When you think of the Three Kingdoms era of China and Koei Tecmo, your first thought might be the fast-paced hack-n-slash action of the Dynasty Warriors series. But Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, despite its different playstyle, doesn’t let its predecessors overshadow it. Although it’s definitely more action-oriented than other Soulslike games, it’s still a challenge. Unfortunately, part of the challenge is dealing with things that are beyond the PC player’s control, like slow frame rates and poor quality controls, depending on how you play the game.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, like most other Dynasty Warriors games, is set during the Yellow Turban Rebellion during the Eastern Han Dynasty. The unnamed player avatar (which the player can customize) is involved in a conflict between the different kingdoms. However, this time they are looking for an elixir of immortality rather than territory. You fight through levels with historical characters like Zhao Yun or Guan Yu as partners, while wielding magical powers and divine beasts in a fantasy version of China. The story isn’t very impressive and ultimately forgettable, but the action and cutscenes are a delight to watch.
Another reason I have such a hard time remembering the story is that it takes me a while to beat each level. For reference, Team Ninja has divided Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty into different Battlegrounds. Once you complete one, you move on to the next. Each level matches you with a Three Kingdoms figure, or you fight one. Before facing the boss, you must explore the area and go through all the enemies you encounter. You can manage random mobs in several fancy ways. But if you let your guard down, they can seriously ruin you. At the end, you open a door for a boss. Some of these bosses are ridiculously difficult, while others are a cinch. There is a very simple formula to follow when dealing with bosses: the parry. Soulslike veterans should have expected this.
The thing about Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is that it’s obviously not as easy as it looks on paper. Parry depends on your weapon, with weapons like polearms having a wider window in exchange for slower attacks. I’ve also found that momentum can be harsh, even when using a weapon with a lower deflection difficulty. You also have to balance your mind (essentially, you can’t play too conservative), which means the game forces you to close in and combine the enemy. Some bosses have a short pause before unleashing their critical hit, which is easy to drop when you first fight them. Luckily, there’s always a save point right before the boss fight, so you don’t tend to lose a lot of progress.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is surprisingly accessible. Now obviously you need skills to fight bosses. The game has no mercy on you. However, the Morale and Fortitude systems can make your life easier. The more enemies you defeat, the higher your morale will be. Also, your strength increases each time you raise a battle flag. The closer your morale is to that of the boss, the more damage you will inflict and the less you will take. Courage, on the other hand, is the minimum morale level you have. So players who want an easier time can play to boost morale and make every shot count. Conversely, players who prefer a challenge can simply maintain the bare minimum of morale before a boss fight.
Wo Long stutters from time to time which makes my frame rate terrible despite my gaming laptop having very good specs. It would be a minor annoyance if not that every frame is literally what separates my character from ‘a successful detour or from a world of pain. There are also some quirks in the patch I played regarding the menu. Due to certain circumstances, I played with a mouse and keyboard. This is a configuration supported by Koei Tecmo. Unfortunately, the team probably didn’t expect anyone to use a mouse and keyboard. Even at its fastest setting, the camera feels sluggish when spinning. Also, it was difficult to navigate the Sorcery menu to give my character new spells. This is because my cursor disappeared more than half the time, forcing me to exit the menu and click again just to see the skill tree.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has a unique worldview and a fun yet challenging combat system. Unfortunately, there are some issues that bog it down apart from its performance on PC. The boring environments can get boring to watch, and the story is pretty generic despite the setting. I also felt that historical figures could have gotten more screen time instead of existing as glorified decoys. However, that may be my bias as a Three Kingdoms fan and not necessarily a souls fan. It shows promise as a new Three Kingdoms-inspired game from Koei Tecmo, but it needs to iron out its tough spots before it can shine on its own.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is available on PS4, PS5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X and Xbox One. Windows PC version tested.