Team Ninja has a rich history of creating memorable action RPG experiences, and all of that has led up its newest project. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the culmination of roughly two decades of action game development, and it’s some of Team Ninja’s best work yet.
A powerful dynasty
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is set in the second century, during the late days of the Han Dynasty in China. However, this version of China is a bit different from what you’ll read in the history books. As the long-standing dynasty nears its collapse, China is overcome with immense chaos and destruction, with dangerous people and creatures posing a dangerous threat to the lives of everyone. Players take on the role of a member of a militia, tasked with defeating the evil and aiding in the restoration of peace.
I found Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s fantasy spin on China in the early first millennium to be a fascinating setting for the story being told. While the intrigue surrounding the powerful forces at play was enough to hold my interest, it was the characters that won me over. There are multiple unique characters that you meet throughout the course of the story that will provide valuable information about the world and accompany you on your journey. I loved learning about their unique backgrounds and motivations. The only drawback was that I found some of the English voice performances to be a bit flat.
Harness the power
In true Team Ninja fashion, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a brutally difficult action RPG. Following in the Soulslike formula, players can plant their flag in different areas of a level. These flags serve as checkpoints and bases where you can level up, heal, refill your Dragon’s Cure Pots (health potions), and more. Whenever you visit one of these flags, every enemy in the level will respawn. There’s a constant balancing act of trying not to make things harder on yourself when recouping and replenishing resources.
Combat itself is tight and methodical. With melee and ranged weapons, you’re free to hack and slash your way through enemies as you see fit, but there are mechanics in place that make combat feel more like a game of chess. The Chinese martial arts-inspired fighting requires players to strategically act both offensively and defensively.
Deflecting, which is essentially parrying, is the easiest way to open your enemies up to attacks, as they will often block head-on swings. When deflecting, you can move the analog stick in order to deflect the attack in a certain direction. When battling multiple enemies at once, this allows you to keep everything in front of you and control the flow of the battle.
The Spirit Gauge is a bar displayed beneath the health bar. Deflecting attacks, dodging, using Martial Arts abilities, casting Wizardry Spells, and Spirit attacks will all deplete the gauge. When the Spirit Gauge has been completely emptied, there is a brief window where you won’t be able to act, leaving you wide open to enemy attacks. It punishes you for mindlessly spamming attacks and sending out a flurry of blows. The Spirit Gauge can be replenished by successfully deflecting enemy attacks and using standard attacks.
What’s really neat about the Spirit Gauge mechanic is that your enemies have one too. Every foe in Wo Long, from standard soldiers to bosses, has a visible Spirit Gauge that you should be using to properly time your actions. When my opponent’s Spirit was high, I would let them wear themselves out with attacks while I focused on deflecting. When their Spirit was low, I’d get aggressive and start hitting them with Spirit attacks in order to open them up to a Fatal Strike. It’s an excellent back and forth that rewards patience and composure.
In addition to traditional weapons, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty lets you wield powerful Wizardry Spells to give yourself and your allies the upper-hand in battle. When you level up, you can choose to increase your level in one of five Virtues: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The Virtue you select will increase your prowess with certain weapons and attributes. Increasing your level in these Virtues also allows you to learn certain Wizardy Spells. These spells can be used to attack enemies with ranged and AOE attacks, as well as provide yourself or your ally with stat boosts in combat.
Each Virtue is both weak to and strong against another one, Rock, Paper, Scissors style. A lot of enemies in Wo Long are tied to a particular Virtue, and you can use the one that’s effective against them to dispatch them quickly. I was constantly experimenting with my equipped Wizardry Spells to see which ones would work best, especially against bosses.
Speaking of bosses, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has some of my favorite boss designs in recent memory. These adversaries are absolutely relentless, and it took me many restarts to make my way through the ones featured in the main story. That said, I never felt like I was being cheated or that a boss was pulling an unfair gimmick. These encounters felt like final exams, with Team Ninja testing my ability to remember and properly apply all of the mechanics and systems I’ve been learning. I felt like a god every time I was able to best a boss that had killed me countless times.
Ride or die
While having NPC allies in an RPG is nothing revolutionary, I love how Team Ninja implements it in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Battling alongside an ally builds your Oath level with them. As that Oath level increases, the ally will become a stronger fighter, eventually giving you a copy of their favorite gear once you’ve spent enough time alongside each other. I grew to really like fighting alongside Zhao Yun, one of the early allies, and took him with me through most of the game. I appreciated that the NPC companions weren't brainless minions that only existed to take enemy attention away from me. Instead, they were quite aggressive, doing meaningful damage to bosses and shaping my strategies for every encounter.
Battling with allies introduced me to the various play styles available in Wo Long. There are plenty of swords, sabres, spears, bows, and other weapon types to use, each offering a different approach to combat. It’s a game that players will enjoy replaying with different battle options and self-imposed limitations. While my Pommel Sabre allowed me to make quick jabs at my enemies, the Great Club of Polaris delivered some devastatingly powerful blows, albeit its slow animations left me susceptible to enemy attacks more often.
You were the chosen one
I played through Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty on Xbox Series X. In performance mode, the game managed to maintain a smooth framerate for the majority of my time with it, but there were some noticeable hiccups. I noticed a handful of framerate drops during cutscenes and chaotic gameplay moments. On one occasion, my game froze on a black screen as I was loading into a boss fight and I had to start over.
The music of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty did a superb job at immersing me in the game’s alternate historical setting. The woodwind sounds were soothing during the quiet moments in between levels, when I spoke with allies and upgraded my character. It ramps up during the intense moments, with epic tunes serving as the cherry on top for the memorable boss fights.
One for the ages
In Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Team Ninja flexes its twenty years of experience designing action RPGs. Combat is beautifully layered, and it feels satisfying to pull off difficult maneuvers and topple overpowered foes. The world itself is filled with interesting characters to meet and interact with, even if their performances are a little inconsistent. Despite some light performance hurdles, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a haymaker of a video game.
This review is based on an Xbox Series X code provided by the publisher. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty releases on March 3, 2023, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
- Complex combat system
- Challenging bosses
- Solid narrative
- Beautiful soundtrack
- Great ally characters
- Light performance issues on console
- Inconsistent voice performances
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review: The hero we deserve
Day 1 Game Pass too
Didn't think that it would be good, surprising but cool.
Good review, thanks Donovan! Will be interesting to see how it fares for folks on PC since the demo has some serious issues.