Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Is a Thrilling Soulslike With One Glaring Flaw

Inverse Score: 7/10

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All it takes is a few swings of Zhang Liang’s mighty hammer to destroy me, as I’ve learned the hard way after hours of failed attempts fighting the very first boss in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.

But this time is different!

Only a sliver of his health remains when I rush in, dodge past a deadly blow, and plunge my polearm into his gut. But then, a cutscene begins and my worst fear is realized: There’s a second phase.

Zhang Liang mutates into a grotesque monster with a stretchy arm full of spikes like something out of Dark Souls. He obliterates me with an effortless swipe of his monstrous arm and I’m back at square one. It’s almost enough to make anybody ragequit.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a new action RPG from Team Ninja, the studio behind the beloved Nioh series. In many ways, Wo Long plays a lot like Nioh, but its unrelenting boss battles go too far with extreme difficulty spikes that don’t match the rest of the game. There’s an excellent game underneath, so long as you can get passed the first boss encounter — a feat that many players likely won’t achieve.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has many elements of popular action RPGs and winds up feeling like a mix between Nioh, Dark Souls, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It leans into fast, fluid gameplay while borrowing from the semi-linear structure of the Souls games. Wo Long takes place in 184 AD during the Three Kingdoms period, set in the Later Han Dynasty in China. But human warriors are the least of your worries as you’ll face off against powerful demons and other horrifying creatures throughout the land.

Demonic Difficulty

The Zhang Liang, General of Man boss fight will catch you off guard, forcing you to learn how to deflect to proceed.

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Since early weapons deal such little damage, you simply can’t go on the offensive to chip away at Zhang Liang in that opening battle. Instead, you must rely on the deflect mechanic, which requires you to have pinpoint accurate timing with your button presses. The timing window is unfairly narrow, but if you execute a deflect at the exact right moment, you’ll make a dent in the boss’ Spirit Meter (which is sort of like stamina).

Once his Spirit Meter is maxed out, you can perform a critical attack, serving as one of the only ways to deal meaningful damage. If you learned to master Sekiro’s parry system already, you’ll have an edge here.

Wo Long’s biggest pain point is that it doesn’t give you any other options. Get good or get out, because if you can’t learn to deflect, then you won’t be able to enjoy the rest of the game’s fun features and systems. Forcing you to utilize only one combat approach ruins the fun and discourages any other play style, which is at odds with the game’s supposed design philosophy of giving you lots of choices.

That first boss battle is hands-down one of the most unrelenting, debilitating, and frustrating gaming experiences in recent memory, and it left me petrified – at the time – of the challenges ahead. You can grind to level yourself up enough to make future encounters easier, though, it’s still a major issue that power-leveling feels necessary to even stand a chance against some of the game’s basic bosses.

Standard foes feel appropriately challenging, which only further highlights the disparity with boss difficulty.

Slashy Slash

Combat against non-bosses is satisfying and fair in Wo Long.

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Things do get better across the board once Zhang Liang is behind you. In addition to grinding options, there are items (or powerful gear) that aid you on your journey, along with AI companions who make battles manageable.

The Wizardry Spells system is one of the most interesting and fun additions, giving you access to a wide range of magic buffs and attacks. You get staples like Fire Bolts or even Rock Spikes, which summons a pillar of rocks in front of you to block incoming damage. There’s also an ability that allows you to regain health for dealing damage. These add an additional layer to the combat, giving you lots of ways to dish out attacks, whether with up-close melee strikes or ranged magic projectiles.

Regardless of how you choose to play, Wo Long makes you feel like a nimble warrior. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop and plummeting down onto enemies never gets old. Even simply running around the varied stages always feels satisfying, especially when you get through encounters in one piece.

Even the combat itself is responsive and gratifying, despite those tremendous difficulty spikes. The mere act of slashing your sword and connecting with an attack is the simplest and best highlight of Wo Long. This is mostly due to the fluid animations, and the way weapons seem to sear through enemy flesh in the most brutal ways possible.

World of Wonder

The Suanyu will probably scare you beyond belief, but thankfully, there are lots of ways to tackle it.

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Another major strength of Wo Long is the world-building and development of the characters who inhabit it. The art style is beautiful with vibrant colors, memorable-looking enemies, and fun level design that makes it a joy to explore, particularly when the graphics are so crisp. Some of my fondest memories in Wo Long involve straying from the main path to discover hidden chests, which oftentimes would lead to powerful gear for the fights ahead. But it’s worth it for the sights alone.

Navigating tall structures, buildings, and winding paths is a blast, as you’re never sure what sorts of surprises await. One moment, you might stumble upon a new save point to reset your healing items. Other times, you’ll come across terrifying creatures, such as a behemoth Suanyu, a disgusting cross between a hellish bird, and a snake with several legs and wings. Nearly every area throws surprises at you — most of which are for the better.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is almost great. Its unfair difficulty is its most substantial flaw, but this is something that could be tweaked in an update. Exploring the world is an immense amount of fun, its controls and movement are fluid, and the world has a definitive sense of style. But many players won’t get to experience all that it has to offer due to its overpowered bosses, especially at the start of the game.


Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will launch for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on March 3, 2023. Inverse reviewed the PC version.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.

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