Team Ninja’s take on the Soulslike genre started with the Nioh franchise, which I believe is one of the best action RPG series of the best decade, and Nioh 2 especially improved upon practically everything of the first. Wo Long Fallen Dynasty is a spiritual successor of that, but like the Nioh series before, it does enough to stand on its own with exciting new gameplay mechanics, and vastly improved traversal. In our Wo Long Fallen Dynasty review, I’ll share my thoughts on their latest title set in China.
Deflection and Spirit
Wo Long Fallen Dynasty’s deflection system is the highlight of its combat mechanics. Essentially, every move, spell, and attack can be deflected in Wo Long, and it functions a lot like the deflection in Sekiro. The more you deflect incoming attacks, the more your spirit meter increases on the positive side.
For the enemy, a successful deflection will decrease their spirit meter, which means that you can eventually stagger enemies by depleting their spirit meter fully. The same can happen with you too though, as special “martial art” attacks, and even your spirit attack will deplete your spirit bar. If you get greedy and don’t account for the spirit bar, you can also get stunned, and will almost certainly die.
This system is elegant, and the way all your mechanics are tied to the spirit bar is similar to the Ki in Nioh, forcing you to always account for the bar, even when you’re going against normal enemies. You can turn the tide of a fight by simply taking a step back, and examining each animation, since deflection can rapidly deplete the spirit, allowing you to do massive damage once the enemy is open for critical attacks.
The deflection animation looks fantastic, especially when you’re deflecting multiple attacks in succession. Your character is essentially dancing in combat, and while parrying was a valid strategy in Nioh games, it is THE strategy in Wo Long. Fights are boring when you’re not deflecting, and it can take ages to chip down the health of enemies, especially bosses because your basic attacks don’t do enough damage.
Keep Your Morale High
While deflection is the core mechanic of combat, the morale system plays a huge part in how much damage you actually deal, and are dealt. Basically, at the start of each mission, you have no morale, and as you fight more enemies, you raise your character’s morale, hopefully above the enemies in that area.
If you are killed, your morale value lowers, and the enemy that killed you gains a higher morale value. This means, that the next time you face the same enemy, it’ll be stronger, and you’ll likely be weaker.
This system creates a constant sense of tension because you know that each fight can dictate how your upcoming fights might fare. If you keep winning, your morale increases too, which means that by the time you reach the boss, there’s a good chance it will go down pretty easily, simply due to the difference in your morale levels.
However, losing can also feel discouraging, because lower morale means, lower damage dealt. Thankfully, there are ways to maintain your morale level in a mission.
Exploration and Traversal
Like Nioh, Wo Long’s levels are open areas full of branching paths, and shortcuts. You can actually jump, and scale different obstacles, and platforms in Wo Long, which adds another layer of verticality in level design, and exploration. I greatly appreciate how you can hop between buildings, plan your routes, and strategize far more than their previous titles.
This new sense of freedom also plays a part in combat too. You can approach enemies from different angles, and even escape combat entirely by scaling buildings. Be aware though, as enemies can scale buildings just as fast as you, and seeing them chase you is a lot of fun.
Exploration is also encouraged because it is tied to the morale system. In each level, you can raise multiple Battle and Marking flags, which are very important. The Marking flags allow you to raise your “fortitude” level, which is the minimum level of Morale you’ll always have even if you die.
This means that the more you explore, the more marking flags you can raise, and lock your morale to a certain level. This makes dying a bit more manageable, and reduces frustration, especially when you’ve hit a wall.
Build and Weapon Variety
This is where Nioh fans might feel a bit disappointed because Wo Long doesn’t exactly have an in-depth system where you can make ridiculously different builds. There are five stats you can spend points in that dictate how your spirit meter is consumed by different actions, but essentially, your core deflection system is still very important.
Yes, you can make builds that rely a bit more on Wizardry spells, but similar to say, Sekiro, you’ll need to learn deflection no matter what weapon you decide on.
Weapons don’t have extensive skill trees either, but each comes with different Martial Arts that consume spirit. These are powerful attacks that you can use against enemies to break their spirit and do tons of damage.
In a way, Wo Long is a far more demanding game because it forces you to learn specific mechanics, but I think it’s easier because after you’ve nailed deflection, it’s a cakewalk, and I didn’t have much trouble with most of the bosses.
Wo Long Fallen Dynasty uses its setting quite well, and there is a lot of visual variety in its levels. There are complex fortresses, razed villages, lush forests, rocky cliffs, and even mountainous regions with bridges connecting different areas.
Despite the variety, I don’t think there’s a big visual upgrade compared to Nioh 2 when it comes to textures and effects. The odd low-resolution texture really stands out and gives the presentation a muddy appearance at times. While I appreciate the general art direction, Wo Long doesn’t feel like a technically impressive improvement over Team Ninja’s last action RPG.
The character models are excellent though, and it’s nice seeing so many historical figures we’ve seen in other KOEI TECMO titles rendered in such high detail.
Enemies have a decent variety too, and I liked how many corrupted animals you encounter. There’s even a porcupine that does an awesome spin attack, that you can also deflect. The divine beasts are similar to Nioh’s Guardian Spirits with bright designs and fluid animations as you summon them for their attack or bonus.
This is the biggest problem with Wo Long at the moment. The PC port isn’t in the best shape, and there is constant stuttering no matter what you do. This isn’t shader-compilation related either because I replayed the same levels to see if there was any difference. Even at 90-100 FPS on my PC, the stuttering made it feel like the game was running at a sub 60 framerate.
Some textures flicker randomly, further compromising the presentation, and I couldn’t get dialogue audio working correctly until I adjusted additional settings in Windows. I’m hopeful that these problems are addressed in a patch soon, because Nioh 2, in my experience, ran flawlessly on PC, so it’s a bit disappointing how Wo Long, which doesn’t look too different from Nioh 2 isn’t running the same way.
Overall though, I had a fantastic time with Wo Long Fallen Dynasty. The combat mechanics are polished, deflection feels great, and the morale system kept things fresh, and tense. It’s a demanding title, but once you’ve nailed the core combat, you can feel quite powerful, as you rhythmically move between enemies deflecting their attacks in succession.
There’s a nice amount of visual variety, with challenging boss fights, and levels with a lot of verticality. The story is mostly a backdrop, but I enjoyed a few cutscenes, especially ones that featured combat.
Some aspects of the presentation and disappointing PC port hold it back from reaching Nioh 2’s caliber, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here.
What did you think of our Wo Long Fallen Dynasty Review? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This review is based on the PC version of Wo Long Fallen Dynasty. The key was provided by KOEI TECMO.