Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (PS5) Review – Expanding the Nioh Formula

Not for you if:

  • You do not want some important tutorials being hidden
  • You expect enemy variety
  • Incoherent story isn't your thing

Back in 2009, when FromSoftware released Demon’s Souls for the PS3, the Souls subgenre was introduced for the first time. A few other developers attempted to replicate its success as a result of its mass appeal. One developer with notable progress in this Souls genre is Team Ninja, which last year released Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin in addition to two Nioh games.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the new title that Team Ninja opted to create rather than publishing Nioh 3 in 2023 as expected. The game does have some contentious new aspects to make it seem more challenging than the Nioh games, even though it is ultimately just another Souls-like clone.


Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty promises to deliver an exhilarating experience filled with lightning-fast combat, mythical beasts, and spells that may leave you throwing your controller in frustration; however, it is also striving to carve out a unique identity for itself as a more accessible yet action-packed soul-like adventure. Despite its flaws, such as a lack of a compelling narrative and excessively intricate loot mechanics, it still is a beautiful game to add to the repertoire of an action lover and a great Souls adaptation at its core.

The book Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a five-century-old tale with 800,000 words, chronicling the collapse of the Han Dynasty in China. This work has been translated into several languages and has been used as inspiration for many forms of entertainment, including films, graphic novels, and video games.

Together, Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja have crafted a stunning interpretation of this proverbial Chinese saga, and the fact that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty emphasizes on ancient Chinese culture rather than Japanese, constitutes one of the game’s key distinctions from the Nioh titles. It’s intriguing to see so much of the game’s weaponry and equipment, be appropriate for the time of ancient Chinese battle.

Some of the most important moments of the Three Kingdoms Era in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (2023), Koei Tecmo

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Story

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is an exceptional Chinese fictional work that offers a unique take on the ancient Han dynasty. However, it is too extensive to dedicate a substantial portion of a review to, so in short, the story involves wars, factions, rulers, conflicts, and some imaginative elements to enhance its appeal.

Similarly to Nioh, Team Ninja has incorporated some mystical elements into Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. This includes dragons, and magical abilities, among other things, to prevent the gameplay from becoming monotonous. The player assumes the role of a nameless warrior and gets entangled in the conflicts. The plot of the story centers on a malevolent Taoist monk who introduces a strange elixir to the Han people. This potion has the ability to transfer demonic energy into an individual’s chi, granting them enormous power but also leading to the loss of their souls. 

Despite the odds stacked against them, the player is rescued from a battle that was intended to be lost, and their journey begins in the strife-ridden Dongshan region cutting down armies of men, demons, and beasts, led by monstrous bosses and evil sorcerers. Then, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, loosely follows some sections of the original story, and we encounter a variety of well-known characters of the Tree Kingdoms, throughout the game.

The characters are introduced rapidly and depart just as swiftly, frequently without having any significant effect on the narrative. Occasionally, they may reappear after many hours, but their presence is forgettable since they don’t contribute significantly to the game’s plot. Additionally, you will have these individuals with you as companions, who might be useful while playing.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Gameplay

Within a mere quarter of an hour of playing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, I encountered my first insurmountable obstacle for the next hour or so. This is quite astonishing, considering that not even Sekiro, presented me with such a daunting challenge so early on. And to be fair, my reflexes may not be as sharp as they were during my youth days in high school and college, but I still play my share of challenging games, such as Dark Souls, and Elden Ring, and tend to perform relatively well.

The most crucial part of any souls like the game is undoubtedly its combat system. Players should anticipate difficult gameplay that will challenge their endurance, regardless of whether it is straightforward or intricate. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty elevates some aspects in comparison to Nioh, such as the enhanced mobility that allows your character to move nimbly during combat and perform parkour moves across the terrain, mimicking the movements of a skilled martial artist.

Guan Yu after battle

Mastering the Art of Combat

In terms of fundamental gameplay, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty offers players the ability to execute light and strong attacks, where light attacks focus on health and heavy attacks target ‘spirit’ (a gauge that functions similarly to stamina). Spirit is then consumed when executing Martial Arts moves, heavy attacks, dodging, parrying, blocking, and spells.

The flow of attacks is determined by how players react to the enemies’ actions. Dodging, parrying, and using martial arts carelessly will deplete Spirit drastically, but executing these defensive maneuvers perfectly will help to maintain balance. While also impacting the enemy’s Spirit. Skilfully executed parries can lower their Spirit and create an opportunity for a decisive attack while they are stunned. If a target’s spirit is shattered, they will require a brief period to recuperate, leaving them vulnerable to powerful counterattacks making this strategy particularly effective against larger enemies. 

But, as we all know, bosses tend to attack continuously, requiring consecutive perfect parries. If you’re not comfortable with parrying, you can use the Block button, although it’s not recommended. Enemies have special attacks that can’t be blocked, and it drains Spirit quickly, which can be disadvantageous in said boss fights.

Although your first encounters with enemies in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty may end in defeat, it won’t take long for you to become a master of deflection. It is incredibly satisfying to successfully deflect an attack in this game, and the rush of power and pride one experiences after flawlessly timing a deflection that leaves the enemy reeling on the ground cannot be put into words. It is an experience that must be lived to be fully appreciated.

Deflecting attacks is the fastest way to break an enemy’s spirit in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (2023), Koei Tecmo

You’re a wizard Harry!

In Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, players also have access to four slots for Wizardry Spells, which can be employed as either offensive or supportive magic. The game’s spell system is based on the Chinese philosophy of Wuxing, which governs the relationships between the five elements of Wood, Earth, Fire, Water, and Metal. This system is akin to a rock-paper-scissors game, with each element possessing its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Each spell has a specific use in various situations, although some may prove ineffective against bosses, forcing players to remain alert and continue to experiment with different spell combinations.

Fans who enjoy the Nioh games will be delighted to learn that the Guardian Spirit system has returned in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty but in the form of Divine Beasts. Once players’ Special Gauge is full, they can summon a Divine Beast for help. Each Divine Beast has powerful abilities that can both support and attack, giving players a greater chance of success. I personally favored the Qinglong Divine Beast for its excellent support skill, which replenishes the health of the player and their allies in a circle. This skill is crucial for securing victory, particularly during the intense final phase of boss fights, where fatal attacks are common.

A Strictly Linear Open World

Similar to its “predecessor” Nioh, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is structured as a series of missions rather than a fully open-world game. The missions are categorized into main missions that advance the storyline and sub-missions that become available upon completing a main mission. This story progression scheme, makes the overworld exploration feel limited, but on the other hand, narrows the area of exploration and reduces backtracking.

  • Main mission in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
  • Sub-mission in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
  • Side-mission that still is of higher recommended level

In Wo Long, you need to claim a Battle Flag, which acts as the game’s bonfire. By resting at it you can replenish your healing inventory, reset every enemy around and continue playing. The game also provides shortcuts to help you return to previous Flags. But along with the Battle Flags, came also the Morale Rank system of the game. It can be thought of as a power system that is unique to each level of the game. 

In the beginning, you usually start at Morale Rank 0 and must work your way up by defeating enemies. The enemies themselves also have Morale ranks which determine their strength in relation to the player. Depending on the number of Battle flags the player has claimed in each region, the Morale Rank is also increased. Increasing it then boosts the character’s and companions’ stats tremendously for that particular region. Doing well in combat can further increase Morale Rank.

A new system in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty related to the Morale Rank mechanic is called Vengeance. Sometimes you will encounter enemies with exceptionally high Morale Ranks, which indicates that they are tougher than the average foe. These enemies, having claimed the lives of other players, pose a greater challenge than others, and taking them down will reward you with better loot. A tradeoff to consider.

Inventory & Gear

As you progress, you’ll constantly obtain stronger items that allow you to focus on your character’s strengths and skills. You can customize your character’s build by equipping better gear that complements your playstyle. Through the blacksmith, you can increase stats such as health recovery or spell usage efficiency. 

However, gear is more impactful in the endgame and won’t make a significant difference until then. This game requires you to improve your skills rather than relying solely on your build or numbers to carry you through. While builds are effective, they eliminate the need to check your stats frequently, which is a commendable aspect of the game.

Selling equipment in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

NPCs & Multiplayer

In Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, you may frequently have an NPC companion by your side, which could be a point of disagreement for players who prefer a more solitary experience. In certain situations, having an NPC can make the game’s famously challenging difficulty seem easier. Furthermore, with the increased number of entities drawing attention away from you, the game may begin to feel more like Dynasty Warriors.

Fortunately, in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, there is an option to play missions without NPCs, even if they are initially provided without player choice. This can be achieved by completing some solo missions and receiving an item. On the other hand, the inclusion of NPCs in most levels can assist newcomers in adjusting to the game’s difficulty.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty offers various options for multiplayer gameplay. Players can team up with others as guests or invite guests to their own missions. Additionally, cooperative play allows groups of up to three players to complete entire missions together. On top of that, the game includes an invasion system where players can invade others’ game instances and engage in one-on-one battles. However, players who prefer a more solo experience can disable this feature to avoid unwanted interruptions.

Overall, the game’s multiplayer features cater to a range of preferences, making it a win for all players.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Graphics

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a visually stunning game with impressive graphics that bring the game’s world and characters to life. The environments are meticulously crafted, with intricate textures, detailed models, and rich colors that create an immersive atmosphere. The lighting effects are particularly noteworthy, adding depth and dimension to the game’s environments, and helping to create a sense of atmosphere and mood that draws the player in.

The game’s character models are equally impressive, with detailed costumes, weapons, and accessories that bring the characters to life. Each character has a unique look, which is conveyed through their clothing, hairstyles, and facial features. The facial animations are particularly impressive, with subtle nuances that convey emotions and expressions convincingly, making the characters feel like real people rather than just digital models.

One of the standout features of the game’s graphics is the use of high-quality cutscenes that showcase the game’s world and characters in a cinematic fashion. These cutscenes are well-directed, with dynamic camera angles, impressive animation, and cinematic lighting that immerses the player in the story and characters. The cutscenes are also used to convey important plot points and character development, making them an essential part of the game’s narrative.

However, while the graphics are undoubtedly impressive, they can be demanding on lower-end hardware. Players may need to adjust the graphics settings to achieve smooth performance on their machines. This is particularly true during intense combat scenes, where multiple enemies and particle effects can tax even high-end system.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Audio

Similarly, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty features an impressive audio experience that complements the game’s graphics and narrative. The game’s soundtrack is composed of traditional Chinese instruments and melodies, which add an authentic touch to the game’s historical setting. The music is well-suited to the game’s atmosphere, with epic orchestral tracks that intensify during combat and somber pieces that underscore the game’s more emotional moments.

In addition to the music, the game’s sound effects are equally impressive, with each weapon and attack having a distinctive sound. The sound of swords clashing, arrows whizzing by, and spells being cast all contribute to the game’s immersive atmosphere. The sound design is particularly effective during combat, with the sounds of battle creating a visceral and intense experience that draws the player into the action.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (2023), Koei Tecmo - Fight scene

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – Conclusions

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty ultimately offers an engaging and challenging soul-like experience, with its own unique twist despite sharing many similarities with Nioh. The game’s combat system is well-designed, fast-paced, and satisfying, with improved mobility mechanics that give players a sense of fluidity and grace in battle. The addition of the Morale Rank and Vengeance systems added an extra layer of depth to the gameplay. 

The game’s mission-based structure and NPCs may be divisive for some players, but they provide an opportunity for newcomers to the genre to ease into the game. The multiplayer options add a social aspect to the game, providing players with different ways to enjoy the game with friends or strangers. Overall, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a solid addition to the soul-like genre, offering its own take on the formula while retaining the elements that make the genre so appealing.

Wo Long builds upon the Nioh formula and streamlines it by removing unnecessary components. It boasts impressive graphics, a fun and challenging gameplay experience, and a sense of completeness. For those who have been daunted by the difficulty of soul-like games, this game could serve as a good entry point with available resources to help players match up against seemingly impossible foes.

Undoubtedly, Team Ninja has established a solid grip on the souls-like genre, and although Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty may not quite measure up to the remarkable success of Nioh 2 in 2020, it undeniably offers an exhilarating gameplay experience with its rapid and intense combat, demanding yet gratifying difficulty and extensive options for generating and customizing your own character builds to suit your playstyle preferences.

Huge thanks to CDMedia for providing the review copy we used.