Team Ninja has been in the making for the past few years. With the release of the first Nioh on PlayStation 4 in 2017, creator of the Ninja Gaiden series has fully embraced the software-inspired role-playing game formula known as Masocore in Japan, resulting in excellent games such as the second entry in the Nioh series, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. In a couple of months, Team Ninja will be ready to show off its next RPG, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a game that promises to be another hit for the Japanese development studio.
Last week, I had the chance to experience Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty for the second time with a much more welcome demo featuring two chapters from the first story. Back in September 2022, console gamers had the opportunity to try out the game, but engaging in an advanced mission without knowledge of the basic mechanics was not in favor of the public view. Still, I felt it was a solid showing, and with so much development time left I thought Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty had a strong chance of becoming even better. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.
The game’s core mechanics, such as the spirit meter and morale rank systems, which affect both offense and defense, work just as they did in last year’s demo. However, the devil is in the details, as many of the changes Team Ninja made to their game ultimately resulted in a much more enjoyable experience. For example, the parry/deflect timing window has been increased a lot, making it easier to deflect attacks from enemies when you react. At times it feels like it has been scaled up too much, as attacks with long animations and active times can now be easily banished by blending.
The ability to mix the deflect button and hit hit, to be fair, doesn’t happen very often, and the soul meter system makes it very dangerous to try and miss an attack multiple times, as a negative soul value can result in a short stun condition if the player gets attacked. As such, I don’t think the level of challenge would suffer much from this more generous skew window. On the contrary, it makes the whole experience more enjoyable, letting players be a little more offensive without forcing them to actually predict an enemy attack instead of reacting to it. The end of the first chapter features the same boss seen in the 2022 demo, and it was more fun to fight with, though combat remained challenging.
As mentioned above, one of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s central mechanics is the morale rank mechanic, which determines how strong the player and enemy are. While this rank can be increased by defeating enemies, deflecting attacks, etc., the most effective way to maintain Morale’s rank and prevent it from falling too much is by activating Battle and Marking Flags that act as checkpoints and save points of sorts. However, several highlight flags can be missed if the player shoots directly to achieve the main objective of the mission, so the game offers some tangible rewards for exploration beyond the loot, which comes with additional abilities like damage increase, speed, damage reduction, etc., in the vein of the Nioh series.
The Marking Flags, along with the jumping maneuver, influenced the level design in the best ways, as even the smaller locations at the start of the game include plenty of optional areas, all of which have something to make them discover worthwhile. Whether it’s a new piece of gear, a flag of distinction, or a powerful enemy morale high, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty always rewards players who take the time to check out and explore the lands of China’s Three Kingdoms era.
While there are still some small core issues, such as a possible lack of player expression due to the limited move-set of the game’s weapons compared to the Nioh series, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is undoubtedly set up to be a great role-playing game. With that said, Team Ninja set out to create a game that captures the unique flow of Chinese martial arts and an action title where the actual action game always takes center stage, and now I’m more convinced than ever that the Japanese studio will pull it off. With proceeding to her next game.
To be fair, this PC version did highlight disappointing visuals and performance, as can be seen in the video below, but I’m hoping both will be fixed before release.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty launches on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One on March 3, 2023, worldwide. The game will be available via Xbox Game Pass on Xbox and PC as well from day one.