Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review – Dark Souls does Dynasty Warriors

The creators of Nioh and Stranger Of Paradise return with a new Soulslike inspired by a darker take on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Dark Souls will be 12 years old this September and while it has had a major influence, in terms of making difficult games fashionable even with major publishers, there have still been relatively few straight clones. Frustratingly, those that do exist all tend to stick very closely to the same dark fantasy atmosphere of the original game, making it difficult for any of them to really stand out. But if you don’t count Hollow Knight and other 2D games we’d say that Nioh 2 is clearly the best.

Nioh 1 and 2 are great games but while they do have some tonal similarities with Dark Souls there are clear differences too, with a greater emphasis on faster-paced combat and a setting based on Japanese mythology. We’re not sure there’s ever going to be a Nioh 3, but this is clearly intended to be a spiritual successor, as despite being set in ancient China the basic gameplay and structure is very similar.

Developer Team Ninja is also working on an open world samurai game, that may also have some elements of Nioh, called Rise Of The Rōnin, but that’s a completely separate title that’s not out until next year. It’s not clear what’s happened to hints of a new Ninja Gaiden but between that and Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (which is also very Dark Souls-esque) we fear the studio has begun to stretch itself too thinly.

If you know your Three Kingdom mythology you might recognise Wo Long, which means Hidden Dragon, as the nickname of Zhuge Liang, who often pops up in the Dynasty Warriors games and other titles based around the Romance Of The Three Kingdoms stories. This is meant to be a dark take on those same legends but, just like Nioh, it’s mostly incoherent posturing and it’s largely impossible to care what’s going on whether you’re familiar with the source material or not.

If you do know the characters then you get to team up with a lot of historical figures during the course of the game, although you play as a nameless, customisable avatar – which doesn’t do much for the storytelling but instead offers an impressive array of options in terms of getting exactly the sort of build that suits your play style.

The combat is by no means the same as Nioh, even if the pacing is reminiscent. It’s actually closer to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice than it is Dark Souls (plus the jumping from Ninja Gaiden), which is to say it’s especially dependent on timing and counters – to the point where you often can’t do any damage at all if you don’t prove to the game that you know what you’re doing.

Rather than a stamina bar you have a spirit meter that increases as you block, parry, and attack but is consumed when you dodge, use special moves and magic, or take a hit. Receive damage when the meter is already in the red and you’ll briefly become staggered, encouraging you to not only keep on the offensive but to choose your actions with care. Just like Sekiro, enemies have their own spirit meters, so it all feels fair and every encounter is a useful learning opportunity.

Although it has some nasty difficulty spikes (the first boss is almost the hardest thing in the whole game) Wo Long isn’t actually that hard and is easier than both the Nioh games and anything by FromSoftware. That’s assuming you pick your fights carefully though, with the game having a similar structure to Nioh, where the main missions are always in new areas and the side missions are mostly recycled content – although the chance to fight what were previously computer-controlled allies is a neat twist.

Another good idea is the morale system which ranks everyone, including you and enemies, up to level 25 and is based on how many opponents you’ve defeated and whether you did it with special moves or not. The higher level you are the more damage you do, which is another system that is also shared with enemies, including the fact that you lose morale when hit and reset the whole thing when you’re killed. It’s essentially Wo Long’s equivalent of losing, and having to regain, souls when you die, adding another reason to be cautious and precise in all your actions.

There’s a lot of good stuff in Wo Long but what’s frustrating is that it fails to learn anything from Team Ninja’s other games. The story issues are essentially identical to Nioh and so is the awful loot system, which is constantly trying to drown you in a sea of unwanted equipment. Even if you do pick up something useful it’s usually just a couple of percentage points better than an item you already have and that means more farting about with the inventory in endless busywork.

Customisation is great but not if it means you end up staring at the menus for longer than you’re playing the game, as you salvage gear for resources and work out which slot on which weapon you’re going to add something. On balance it’s probably not quite as bad as Nioh, but it’s close enough that it’s clear Team Ninja doesn’t really appreciate the problem everyone had with it.

Given how little has changed, you’d almost think this and Nioh were made in parallel, as Wo Long also shares a problem in terms of the lack of enemy variety, which means constantly repeating the same fights, with only minor variations, throughout the game. This might have been less of a problem if the game was harder but instead it saps your enthusiasm as you realise you’ve already seen most of what the game has to offer by the halfway point – plus it makes the online co-op largely redundant, since you never need anyone’s help.

Sadly, Wo Long is not as good as either Nioh game and that’s very frustrating because it always felt as if those games needed only a few tweaks to edge them into full classic status. Wo Long never really gets close though and while its relative lack of challenge makes it a good choice for Soulslike neophytes they may struggle to understand the appeal of the genre from only playing this.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review summary

In Short: A disappointing follow-up to Nioh, that has most of its same qualities but, unfortunately, almost exactly the same flaws; with two few new ideas to make up for the lack of advancement.

Pros: The core combat is great fun and different enough from both Nioh and Sekiro to feel like its own thing. The morale system is a clever idea and there’s plenty of content, including online co-op.

Cons: Doesn’t address any of the issues from Nioh, including the poor storytelling, tedious loot system, and lack of enemy variety. Uneven difficultly level.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £54.99
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: 3rd March 2023
Age Rating: 16

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