Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review: Sekiro, Dark Souls, and Chinese Myth – Studio Varam

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review: Sekiro, Dark Souls, and Chinese Myth

Perhaps the most revealing of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is that its first boss, an imposing figure of a commander named Zhang Liang, took me about three hours to take him down. Through a litany of my futile attempts, he staggered me repeatedly with a gigantic mace, wiping out nearly a third of my health each time my face bled. Within seconds, the battle was over, a dull red covering the graceless sight of my crumpled, defeated body, and the Chinese phrase for “crushing defeat” was emblazoned on the screen. It soon became clear that what I was doing was not only wrong, but hopelessly inelegant: rushing headlong into the fight with a brittle sword, slashing stupidly in the hope that something I did would leave a mark.

wo long has zero patience for ineptitude, a refrain you probably expect if you’re familiar with nioh either nioh 2, Team Ninja’s heartbreakingly brutal games set in feudal Japan, as well as an unwillingness to tolerate neglect. For example, my battle with Zhang Liang, which I was only able to win when I finally internalized his attacks and movements, delivered at fast, erratic intervals: a leap into the air and the slam of his mace against the ground; several strong blows from the same weapon, spinning like a weightless twig; and unlockable critical attacks that depleted my health quickly. To achieve victory, I need to be familiar with the game’s key maneuvers of quick responses, dodges, and magic spells, and be able to perform them in exactly the right time, before my enemy gets the upper hand. You should understand the cadence and flow of this seemingly impossible skirmish. And just when I think I’m done, I should prepare for an even more difficult second phase.

This is the kind of demanding, almost onerous practice that you must maintain to get through tough encounters in wo long. You traverse a fantastical Chinese countryside, spending your time gathering loot; recruiting companions in the form of military generals and mythical allies; and unlock checkpoints and shortcuts in the style of Dark Souls, blood borneand, more directly, Sekiro: Shadows die twice. As was the case in nioh and its sequel, Team Ninja demonstrates a deep understanding of what makes the “Soulslike” genre tick, and expertly deploys those learnings in his most ambitious project yet.


The protagonist stabs a demon captain, who is dressed in the garb of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, through the chest in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.





Image: Team Ninja/Koei ​​Tecmo


Perhaps even more impressive is wo longThe meticulous, almost reverential approach to its narrative source material, at least in the chapters I’ve completed so far (I’ve spent around 14 hours with the game). Like a fantastic narrative of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga—one of the best-known Homeric epics in Chinese literature— wo long It begins in a town on fire, at the heart of a fierce war known as the Yellow Turban Rebellion. As a nameless hero endowed with a mysterious power, you will find yourself thrust unceremoniously into the thick of the action. He explores deserted hills, ruined palaces, and grassy plains and lakes nestled between towering mountain peaks, like a pilgrimage through pastoral and war-torn scenes of medieval China.

wo long it avoids the clumsiness typical of games inspired by Chinese literature, where random oriental-looking motifs are injected as a symbol of otherness. You can take down enemies with a combination of supernatural powers and physics-defying swashbuckling acrobatics, along with companions who speak of righting wrongs with their blades, swearing undying loyalty, and making lifelong pacts. Mythical creatures, such as Zhu Yan, a monster taken from the pages of Chinese text on mythical beasts, Mountains and Seas Classic – make frequent appearances. This is the story of the Three Kingdoms reimagined as wuxia, a Chinese genre featuring swordsmen bound by a chivalric code; wo long borrows liberally and effectively from this lexicon.

wo longThe backstory of may be rich and expansive, but so is its elaborate combat rules system. Fights are primarily centered around rotating weapons, be it a colossal sword and halberd combo or ax and fancy spear, as you loot new armor and items, and aggressively hack your way through the meaty bodies of your enemies.


a rain-lashed courtyard in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty





Image: Team Ninja/Koei ​​Tecmo


Still, there’s a fine line to walk here; carelessness can lead to severe lacerations and injuries, and even lowly foot soldiers can send you to an untimely death. On the other hand, wo long rewards consecutive victories with a feature called Morale Rank, which temporarily increases with each enemy you kill. Having said that, the game takes as much as it gives. Your enemies also have their own morale ranks, which increase every time you get killed, whether it’s a towering boss or a lowly pawn. Along with your team’s loadout stats, your morale rank, relative to your enemy’s, directly affects how much damage you deal and take. At the same time, there is also a way to regain lost morale: seeking revenge against the very enemy that killed you. It’s a nifty twist on the Soulslike formula, as it indicates how challenging a particular match will be from afar, without having to die multiple unnecessary deaths by diving headlong into random encounters.

There are also experience points in the form of what the game calls “genuine qi”. (This is a bit of an odd translation choice, by the way; a similar Chinese phrase, “essential qi,” is frequently invoked in wuxia stories and has roots in traditional Chinese medicine.) Qi can be used to level up your character. statistics, and after certain intervals of updates, unlock points that will be distributed in five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These further affect your hero’s passive stats, from strength to vitality, but also grant new active abilities and magical powers. The game’s magic spells, which are based on those five elements, can be used primarily to augment your melee attacks and inflict status effects on your enemies; for example, one creates an area-of-effect earthquake, while another creates a poisonous puddle at its impact location. However, these mostly feel like flourishes, at least in the early chapters; at the time, melee combat was still the core of the game.


The protagonist performs a fatal attack on a wolf-like miniboss in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty





Image: Team Ninja/Koei ​​Tecmo


If a single mechanic is the crux of wo longIt’s intense combat, it’s the deflection move. In fact, so many of the game’s encounters depend on this one ballet move that victories can feel almost out of reach if you simply can’t master the timing. As is the case in sekiroprotecting and dodging attacks in wo long it simply offers temporary respite, buying you precious seconds to heal up, cast a spell, and better understand the course of combat. Block a flurry of attacks and your defense will be broken, leaving you reeling and wide open to take more hits. Deflect a pinch too early or too late, and your health bar will be quick to relay the error.

But time your deviation to perfection, and wo long it gives you ample space and time to retaliate, even allowing you to perform a powerful “fatal attack”.


The progression screen representing the five elements in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty





Image: Team Ninja/Koei ​​Tecmo


The stopping maneuver is a microcosm for wo longThe high risk, high reward ethos. This is a game equally concerned with plunging you into the fast-paced state of prolonged duel and launching you into a detailed and dangerous mythical world set in the Three Kingdoms saga. Publisher Koei Tecmo’s vast portfolio of Three Kingdoms games, from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy wargames to the Dynasty Warriors series, is perhaps why Team Ninja had the space to refine its world and mechanics. equally.

Surviving the calamities of wo long it requires almost obsessive hours of practice. But what comes next is the exhilaration of being able to skillfully execute hordes of enemies and demons alike with just a reflex movement of your well-sharpened limbs. With its intricate combat system and equally evocative setting, wo long it’s a journey worth taking, even if it means spending three more hours on your next boss fight.

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