Originally published at: Review | Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty - XboxEra
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Sekiro meets Dynasty Warriors. You are a nameless soldier fighting for the Imperial Army against a group of renegades. Slain while defending a young master you’re brought back through an ancient power. Over the course of the next 20 to 30 hours, you’ll fight humans, creatures, and demons to bring peace to the later Han Dynasty of China in 184 AD. Team NINJA knows combat, and Wo Long made me feel like the biggest badass on the planet. It’s releasing day one into Game Pass on Console, Cloud, and PC. So let’s see if you should pick up your weapon and fight through the chaos that has befallen these Three Kingdoms.
The story and characters of Wo Long will be familiar to anyone that has played a game set in the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. The English dub is god-awful, so you’ll want to stick with the default setting and use subtitles. Character motivations change on a whim, and after not too long I felt lost with what was going on and why. While it’s not good, the story never got in the way of my enjoyment and it is ridiculously stylish and cool the entire time. It feels like great popcorn action b-grade cinema, and you could feel the voice actors pour everything they had into the dialogue.
You are a nameless militia soldier who saves the life of a blindfolded young master. The first thing you’ll be tasked with is creating your character. It’s a deep system that allows for full customization and even pronoun choice. I ended up going between the base masculine and feminine character looks throughout my playtime, as once you’ve opened up the hub area you can fully customize your character’s appearance whenever you want. This is a Team NINJA game so of course the feminine body type can have enormous breasts that jiggle like a pair of water balloons taped to a wall whenever you move even the slightest amount.
Oaths are a huge part of the game’s story and progression. Early on you’ll make one with the young master and the swearing never stops. You will constantly meet, fight alongside, and then swears oaths with many of the period’s biggest mythological figures. Each has a Divine Beast associated with them, and you’ll be empowered with various super moves thanks to these newfound connections. Genuine and Demonic Ki are the driving forces of all things living and undead, and it is both a major plot point and your Dark Souls-style leveling currency (which we’ll get into later). This is a big game with a lot to do, so let’s get into the Battlefield system.
Battlefield 184 AD
Every mission in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has two types of structure. The main battlefield type finds you starting in point A and slowly winding your way toward point B where the first half of the battlefield boss awaits. This then repeats until you reach the end of the level boss at point C. You will find two types of banners along the way to the boss, the first is the bonfire equivalent and is known as the Battle Flag. These are your checkpoint, leveling, battle setup, and fast travel hubs. The second is known as the Marking Flag and its job is to up your Fortitude. The Fortitude system is a per-battlefield leveling curve that is tied to the morale system. This all sounds complicated, but in practice, it ends up being both basic to understand and enjoyable. Morale takes place of enemy types having levels assigned to them. This is a per Battlefield number that hovers above each enemy type. It starts at 0 and can go as high as 20 for your enemies and 25 for yourself.
As you progress through a stage every hit and enemy kill will add to your morale meter, which always starts at 0 on a new Battlefield. Every enemy can and will do Critical Strikes, which are denoted by a massive red glow behind their upcoming attack. If this strike hits you you’ll lose one meter of your morale. Fortitude ups the base level that your morale can drop to. Every Battle Flag adds two levels of Fortitude, and every marking flag adds one. By the end of each level if you’ve found every flag your base morale will be 20, which matches the base morale of each end-of-level boss.
The other type of battlefield is the challenge style “sub battlefields”. These are intense, difficult, and short battlefields where your objective is to survive one or more waves of enemies. Some of the later sub-battlefields have a few Battle or Marking Flags to find but they’re rarely longer than 10 minutes total and offer up large hits of experience and high-quality rewards for your effort. A lot of the combat is tied to the morale system and how it affects both you and the enemies, which we’ll hit up in a bit. The most that can be said about the game’s mission structure is that it is damned repetitive but it never bothered me because the combat and level design were excellent.
Upgrade the Pain Away
Most levels are straightforward in their main path, with a few being maze-like at times. All of them have multiple side paths to find, which hide things like drops and marking flag locations. This is more of a loot game than its biggest influence, Sekiro. Loot itself has both a rarity and a rating system. There are common, rare, epic, and legendary rarities alongside a one-to-four-star rating system. The higher each one is the more randomized perks it comes with alongside its max potential damage/defense stat. There is a LOT of loot in Wo Long, and it felt overwhelming at times. Early on you’ll meet and unlock a Blacksmith at your hub who is extremely important because the main way to raise your damage is by upgrading your preferred weapons through her. By the end of my playthrough, I had a full +9 setup for all my gear, and it made the game a hell of a lot easier if I made sure to keep upgrading as soon as possible.
To do this you can use your Battle Flags to travel between battlefields whenever you wish. This is also where you’ll spend your Genuine Ki to level up your five different stats. Each is themed after a part of nature and ties into an element. I mainly focused on Wood, which was weapon damage and health. It is tied to the lightning element and gives you defense against Metal. There are also Earth, Water, and Fire. Each adds different stats or helps with various combat systems while offering up elemental damage protection against its rival. Genuine Ki is gained whenever an enemy is slain or you use an item found as world drops or in chests. It’s very Soulslike, except that if you fall in combat you only lose half of your Genuine Ki. Instead of having to find it floating above the ground, you’ll need to kill the enemy that finished you off last time, and they have a temporary morale boost for having taken you down. You are never locked into a spec, as you can change all of your points for no cost at the game’s hub once it is available to you.
It’s a system that respects your time more than the Souls games do, and hey you can even pause the game! Hitting menu alone won’t do it, but once you’re in the menu screen a quick press of the view button will put the game into a full pause if you’re playing solo. Bosses killing you multiple times in a row doesn’t mean you’ll lose all your Ki either, as restarting the fight immediately gives it back. It made dying feel like learning without all the needless time-wasting that other games in the Souls style have leaned into. I could spend time learning a fight without constantly worrying about some debuff or needing to grind things out to proceed. My skill was the main thing as long as I kept up with upgrading my gear because this game’s combat is (mostly) well-balanced and leans into the power fantasy in a glorious way.
Wo Long’s combat system is not nearly as complicated as Nioh’s. X is your main attack, with Y being your per-weapon Spirit move. These are big attacks that add to the enemy’s spirit gauge on a successful hit. Spirit is the main thing that matters in Wo Long, as once that meter is full for either you or the enemy the damage that can be dealt skyrockets. The key to defeating every enemy in the game as quickly as possible is figuring out how to break their spirit gauge and put them in a vulnerable state. Once they are stunned pressing Y while in melee range will cause you to go into a ridiculously cool-looking finisher animation that deals enormous damage.
Spirit is also used to power your martial arts and wizardry spells. Martial arts are on the right bumper and vary per weapon type. My preferred double sword combo had a rb+y ability that caused massive spirit damage while only raising my own spirit gauge to raise slightly. I ended up using it to end every combo I could and found myself doing an x, x, x, y, rb+y dance that destroyed everything in my path. To complement this never-ending barrage of melee hits are three different ranged weapon types that are tied to the Water Tree for damage. You will come across various bows, crossbows, and repeating crossbows. Each has limited ammo and deals massive damage on headshots if you’re specced into it. I mostly used them to pull enemy mobs away from others to focus on 1v1 fights, or the more common 2v1 and 3v1 varieties. Wizardry spells are magical abilities that cause your spirit gauge to fill quickly. I found most of the offensive ones far too weak to bother with and stuck using spells that buffed my character and companions.
Wo Long is an up to three-player co-op title, and those two helpers can be either people or NPCs. Throughout the story you’ll meet various historical warriors of the time who almost always accompany you on the battlefield. Using an in-game currency you can choose to call in friends for help online or extra NPCs whenever you are at a Battle Flag. These NPC helpers were key to helping me defeat the more difficult bosses, and it kept the frustration down when every enemy wasn’t constantly attacking me. You have time to breathe, recuperate, and plan your next move in a way that rarely happens in a Souls title.
The most important button in the game is B, which when pressed just before an attack lands will parry. Parrying enemy Critical Attacks is the only way you can beat Wo Long without massively over-leveling every fight. Thankfully parrying has a generous timer and I rarely felt cheated in a fight. Double tapping B will cause you to do a jumping dodge which is useful but adds to your spirit meter. If that spirit meter is full and you get hit you will be temporarily stunned, often leading to massive amounts of incoming damage. You can block by using the left bumper but I found myself rarely using it. Parrying was far more beneficial and learning to time it for every enemy attack helped far more than blocking did.
A is for jumping and you’ll have a double jump by default. Holding A on white-painted walls allows you to climb and flip up them and is the main style of platforming. There is no swimming, so if you see water do not fall into it. You’ll be left at 0hp and forced to drink a Dragon Pot Elixer by pressing Up on the D-Pad immediately to stay alive. Those pots are straight Estus Flask equivalents and you’ll find Dragon Crystals to upgrade the number you can have and how much HP they replenish. There are a ton of consumables that you can map to your quick-use inventory. Those can be swapped by using left and right on the D-pad. There is also a rallying system for your NPC/Co-Op partners where you can spend your spirit to give them buffs by holding RB and pressing either up or down on the D-pad.
This game has a lot of different systems, and it does an excellent job of slowly introducing you to them. My apologies if this review has been a lot to take in, just know that the levels are easy to understand and progress through. Combat feels fantastic and outside of one boss fight is well-balanced. That one boss fight may get nerfed by a day one patch or after launch, if not you will all know what I’m talking about a few days after launch. I hope you never feel my and so many other early players’ pain, because the constant changing of attack speeds/combos and ridiculous damage output of this famous mythological figure was not fun! What was fun though was looking at all the action going on.
Mostly Positives on the Graphics and Performance Fronts
Wo Long has two graphical modes, and neither aims for 30fps! First up is resolution which aims for 60fps while maintaining a higher overall image quality and LOD settings than the other mode. That is Performance of course, which aims for a locked 60fps while sacrificing settings. When not capturing footage I played on a 1440p monitor in its 120hz mode. The performance mode on this VRR-enabled display felt better than 60fps most of the time, though with it not being a shooter I’m not sure if that was actually the case.
In either mode, I think that Wo Long looks fantastic. It’s a clean, colorful game with a killer art style. Everyone looks cool as hell, and while the enemy variety may not be the highest the models are high quality. The scope of each level is small in its playable area, though the team does a great job of hiding this with excellent background art. Performance felt stable to me for the most part, with the biggest issue I had with the game coming in the form of random one-second-long hitches that occurred often. Thankfully, they rarely happened during boss fights but they did happen a lot. Dozens of times the game would stutter for a second as the game completely hitched and skipped 60 or more frames of animation. It didn’t cost me health or fights often, if at all, but I hope it is something they patch out as quickly as possible. I only had a night of PC access before writing this review, and that version is real rough. Playing through the Windows Store the framerate struggled mightily on my 5800x/6700xt AMD rig, hovering in the mid 40’s most of the time at max settings. Constant stutter made the game nearly unplayable and I had to lower the settings so far to get a locked 60 that it ended up looking far worse than the Series X version.
Audio-wise the game is stellar, as long as you’re not using the English Dub which stinks. The writing is solid as the default voice actors give it their all in the cutscenes. Sound effects are clear and help you know if you’ve been spotted or parried correctly. The music is one of the best parts of Wo Long, and I found myself humming along to all the variations of the main menu theme that cropped up throughout the story. When the music from the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase 2022 trailer hit late in the game the hair on the back of my neck stood on end the entire time. It is an epic, gorgeous soundtrack that helps carry a solid if confusing story to an epic conclusion.
I ran into few bugs, with a couple of crashes being the biggest culprits. One occurred right after a long boss fight, but I lucked out and it kept my progress. I know a few others playing the title early that had it crash on them constantly, leading to lost progression. You never know if/when day one or week one patches will hit, and as I write this on the Sunday before launch which is nearly a full week out I’m unsure of their launch plans.
Wrapping Things Up
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an epic ass-kicking time. Featuring ridiculously cool characters, stunning music, and a deeply engaging combat system this one is an easy recommendation for purchase or downloading on Game Pass like. Team NINJA and KOEI TECMO have a winner on their hands with this new franchise, and I can’t wait to see more of it in the future.
Review Code Provided by Koei Tecmo UK PR