Developed By: Team Ninja
Published By: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC
Reviewed On: PS5
As much as my initial aversion to soul-like games, for the record, I’ve completed Nioh series, and my failure to complete Sekiro. I find that Wo Long has got to be one of the easiest and most accessible soul-like genres I have ever played. Combining elements of Nioh’s gameplay with Sekiro’s parry mechanics makes me feel like a peasant in an RPG jump straight into fighting against almighty gods/generals in a Dynasty Warrior game, or playing a much-desired classic Onimusha sequel. While also making it easier and accessible for casual players much like myself to thoroughly enjoy the game at my own pace.
As I was playing Wo Long initially, I encountered an issue where my screen would shrink whenever I auto-locked onto a target. I later found out that my HDR settings were enabled without my knowledge (even though my screen doesn’t support it) and on a side note, my PS5 often crashes if invading other players’ gameplay. This is a lesson I learned to be more careful when fiddling with the menu buttons and not to invade other players’ gameplay too much until it is patched up.
After playing it more, I find that Wo Long is a thrilling combination of Nioh’s bountiful loot with Sekiro’s most forgiving parrying mechanics and Dynasty Warriors’ heroic storytelling. What’s impressive is that Wo Long’s gameplay can be tailored to suit any player’s skill level or preference, whether you’re looking for a challenging experience going straight to the boss and regret it later by restarting or just want to just enjoy casual grinding away with checkpoints before a boss fights but in essence, it is still not the perfect game, and here’s my reason why…
Gameplay – Accessible Easy Mode
For those who enjoy grinding in JRPGs, Wo Long provides an easier path if you frequently use hard-hitting spirit attacks with the triangle button or martial arts by holding the R1 button to boost your morale, which functions like the game’s leveling system.
The controls in this game feel smooth as well as the somersault jumps around the ledges via X button, with square button used for normal attacks and triangle for stronger hard attacks. The circle button allows for staminaless parrying and distanced dodging by double tapping the circle button, making me feel like a robotic ninja. Moreover, by holding the L1 button to block and pressing the circle to parry or deflect, you can perform both actions seamlessly so normally I would just hold L1 button but with the circle button at the ready for any moment. Yet in a state of panic, I do tend to tap a double circle that makes an acrobatic dodge away while I intend to parry instead.
At times I do get mixed up between holding R2 to shoot spells or R1 to perform martial arts so it does take some time to get used to as the controls are not really intuitive. Additionally, it’s important to be mindful of your spirit gauge, as excessive use of blocking and parrying can quickly build up the spirit bar, leaving you vulnerable to staggering after a single hit by the enemy – opening you up to attack by the enemies or fatal strike by other players.
Other than that, morale starts at the base of zero in every main campaign and can reach up to a max cap of twenty-five and may differ in each sub-missions you selected. By maintaining higher morale levels than your enemies and bosses, you’ll deal more damage and receive less in return, but be wary of martial arts attacks with red auras (unblockable) that can drain your morale by at least one level cap, or by death, which resets your morale back to your fortitude level set on each stage. On a side note, you could parry the red aura attacks, which would hit the enemy’s spirit meter hard and open them up sooner to stagger fatal blow attacks in short cinematic splendor as well. The problem I have at times is the morale system being tied to the spells as some spells will not be available to be used if the morale numbers are not hitting certain numbers of kills or flags placed in explorations, pretty much-punishing players for not grinding/exploring much.
Like experience points, the fortitude on each stage can be increased by placing big war banner flags on selective locations on the map, and placing these flags for the first time will replenish your healing potions aka Dragon’s cure pot, as well as fully heal you and your party without resetting the enemies placement. Interacting with the flags again by selecting resting on it will reset enemies but also offers you a wide selection of gameplay choices be it recruiting NPC’s you met in the story or summon online players, invading (crashing now), joining helping others, buying other resources such as arrows and travel to hubs such as the hidden village to embed mod, transmog (alter appearance of any armor) or respec your character. Hiring NPC’s helps build up oath levels by accompanying you which if fulfilled to level nine or ten will grant you their full equipment sets and weapons, which is really rewarding as they have their own stat bonuses as well if the same sets are equipped.
On a side note, players need not worry about losing progress when traveling to other places such as online helping up, invading, hub, or doing side missions in other places while in the middle of the main campaign. As the game automatically saves at flag checkpoints and will bring players back to the same checkpoint of the main campaign, rather than over from scratch. This in turn makes almost every aspect of gameplay incentivizes exploration, online functions and even hiring NPC’s scapegoats/bodyguards with a lot of potential loot to boot other than killing bosses.
Additionally, while you have a dedicated button to empower your NPC friends to do certain martial arts moves, it’s pretty dumb down the comparison to them being a boss in boss fights and is pretty dumb in the AI section that mostly just rushes in and attack without proper blocking, turning them more into scapegoats and getting killed much faster. Moreover outside combat, the NPC’s AI tends to get confused by the uneven grounds of the level design and tend to get stuck or kill themselves by jumping out of the ledges continuously.
Other than fire on the grounds that does elemental HP damage; other stats-based ground debuffs of the environments such as muds or bog of poisons don’t do much damage except building up your stagger spirit gauge to the max. Which in turn doesn’t incentivize the usage of items as well which is pretty much pointless except for the healing potion aka Dragon Pots.
Speaking of killing, the experience points aka genuine Qi gained in Wo Long are used to level up your characters with a choice of five affinities elements; each with their own benefits such as survivability with the boosted defense of the earth, water for more stealthy approach or a risk-reward killing damaging fire – each with their own different spells as well to cast on enemies. My favorite affinity so far is wood which grants imbued thunder to my weapons that strikes the enemy’s stagger spirit gauge, causing them to open up more on fatal attacks with short cinematic instant kill blows.
Spell casting is a viable choice too as choices on these builds can make the gameplay as challenging as it is rewarding or easier depending on the comfort zone of the players. Not to worry as the hub (Hidden Village) offers to respec for all the builds and most weapons mods that offer so much flexibility to the game. As well as using character creation again if needed without the qualms of restarting the game back again. The only gripe I have with the loot system is that certain first mods slot of armor, weapons, affinities, and also all martial arts skills set in each weapon could not be changed or modified in the blacksmith shop. Therefore, obtaining the top-tier gear with the stats you needed is solely dependent on your luck stats, which can sometimes leave me feeling helpless. Nonetheless, the game still allows customization with the rest of the other mod’s slots. Furthermore, there are sort buttons available but no comparison button to compare both the pieces of equipment or weapon I have versus the ones I am currently wearing. While the loot drops are bountiful, most of it is just junk as the equipment and weapons don’t necessarily scale to your level.
Back to the flags topic, some of these flag areas are blocked by black vines, indicating that you need to kill a miniboss (indicated as red on the minimap) linked to the flag before opening up. And on the bosses aspect, besides the first boss which I think I restarted multiple times; the rest of the miniboss and most main bosses are the easiest to tackle, and here’s why…
Animation, Camera, and Designs – Everything Is A Berserker
While there are many varied designs and approaches, every enemies and bosses animation seems to have an obvious predictable attack. Either they are charging up the attacks or making wider arc swings around that allow players to breathe in and pace themselves by parrying it correctly with the circle button. Double-tapping circles again to dodge further with acrobatic martial arts feats makes it just satisfying to watch, as if everything is made to be a very anime-ish kung fu flick.
But the fights do get less challenging as time goes by as the enemies only have an advanced class of just one like a soldier to a general sort of deal or a monster that just got bigger by just one time. I just wished for a bit more top-tier enemies to keep me on my toes on higher-tier levels with more destructive attacks and trickier attacks. Moreover, the species of wolves and spiders should have their own advanced class/growth as well as they are just the same type throughout the gameplay.
The bosses, on the other hand, are visually stunning reminiscent of Onimusha, and enjoyable to fight against as their attacks are mostly uniquely vicious from each other but are still predictable in their approach except for the first boss. Yet, some of these even caught me by surprise, especially the spear-wielding chaps who trick me into thinking if it’s a swinging action or a thrust sorta deal. Besides that, I wish that my harder-hitting attacks or martial arts should have some staggering qualities to them as well like the bosses.
In my opinion, martial arts should be riskier and more aggressive, leaving the player open to stagger if the enemy blocks or dodges. After all, martial arts are about putting your whole body’s spirit and strength into a single strike, and it should offer a more risky, rewarding alternative factor rather than a combo that hits an unreactive enemy in return. There should also be more debuffs and incentives to use martial arts.
While I do enjoy looking at a lot of bosses and enemies, be they small or larger in size, the problem lies when I have the camera jitters/clipping through walls a lot while fighting in cramped spaces as well as cameras locked on target struggling to keep up and turn around erratically if a said large boss is flying around overhead me. Turns my eyes and mind into a fight or flight situation into internal woozy flight disorientation. Like, why need alcohol if we can play this?
UI – So Much Reading But I Can’t
There is so much to read in Wo Long and that is a good thing, especially the character’s backgrounds and enemies’ descriptions are available in the documents menu. The problem starts as the text starts moving downwards automatically in about a few seconds. Causing me to miss some descriptions at the top at the same time while reading it. The same goes with Divine Beast ( Summon beasts) descriptions in the flags battle preparation menu, it’s really hard to read the description of what the beasts do when they are summoned, as the menu design appears split up, small, and has auto-moving texts downwards.
Storytelling – It Is All About The Elixir
While I may not be well-versed in the Three Kingdoms story, but the storytelling In Wo Long is pretty much similar to Dynasty Warriors, putting you off plunging straight into war as a peasant or a nobody instead of being one of the generals in Dynasty Warrior.
The story of Wo Long, in general, is about greed for power, in that every hero and villain in this game has only a few goals in common, going to war and getting their hands on the elixirs, I mean what happened to beer or wine? Especially with every boss seemingly having an odd fixation to collect, backstabbing (literally), drinking a glowing pill-like substance called the elixirs and becoming demonic monsters in the process. Later on, I find it funny that a stab of the dark veiny arrowlike, and sharp object is equivalent to drinking the elixir in the first place without a proper explanation of how it comes to that. So it kinda felt rushed in the story pacing without having proper grounds, flow and an explanation on how the stabbing stuff can turn you into a demon as well.
Much like Nioh, what Wo Long nailed properly is the explanation in the artistic cinematic of the philosophy of the heroes and villains on their core motivations and ethics that drives their Divine Beasts into a specific animal or shape, after defeating them.
The main antagonist of the game called a TIB (Taoist in Black) named Yu Ji, falls short in terms of character development, as he comes across as a stereotypical dark sith villain from the beginning all the way to the end that was depicted as an evil being but to me, he’s just stubbornly senile. Because normally antagonists have to evoke a sense of hatred from me or a desire for revenge but for him, I just felt pity that he just went bonkers throughout.
Other than dead bodies lying on the fields to tell the state of war, Wo Long’s story lacks the depiction of the war’s chaos, its impact on the people as well as soldiers, their mentality, and their reactions throughout. Similar to the way Star Wars’ Andor emphasizes the importance of rebellion as a response to atrocities committed by the empire. Wo Long pretty much missed the plot and drive in the long run, because till now I still failed to see why this matters to the silent main character or why this main character still needs to help the generals out one after another without the proper solid reason, instead, the focus is mainly driven by the heroes’ and villains’ quest to get the elixirs to win the war. Despite this, fans of Dynasty Warriors will still feel right at home with this form of straightforward storytelling, albeit with the added twist of elixirs turning warriors into monsters.
Moreover, the story pits you jumping straight into war and jumping into every stage of other parts of the wars, therefore it would be better to have a better context on the place and the people too before coming into the scene. Because besides the texts on the loading screen showing why we have to go to this field or this place, the place’s name sounds pretty gibberish to me as I feel unattached to the surroundings and the people. So far, the only place I can recall is the hidden village hub. Since it’s where I interacted with NPCs the most and the game bosses, Lubu and Hong Jing because they have the most consistent screen time in the game and are the most human in their interactions. The rest of the generals are just mostly coming in and out, separately in different parts of the story and all about the macho display of power. If war is a gym back then – this is it, with the occasional buff patrons coming in and out, asking how many reps/kills you did, and sharing their dose of philosophy.
Songs And Music – Feel The Surge Of Energy
I played Wo Long preferably in Chinese dubs because not only does it feels authentic like watching something out of a TVB/Chinese tv series. But the actors and actresses in Wo Long speak proudly through their diaphragm to display a certain portrayal of pure gravitas, and vigor, or maybe because they have a larger mic. That adds that extra depth to their voice, suiting well in those times of war – with some level of authority but with fewer issues with lip sync. In comparison, the English voiceovers come across as a bit more subdued or tamed despite a slight hint of an oriental accent, and suffer from noticeable lip sync issues, prompting me to switch to the other language options.
In terms of music, with multiple instruments such as cello and wind instruments such as flute, including Erhu and chorus singers singing their tribal-like oriental tunes that fit the theme of Wo Long. All of it hits me like a truck – isekaied/transported me straight into a world of turmoil war and foreboding dangers in every corner. The music does turn into something more scarily energetic during boss fights, adding to the dangerous tones of the situation. The issue lies in running from tunnel to tunnel or place to place that erratically switches to different music without a proper smooth transition – felt rushed here again. Making me feel like a battle is coming or something is ambushing behind me without noticing.
Level Design And UI – Truly Vertically Exceptional Except For The Lighting
Level designs in Wo Long consist of almost all varied designs of stages, be it in the forests, war-torn areas, burned-down towns, boats, and caverns – each either be it short or larger in scope. But all things considered, all these designs are layered with a lot of sense of verticality in mind. So even though you are exploring a small town or just one building, it’s exceptionally layered with top of rooftops and underground levels that will surely keep you exploring for more. Each exploration will be genuinely rewarded for better loot, placing flags to retain fortitude levels, and finding higher ground to deal fatal stealth blows to enemies from above. So keep looking up and corners in the new areas as enemies do tend to use this verticality as their advantage in design for an ambush. There are a lot of unnecessary jump scares as well in this game, especially from the corners of new areas or rooms because enemies are scriptedly designed to use heavy attack at the sight of you but in turn, make it predictable in the long run.
Although Wo Long’s visuals look stunning at night or in dark caves, the lighting effects in the mornings turn the surroundings hazy, dusty, or old. Unsure if the assets are intended to be old or re-used but it’s definitely noticeable, which can be rather disappointing. While hazy and dusty lighting adds to the game’s war-torn atmosphere, it could have been implemented better to maintain clear visual clarity like the dark caves while also maintaining the ambiance of a dusty war and preventing the assets to appear old or outdated.
In addition, the lack of pointers in the map for side missions combined with the elements in reused assets tends to make it rather difficult to navigate around and find distinct landmarks, often resulting in frustrating aimless wandering.
What I Liked About Wo Long : Fallen Dynasty
- Accessibility – The character customization screen is good and many options are available, including transmog, Repec stats, and embed mods.
- Action – Stealth kills and parry clink clank actions are pretty awesome. Once it clicks, you will enjoy it like Sekiro. Smooth running and jumping around levels too, almost like a kung fu panda.
Tip: Certain large enemies are open for another stealth kill after being downed by the first stealth kill from the air with a tight second window opening on the ground which is pretty awesome.
- Accessible easy mode – Grind to feel more powerful and resilient to damage. Ignoring the grind makes it even more challenging.
- Level Design – So much verticality is imposed on rooftops or underground in a single place, even on many uneven grounds and varied level designs. Jumping around do feel addictive too.
Tip: Always look up and about! Ambush is always there
- Bountiful loot – A lot of loot to pick up and salvage for parts. Transmog and embed mods are available as an option. Even hiring NPC’s gives potential loot for bonus sets as their oath level builds up in every kill. With the power of friendships!
- A Lot Of Writing – In the Documents section menu, texts in the bestiary and character explanations. I just wished that they don’t move downwards on their own because I would wanna read them to know this world more slowly at my own pace.
- Varied enemies and bosses – Quite a number of enemies types (in lower-level stages only) and bosses that looks pretty epic, some remind me of Onimusha.
- Music and sound – Pretty powerful stringy banger pieces, while the sounds hit the right tone of parrying and hitting.
- Forgiving, very LONG parry time frame – The most forgiving of the series.
- New game + mode is available – It felt like the actual hard-hitting tanky mode of the campaign.
- Theatre Mode – Rewatch scenes with your custom character inside.
What I Wished Was Better
- Storytelling – Looks pretty straightforward, mostly about the heroes and the elixir. Lack of attachment to the place and the people.
- Less intuitive control – Need time to get used to parry via circle button versus dodging via double circle, and spell casting R2 button versus R1 martial arts button.
- Dusty lighting – Hard to get the right tune of light and dark and the saturations. The lighting effects looks dusty, making textures looks obviously outdated, kinda hard to tell which objects are breakable too.
- Level Design – Quite a lot of reused assets with a lack of memorable landmarks, may get lost a lot in navigation if there are no point markers.
- UI – Some items are designed to be very small to see the item in the menu, making them look like pebbles. The writing in inventory equipment and divine beasts descriptions is hard to read esp if it auto-moves downwards. The divine beast’s description is everywhere, appearing like a mini-split screen. Comparing equipment button is needed.
- Boss Fights – Some boss fights are harder but most are easier- But all are welcome because I am not that skilled either. Things do get dulled over time due to the lack of challenging enemies in general, especially in higher-level stages.
- Camera – Sometimes the camera will jitter and clip into walls while fighting in cramped spaces. Tends to spin around while locked on larger boss targets that are flying or standing above the player.
- Bug: Crash in invasion and HDR option available even though my screen doesn’t support HDR.
- The English voice acting – Lack of vigor and many lip sync issues.
- So much junk in loot – Items and equipment not scaling to my levels. Turning them into mindless junks most of the time. Luck stats is really important in this game.
Tip: Before heading into the blacksmith shop salvage option’s – lock all your needed pieces of equipment and weapons, and select all junks via the L3 button to be salvaged, saving a lot of time.
- Items are less utilized – Because most debuffs stats are underwhelming and don’t warrant the usage of the item except healing.
- NPC’s AI – Is just dumb, they can’t survive in fights or even jump gaps properly. They feel less powerful as an ally but more powerful as opponents.
- Morale System tied to Spell casting – Not all spells/buffs are available even though equipped unless reaching a certain level of morale.
- Music – The music transition is not smooth when you move from one place to the next. The transition is erratic which kept me on my toes for no reason.
Verdict – If Dynasty Warrior Has A Remake
This would be a perfect fit for a remake of a Dynasty Warrior – a slightly harder darker version of its mix in a souls-like world that definitely appeals to a player who likes both of these genres at the same time. While offering fun actions, bountiful loots, and level verticality, however, it’s not without its flaws, such as less challenging enemy types, camera issues, dusty lighting, and often gameplay crashes while conducting invasions. It feels like the game was rushed at some point in completion without ironing out these details – which would have made for a much better experience. But alas, this is my first souls-like game in that I do not feel the need to hire online recruits or friends to help out and that shows how easy it is.
As it stands, Wo Long may not be worth the full purchasing price mostly because of the crashes, but it’s still an archived gem that’s worth revisiting after the release of future DLCs or patch notes that addresses the current issues later. So do keep an eye out for a sale as well.
But if you still do plan to get it and look past its flaws, you will still have a really good and fun time once the actions appeal to you. Casuals are also welcome to try but do try it out beforehand in the demo version or play it on Xbox Game Pass for free if its applicable to you.