- Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Team Ninja’s take on the system that made Sekiro a massive hit. However, it fails to build upon it in an intuitive way.
- The game has questionable elements in it such as the animation lock. This combined with the handling of the morale system makes the game feel like a chore.
- While a linear setting isn’t inherently bad, Wo Long features repetitive and uninspired areas that make navigation an obligation.
- Despite these shortcomings, it’s surprising that the game still ends up as an enjoyable experience.
A crouching dragon is what Wo Long refers to. It also refers to a person of greatness who is not yet known. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty focuses on our rise from a no-name fodder to a hero who delivered the world from darkness. Team Ninja’s latest project is a different breed of Soulslike games. Inspired by its own past and that of its contemporary developer, the studio has crafted an extremely bittersweet experience.
Unfortunately, Team Ninja has failed to capitalize on the immense potential held by this game. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty had everything that would have allowed it to go beyond what Nioh accomplished. However, it struggles to do so due to some severe shortcomings and questionable decisions. At its core, the game feels to be struggling to find its identity.
In my opinion, this crisis stems from the things that impacted the game. You have Sekiro, the Nioh games, Team Ninja’s penchant for high-octane action, and the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors. To me, it felt like the studio was trying to inject a certain aspect of those games into the souls-like space for a brand-new take on the genre.
After over 60 hours in the game and progressing through the new game+, these flaws have solidified their existence. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a good game at its core which is why people are enjoying it. The way that core is built upon, however, is what holds it back.
Combat systems, gameplay mechanics, storytelling, handling of characters, interface design, influences, and a lot more impact what would otherwise have been a truly resounding success. Even so, it’s heartening to see that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has received a positive critical reception. Nevertheless, there are flaws that need to be talked about if it’s to improve in the future.
Wo Long Failed To Capitalize On Its Vision
There are many who will disagree with this and it’s fine to have your own opinion. However, there’s an obvious degree of objectivity involved. I will refrain from comparing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty to Nioh unless it warrants a comparison. For now, I’ll explain why the combat is a stark decline in quality overall. Not because of what came before it but because of what it’s influenced by.
Let’s start with its core essence, parrying. That is the foundation of combat in Wo Long as it takes inspiration from FromSoftware‘s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Dark Souls’ combat was paced differently. It was a methodical dance of striking and evading while knowing when to get in close and when to move out. Sekiro threw it to the wind for an all-out offense with parrying at its core.
Team Ninja’s first take on the Soulslike genre was Nioh. It had stamina management and drew a ton of inspiration from the methodical nature of Souls games. However, it did not discard speed in favor of technicality. Nioh’s combat was fast and had several layers to it. The studio took the Soulsborne formula and added its own spin to it which turned out to be as close to perfection as one can get.
In the case of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, the studio drew inspiration from Sekiro to produce its own brand of that combat. Problem is that it didn’t innovate upon that formula nor did it look at what made Nioh successful. While fairly engaging, the combat is riddled with problems. It’s as if they attempted to simplify the game in favor of accessibility while backloading any semblance of complexity and fluidity.
The Issues Plaguing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s Combat
Now I’ll list everything that impacts Wo Long’s combat and what could have been done better. Keep in mind that it does some things well enough but fails to meet the mark. The first thing on this list is the parrying system. To put it simply, the parry mechanic is tied to the framerate. Even the slightest bit of fluctuation in frames will cause your parry to fail and you know how bad it can be given the performance issues in this game.
That’s not all as there’s an actual animation lock in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Yes, you are unable to cancel out of your combat animations to parry incoming attacks. Sekiro allowed you to go deep into your offense while canceling into a parry should you require it. This created a flow of combat where there was an unceasing clash of blades. Replicate that here and the second you see the enemy readying a critical blow, you know you’re dead.
No one can defend this and if they do, it’s a coping mechanism because they’ve already died to this several times. Just because you can overcome a system and get better at it doesn’t mean it’s not poorly designed. There’s a wizardry spell called Aqua Blink that acts as an animation cancel tool. However, it uses your spirit and its usage is tied to morale ranks and that brings me to the next point.
Tying spells to a specific value in the morale system was a bad design choice. It effectively renders your kit useless even though you have leveled your character. Having two separate progression systems in the game and tying spells into both makes zero sense. If you argue that it prevents you from bulldozing the mission, it’s your problem as a player in the first place. A lack of restraint so to say.
Furthermore, the morale rank system itself is implemented in a strangely questionable way. The current setup enforces the need to search for as many flags as possible to raise your fortitude rank. You can be over-leveled but if you fight a boss with rank 25 while you’re at rank 10, prepare yourself to get the greatest thrashing of your life. You won’t even get a second to blink before you drop dead. This isn’t a skill issue, it’s bad design.
There is minimal need to use wizardry spells in the game. Not only are they underwhelming, but the buffs also don’t last very long even with a 150% spell duration. Reducing spirit consumption is also lackluster but you can at least counter that via deflecting and attacking to maintain maximum spirit levels. I believe 80% of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s combat problems can be chalked up to the absence of animation cancel & balance issues.
Another problem that crept into Wo Long is the forced delay practiced by bosses and enemies. This has been a bad trait across every single Soulsborne game since the first Dark Souls. Many Soulslike clones have adopted this defect. It’s artificial difficulty and disrupts the flow of combat especially if you’re being locked into animations. One game that avoided this was Code Vein and that title got a lot of flak overall.
I’m being lenient here but the combat issues in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty go way deeper than just what I’ve stated. These are mostly facts and when you look at the space it’s trying to establish itself in, the game can’t afford to water down its quality due to self-destructive behavior. I’m pretty sure ancient Chinese martial arts have a lot more depth to them.
It’s painful to see these cracks because the overall flow of gameplay is honestly good despite the flaws. You can feel the potential radiating from every attack and parry. Realizing that this potential was wasted sours what would otherwise be one of the most thrilling gaming experiences of 2023.
Map Design & Enemy Variety Lacks Spirit
When it comes to visuals, I’m the last person who goes on about graphic fidelity. While it’s definitely important, I place the art direction and style far above flashy lighting and photorealistic faces. In that department, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty hits and misses. Unfortunately, it misses more often than it hits and this problem escalates the further you progress in the game.
Considering that this game takes place in ancient China with dark fantasy elements, the level design is awfully bland from region four and beyond. The way obstacles are placed and the color scheme used puts Phoinix from Final Fantasy XIV to shame. The linear nature is already a detriment and since Wo Long fails to deliver staggering set pieces to navigate, the process becomes tedious the longer you play.
Beyond the map design, the enemy variety is another huge downside of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. The demonic tiger, warlocks, and heavy demonic soldiers you fight at the start will be the ones you face throughout the game. Nioh 2’s enemy variation on launch was phenomenal considering its prequel. Seeing how the developers dropped the ball despite having access to the vastness of Chinese mythology is a major brow-raiser.
But the one thing that put me at ease after facing off against these redundant mobs was the boss fights. Many players felt that the first boss, Zhang Liang, was too difficult for his status. However, he was one of the best bosses in the game.
The Mightiest Of Men & Hong Jing
Despite all this game’s wrongdoings, it still checks some of the boxes. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty upholds the trend of phenomenal boss fights. Of course, there were a lot of boss shenanigans and rage deaths but that’s what makes it fun. I remember dying several times against Liu Bei, Zhang Liao, and several others and that’s why the victory was a lot more fulfilling.
One of the bosses in this game is Lu Bu. Anyone familiar with Chinese history and the Dynasty Warrior games knows the significance of this character. I admit I had to read up on the lore prior to the release of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, and it did help me appreciate the game and these characters a lot more. As expected though, Team Ninja delivered a top-tier boss fight that lived up to our hype and anticipation.
Multiple phases and a varied skill set combined with a two-part encounter that culminates in a surprisingly impactful story beat was hands down one of the few highlights of the game. But that’s not the only department in which we received a taste of greatness. Beyond these iconic boss encounters, Team Ninja decided to deep dive into another area.
Hong Jing was shown extensively in the promotional material of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Players knew that she would be the female heroine of the game similar to Okatsu and Mumyo from Nioh and Nioh 2 respectively. Team Ninja thought it was a great idea to double down on the physics of this game and well, I believe it turned out relatively good.
Players may disagree with a lot that I have said about Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and that’s fine with me. However, I’m pretty sure we’ll all agree on the fact that the physics in this game are really impressive. Besides that, Hong Jing got her own boss encounter which was a nice little touch by the developers. I only wish that a part of the budget they spent on physics was allocated to actual aspects of the game but I digress.
Despite Its Flaws, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Soars
I have a lot of issues with the game. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s filled to the brim with potential and I can see it. Knowing that the game made some of these questionable design choices combined with the sad state of performance, especially on PC, was just a big bummer. Yes, I still had a blast with the game and there’s more to come but even by launch standards, the game fell short of my expectations.
Many players have voiced similar concerns which shows that the problem is real and it’s not just me looking at things from an entirely biased perspective. However, despite all of these shortcomings, I’m glad Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty turned out to be a fun experience that brought me back for more. Being a hit with the critics and a huge part of the player base is also a plus.
I can’t help but draw parallels to WB‘s Hogwarts Legacy and Square Enix‘s Forspoken. There’s not exactly a comparison here but the idea is that the core of a game really does determine in which direction the general opinion goes. All three titles are plagued with performance and design issues yet two of them received positive reception and satisfied the player base while one caused its studio to shut down.
Team Ninja is a great developer capable of reaching phenomenal heights. We saw that with Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive, and Nioh. Its recent project, Stranger of Paradise proves that it has full control of its creative prowess. With the level of potential that exists in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, I’m positive that future projects will soar higher. Time to enter the waiting room for Rise of the Ronin.
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