Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review

A sleek and stylish action RPG

By Paul Hunter

Last year I had the opportunity to check out Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty at Tokyo Game Show and was quite impressed by Team Ninja's latest soulslike game set during China's famous Three Kingdom period. The studio is known for its notoriously difficult games such as Ninja Gaiden and Nioh 1 and 2 and if you're up for a challenge, Wo Long is the game for you. But don't worry if you're not a hardcore Souls fan, just like how FromSoftware succeeded with Elden Ring in making the game more accessible, Wo Long does the same.

This action-packed RPG features compelling gameplay that relies heavily on parries, spells and martial arts. You play as a nameless hero whose appearance is fully customizable and who will have to restore peace to a kingdom on the verge of collapse. Throughout your journey within the Three Kingdoms, you'll meet many historical characters that fans of Romance of the Three Kingdoms are sure to recognize—some of which have taken a sinister turn. Let's dive in, here are three things I liked about Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty...and one I didn't.

Liked: Awesome Setting and Story

Wo Long Fallen Dynasty takes place in China during the Han Dynasty in 184 AD. While Koei Tecmo has developed many games set within this dynamic and pivotal period in China's history, this is the first time they're exploring it with a dark twist. The country is at war over the life-giving Elixir that has the power to transform people into powerful beings flowing with overwhelming spiritual energy.

The story kicks off in dramatic fashion with you playing as a young warrior who saves a blind teenager from certain death. Shockingly, your character perishes, but instead of that being the end, we get to see them getting resurrected at the hands of the young boy. It seems that this boy may be integral to understanding the roots of this war, but for now, your character sets his sights on one goal: to free his people from tyranny. And to do this, you'll need to enlist the help of powerful allies that share your mission.

If you're a fan of Nioh, you'll feel right at home with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. The game is set in a tumultuous warring period which lays the foundations for an action-packed game. Expect to see iconic figures like Cao Cao, Sun Ce, Liu Bei, Zhao Yun and many more who will actually join you in battle. Team Ninja has done a phenomenal job bringing these characters and more to life with intriguing personalities partially rooted in historical accuracies while leaning hard into dark fantasy fiction. Sure, the story is very much romanticized, but it's always great to meet characters who had such an important impact on their nation.

Liked: Fast and Fluid Weapon Combat

Once you’ve designed your character with the gigantic customization options available, you’re plunged straight into the action. Wo Long could be best described as a mix between Nioh and Sekiro. Like the former, combat is speedy and fluid, and like the latter, parries are absolutely essential to succeeding in battle. Deflecting a blow has two advantages: Firstly, you won't take any damage while remaining close to your opponent; and secondly, it raises your Spirit Gauge, a crucial gauge that allows you to unleash powerful martial art attacks or cast wizardry spells. Enemies have special attacks indicated by a red dot that when parried will stagger them and allow you to retaliate with massive damage. But if your timing is off, these red aura attacks are capable of doing the most damage to you.

Your opponents also have a Spirit Gauge and the goal is to strike their posture until you break and stun them, letting you unleash a powerful finish move. The Spirit Gauge is absolutely core to the gameplay in Wo Long, and it's actually made up of two parts: a right side that indicates that you have a spirit 'surplus' and a left side that shows your spirit 'deficit'. If the left side maxes out your character will be defenseless for a moment as you catch your breath, but have a surplus and you can trigger a Fatal Strike that depletes your enemy's spirit. Spirit is gained every time you successfully land a normal attack or time a parry accurately.

What makes Wo Long's combat so thrilling is that it's so focused on managing your Spirit Gauges, which requires you to mix up your offence and defence. The rhythm involves hitting foes with several normal attacks to build up your spirit, then either unleash a powerful Fatal Strike to break their posture or cast powerful magic spells (which consume Spirit) that can quickly turn the tide in combat. Blocking incoming attacks is also another option you have, but doing so repeatedly will quickly break your posture and leave you vulnerable to counterattacks.

If you're used to Elden Ring or Nioh combat you'll need to rethink your strategies in Wo Long otherwise you'll be in trouble. You can't go into combat expecting to rely on blocks, and in order to cast spells you'll first need to strike enemies with weapon attacks to build up the Spirit. All considered, Wo Long’s gameplay is addictive, dynamic and engaging. After 50-plus hours, it was still just as exhilarating to exploit all the subtleties, whether I was using a sword, halberd, or hammer.

Liked: Morale System and Accessibility

Difficulty in games is a big topic right now, thanks to the popularity of FromSoftware games like Elden Ring and Dark Souls. But what we've seen over the years is that challenging games can be quite approachable with the right systems in place. Elden Ring had a lot of great examples such as summoning spirit helpers, plus the open world allowed you to approach areas and bosses in any order you choose. Team Ninja has taken similar approaches to accessibility in Wo Long and they succeeded big time.

The Morale level is central to Wo Long's approachability. It's a crucial system where you gain morale by defeating enemies but gets lowered if you get hit by a red aura attack. Your foes also have a morale level and everything is relative: if your morale is higher you'll be comparatively 'stronger' and if your morale is lower you'll be 'weaker'—something you want to avoid at all costs. Against bosses, morale is a very important factor to take into account, if not the most important.

It's possible to permanently increase your Morale level for the level you're on by reaching specific checkpoints and optional flags hidden throughout each zone. It’s another great idea from Wo Long that encourages and rewards exploration. In addition to getting stronger with each Morale level, spells are tied to attaining specific levels. If you want to unleash your most powerful spells you may need to hit Morale level 10 and above. And by extension, it means you'll want to avoid bosses' red aura attacks to sustain a high morale level to keep your spells active.

Another way that Wo Long eases the difficulty is that in most quests one or two NPC ally automatically arrives to support you. Allies can help you out in many ways, but most importantly they can attract enemy aggro to give you a little space to plan strikes or heal up if needed. Not long into the game, you can also recruit NPCs to your cause using Tiger Seals which are rather easy to acquire. If any enemy goes down it's not game over for them as you can revive them a few times per mission and get them back into action. Each ally has an Oath Level that increases by summoning them into missions or by gifting them certain items. Once you raise allies to their max level you'll be given their armour and equipment, which is among the best you can acquire in the game.

Didn't Like: Mission Structure and Limited End Game Content

I'm actually a little surprised I'm typing this but: after Elden Ring spoiled me, I'm getting a bit tired of Team Ninja's linear mission structure. I loved the structure when playing Nioh, but after two Nioh games, last year's Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin and now Wo Long, the linear structure is wearing a bit thin. The structure works like this: Enter a mission with no Morale, fight your way through and plant flags to raise your Morale level, fight a mandatory boss or two, loot them and then rinse and repeat the next mission. Sure, it works, but the structure can be limiting while other games in the genre are creating massive, expansive worlds.

It's also a little disappointing that side missions in Wo Long are remixes of the main areas only shorter and with different enemies or placements. The same goes for the end game which lets you replay the entire game on a higher difficulty setting with more powerful loot to acquire. One last element I'm getting a bit tired of: getting dozens of the same armour and weapons with slightly different stats or perks. There's a lot of item management in Wo Long and it can get exhausting having to root through hundreds of items every few hours sorting through the trash to find the odd gem or two.

The Verdict

Following Team Ninja's excellent Nioh games, the studio once again proves its unmatched mastery of the action-RPG genre with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. It offers rock-solid gameplay and excellent accessibility while still providing a good challenge. If you've enjoyed past titles from the studio you won't be disappointed with their latest release.

Final Score: 9/10 - Amazing

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Genre: Action Role-Playing
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.