Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an amalgamation of different styles, and very strange it is not. The game was created from a collaboration between the team behind Nioh and Masaaki Yamagiwa, the producer of Bloodborne. The result is somewhat outdated in a number of areas, though oddly enough that is not a bad consequence at all.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is one of the first Soulslike games since Elden Ring came out. Elden Ring was not only my favorite game of the past year, for many gamers it is. FromSoftware’s title managed to push boundaries in the open world genre, setting a precedent for other games trying to do something similar. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty only resembles Elden Ring in a small number of ways, yet it is impossible to play this game without drawing the comparison.
Indeed, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty goes a lot more in the traditional direction in the spectrum of Soulslikes and, in the meantime, also does a bit of its own thing. That is, there is no large open world. In fact, the game consists almost entirely of levels. The game is not interconnected in the way Dark Souls was. In that, it’s almost like we’re back in the era of the PlayStation 2 or original Xbox. That’s not too bad, except if you expect Wo Long to be incredibly progressive. The entire look and feel of the game is somewhat old-fashioned, but that also feels familiar in a way.
Although Yamagiwa collaborated on Bloodborne, Wo Long is strikingly much more reminiscent of another title from FromSoftware’s portfolio: Sekiro. Indeed, deflecting enemy attacks is almost as important in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty as it is in Sekiro, though Wo Long is a lot more forgiving. Players have the choice of blocking or deflecting attacks, which fills an orange bar, as we know in Sekiro. Meanwhile, you do damage to the opponent, and at one point you can dish out a Fatal Strike that does extra damage. Once this succeeds, it gives a wonderful feeling, especially when this is face to face with a boss. Enemies, especially bosses, can also deal a lot of damage themselves. For example, they can deal a Critical Blow that does extra damage and is unblockable, but can be deflected or dodged. If you manage to deflect, this will result in an extra strong counterattack.
It is very nice that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a little less villein than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was. There, I had a lot of trouble getting into the right rhythm, whereas with Wo Long, it’s quite easy. Sometimes you feel like the window in which you can deflect is a little too large, though there are still plenty of bosses that are quite challenging.
Overall, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty manages to stand out mainly through the game’s excellent design. The levels themselves are well put together, but of course the main focus is on the final bosses in the game. This is where there is the most diversity, as the gameplay largely follows the same loop. The player must move forward from Battle Flag to Battle Flag, which are Wo Long’s bonfires. Of course, shortcuts can again be unlocked, making the path to the final boss shorter. Think of a door that can only be opened from one side, or a bridge that the player must lower. As in SoulsBornes, this still works fine, although we kind of saw it after about thirty hours. Then the bosses are really the only thing that manages to offer a bit of variety, as there aren’t really that many different enemies in the normal world. Whereas in Elden Ring you are continually surprised with new things, in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty you are mainly occupied with the same things.
This also makes the patterns of bosses become very predictable at some point, despite being beautifully designed. A real challenge is not incredibly frequent in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, making the player less likely to get the feeling of invincibility. In the Souls games, I regularly find myself breaking down on a boss, whereas now it only happened two or three times. That the difficulty is somewhat lower is also due to the game’s mechanics, which serve as handles. For example, Spirit Attack can be performed, some of which are extremely powerful. Furthermore, the player is also frequently saddled with Reinforcements, a kind of henchmen who help you with battles. This often comes from the story, making it difficult not to take advantage of them. Against some bosses, by the way, they get in the way a bit, but even more often they offer a way out. With a detour, it is possible to not use these companions, though it is very cumbersome. I wonder why this choice was made, especially since companions are normally seen as something negative in these types of games.
Then we have to talk about the weapons. There are an awful lot of weapons in the game. Yet they don’t always feel unique or special. There are some weapons that are, but they are really sparse. Also, somewhat more experienced players will figure out fairly quickly which weapon is strong. In theory, the player can use two weapons at the same time, alternating them every now and then. There is then one on your back and one in your hand and with the push of a button you switch from one to the other. In practice, however, this is totally unnecessary and most players will even go through most of the game with the same weapon.
If all still fails, there is magic, where you can unlock spells through a kind of skill tree. It’s cool that you can create your own build. You can use spells from different elements, such as Wood, Earth, Fire, Water and Metal. If you run into a boss who uses Fire, you’d be wise to fire Water spells.
Graphics more than fine
Wo Long is quite a nice game to look at. We won’t be able to directly compare the game to God of War: Ragnarök, as that is really of a different level. Still, it is a nice game to look at, supported by also a beautiful soundtrack that fits the Chinese Three Kingdoms theme excellently.
That theme is quite interesting, by the way, since we don’t see games that deal with this extremely often. The big bad guy Yu Ji manages to intrigue us almost as soon as it is revealed, but the rest of the characters are given fairly little backstory. There are a few that play a somewhat larger role in the otherwise fairly simple story, but most of the characters are difficult to bond with because of the small roles they play.
Although there is quite a lot wrong with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, it still manages to continuously hold our attention. In a way, the game feels a bit outdated. Not to worry, fortunately Wo Long does play incredibly well and looks more than fine, while the soundtrack is also music to our ears. All that makes up for a lot. The design of the bosses is excellent, though that is often reflected in the appearance rather than through complex gameplay mechanics. It feels very nice to have another Soulslike under the controls, and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty puts its own spin on it as well.