Team Ninja is perhaps the only development team that has managed to deliver so well on the Souls-like formula From Software invented. The main reason was that they didn't limit themselves to some plain copying of their mechanics, but with many years of experience on hardcore action games behind them, they presented their own version of Dark Souls, with the two excellent NiOh. The next natural step, especially after the huge success of NiOh 2, would have been a second sequel, but the Japanese company had other plans.
Possibly adopting a similar concept, Team Ninja decided to take on another famous From title, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. So, after several years of development, we come at the present day and the completion of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a game where the Far East remains in the foreground, but places us in 2nd century AD China and the famed Three Kingdoms period.
Of course, the story it tells has a purely mythological background, even though the game involves many historical figures of the time. In short, the plot is that we take on the role of a common soldier who, for reasons unknown at first, returns from the dead at the "request" of Qi. We soon learn that all the Realms are in mortal danger from demon attacks, which come from forces that undermine the existence of this world. Therefore, someone must take over and save the day, and guess who it will be?
Admittedly, although Wo Long includes dozens of cutscenes that advance the story, it fails to put together a properly structured narrative. Each chapter of the story feels more self-contained than it should, with names and characters coming and going, which nevertheless seems to have a particular concept behind it, as the game is divided into a series of separate levels rather than pieces of a single world, as is the case in, say, Elden Ring. However, its inability to keep the player's interest scenario-wise is something that doesn't seriously detract from the game's experience, which is 99% based on its gameplay.
A gameplay that, like the title it's inspired by, is based on timing and the timely use of deflection. As a move, deflect is very powerful, as it's possible to fend off any kind of threat (melee, ranged and even spells), as long as you do it at the right time, of course. Any failure to do so has a big impact, both on our health bar, which can be shattered if we face a boss, and on our Spirit bar, which is a major risk-and-reward element of the combat mechanic. In essence, it completely replaces the stamina bar we're used to seeing in similar titles.
Practically, the Spirit bar's function is about whether we are able to perform certain types of moves, whether they are called spirit attacks or simple defense/dodge and spells. As long as we maintain a successful streak of deflects and strikes that hit the target, this bar goes up with a positive sign. As a result, spirit attacks have more power and create more chances for the opponent to get staggered, which will lead us to execute a highly satisfying punishment. Conversely, as long as we take blows or overdo it with blocks and dodges, without deflect in between, the Spirit bar's sign becomes negative and at the first "misstep", we get staggered (with the usual consequences).
The key in most battles is whether we can rely on our reflexes and early deciphering of enemy movements in order to deflect and then sweep the enemy with a series of deadly attacks and spells, Spirit bar permitting. Clearly though, the game will punish us if we play too defensively or recklessly aggressive. But to make things a little clearer, as to whether or not an upcoming battle is up to our standards, the Morale mechanic has been added.
At each level we start with 0 Morale and as we kill enemies, it gradually increases until level 25. If we die (which is very likely), then morale returns to 0, along with an amount of Qi lost, which represents the points we can dedicate to upgrading our hero's level (more on that in a moment). In order to avoid this, there are some flags scattered throughout the levels, which, in addition to acting as bonfires and fully replenishing our health and healing potions, raise the fortitude factor a few points and essentially ensure that morale doesn't drop below a certain level once we lose.
This mechanism is equally important, as the higher morale we have against an enemy, the stronger our attacks are and vice versa. Therefore, when the boss of any level starts with, at least, 20 morale, our task becomes even more difficult if we decide to face it with 16 or 17. This means that we will need to spend some time exploring each level in order to locate, if not all, most of the flags so that any failure with the boss fight is only a matter of a few seconds to try again.
Exploration is not particularly time-consuming or difficult, as the levels are rather small in size and our hero is flexible enough to traverse them (there's even a jump button, unlike NiOh), while they also have plenty of loot to collect, whether it's called new equipment or materials for crafting. However, we run into the same problem as NiOh, where the inventory is filled with so much loot that little of it is actually needed, let alone relevant to the build we've chosen to develop.
Wo Long looks pretty impressive in terms of the plethora of builds we can create. To begin with, it's based on the five elements of Chinese Philosophy, namely Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, and each has its own spells and influence on our hero's stats. By spending the Qi we collect on the flags, we choose which element to strengthen, depending on our preferred playstyle. As an example, Wood is ideal for increased hp and thus greater resistance to hits, while Water is for those who prefer to attack from afar and silently. It goes without saying that each of these has its own skill tree, consisting of various spells, where we can have up to four active.
As such, the equipment we wear has a direct impact on the battlefield (e.g. a light sword that boosts Earth spells is very useful for a corresponding build, but doesn't do as much physical damage as a halberd), and also affects the way and speed we move (heavy equipment = less agility). Besides, each type of weapon (sword, sabre, hammer, etc) has unique martial arts moves that can prove to be game changers if used correctly, while the whole concept of battles is complemented by ranged weapons and summons. The latter are acquired during the campaign, we can have one active at a time and are another ace up our sleeve for the tough times, but that doesn't mean we can rely solely on them. As mentioned above, deflect remains the key component of our survival and the sooner we master it, the better.
Besides, Wo Long makes sure to train us on this very quickly, having us fight for the first boss, Zhang Liang. A guy who is a very big difficult spike for this early in the game, and is a first-rate "test" of whether we have the right credentials to move on. One of these is of course the virtue of patience, as the game can easily make us lose it. Maybe not so much in the common battles (although there are plenty of dangerous, conventional, mobs), but certainly in the various boss fights, which cater to all tastes.
However, with the exception of the first boss, Lu Bu (a very tough and aggressive guy) and a couple of others, most boss fights have a down-to-earth level of challenge and come out with a little lot of effort and memorization of their attack patterns, which give a good window of reaction. Aside from that, Wo Long offers plenty of help, either in the form of AI reinforcements (but they mostly keep the enemy busy rather than doing any real damage) or in the form of online co-op. On the plus side, even if the build we've created doesn't serve in a boss fight, we have the option to return to Hidden Village (which acts as a hub) and redistribute the five elements' points at no cost, as many times as we want, or upgrade our equipment with the help of the blacksmith. These conveniences certainly make Wo Long more accessible than Sekiro or NiOh, but in no way can the game be called easy. On the contrary, it requires full concentration and deep learning of its rules, otherwise you'd better try something else.
However, things would have been better if the game hadn't had a few technical issues. Particularly before the first patch appeared, Wo Long was experiencing flickering problems with ambient occlusion, desktop crashes (you know what that can mean in a game like this), and for some reason, it insisted on displaying PS5 button readouts no matter what type of gamepad you use. The truth is that most of the critical issues have been resolved, however, the game still seems to be a barebone port from the PS5, with zero possibilities for configuring the graphics and exploiting the resources of a superior hardware, in general.
Unfortunately, KOEI Tecmo seems to have not learned from the recent past and continues to not pay proper attention to the PC versions of their products. Just because the gameplay of the game is excellent, doesn't mean we can overlook the disregard this version has suffered. And visually, Wo Long is quite beautiful to the eye and with remarkable animation, but it never gets impressive, while the pompous soundtrack and the merely adequate voice-over are rather uninteresting, as long as you don't choose the English one and get more disappointed.
To sum up, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is another remarkable Team Ninja production, which in my opinion, shouldn't be seen as a "sequel to NiOh", but as a different "fruit". Familiar, but different, just as Sekiro was different from Dark Souls. With that correlation in mind, the game is highly recommended to fans of the genre. For the rest, there's also the demo.