Fans of the Nioh series should rejoice at the release of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a brand new Team Ninja spiritual sequel published by Koei Tecmo. A cultural shift to Chinese history presents a fresh-feeling backdrop for this new action-RPG, ever beholden to the Soulsborne series while mixing in much more grind and padding overall.
Joining other games based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and with a fractured fairytale approach, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty centers its narrative through numerous cinematic sequences and lore, though Team Ninja’s uneven English language voiceover tendencies haven’t missed a beat, for better and for worse. Players take on the role of a reborn “nameless soldier” of the Han Dynasty, granted a second chance at life and subsequently threading their way through the historical epic, mute yet frequently at the center of every plot point.
Bloodborne’s lead producer Masaaki Yamagiwa lends their expertise to Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, but the other game which immediately comes to mind in its initial hours is FromSoft’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Parrying is paramount here, regardless of which of the 13 weapon types players choose as their favorite. A peculiar “spirit gauge” system encourages precise parries with foes both large and small, a mechanic which is poorly explained in-game but eventually makes sense after a few hours of trial and error.
Every enemy in the game can block, attack, and unleash a special red-tinged blow which must be parried or dodged. Similar to Sekiro, successful parries eventually daze an enemy, who can then be vanquished or heavily damaged with a fatal attack struck within a certain window. Chip damage is viable, though Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty players will notice that frequent whiffed attacks render them vulnerable, so a level of precision is needed to down even the lowliest mobs.
Unfortunately, everything from leveling up to choosing the right gear is compromised by confusion. Five attributes based on the five Chinese elements don’t correlate to a sensible feeling of power growth, and the myriad items picked up in any Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty level are choked with the slightest of incidental upgrades, which makes new equipment rarely feel empowering or even coherent to a theoretical build. This should be familiar to Nioh franchise fans, but feels even more confused in this game, and the lack of a compare feature for weapons and armor seems a cardinal sin in an action-RPG stuffed with such vast quantities of vendor trash at every step.
Eventually, though, a few weapons will crawl their way to the top of the heap. Sadly, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty never feels quite suited to any sort of idiosyncratic player-directed build. Whether its dual-wielded halberds or a massive hammer, most enemies simply require coordinated parries and patience. There’s a light and heavy attack, though the latter makes a dent in the Spirit gauge; once depleted, a single hit will cause a stun that opens players up to significant damage.
Plenty of Souls tropes remain apparent, including the Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty equivalents of upgradable Estus flasks, reclaimable currency on death, shortcuts, bonfires, and jolly co-operation. An interesting recruitment system allows players to pull in NPCs met throughout the story to help with bosses or difficult combat in any given chapter, though the companion AI can be frustrating to deal with, even once their given “oath level” is increased over numerous summons.
Satisfaction and frustration constantly vie for dominance, with some of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s bosses an unpredictable mess of zero-wind-up one-shot kills and massive health bars. The game encourages players to return to vanquished chapters for side quests and level-grinding, though they all amount to a combat scenario, duel, or retread on a familiar map with different enemy layouts. Additionally, a morale/fortitude system pushes for perfect play, though feisty approaches at higher-morale enemies provides some maps with challenge gates in lieu of forced pathing.
The incorporation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms setting is of primary importance here, but Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s story devolves into a bloated melodrama with nonsensical plot twists and is mostly incoherent on the whole. Enemy designs vary between humanoid cannon fodder and oversized demons, with the latter turning into especially tedious encounters in the back half of the game. It’s also a shame that, unlike the heights of the Ninja Gaiden games’ robust combat mechanics, group fights are a constant chore, full of off-screen attacks, perilously-placed archers, and other tiresome action game tropes to which the player’s abilities are not well aligned.
The Nioh series has already contended with some or all of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s quibbles, so veterans may not be the least bit dissuaded at the similar missteps made here. They’ll find tons of items to pore through and bosses to tangle with over a 35-hour campaign, with additional side quests and some fun 1-on-1 duels to dive back into after the credits scroll. If another Team Ninja Soulslike focused on parrying and inventory management sounds like a great time, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will certainly deliver, but a lack of mechanical polish and an inflated inconsistent campaign may be a hard sell to the uninitiated.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty releases on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on March 3. A digital PS5 code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.