Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (PS5) Game Review

So Long, Wo Long

Ever since Dark Souls captured the imagination of players the world over, many studios have been scrambling to become the next big thing in the genre. While Nioh and Mortal Shell tried to add something new to the genre, both were blown away by FromSoftware’s excellent and game-changing open world mammoth, Elden Ring.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty then is an unfortunate game in that respect because it feels outdated and somewhat sluggish by comparison to the aforementioned games. It also adopts both the best and worst aspects of these titles, while attempting to spice things up with a couple of new mechanics. Sometimes these work but other times they really don’t.

The story is rather perfunctory but it does have some nice ideas and elements to it. Within this dark fantasy realm, you play the role of a silent protagonist who’s whisked off to the chaotic Three Kingdoms era, where you play in the boots of a lone militia soldier who struggles to survive within the Han Dynasty. Along with other soldiers and animals, there are also demons infesting the area too. As the story progresses, you start to come across more deadly and tough foes on your travels, as your desperate plight to save the realm seems ever-more hopeless.

Despite featuring a variety of different weapons and armour at your disposal, there’s really not a whole lot of variety here. The usual long-range choices of bows and crossbows are joined by throwing knifes and firepots, while the melee weapons are split into two predominant categories (short-range and long-range), with you able to customize both to your liking.

Unlike something akin to Dark Souls or Elden Ring, your choices don’t make a whole lot of difference to the way you approach combat, as the game’s gameplay relies heavily on being hyper-aggressive and making the most of critical counters.

The latter point is one of the most important in Wo Long’s gameplay structure and once you nail this, the rest of the game is a breeze. And that’s not something you want from a challenging Souls game! Enemies flash with red circles that alert you when they’re about to enact this move, and timing tapping circle and a direction will allow you to counter, build spirit (more on that in a minute) and then hit a fatal blow with a tap of triangle, which is an move that can’t be blocked and takes off a chunk of health from enemies. Rinse and repeat.

In fact, a lot of these battles are then further troubled by the fact you can actually cheese a lot of the lesser enemies by just constantly smashing a combination of quick slashes and more powerful strikes, interrupting an enemy’s animation, especially if you mix in a couple of dodges.

On the one hand, this will be great for fans who enjoy hacking and slashing their way through most encounters, but those after a more thoughtful and methodical approach, really building up your momentum and striking at the right time like in titles such as Sekiro and Dark Souls, this might not actually be the game for you.

It also doesn’t help that the buttons can be a tad unresponsive at times, with it further obsfucated by the fact that it’s not always clear when the optimal time to dodge occurs. Because of the way levels are designed, the camera can also swing wildly if you’re stuck in a corner too.

In fact, one boss fight against a demon cow with tentacles, I found myself stuck underneath the enemy and died as a result of being unable to move. Death will likely come thick and fast, especially once you start to get toward the tougher bosses. That’s as per the course with these games but at the same time, the load times between areas is actually quite bad, even playing on next gen consoles.

Back to the combat system though and you may have noticed I mentioned spirit earlier. Well, the entire gameplay is designed around managing this resource, which serves as both the marker for mana and stamina rolled into one. You gain spirit by deflecting with critical counters and attacking foes. By contrast, you lose spirit by casting spells, blocking, dodging or doing heavy attacks (with triangle).

The entire system is dependent on you being aggressive and so for those who want to hang back and be a sole magic caster or a master bowman, you effectively can’t. You’ll have to constantly switch up between melee and back to magic again, which is a bit disappointing and limits the way you’ll approach combat.

Along the way you team up with a variety of different AI companions, each with their own unique skillset and preference in battle. To be honest, it breaks the immersion quite a bit when you meet a “fearsome ally” and are greeted to a slick cutscene of them slicing through enemies without breaking a sweat, only to see them foolhardily “Leroy Jenkins” their way into boss fights, wiped out in a few hits and forcing you to play babysitter to revive them.

Sure, you can buff their skillset and help them out, but most of the time you’ll find more joy by teaming up with compatriots online, which you can do so by using Tiger Seals at Battle Flags, the former gained over time while playing, while the latter serves as this game’s version of save points.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Wo Long’s structure though comes from its magic system. Every time you level up by building Genuine Qui on the battlefield (defeating enemies, consuming Qui flakes etc.) you can then spend those points on one of your five virtues: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The latter focuses on stealth, while fire builds your attack, wood focuses on health and defence, while metal will allow you to handle more cumbersome armour.

Each of these can be tinkered with across your playtime, and levelling up each also has the knock-on effect of allowing you to learn spells too. These “magic points” are unlocked every few levels or so and apply to every magic discipline. However, you’ll be locked out from casting said spells until you reach the required level through levelling up your virtues (ie. you’ll need to level up wood to level 10 if you want to cast a level 10 wood spell).

It’s a nice system in truth and the ability to reset these points and mix them around, free of charge once you reach the hidden village, is a nice addition and does help to spice things up during the latter parts of the story.

Less enjoyable however, is the way this game handles stealth. Enemy AI is not the best and oftentimes, if you’ve taken enough ammo with you to the battlefield, you can take out enemies from afar or bait individuals away from a big party. For example, shooting one soldier sitting with three others at a campfire will drive the one you shot at toward your location… while the other three just sit there. It’s a flawed system and it’s an unfortunate oversight that gives this game a lack of polish.

In fact, the lack of polish is probably the one thing that really hinders this game. Given the emphasis on tight, responsive controls and interesting locations, Wo Long comes up short on both accounts. There are a couple of neat levels that are designed quite well, but the art style and aesthetic doesn’t really lend anything here to feeling all that memorable, especially compared to other games in this genre. To be fair though, the soundtrack is actually pretty good.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t a bad game per-se and fans of Dark Souls-esque combat should find enough to whet the appetite. Once you get the hang of the Critical-counters and playing aggressively, Wo Long isn’t too much of a challenge though, which is perhaps a bit of a disappointment. The gameplay is very much going to be a make-or-break affair for many people.

It’s probably best to rent this one in all honestly. If, after 3-6 hours you find yourself really enjoying this, then you’ll likely have an absolute blast with this, but for everyone else, this is a fun but ultimately underwhelming Souls-like title.

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  • Verdict - 6.5/10

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