Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has one of the toughest first boss fights I’ve ever encountered. I’ve beaten my head against every Soulslike I can get my hands on, and never before have I genuinely worried I might not be able to get past it. This isn’t a bad thing, as it turns out that, much like Sekiro, you need to understand how to pay Wo Long specifically, and not just action games in general. On top of that, the high I got after crushing the smug git took me through several levels before I found myself stuck again, which is always nice.
Coming from Team Ninja, the team that made the impeccable Nioh series, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has high hopes riding on it, at least from people like me who are all constantly waiting for the next big Soulslike. One of the biggest changes this time around is that Masaaki Yamagiwa, the producer behind Bloodborne, has since joined Team Ninja, and it really shows.
While Nioh 2 was undoubtedly fast-paced, the combat often felt less like a tug of war, and more like a brutal beatdown from one side or the other. Wo Long changes things up by adding in a spirit gauge, which goes up if you’re doing well, and goes down if you’re not. With high spirit, you can pull off incredible special attacks and cast powerful spells, but at low spirit, you can find yourself completely stunned and open to a brutal killing blow.
Enemies all have this spirit bar as well, and while it’s unlikely a basic enemy will survive long enough for their spirit to be broken, this mechanic is essential to master if you want to defeat bosses and some of the nastier monsters that lie ahead of you. You need to use a blend of different attacks to make it easier to stun these horrifyingly tough foes, but doing so will allow you to take off massive chunks of health from them.
On top of just being aggressive – which is always fun – there’s also a wonderful parry system in play here. If you can time your parry right, you’ll be able to deflect every attack that comes at you, whether it’s a simple spear strike, or a massive chunk of rock flying at your face. If you can manage to pull this off just as a demon is attacking you with an unguardable Critical Blow, you’ll usually end up destroying a part of the monster and have a far better chance of winning as a result. It’s the ultimate in risk-reward.
What’s great about this is how you’ll constantly be shifting between hammering down attacks on an opponent, parrying them, dodging out of the way, and using your special skills. It comes together for a beautiful ballet of violence that never stops being grin-inducing, even as the challenges get harder and harder.
Then there’s the overarching system that is in every level: the morale system. As you explore each level you’ll come across places to plonk down a flag. Doing so will upgrade your morale, and that helps you deal more damage to enemies. You can also boost your morale by killing off enemies, but capturing flags allows it to have higher minimum level, which makes dying a lot less upsetting.
There’s also co-op here if you’ve got mates who are willing to play alongside you, and some very good digital companions, even if you’re a solo player. It makes the difficulty (after the first boss) a lot more manageable, which I’m certain a lot of players will appreciate.
The story is actually very enjoyable too. Playing through a game set in the Three Kingdoms that isn’t a Dynasty Warriors game meant that I knew a lot of the characters already, which was fun to recognise, but definitely not in the setting that Wo Long has. Plus, while Lu Bu has always been a fearful adversary, I don’t think any version of him has been quite as aggravatingly tough as here.
It’s just an intensely fun mesh of systems that all help you feel like you’re roaming around slowly clawing back control from the Yellow Turban threat, even though they’ve got a horrifying gallery of demons at their command.