Thirty minutes into the game, my impressions can be summed up in one word: “difficult”. I’ve finished most of the recent Team Ninja games like the Nioh series and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, but I couldn’t help but be amazed at the difficulty of this title when I first picked it up. Let me state here, although this is not a simple game, you will immediately be drawn to the amazing high speed action on screen once you get used to how it works. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty adds new systems to its masocore base to create an impressive Chinese martial arts themed fight. While the game was making me cry and moan at first, by the time I spent three hours my brain was pumping so much dopamine that I couldn’t put my controller down. Let’s talk about what exactly this game looks like. I should also note that this demo was played in single player on PS5 using a DualSense controller.
The game begins with character creation, with male and female options available. The character modeling in the game is very high quality, and you will be able to adjust various settings such as the outline of the face, eyebrows, eyes, pupils, nose, mouth, hairstyle, skin, facial hair and makeup. Even after choosing the outline of the face, it is possible to customize the smallest details such as the position of the forehead, the position of the cheekbone, and even the definition of the cheekbone.
At the end of character creation, you’ll choose your stage, or what will be your character’s class in a standard RPG. The magic spells available to you will depend on the five stages you use. I started my time playing the game by choosing a shooting phase that focused on attacking.
In the demo I played, you are placed in a mountainous area after completing the tutorial. Since there are no movie scenes, I couldn’t tell anything about the story. It seems that this demo was created just for the purpose of enjoying the exploration of the game and the battles.
I set out from these hills to a cave area, and put most of what I saw in the sprawling nature of China. Although I didn’t get a particularly strong sense of the Three Kingdoms setting at this point, I was intrigued by the super-demon enemies that felt traditional Chinese and the unsettling dark fantasy elements in the game in general.
Fast, agile, and stamina Chinese martial arts battles
Wu Long: Fallen Dynasty Screens
Now let’s get into what really makes this game shine: its fights. While you play as an anonymous volunteer soldier, they feel very smart when you actually play as if you are controlling a ninja. The graceful movements of your character resemble an exaggerated form of Chinese martial arts speed. I started with a double jump from the start and can even kick walls in the middle of the jump to get to higher positions. You can also make good use of air attacks thanks to many things like rocks in areas that can be used as platforms. The overall speed of movement is part of what makes this game special.
Close attacks come in two different basic forms: basic attacks and spiritual attacks. Basic attacks use the weapon your character holds, and performing them will build your spirit gauge. Once this bar starts filling up, you can use it to direct high damage spirit attacks. You can also equip up to two close-range weapons and switch between them.
Using and managing the spirit gauge is an important part of the battle, and it can be used for both martial arts attacks as well as in magic spells. Martial arts attacks are special moves that vary depending on the weapon you use, while magic consists of elemental attacks that use the power of stages to control fire, water, etc.
Even lower level enemies that you find in your path can rarely be defeated with only basic attacks, forcing you to work your way through powerful spirit gauge attacks. As far as close range weapons go, I had the chance to try out Sword, Straight Saber, Glaive, and Dual Swords. My impression is that the Glaive, with its combination of offensive production and reach, was the easiest to handle. I also used a long-range weapon in the form of a bow. To control it, you line up a shot with L2, then shoot with R2. I mainly used it as a long range weapon while exploring, and it did just enough damage. You only have a limited number of arrows, however, and it was a pity that we ran out of them in no time if it was swept away.
Players are also accompanied on their journey by Divine Beasts. You can choose from five types of animals: Qilin, Baihu, Qinglong, Zhuque, and Xuanwu. You can summon these with a separate Divine Beast scale, but they can be summoned to fight alongside you for some time or used in Divine Beast Resonance, providing special effects like resonance buffs. While I’ve been playing with the Vermillion Bird, I haven’t had many good opportunities to use a built scale and I regret not finding an effective use for it.
To give a summary of the default button settings, Square is used for basic attacks, Triangle is used for spiritual attacks, X is used for jumping, Circle is used for the skew movement which I will discuss later, and L1 is used for blocking. I felt this was a perfect layout for an easy entry for combo attacks which I will go into below.
The battles in this game do not use the stamina meter as the Nioh series does. Instead, it distinguished itself with its amazing Chinese martial arts attack chains. Despite this, your enemies have strong defenses, so you won’t be able to fight battles just by pressing buttons.
About thirty minutes into the match, I found myself thinking about how hard her battles were. Looking back, though, I can say I still don’t understand how the battles work. Once I had more time with the game, I started figuring out how to fight effectively thanks to a great deal of trial and error.
Counters, spirit meter and combos are the three keys to unlock exciting battles
Wo Long’s battles are fast paced, and even her primary enemies have strong defenses. They will block almost everything if you only attack them with regular attacks, only to counterattack when you are defenseless until they hit you.
How do we get them out then? Let’s take a look at the boss fight for an example of the basics of battle in this game.
I was able to defeat the boss almost without getting hurt once I got my following. Understanding this method of fighting was all it took to make the game’s battles many times more exciting.
Wu Long: Fallen Dynasty
You can open the door to a dopamine rush to trigger high-speed fights by understanding these three points:
1. Deflection / Counters
2. Spirit Scale
3. Combo damage
Blocking is weak in Wo Long, especially against powerful enemies like bosses who will break through your guard if you simply defend for too long. Enemies are relentless in their attacks as well, showing only a few openings. You cannot underestimate enemy health by using hit and run tactics in this game.
Instead, it will swerve to create opportunities to attack. While you primarily learn parrys in the tutorial as a way to fend off enemy attacks, they also work as counters.
Bares converts to counters in two different cases. You can either veer at the right moment by avoiding the enemy’s attack while in critical hit condition, or you can perform skewed counterattack with R1 and the circle.
Distracting counterattacks used against the enemy’s normal attacks are especially powerful, allowing you to restore your spirit gauge while also getting a counter strike.
If you keep a close eye on the enemy’s patterns during their relentless attacks, you can use the counter reaction to create your own role in the attack. If you land a counter parry, you can hit an opponent with some basic attacks, making them stun while building your spirit gauge so you can use it to launch a martial arts attack. If their stupor persists, you can follow up with magic. If you were able to do all of this, you would have blocked up to a quarter of your opponent’s health (*I should note that damage and enemy descent are affected by your weapon, stage, and structure. The experience described here is the result of building a fire stage).
Counter Response → 2x Basic Attacks → Spirit Attack → Witch Combination.
Opening with Barry and presenting a combo that uses a spirit gauge like this is the basis of this game’s attack. If you do not understand this, the game will seem very difficult. If you plan to try out the demo or get stuck making your way through it, I suggest you play with this flow in mind. While it’s great at first to simply land at the parry counter, you won’t be able to stop the game once you start figuring out your own combos.
Exploration made easy with many battle flags in regions and morale rank
As you explore, you’ll unlock Battle Flags found in game areas, allowing you to use them as save points. You’ll start over at these flags when you die, but the sheer number of them in the display areas was noticeable. While it is not easy to unlock more of the world due to its powerful enemies, it was easy to go back and try again thanks to all the Battle Flags.
Wo Long also contains level-based progression items. When you are in the Battle Flag, you can use Genuine Qi (Experience Points) gained during the battle to enhance your character. Your character’s initial stats will also change depending on the stage you choose at the start of the game, and you can also switch between Divine Beasts, allowing players to try out a lot of different strategies based on combinations of Divine Beast and stage.
In an interview with the game’s developers that ran alongside this demo, producer Fumihiko Yasuda recommended combining the Wood stage and Qinglong due to the treatment it provides, so players may want to give it a try if they feel the need to recover more while they explore.
I’d also like to discuss the game’s morale rank, which is one of your character’s stats. Morale acts as a rank indicating the relative strength between the player and the enemy. By defeating enemies and increasing your morale rank, your character will become stronger. This applies to enemies as well, so enemies with a morale rank higher by nature will be powerful opponents. In addition to serving as a gauge, you may also be able to expect better declines if you defeat an enemy with a higher morale score than you.
Defeating enemies increases your morale based on how powerful they are, but death causes you to lose your rank. However, there is also a minimum in your rank that your morale cannot decrease, and this minimum rank can be increased. In other words, if you get your minimum rank to 10, your morale will not drop below 10 even when you die.
The enemy morale rank is always displayed, which helps you determine whether or not you will be able to defeat a particular enemy in your current state. This was especially useful when there were multiple enemies visible while exploring, as I could run through an enemy instead of trying to fight all the powerful opponents in my path.
I was able to play the game for five hours but I spent most of it figuring out how to defeat the bosses. As such, I didn’t get the chance to test different combinations of phase and divine beast, building, etc. apart from the Vermilion Bird’s shooting and building stage. Since your stage also determines which spells are available to you, I’d like to try a bunch of different combinations once the demo is released
While Wo Long is definitely a challenging masocore title, you’ll find yourself enjoying plenty of exciting, high-speed Chinese martial arts while trying over and over again.
The release version of the game will also have PvP, which I can’t wait given how well Wo Long does. If you’re interested, why not try the trial version?