the gauge to the left. Martial arts come specific to the weapon that you are using, not the weapon type. Moves can include forward motion spinning attacks, backflips, upward thrusts, or windmill attacks depending which weapon is on hand. Not being able to really “select” these makes changing for a more powerful version an actual decision instead of a no brainer as while one may have less abilities than the other? It may not suit your combat style as much.

What I really appreciated with the weapons in general however is that, putting martial arts aside, the weapon that you get is the weapon that you get. Ranked from 1-5 star, the better the grade the more bonuses that are attached. But combat rating? That stays the same and each can be upgraded with the same materials from +1 to +9. It creates less oh well I just picked up a better version which is a higher level, maybe I should swap this out… not saying you may not pick up a 4 star rank at +5 with better abilities at that point in time, but short of those abilities, a 4 star is a 4 star and the base stats are the same simplifying the math.

To the side of your martial arts is the ability to equip up to four spells for casting. Like martial arts, they'll move your gauge negatively to the left so timing of when to use these is another key to victory. Within your spells you have access to a variety of single targets and areas of effect for both you and your enemies. Lightning strikes, extra armor, higher defense within a circle, life leech, fire swords, etc. each has a time and a place to use it best under the schools of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.

Where these two extra options differ however boils into your morale and your fortitude. Morale, like any great bard song, can rouse even the lowliest of foes into a devastating frenzy. Falling along similar lines, character and enemy morale will dictate just how effective you are against them, and them against you. The higher your morale, the easiest a level and a boss can be. If you die however, your morale will take a hit bringing it back down. Getting back to the boss will bring it back up a bit, but it will still have taken a hit.

So it’s a good thing that alongside your morale you have your fortitude which will raise the minimum possible amount of morale that you can have. This can be done by exploring the level and placing Battle Flags and Making Flags which are Wo Long’s equivalent to Bonfires and Shrines. Marking Flags are neat and sometimes more craftily hidden while the Battle Flags tend to be out in the open and guarded by a few more fearsome foes. Resting at a Battle Flag will also allow you to level up, buy new items like arrows and crossbow bolts, change your divine beast or “travel” to another location.

 Before getting into the awesomeness of the divine beasts, the ability to travel changed things completely. Having trouble with a stage or a boss? Head back to the hub and then come back. You don’t lose your progress on the stage that you’re on which is fantastic. Unlike Nioh that would drop you better and better gear, the blacksmith here is only present in a few stages until the hub is unlocked and after that point? You have to go see her at her forge as she won’t be traveling in parallel to you anymore meaning that if you’re having a tough time and both leveling and getting your morale up isn’t helping? Maybe some upgrades to your good old fashioned steel will.

 If good old fashioned steel is also not enough, you have access to your Divine Beast. Each comes with an elemental preference which you can use in a pinch in order to channel their element into your weapons for a limited time. As long as the element isn’t opposed to that of the enemy that you are attacking, it works really well. Aside from that, there’s also the ability to simply summon your Divine Beast to perform an action on the field that could easily change the flow of battle. In all honesty, while some were pretty neat, I stuck with the Divine Beat Qinglong as their special ability was a healing circle of epic proportions for both you and your teammates.

This is perhaps the last feature of Wo Long that I really enjoyed. Throughout most of the story, you’ll be accompanied by an NPC or two your first time through a stage. If you only have one NPC, you can easily summon a second, or another actual player which had worked out really well when I had played the original demo. Sadly over the course of the review, the only time that I actually went to summon help, help sadly did not come and I was forced to truly “Git Gud” with perhaps the hardest boss of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Of that, I’ll let you use your imagination because if we are talking about “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”? You guessed it right, and it’s a hell of a fight that had me cheering once I finished it!

It was fights like this that brought everything together. How your character moves, fights, dodges and parries. How you use your Divine Beasts and the ability to travel to and from your hub to upgrade gear. Finally, it’s how you go about using NPCs to the fullest or, if they’ll come to your call, other players in order to seize victory! And once you've completed the final battle, a new difficulty unlocks. This new challenge not only provides replay value, but increases the enemy's maximum morale rank and makes it easier to obtain rare five star items and equipment. I liked how they were called rare as over the course of my thirty plus hours I hadn't seen a single piece of five star, only four stars.


So overall, I absolutely loved my time with Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. The change in approach to the Soulslike formula was fantastic and even if I could find myself occasionally getting frustrated, there are plenty of ways around that frustration as well as the enemies that lay between you, and victory!

Score: 9 / 10



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