Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review

Team Ninja's spiritual successor to the Nioh franchise deserves nothing but praise.

by Elliott Gatica
Image: Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo

As someone who has put way too many hours into Nioh 1 and 2, my standards for souls-like action RPGs were raised. I wanted something with fun, flashy combat, and an awesome gameplay loop. I wanted something that will have my adrenaline pumping as I’m on my last heal fighting against formidable foes. Well, that’s where Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty comes in, firing on all cylinders and going beyond.

Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja nailed it with Wo Long. They took the Nioh formula and trimmed the fat in necessary areas while tweaking the good to make it even better. It still maintains all my aforementioned expectations of what a KT and Team Ninja game should be comprised of. What they created feels like an evolution of the Nioh series, now taken into a new era.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty just feels good to play. The fluid and flashy combat makes me look and feel like such a badass warrior. From the swords, halberds, staffs, and other weapons offered, the way everything flows looks like an entrancing dance of elegance and lethality. 

Chaos in the Three Kingdoms – A Familiar Formula in a New and Grand Setting

The best way to describe how Wo Long feels is if you combined the visuals and swordplay of the Dynasty Warriors and Nioh games with a pinch of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. What results is a game that is quite difficult, but oh-so-rewarding when you conquer the seemingly impossible.

To break it down, let’s start with the Dynasty Warriors elements.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes place in a fictitious depiction of the Later Han Dynasty in China. The empire is on the verge of collapse, with war breaking out among the Cao Wei, Sun Wu, and Shu Han states. If this all seems familiar, then you have either played the DW games or have heard of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The source material remains intact, but throw in demons, spells, and monsters. This now unfolds as a dark fantasy variant of the story. 

Next, Wo Long resembles Nioh repurposed in a new country. Some may even call it “Nioh, but in China” which is fair to say (not that it’s a bad thing in any way). From a quick glance, Wo Long can be mistaken as a DLC for a Nioh game or as a spiritual “Nioh 3.” That isn’t the case, but that series and this new game are so good, so that doesn’t even matter.

Combine the visuals and swordplay of the Dynasty Warriors and Nioh games with a pinch of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Aside from visuals, Wo Loing contains the menus and overall flow of the Nioh series. You start off on a level and fight your way through progressively tougher enemies. These missions are fairly linear and are structured in a way that’s hard to get lost in. However, the game rewards you for venturing off the beaten path.

Instead of Prayer Shrines, you have to claim a Battle Flag and rest at them. Your healing inventory is replenished and you can continue. There are also shortcuts to get back to previous Flags. Basically, all the standard aspects from souls-like games and Nioh are there.

Your Hand Won’t Be Held for Everything

The combat is fast and hardcore and rewards those who nailed down the depth of the mechanics. This is where it starts to get into Sekiro territory. If you have ever heard of the Mikiri Counter which is almost a necessary mechanic to progress through FromSoftware’s game, think of that being applied here in Wo Long. 

Sure, you can swing your weapon away to your heart’s content, but the hack-and-slash nature of this game can only get you so far. What separates the good players from the bad will be how well you can telegraph enemy moves, manage your patience in combat, and have a good sense of your environment.

Image: Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty heavily rewards players who know how to utilize the Deflect mechanic. Press the proper button or key, depending on your platform of choice to perform it. Hit it right as an enemy’s attack is about to connect. In doing so, you can redirect your enemy’s attack. 

If you can master your deflect, you’re going to open a whole new world of badassery.

If performed on a normal enemy, they might stagger a bit, allowing you to follow up. There is also the more lethal “critical blow” moves that you really have to know how to either dodge or deflect. This is where the big damage takes place. Enemies can be mostly dealt with by infinitely staggering them and withering their health bars away. Bosses are a completely different story, however.

What makes many people rage at souls-like games are the legendarily difficult boss fights. You have to know when you have an advantageous moment to inflict your damage. Otherwise, you’ll get killed before you know it. In Wo Long, dodging isn’t the name of the game here. It still works as intended, but if you can master your deflect, you’re going to open a whole new world of badassery.

It’ll definitely take a lot of time, going through several deaths, moments of rage, and contemplations of quitting. I want to reassure you that once you get your timing down against bosses, this game will become significantly easier and a lot more enjoyable. Go ahead, badmouth it, and call it “Learn to Counter: The Game,” but this isn’t a title meant for the faint of heart. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into before writing this off as being a “bad” game because you didn’t learn the core mechanics in helping you succeed.

Souls Mechanics, but With Enhancements

If you have ever played a Souls game or a souls-like game in any capacity, Wo Long shouldn’t be too much of a stranger here. Yes, the terminology will all sound different than what’s expected, but it all basically translates from one to one.

Image: Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo

What should be addressed is the big question: “What happens if you die twice?”

Well, the short answer: “You should avoid that.”

But the longer, more concise answer: this game doesn’t punish you as hard as other games. Instead of getting a debuff and losing all of your XP, you only lose half of your unbanked experience points, or Genuine Qi, as it’s called in Wo Long. 

In order to get your Qi back, you’ll have to defeat the enemy who killed you in your last life. They’ll be a bit stronger than last time, so make sure to rethink your strategy before going all in. 

As for other terms, this game utilizes a system called Spirit. It’s akin to Stamina from other games. In Wo Long, it’s almost like Stamina, but it’s only used when performing Martial Arts moves on your weapons, heavy attacks (or Spirit Attacks), dodging, deflecting, blocking, and spells. You don’t use up Spirit when sprinting or jumping, so it makes the nature of the whole game much faster than what you might be used to.

Spirit Guardians, as they were in Nioh, are now called Divine Beasts. They provide you with a temporary buff and can really help turn the tide in battle when things get too dicey. 

From the movement feeling so fast and smooth, to the combat feeling fluid and rewarding, I can give nothing but praise for how Team Ninja pulled this off. As I’m already on my second playthrough of the game, it’s so hard to put this thing down. I keep wanting more, and Wo Long is really scratching that itch for an awesome gameplay loop.

New Mechanics that Give the Game a More Unique Identity

Aside from the staple mechanics we’re used to in souls-like games, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has a new Morale system. Think of it as a power mechanic individually set for each level you play. You have your overall character level from speccing into one of the five Virtues, but the Morale rank differs from that. 

Typically, you start off at Morale Rank 0 and have to climb your way up. In doing so, you level it up by defeating enemies. They too will also have those Morale ranks. It’s a number that determines how strong they’ll be in regard to the player. You can even the playing fields by matching them there and by finding all the Flags in each level.

As I’m already on my second playthrough of the game, it’s so hard to put this thing down. I keep wanting more, and Wo Long is really scratching that itch for an awesome gameplay loop.

This also ties into the new Vengeance system where you’ll occasionally see enemies with abnormally high Morale Ranks. It’s like a variant of a VIP system of sorts where they might be a normal grunt, but they have claimed the lives of other players, making them a harder target. Killing them will reward you with more cool gear, so there’s a tradeoff.

Standard RPG Mechanics That Create a Healthy Balance Between Grind and Skill

Returning from the Nioh games into Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the gear system. It’s oftentimes and most accurately described as having a Diablo-like loot system where enemies, bosses, and missions will reward you with progressively stronger gear.

You equip the better gear as you see fit to your build and play with it. In the first run, you’re constantly getting stronger items. So, yes, there are builds in this game where you can focus on the strengths of your character and skills. Via the blacksmith, you can increase such stats as how much health you get back per Dragon Cure Pot or how much Spirit you consume upon using spells. The list goes on.

Unlike Nioh where you’re overloaded with so many item drops, Wo Long’s gear drops as much less cluttered. You’ll still obtain things that may not really appeal to you, but there’s a lot less junk to sift through. This does mean that your inventory won’t be overflowing so often. Gear is more impactful and won’t mean too much only until the endgame.

This game feels like it was designed in a way where you have to actually hone your skills to be good. You can’t rely on numbers and builds to necessarily carry you to the end. While builds are definitely viable, it’ll eliminate that need to be stat checked every now and then, which I can praise so much.

Travel as a Pack or as One

What you may notice in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is that you are oftentimes accompanied by an NPC. This might be a divisive topic for people who want to have a more solo experience. Having an NPC in some instances can trivialize the game’s legendary difficulty at times. With more entities being able to remove aggro from you, this does start to feel more akin to a Dynasty Warriors game.

Luckily, even if NPCs are first given to you without having any say in whether you want them to stick around or not, there is an option to take on missions alone. You’ll get an item for it. The addition of forced NPCs in a majority of levels can help newcomers to the genre get eased into it.

Image: Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo

However, this also coincides with the multiplayer options available in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. You can go through the majority of the game’s missions by being the guest or inviting someone as a guest in your mission. There’s also the standard cooperative option where you can play levels from start to finish with up to two other people.

To put the icing on the cake, there’s even an invasion system where you or other players can invade other people’s game instances and challenge them to a 1 on 1. Of course, if you are scared of overpowered players or just an unfair interruption in your game, you can disable this feature. The social features, overall, are a win for all players, despite preferences.

Everything is Just Pretty to Look At

If you’re a player who likes to take in the environment, the level design, the armor sets, weapons, the story, and the cutscenes, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty also delivers on this front. This game is available to 8th-gen console owners, but it’s still a good-looking one regardless. 

It’s usually difficult to create a story where you’re the definition of plot armor, advancing the narrative to reach a satisfying ending. Here, I think Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo also nailed it. The weaker aspect of the Nioh games was the story, which wasn’t all too much to write home about, but here in Wo Long, it feels like it’s done better. 

The visuals stand strong while creating a story that’s memorable. Even if a lot of the names of the characters might be tough to remember or get the hang of, you have the option to check the game’s Encyclopedia to keep up with everything. From characters’ backgrounds, enemy logs, past tutorials, and other important tidbits of info Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty does a good job of keeping you focused on the game. So, make sure you read what’s on the UI and don’t just skip over everything.

Image: Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo

The Verdict

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty took the Nioh formula and expanded upon it, cutting out the unnecessary parts. It’s a game that is graphically impressive, fun, challenging, and feels complete. This might actually be a good intro game for people who have been put off by the sheer difficulty of souls-like games. There are resources available for people who need just a bit more power to put up a fair fight against the seemingly impossible.

All in all, if you like a good rendition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a Nioh-styled souls game, you cannot skip out on this one. 

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

About The Author

Elliott is a passionate gamer who has dipped his feet into basically every genre there is. He has a soft spot for fighters, shooters, and action RPGs though. Catch him throwing hands once the new iterations of Tekken, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat come out.


Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

  • Score: 5 / 5
  • Available On: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC
  • Published By: Koei Tecmo
  • Developed By: Team Ninja
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • US Release Date: March 3, 2023
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
  • Quote: "The best way to describe how Wo Long feels is if you combined the visuals and swordplay of the Dynasty Warriors and Nioh games with a pinch of Sekiro. What then happens is that you have a game that is quite difficult, but oh-so-rewarding when you conquer the seemingly impossible."
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