It’s a mistake to lay too many comparisons onto Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Team Ninja’s upcoming action RPG – the premise of which players assume command of a nameless protagonist, in this case a militia soldier, as they fight for survival against all manner of ferocious beasts and monsters in a hostile, cruel world – bears all the hallmarks of classic Souls-like game design. It’s setting – a dark fantasy reimagining of an ancient land – copies the FromSoftware rulebook too. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will also be a challenging affair, one players of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice know all too well.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t your typical Soulslike title – this is a Team Ninja title, and the development studio are keen to point out they’re channeling all their success with both Nioh games into Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty along with harnessing the expertise of Bloodborne producer Masaaki Yamagiwa to craft something fresh and exciting. And what are these avenues to creating something altogether more interesting in the Soulslike mould, a genre that has become rife with copycats and similarities in recent years? Well, beyond rebranding Soulsborne or Souls-like as ‘masocore’, Team Ninja are placing hyper-focus on historical authenticity, enhanced mission linearity and refined yet accessible difficulty.
We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s innovations in this feature, but first a quick outline of what to expect in this upcoming title’s combat. So, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will be an action-heavy RPG. Combat will eschew Nioh’s stately samurai-style stillness and stamina systems in favour of rapid deflects that demand players constantly switch between offensive and defensive movements to best their foes in battle. Enemies will offer few openings for attack, so mastery of offence and defence will prove crucial. With a system similar to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s battle system, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s simple spirit meter governs player combat success; land a blow or read an opponent’s attack to dodge and deflect in time to increase the spirit meter, take damage or mis-time a parry and spirit will decrease.
Narratively, players are thrust into Late Han Dynasty era Three Kingdoms, a point in history described by the game as a ‘world in turmoil.’ In this world infested with demons a rebellion frenzies in the ruins of prosperity and a war rages in search of immortality granting elixir. The player character, the aforementioned nameless militia, sets out in an effort to quell the uprising, slaying foot soldiers and beasts alike on their journey.
The Three Kingdoms period is a real-life time in Chinese history, one of the bloodiest on record, typified by chaotic infighting between warlords and military instability. Describing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty as some sort of Dark Souls in China undermines Team Ninja’s strive for historical authenticity. Yes, ancient China isn’t as common a backdrop in video games as, say, the recent boom in feudal Japan flavoured titles, so it’d be all too easy to skimp on historical detail. Instead, Team Ninja’s deliberate acquisition of people with genuine expertise of the Three Kingdoms era cannot be ignored and should be heralded. Conceptually, Team Ninja aren’t simply relying on the visual style of the Late Han period, but they’re using their assembled team’s expertise to inform the game’s lore and mythology; it’s stories of duelling warlords are contemporary to the period, the speed and manoeuvrability of its combat is based on martial arts, and even its character customisation trees are based on the Five Phases with the five elements of fire, water, metal, wood, and wind representing the game’s upgradeable stats.
In a further boon to authenticity, accompanying the protagonist on their journey are real life historical figures – warlord Lui Bei, military strategist Zhang Liang, and general Sun Jian are just some of the characters whom players will fight alongside. In fact, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will feature semblances of a party system too. Warriors encountered will stick around, with the strength of their relationship with the player alongside other team members having a very real effect on how battles will play out.
Sheer difficulty is another aspect typical of the Souls-like, or ‘masocore’, genre. In Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, defeating enemies will by no means be easy. It’s the deft balance of challenge with fairness that keeps players engaged, but with those who’ve played preview builds of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty what’s become apparent is the game’s encouragement for players to ‘get good’. The game features a raft of onboarding tutorials and on-screen prompts, most effectively to aid players in mastering the timing of the game’s crucial deflection system. Also, the game’s morale ranking system encompasses two levels – a morale rank, and a fortitude rank, with a higher rank indicating a stronger and more capable player character.
Every enemy possesses a morale rank, the more challenging the enemy the higher the rank. Killing enemies boosts our protagonist’s morale, whilst dying decreases it. Fortitude rank, improved by finding and raising battle flags dotted throughout the landscape, permanently improves the floor of player morale. So, for instance, should a player have a morale rank of 25 and a fortitude rank of 15, no matter how many deaths they experience at the hands of a particularly tricky enemy, their fortitude rank and thus their morale will never go lower than 15. The game will still be a challenge for seasoned Soulslike players, but these changes make Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty more welcoming to masocore newcomers by minimising the punishment doled out for repeated deaths.
The morale system has a direct influence on the game’s mission-based structure too. Team Ninja are opting for something more akin to enhanced linearity, with its morale system and a player’s current morale rank influencing the decisions they make on the direction to take. In other words, should a player be wanting to significantly raise their morale they can take a look at the map a choose the path dotted with enough enemies to best enable them to do that. Its risk versus reward personified in exploring the game’s vibrant locales, which by the way, are based on real-world counterparts too such as the ancient city Luoyang and its mysterious surrounding valleys, rivers, and mountains.
What’s abundantly clear in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is that the themes and setting is not mere window dressing. The systems at play are well thought out and structured to cater to seasoned FromSoftware fanatics and newcomers to this punishing genre of game. All the ingredients are present and correct for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty to be one of the biggest titles released this year. Finally, in another deviation from Team Ninja’s prior games, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn’t just a PlayStation exclusive – it’s also set to release to the Xbox platforms and Windows via Steam, with it also being available on Game Pass day one.
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