The original Nioh was a surprise hit for me, taking the generally punishing and fast-paced nature of Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden franchise and mixing it with some Soulslike mechanics and a whole lot of loot. This formula has been a continued success, with the team even giving their own chaotic take on the Final Fantasy franchise. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes a lot of what was already present in these previous titles but adds in a few key elements to try and keep things fresh. But do these changes work?
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s story also follows a very similar pattern to Nioh, with the setting changing from a loose interpretation of Japanese history, to the Three Kingdoms period of China. You’re taken through an abridged version of this history across many years, meeting a number of influential figures from that era — many of which even join you as NPC allies. A lot of in-game levels are also taken from key events during this time, but with demons now added into the mix.
However, as with Nioh, the story in Wo Long is never really much of a focus. Characters come and go in the blink of an eye, with entire years passing between chapters (though no one seems to age at all). It’s serviceable, though it's best to treat the story as window dressing rather than a main focus. Just don’t play the game with English audio — at times, it rivals the early Dynasty Warriors dubs, but without the goofy charm.
Progression through this demon-filled Ancient China is split into levels, with each one offering bite-sized locales to cut your way through. Again, very familiar for fans of Team Ninja’s previous efforts, with Wo Long even making use of the limited minimap that isn’t particularly useful. You’ll make some short progress, find a checkpoint or shortcut, and repeat until ending with a climactic boss fight.
Where Wo Long aims to change this is with the Morale system. Both you and your enemies have a Morale level, with this number determining relative strength. A Morale 0 enemy is a cakewalk, while taking on an enemy many levels above you will be a much riskier prospect. Increasing Morale can be done by killing enemies, but to keep your Morale you must find flags scattered throughout the level.
Some flags act as checkpoints, but all will increase your Fortitude. This determines your minimum Morale, with more flags meaning an easier time in the long run. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice it actually makes the linear levels feel even more restrictive. You’re basically funneled on one set path, with only the occasional chance to decide your way through. Levels are also small in general, often relying on flags to lengthen the time you spend completing them.
Thankfully, this doesn’t even matter too much in the long run, as Wo Long’s fun combat makes up for many of its shortcomings. Gone is the stamina system from typical Soulslikes (and even Team Ninja’s previous titles), replaced instead with Spirit. Land attacks, parry incoming blows, and stay aggressive to build Spirit, then spend it on powerful attacks and buffs. Having high Spirit will improve your Spirit Attack (essentially a heavy attack) while having it completely drained will leave you vulnerable to attacks.
Aggression is further encouraged via the parry system, which allows you to deflect every single attack in the game — even projectiles and magic. Parrying a boss’s multi-hit combo or deadly Critical Blow before launching a counterattack is incredibly satisfying, with timing windows not being overly punishing. Enemies follow the same Spirit system that you do, and fully reducing their spirit allows you to perform finishing blows on them for big damage. It makes learning each enemy type more rewarding, as you find new ways to land some hits during downtime while also parrying their every move.
Combat involves a lot of risk versus reward, deciding whether to spend Spirit to buff or attack and leaving yourself at risk of being staggered by a single enemy attack. This applies doubly so to magic, as they often cost significant amounts of Sprit.
The main quirk with the Spirit system is that, since it’s the only resource you use in combat, magic also has to be balanced around it. Wo Long’s magic comes in the form of Wizardry Spells, learned via a series of skill trees (melee skills are instead tied directly to weapons). Since Spirit is a resource you’re constantly building, most spells often put you in the red, and buffs last for a very short time by default.
It means that a pure magic build is not possible. Not surprising considering other Team Ninja titles, but it sometimes feels like the spells don’t mesh well with the parry-focused gameplay. You can absolutely make them work, especially with the right gear, though you’ll always have to make use of melee regardless of your build.
If there was one area I think combat truly fails on, it’s the bosses. There are absolutely some standout bosses, but many have a limited moveset that is easy to figure out even during your first attempt. Some of the early bosses even return as regular enemies later on, if you want an idea of how simple they are. This is mitigated somewhat by the harder difficulty levels, though you only have access to these after beating Wo Long for the first time.
Aggression is further encouraged via the parry system, which allows you to deflect every single attack in the game — even projectiles and magic.
Gear also feels a little annoying to sort through, though the problem is much less present here. You’ll still be getting lots of new weapons and armor, each with different percentage-based bonuses and effects. But item levels are completely gone, with all gear being upgradeable to the highest tier — you can take the beginning gear all the way to the end without much difficulty. It does make me wish they cut it down to only a few key pieces of gear entirely, but there is at least a little less sorting and management needed here than in Nioh (unless you’re really trying to min-max).
One area I can’t ignore though is Wo Long’s performance on PC. This review was originally intended to be for the PC version only, but there were a couple of issues with this. The first was that performance was quite poor, leading to noticeable stuttering and frame drops. The second was that the game crashed consistently on a particular level, stopping me from playing entirely. While these issues might be ironed out for the game’s full release, there’s no guarantee — based on player impressions, the demo build certainly retains a lot of the same problems.
While both graphics and performance modes are available, the focus on parries means that it's worth sacrificing some visual clarity for higher framerates.
Switching to PS5, things are generally more pleasant. It’s not the greatest looking game on the system, but some of the more expansive areas have some nice details. Performance mode, which I used for the majority of my playthrough, also managed to keep its 60 fps target most of the time. Excessive particle effects can cause drops, and some areas were incredibly stuttery for seemingly no reason, but it’s a far more consistent experience than on PC.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review | Final Verdict
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a solid successor to the Nioh series that manages to carve out its own identity, but it’s not without flaws. Parrying is satisfying and combat in general is a high point, but linearity and some poor bosses hold it back from being truly memorable. However, you’ll still have a good time if you go into this with the right expectations — and the PC version gets the fixes it needs.
TechRaptor reviewed Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty on PlayStation 5 and PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
- Parry rewards aggression
- Familiar yet enjoyable gameplay
- Setting allows for a few memorable locations
- Story is too abridged
- Linear levels due to Morale mechanic
- Inconsistent bosses