When one thinks of the Three Kingdoms era of China and Koei Tecmo, their first thought might be the fast-paced hack-n-slash action of the Dynasty Warriors series. But Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, despite its differing playstyle, does not let its predecessors overshadow it. While it is definitely more action-oriented than other Soulslike games, it is still quite the challenge. Unfortunately, part of the challenge involves dealing with things beyond the player’s control when on PC, such as laggy framerates and shoddy controls depending on how you’re playing.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, like most other Dynasty Warriors games, takes place during the Yellow Turban Rebellion during the Eastern Han Dynasty. The nameless player avatar (whom the player can customize) finds themself swept into a conflict between the various kingdoms. However, this time they’re after an elixir of immortality, rather than territory. You fight through levels with historical figures such as Zhao Yun or Guan Yu as your partners, all while wielding magical powers and Divine Beasts in a fantasy version of China. The story is not very impressive and ultimately forgettable, but the action and cutscenes are a delight to watch.
Another reason why I have such a hard time remembering the story is because it takes me a while to get through each level. For reference, Team Ninja split up Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty into various battlegrounds. Once you complete one, you move onto the next. Every level partners you up with a Three Kingdoms figure, or you fight one. Before you face off against the boss, you must explore the region and cut through the enemies you encounter. You can deal with the random mobs in various stylish ways. But if you let your guard down, they can seriously mess you up. At the end, you open a door to a boss. Some of these bosses are ridiculously hard, whereas others are a cakewalk. There is a very simple formula to follow when going up against bosses: parrying. Soulslike veterans should have expected that, though.
The thing with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is that it’s obviously not as easy as it sounds on paper. Parrying depends on your weapon, with ones like polearms having a broader window in exchange for slower attacks. I also found that the timing can be severe, even when I used a weapon with a lower deflecting difficulty. You also have to balance your Spirit (essentially you can’t play too conservatively), which means the game forces you to get in close and combo the enemy. Some bosses have a small pause before they unleash their critical hit, which is easy to fall for when it’s your first time fighting against them. Fortunately, there is always a save point right before the boss fight, so you don’t tend to lose much progress.
Surprisingly, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is really approachable. Now, obviously, you do need some skill in order to fight the bosses. The game takes no pity on you. However, the Morale and Fortitude systems can make your life easier. The more enemies you defeat, the higher your Morale is. As well, your Fortitude rises every time you raise a battle flag. The closer your Morale is to boss’s, the more damage you deal and the less damage you take. Fortitude, on the other hand, is the minimum level of Morale you have. So players who want an easier time can grind to boost their Morale and make each strike count. Conversely, players who prefer a challenge can let simply maintain the bare minimum of Morale before a boss fight.
Wo Long occasionally stutters, making my frame rate terrible despite my gaming laptop’s fairly good specs. It would be a minor nuisance except for the fact that every frame is literally what separates my character from a successful deflect or a world of hurt. There are also some oddities in the patch I played when it came to the menu. Due to certain circumstances, I played with a mouse and a keyboard. This is a configuration that Koei Tecmo supports. Unfortunately, the team likely did not expect anyone to actually use a mouse and keyboard. Even at its fastest setting, the camera feels sluggish when turning. As well, it was difficult navigating the Wizardry menu to give my character new spells. This is because my cursor disappeared more than half the time, forcing me to exit the menu and click back in just to check out the skill tree.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has a unique world view and a fun but challenging battle system. Unfortunately, there are a few issues that bog it down other than its performance on PC. The dull environments can get boring to look at, and the story is fairly generic despite the setting. I also felt like the historical figures could have had more screentime rather than existing as glorified decoys. Perhaps that is my bias as a Three Kingdoms fan and not necessarily a soulslike fan, though. It has promise as a new Three Kingdoms-inspired Koei Tecmo game, but needs to polish off its rough patches before it can shine on its own.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is readily available on the PS4, PS5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One. Windows PC version playtested.