I am a sucker for an action RPG, especially if it runs along the lines of Elden Ring or Dark Souls, and so when I first saw the trailer for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty from Team NINJA and KOEI TECMO, I knew I had to play it.
See, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has been compared to the best FromSoftware titles and so let’s travel back to Ancient China and see if those comparisons are warranted.
It’s always a good idea to have a strong story in these games, and here the narrative is very good indeed. The scene is set in the prologue, where we, a lowly militia soldier, help to save the life of an innocent bystander, a blindfolded boy. In return, he saves our life by giving us an amulet, a Jade, that seems to allow us to rise from the dead. But war has come to Han Dynasty China, and not just any war – a war that has demons, monsters and all sorts prowling the battlefield. Can we rise above our humble beginnings and put an end to the bad guys? Well, whilst I’m not going to spoil any narrative, it’s safe to say that you’ll want to go and grab your sword…
The story is absolutely bang on, as are the visuals – Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a beautiful game to look at. The levels are varied, from a burning village to a mountain rising into the clouds, whilst the design and look of the backgrounds is awesome. The enemies that you face are a well designed bunch too, with various flavours of enemy soldiers and demons seemingly mixed in and working together. The bosses we face are again all very well designed, and certainly bring an increase in challenge to the game.
It’s nice that the NPC characters that we meet are all drawn from actual Chinese history, and there’s a good chance you’ll recognise many of the names if you have played the likes of Dynasty Warriors previously. Having these guys fight by your side can be a great boon, especially as every different NPC has a buff that they apply just by being with you. Choosing the right companions (at a certain point in the story) is very important.
The sound is also very well done with some great voice acting on display in the cutscenes, and lovely music to listen to as you wander about. The monsters all make different noises, the bosses (some of them) talk and taunt you, and all in all, the presentation of Wo Long is first rate.
The world is however somewhat different from the open world action RPGs that you may be used to – this is no Elden Ring where you are able to ride wherever you fancy at any time. No, each part of the game, each battlefield if you will, is a separate and discrete level. Once you are loaded into the level, you can roam around freely, but be in no doubt – the levels are pretty linear, with a start and an end in a big boss fight. And it is this decision that introduces my one complaint about the game (apart from the fact that my reflexes aren’t up to much these days ) – the time it takes to load a level is just too long. It feels like an eternity when you just want to fight the same boss that’s just stomped you, Wo Long sitting there loading. Moving to a new battlefield is even worse.
Look away from that though and you’ll need to know that you should not approach Wo Long as a Dark Souls type game. See, the combat is much more timing based, and learning to counter is absolutely vital. You know how in Dark Souls you can parry attacks if you are good enough? In Wo Long, you have to parry in order to survive. Luckily, parrying is pretty simple – just press B as an attack lands. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, when some enemies land strings of attacks on you, and each hit needs to be countered, it rapidly gets harder. You can obviously block ordinary attacks if you aren’t confident about countering, but critical attacks have to be countered. When an enemy glows red (and not just bosses, even run of the mill foot soldiers can do it too) you have to counter; doing so can turn the tide of a battle.
Without going into too much depth, the combat system in Wo Long runs on Morale and Spirit. As you defeat your foes, and plant flags, your morale rises, and this means that you do more damage to enemies with lower morale. Enemies with higher morale can cause an issue, unless you can find a sneaky way to turn the tables – maybe a plunging attack from above, or a sneak attack from behind? These are known as Fatal Attacks, and they reduce the enemy’s morale if you pull it off. Of course, turnabout is fair play, and your opponents can return the favour if they hit you with a critical attack.
In addition, spirit is gained and lost by countering attacks and landing clean hits; the more spirit you have, the more magic attacks you can use. The fighting system is so deep and complex that it is hard to do it justice in just a few words, but be sure that it is fast, furious and intuitive – at least once you have got out of the Dark Souls rut.
Defeating all these foes needs to bring a reward, and this comes in the form of Genuine Qi, which is the currency used to level up. We first of all have to find a Battle Flag, which acts as Wo Long’s bonfire. These come in two flavours – open or controlled. Open flags allow you to plant your pole easily, while controlled flags need you to remove a powerful creature or mini boss who is controlling it. There are also smaller flags that serve to raise your fortitude with every one you raise, so exploring each level thoroughly is highly recommended.
That does get me on to another minor complaint though – given how complicated some of these battlefields are, would a map have been too much to ask? The only hint you have is a little compass in the bottom corner of the screen, with a red line indicating the direction to the boss. Oh, and an orange line to the enemy that last defeated you and stole your Qi – that bit is handy.
That orange line is vital too as you are going to die in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – a lot. In the traditional style, if you are defeated, you lose half the Genuine Qi you were carrying, and the enemy who beat you gets a buff to their morale. Going back and battering them afterwards is thus a bit harder, yet if you manage it, you can regain your lost Qi. If you are killed by a boss, you get your Qi back as soon as you enter the arena again, and so then all you have to do is kill it! What could be simpler?
When it comes to levelling up, you have a variety of different Phases that you can choose to put your Qi into. These are Wood, Water, Fire, Earth and Metal, and each Phase has a different effect. For instance, Wood Phase points allow you to increase your maximum HP, while Earth Phase allows you the chance to wear heavier gear without being overburdened. Useful to know, as heavy armour will certainly keep you alive longer. Each of the Phases also allows you to learn spells that can make your life easier, but that consume spirit when they are cast. These spells have a certain level attached, and you must hit that level in the particular Phase in order to use it. There is so much more to talk about in this game, but if I did, it would be a novella.
As you progress, the NPCs that you meet will fight with you for a level, and stay until the boss of the battlefield goes down. Once they leave, you are granted a symbol of your camaraderie – a Divine Beast that can be summoned in battle. Every NPC seems to allow you to summon one, and they are all different. These NPCs can also be summoned back to your side at a Battle Flag, so if you need backup for a boss, this is perfectly doable. You need a Tiger Seal for each character you summon, and the best way to acquire these is to avenge fallen players. This is done by travelling the land, spotting purple flags everywhere. If you interact with them, you will get the chance to avenge people who have died to whatever creature you are about to face. Beat them, and a Tiger Seal is your usual reward.
You can also summon actual real people to your side if you need help. You can either play the game in a co-op mode, either by using a password or inviting a friend, or you can summon anyone from a pool of those playing (again, as long as you reached a certain point in the story). You can also respond to people hunting for help. This is done cross-platform, so PC players and Xbox players can play together, and this works really well. I have helped people kill bosses, and just running around the level with other real people is a lot of fun. It makes a real difference having a real person to split the aggro.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a superb game. It is blindingly fast, fluid and great fun to play. The bosses will have you chewing your pad until you suss out their patterns, and the rest of the action is just as tough – never underestimate an enemy, even a small one. Apart from the loading times, this is one of the best action RPG games on the market.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is on the Xbox Store
- Great look to the game
- Almost balletic combat
- Very very challenging
- Loading takes an aaaaaaaaaage
- Why no map?
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to – KOEI TECMO
- Formats – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
- Version reviewed – Xbox Series X
- Release date – 3 March 2023
- Launch price from – £54.99