Team Ninja is on it with another soulslike (masocore?) game but this time it’s not Nioh. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty switches up the setting from medieval Japan but with supernatural elements to the ancient China, specifically the Three Kingdoms period, but with supernatural elements.
But it’s not just a different coat of paint. It took some very obvious inspirations from other games of the genre, but delivered with its own spin. And based on the limited-time demo I played for more than two hours, it’s shaping up to be a faster soulslike that rewards aggressive offence and patient defence play.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty lets you create your own character, with a good number of customisation options to make your own hero of this story. After that, you’ll be chooses to pick one of the five Phases as your preferred build. The five Phases are based on the ancient five elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood, and each of them confers different stats. Instead of a strength stat, you put points in the fire phase. For those needing defence, put points in earth. And if you want bonuses to stealth, you invest in water. Points in wood make you a better healer while metal lets you maintain the new spirit meter
Yes, there’s a codified stealth system here. Backstabs and death-from-above aerial attacks are normal for soulslikes, but it’s now something you can specialise in.
And then there’s the spirit meter. Wo Long throws away the stamina meter that limits your actions (or rather, limits you from mashing buttons).
Instead, you have this spirit meter that sits at the center at zero.
If you lose too much spirit that it fills on the left (orange) side, and you’ll be stunned and open to attacks. To gain meter, you need to land attacks (regardless if it does damage, as long as it connects). But every time you dodge or get attacked you’ll be losing meter. Stronger spirit attacks, martial arts and sorcery require spirit meter to use.
That said, it doesn’t mean you need the meter to be positive. You can go ballsy and risk using the bigger attacks if you know you can continue the pressure by continuing attacking opponents after that, clawing that meter back to zero.
In a lot of ways, Wo Long rewards you going ham, mashing buttons and stunlock enemies to death. Once you get a good offensive rhythm you’re almost unstoppable. The basic podao is sick, it may have low base damage but it hits so fast that I am mashing buttons like it’s Dynasty Warriors.
But you absolutely cannot play like this if you’re on the defence. Spamming dodge and relying only on blocks will wear that spirit meter quick and get you stunned (which will likely leads to death). Instead, you need to deflect (parry) attacks to turn the tide of battle.
Like all parries, it requires patience and good timing, and be very committed. Press the deflect button too quickly in succession and it will be a dodge, which spends spirit meter. A successful deflect should leave opponents open for you to claw back meter (or just kill them off).
There’s also a counterattack deflect, which feels seemingly easier to pull off but also switches you to your second weapon. Switching between two weapon slots is clumsy (hold right trigger and hit the d-pad up/down) so this move is an intuitive way to entice players to use both equipped weapons.
In a lot of ways, Wo Long feels reminiscent of Sekiro which cranked up the aggression and speed knobs from the Dark Souls formula. But for Wo Long, it’s Nioh’s knobs that are being cranked, and with it comes a little layer of complexion that you can choose to engage with. And if you do, it will feel so good.
There is still a lot of lingering Team Ninja-style soulslike touch in Wo Long. The level design feels large at first but is densely packaged once you realised that you’ve been circling around similar pathways at different levels all the time. The one boss fight has a tremendous difficulty spike that will catch players off-guard. And there is an option to play multiplayer.
There are also other ideas I’m not too sure if it works yet. There’s the whole fortitude/morale points thing that indicates relative power level. If you die against an opponent, their morale points go higher, just like you do when you kill other enemies, so repeat attempts can see them getting stronger up to a point. But you can increase the base morale points (fortitude points) by going around and finding bases to plant your flag, which serves as your checkpoints.
Also, healing feels like an afterthought right now. Not only that you aren’t taught how to heal in the tutorial, but using them mid-battle is almost suicidal due to its long animation time.
Team Ninja is attempting to shake up its own brand of soulslike with new ideas and mechanics in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. If you love the previous two Nioh games, the new mechanics will require some time to learn but the quintessential elements that make a Team Ninja masocore experience are all here.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is scheduled to release in early 2023 for the PS4, PS5, PC (Steam, Microsoft Store), Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. The game will launch day-1 on Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass.
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