Thirty minutes after I started playing, my impressions could be summed up with one word: “hard.” I’ve finished most of Team Ninja’s recent games like the Nioh series and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, but I couldn’t help but be astounded by this title’s difficulty when I first picked it up. Let me state right here, though, that while this isn’t a simple game, you’ll instantly be drawn in by the dizzying high-speed action on display once you get used to how it works. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty adds new systems to its masocore base to create impressive Chinese martial arts-themed combat. While the game had me wailing and groaning at first, by the time I was three hours in, my brain was pumping out so much dopamine that I couldn’t put my controller down. Let’s talk about what exactly this game is like. I should also note that this demo was played in single-player on the PS5 with a DualSense controller.
The game begins with character creation, with both male and female options available. Character modeling in the game is extremely high-quality, and you’ll be able to fine-tune various settings such as facial outline, eyebrows, eyes, pupils, nose, mouth, hairstyle, skin, facial hair, and makeup. Even after picking a facial outline, it’s possible to customize the smallest details like forehead placement, cheekbone placement, and even cheekbone definition.
At the end of character creation, you’ll choose your phase, or what would be your character’s class in a standard RPG. The wizardry spells available to you will depend on which of the five phases you use. I began my time playing the game by picking the offense-focused fire phase.
In the demo I played, I was placed on a mountainous area after completing a tutorial. As there were no cutscenes, I wasn’t able to learn a thing about the story. It seems that this demo was made solely for the purpose of enjoying the game’s exploration and battles.
I proceeded from these hills into a cave area, placing most of what I saw in China’s sprawling nature. While I wasn’t getting a particularly strong sense of the Three Kingdoms setting at this point, my interest was piqued by the supernatural demon enemies that felt traditionally Chinese and the game’s overall unsettling dark fantasy elements.
Quick, agile, and stamina-less Chinese martial arts-themed battles
Now let’s get into what makes this game really shine: its battles. While you play as a nameless volunteer soldier, they feel so nimble when you actually play that it was like controlling a ninja. Your character’s agile movements are like an exaggerated form of the quickness of Chinese martial arts. I began with a double jump from the start and could even kick off walls mid-jump to reach even higher locations. You’re also able to make good use of aerial attacks thanks to the many objects like rocks in areas that are usable as platforms. The overall speed of the action is part of what makes this game special.
Close-range attacks come in two different basic forms: basic attacks and spirit attacks. Basic attacks use the weapon your character is holding, and performing these will build your spirit gauge. Once this bar begins to fill, you can use it to deliver higher-damage spirit attacks. You’re also able to equip up to two close-range weapons and swap between them.
Use and management of the spirit gauge is an important part of battle, and it can be used for both martial arts attacks as well as for wizardry spells. Martial arts attacks are special moves that differ depending on the weapon you’re using, while wizardry consists of elemental attacks that use the power of the phases to control fire, water, and so on.
Even the lower-level enemies you find in your way can rarely be defeated with basic attacks alone, forcing you to make your way through them with the spirit gauge’s powerful attacks. As far as close-range weapons go, I had the chance to try out the Sword, Straight Sabre, Glaive, Dual Swords. My impression that the Glaive, with its mix of offensive output and reach, was the easiest to handle. I also used a ranged weapon in the form of a bow. To control it, you line up a shot with L2, then fire with R2. I primarily used it as a ranged weapon while exploring, and it dealt decent enough damage. You only have a limited number of arrows, though, and it was a little unfortunate to run out of them in no time if I got carried away.
Players are also accompanied in their journey by Divine Beasts. You can choose between five types of beast: the Qilin, Baihu, Qinglong, Zhuque and Xuanwu. You summon these with a separate Divine Beast gauge, but they can be summoned to fight alongside you for a time or used for “Divine Beast Resonance,” where they provide special effects such as buffs. While I played with the Vermillion Bird, I didn’t run across many good opportunities to use a built-up meter and regret not finding an effective use for it.
To give a rundown of the default button settings, Square is used for basic attacks, Triangle is used for spirit attacks, X is used to jump, Circle is used for the Deflection move I’ll discuss further later, and L1 is used to block. I got the feeling that this is an ideal layout for easy input of the combo attacks I’ll get into below.
The battles in this game don’t use a stamina gauge as the Nioh series does. Instead, it sets itself apart with its chains of stunning Chinese martial arts attacks. Your enemies have tough defenses, though, so you won’t be able to get through fights just by mashing buttons.
About thirty minutes into the game, I found myself thinking about how difficult its fights are. Looking back on it, though, I could also just say that I still didn’t understand how its combat works. Once I had more time with the game, I started to see how to fight effectively thanks to a good bit of trial-and-error.
Counters, the Spirit Gauge, and combos are the three keys to unlocking exciting fights
Wo Long’s fights are fast-paced, and even its basic enemies have tough defenses. They’ll block just about everything if you come at them with nothing but regular attacks, only to counterattack when you’re defenseless until they beat you down.
How do we take them out, then? Let’s look at a boss fight for an example of the basics of battle in this game.
I was able to beat the boss nearly undamaged once I got the following down. Understanding this way to fight was all it took to make the game’s battles many times more exciting.