Announced in June 2022, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the next character action game by Team Ninja. Set in the Three Kingdoms-era of China, it has the same feudal design and appeal as the developer’s previous title, Nioh. It’s hard not to draw comparisons at a glance, as both games have highly stylized action and undead and demonic enemies skulking through the remains of long abandoned battlefields. However, Wo Long couldn’t be any more different.
While it may be easy to wash Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty in the same coat of pain as the Nioh series, it feels wholly distinct. This is through the incorporation of several different systems unique to this new character action game. One of which being morale. Morale is a deciding factor in how easy encounters can be, which encourages exploration to find points on the map where you can lay your banner. This increases your overall morale, which allows you to do more damage to enemies based on your morale difference. The higher your morale is the more damage you do, which can make encounters that were once challenging now significantly easier.
For example, when I tackled the boss in the preview, which was a massive feral hog (give or take a few demonic growths), my morale was roughly around level seven. Because of this, I was doing significantly more damage to the enemy with basic attacks, heavy attacks, and my perfect counters. What could have been a challenging battle felt like a walk through the park, as Wo Long facilitated ways to make this fight a lot easier through this morale system. That said, losing morale is as simple as dying, which will take a chunk out of what morale you’ve accrued through erecting banners and killing enemies.
For the purpose of the trial I was allowed to pick from five different “phases,” or player builds, associated with the major elements in Wo Long. These are fire, earth, wood, metal, and water. Each of these builds played into specific attributes, with fire being more attack oriented and wood providing more support to both the player and allies. These were the two phases I decided to try, and found them both interesting enough on their own merits.
Fire was more straightforward, as I was equipped with offensive spells that were, naturally, aspected to fire. Wood on the other hand, allowed me to heal myself either through regeneration, attacking, and even fling lightning at my foes from afar. Each of these presets came with their own weapons as well, with fire leaving me equipped with a longsword and wood with a spear. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of polearms in character action games, as I find them to generally be a lot slower than other available weapons, but in Wo Long that felt negligible. Unlike Nioh where there was a bit of a wind-up for spear or glaive attacks, Wo Long allows for players to be agile, even with bulky weapons. Attacks with the spear weren’t as swift as with the longsword, don’t get me wrong, but I was still able to dodge and attack with a certain rhythm that didn’t feel cumbersome.
I was easily able to avoid and even dodge enemy attacks, which left them wide open to my spear. And upon breaking the poise of an enemy, you’re treated to a stylish animation with whatever weapon you’re equipped with. This always felt really rewarding and extremely satisfying, especially against harder enemies. Even movement feels more graceful, as you’re able to scale certain walls with ease, which keeps the flow of combat and exploration at a nice, steady pace.
Concerning character builds, Wo Long plays into the five elements I mentioned before. Similar to rock paper scissors, each element has their own strengths and weaknesses against one another. And that’s something to consider when equipping weapons (as each have their own elemental attribute) and spells. Like Nioh, players can equip spells to fling at enemies, empower their own attacks, or heal allies. However, you aren’t limited to a set amount of uses per spell until you rest. Instead, as long as you give yourself enough time between casting (since it eats up your stamina and poise), you can use spells pretty much indefinitely. This was a really nice change, and allowed for me to be a bit riskier as I could heal myself without worrying about using up all of my spells before I’d even reach a boss. Of course this could become a lot tricker later on, since you’re effectively giving up some of your stamina to cast spells, but with the right kind of balance I can see this creating a greater sense of fluidity for Wo Long’s combat.
Players can also call upon Divine Beasts in combat, with each Divine Beast having its own unique ability. The Qinglong will instead heal allies once summoned, and at morale 10 is capable of reviving downed allies. Whereas the Baihu will fight alongside you as a summoned beast, with the duration it can stay on the field increased once you have at least 10 morale. As you can see, the previously mentioned morale system adds a lot of depth to the game, not just where your damage is concerned.
While Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty appeared to be another flavor of Team Ninja’s Nioh at a glance, it is a more mechanically complex game by far. The morale system alone has me excited to see how the game will further make use of it for more challenging encounters, and what else this will potentially affect. Combat and movement are as graceful as ever, and the consolidation of poise and stamina as a single resource kept me quick on my toes. Overall, I’m extremely excited for what the full release of Wo Long will hold, as it already differentiates itself enough from other character action games to create something interesting.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will release on March 3, 2023 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC.