Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty review: Warriors' Souls burns bright

By Luke Albigés,

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty launches into Xbox Game Pass this week, and Team Ninja's Nioh-esque spin on Three Kingdoms lore returns to the format of the PlayStation exclusive action-RPGs while adding some magic of its own.

Morale is a mechanic not enough games experiment with. Many are fine with the immediacy of letting us go in guns blazing, fists flying, and swords swinging, and that works well enough or it wouldn't be so common. But breaking someone's spirit before crushing them is a whole different level of satisfying, as seen in the likes of Sekiro's battles to break an enemy's stance and create an opening for that one killing blow, and even some of the best Batman games where you really get to employ fear as a weapon and demoralise crooks into making mistakes or giving up completely. Much as they have a reputation for being simple button-mashing hack-and-slash games, the better Dynasty Warriors titles also make good use of morale systems as you defeat key generals and take strategic landmarks in order to quash the opposing force's momentum and turn the tide of battle from the mental high ground. And given that Wo Long is a reimagined twist on that same Three Kingdoms era, it makes sense that morale should also be a factor in Team Ninja's new hardcore action-RPG, although it plays out in a very different and creative manner that makes this Game Pass newcomer a fair bit more approachable than it initially appears.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty — Nioh x Dynasty Warriors is a good time

We say that because some of you who played the Wo Long demo might be feeling morally crushed yourselves after hitting a wall with the game's brutal first boss, and even before it launched, Team Ninja's new game had made a reputation for itself as being ridiculously difficult. The team sure likes to throw players in at the deep end — it's Ninja Gaiden all over again — and while sure, the fight isn't an easy one, there are some important other factors here. Much of the challenge comes from the fact that you don't have a proper grasp of mechanics you've only just learnt going into it, nor do you have the huge spread of tools and gear you later get for taking on the bosses that follow. It's certainly one of the hardest bosses in the whole game, but once you finally overcome it and the game opens up, you'll likely find as I did that few other key fights will prove anywhere near as challenging. Only a single other boss beat me more than once (the final one... good luck), and a lot of that comes down to making smart use of Wo Long's morale system to get the upper hand before a battle has even begun.

At its simplest, morale here can be seen as an independent levelling system for each stage, and to understand how it actually works, we need to look at where we'll be fighting. Wo Long is structurally very similar to the Nioh games, broken down into individual levels that each have the same kind of layout as a typical Souls area, with unlockable shortcuts to allow quick access between areas. Each Battlefield also houses a number of flags at key capture points — Battle Flags, often guarded by powerful foes, serve as rest points where you can level, refresh your healing vial, and call in supplies or support, while minor flags just top up your health. Only they don't just do that, because both flag types play an important role in giving you a fighting chance of making a comeback if things go south. Morale can be raised by defeating enemies, caps at 25, and you lose it upon death, but these flags will raise the base morale level for each you find, typically all the way up to 20 in most main missions. This means that rather than having you grind back up in order to not go into a boss with low morale (trust me, you don't want that), you can explore your way to a safety net that means you can wind up not losing much more than just half your souls Genuine Qi if you get stuck on a fight. You can still grind it out a little higher for a slight advantage each time if you like, too, but there are also opportunities to turn things around mid-battle, with unblockable critical blows reducing the opponent's morale rank (or your own, if on the receiving end) while keeping up that pressure can raise your gauge as well. Much like Sekiro, Wo Long is very much a game about momentum, and that comes to bear in the Spirit mechanic.

wo long fallen dynasty review xbox

Unlike the weighty melee of the Souls games, Wo Long's combat is blisteringly fast, with the majority of weapon types skewing toward quicker move sets and a lot of enemies coming in swinging with speedy strings of blows. Defensively, you have three main options, and each interacts with Spirit differently, which goes the same for enemies as well. The basic block on LB will deflect blows but at the cost of chipping away at your Spirit with each hit — in truth, I went the whole game without using this once but enemies will put up their guard all the time, so you can hack away to reduce their Spirit and eventually score that critical strike, again much like Sekiro. As the parry enjoyer I am, the B button was my best friend here, with a single well-timed tap capable of deflecting any incoming attack (even unblockables, as a risky way to set up big punishes) and a double-tap performing an evasive roll that can i-frame through especially dangerous moves or away from area attacks. There's also a more lenient third option in the deflecting counterattack, a move that sees you switch between your two equipped weapons to deliver a strike that also knocks away most enemy attacks — safer than parrying in many cases, and while it can be harder to follow up (or get you in trouble if the onslaught continues after the move ends), the massive Spirit boost it conveys make it a great way of getting out of danger and giving you back the momentum you need to turn things around.

Naturally, it's not just melee either, with a handful of ranged options and a wide array of Wizardry Spells. Unlike in similar games, you don't need to build your character around these, and no matter how you're set up with your investment in the five elements that serve as base stats, you'll be able to put some of these to great use. You can unlock a new one of each element every few levels, although actually using them requires a specific amount of points in that stat, plus a minimum morale level so you can't just spam the strongest ones from the start of every Battlefield. They also consume Spirit but typically have effects that are worth it, and feeling out the interplay between elemental moves is another thing that can help you interrupt or interfere with enemies more reliably. Finally, there are summons, with each major boss you defeat granting you access to their mythical totem beast, which can be called in for a variety of effects once their dedicated gauge fills up. Some of these are certainly more potent than others (the last one you unlock revives you with full health should you die with a full summon gauge) but they can all be useful in a pinch.

wo long fallen dynasty review xbox

All of these things play into the myriad stats you'll find on your character screen, and there's a pretty dizzying amount going on here. Gear plays into this as well, with every piece of equipment offering a number of perks up to its rarity tier (5* gear appears to be endgame-only drops) that can affect any number of these stats. Helpfully, Wo Long is very friendly with its customisation, so while items may have one locked property, most can be removed relatively cheaply and any other slotted into its place at will to help build around your play style — dismantling gear with a certain special property will add one copy of that to the pool of options as well. Given how much gear you'll be picking up, just by selling off and dismantling a lot of it, you'll very quickly be able to make significant improvements to the stuff you do use, although min-maxers will have a rough time getting 5* gear sets due to the low drop rates and even lower chance of lucking into the pieces you need from the correct set. Before that point, though, getting a set is as simple as maxing out your bond with an AI hero who uses the same weapon type you prefer, which grants you a full 4* set of their gear... upgrade and augment this properly and it should carry you all the way to endgame, no sweat. Changing up your builds is similarly generous, and it's completely free to respec your stats, meaning you can save a bunch of different loadouts that all play completely differently and swap between them as you see fit.

Those AI buddies I mentioned can be hired in most Battlefields for a cost (the required Tiger Seals aren't exactly in short supply), and their behaviour is... well, let's be generous and call it 'erratic.' Sometimes they'll just stand around doing nothing while you do all the hard work, others they'll wander aimlessly into a hugely telegraphed unblockable attack, but sometimes they will just go absolutely ballistic and help you stunlock a boss to death in seconds. Unlike actual co-op partners, they can't pick you up if you die, either, though that would probably have made life a little too easy, even if the game's toughest fights have to be done solo anyway. Co-op itself seems to work well, and we messed around with both joining as a single-Battlefield summoned spirit (a la Souls, limiting the guest's interaction with the host's world) and full co-op, with both working great once you get through the somewhat convoluted menus. There's also an invasion option, because of course there is, letting you visit another player's world to grief them for personal gain, but don't worry — the achievement for dealing with invaders also tracks with the scripted AI ones that sometimes occur, so you don't have to engage with this. I would still recommend playing online though, as there are some other wonderful Souls-esque 'community' feature in Wo Long that you won't want to miss. Players that have died in the same area you are in will leave behind graves that appear in your world, and you can spend one of your healing flask uses at them for a temporary morale boost — is this the first game with a 'pour one out' button? Meanwhile, slaying the enemy that did them in will result in an ever-satisfying pop-up telling you who you avenged, along with rewards that can be spent back at the main camp for all manner of extra goodies.

wo long fallen dynasty review xbox

Performance was typically very smooth, especially with the graphics mode set to prioritise FPS (as you would hope), although I did encounter the odd weird stutter here and there, particularly in busy fights with lots of effects going off all over the place. I'll caveat this by saying that I played through Wo Long before today's 20GB day-one patch dropped so hopefully some of this has been polished up a little in the final stretch, but I also had multiple crashes during the final boss fight — there's nothing worse than being on a great run with victory in sight, only for the enemy to pull out their forbidden technique which throws you back to the Xbox dashboard. Oh, and while it at least doesn't slow the game to a crawl like Blighttown did in Dark Souls, if we could get just one of these kinds of games without a poison swamp area, that'd be lovely, thanks.

Finally we come to the achievements, and honestly, it's a pretty straightforward list for the most part. I grabbed 80% of the Wo Long achievements before even seeing the list so most will come as natural rewards for progression and experimentation through the main game, with few (if any) tied to the punishing Rising Dragon NG+ mode. A fair few levels have an achievement tied to a certain feat, though most of these should pop naturally if you fully engage with each Battlefield as you go, and while it took me around 40 hours to hit the credits after doing all side missions up to that point, I'd imagine the full completion should be possible in around that time once guides are out for the collectables, which make up the majority of what I'm currently missing. The game's difficulty has been talked up a little too much, I feel — if you can beat the first boss, you can beat Wo Long.

wo long fallen dynasty review xbox


Yes, Wo Long is a pretty difficult game, but after that notable early spike of which demo players will be all too aware, the sheer amount of options and tools the game throws at you to make you much stronger much faster means it's mostly downhill from there in terms of difficulty, though that's not to say that sloppy play will go unpunished. Some of the more elaborate bosses feel a bit cheap in that their weird designs make their attacks quite hard to read, and honestly, the best fights in the game are the stand-up duels, which are superb and really show off the game's tight systems. On the flipside, enemy variety in general feels a little light and if you're coming into Wo Long off the back of something like Elden Ring, it'll likely feel a little on the short side as well, especially given how much stuff is reused and repurposed several times. Still, Wo Long has a wonderful rhythm and flow to it, and it always feels great to deftly deflect your way through a relentless barrage of blows, wearing down your enemy before breaking their resolve and landing that fatal blow. It's a bit of a shame that the achievements don't encourage you to engage with the Rising Dragon endgame mode as it's a hearty challenge, but hopefully, Wo Long's fantastic fundamentals and rewarding combat will be enough to get you to explore the post-game on its own merits... I know they are for me.
8 / 10
* Luke spent around 50 hours teaming up with storied heroes to fell demonic bosses, grabbing 41/51 achievements along the way. A review copy was provided by the publisher, and played on Xbox Series X|S.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.
View discussion...
Hide ads