March 3 saw the release of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a new action-RPG from Team Ninja, the creators of Ninja Gaiden, the DMC reboot, and the Nioh series. It is with the latter that the game has the most in common, because they share a common “subgenre” Souls-like. They also share a theme – fantasy based on historical events, only the country has changed – from Sengoku-era Japan to China during the decline of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms. Despite mostly positive reviews, the game still has some issues. Warning: screenshots and text may contain spoilers!
A famous story in new words
The plot of the game focuses on the struggle of the nameless main character against the Taoist in Black – a sorcerer who kidnapped the Blindfolded Boy, who helps you in the game’s prologue without revealing his identity. With the help of the boy’s spirit, the Taoist gained access to large reserves of the Elixir of Immortality, a substance that awakens dark Qi in people, turning them into demons.
It is the influence of this character that becomes the catalyst for both the rise of the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the usurpation of power by the tyrant Dong Zhuo. On the way to victory over evil, the hero will have to join forces with many legendary heroes, such as Guan Yu, Liu Bei or Xiahou Dun. Most of the key adversaries will also be historical figures, and some will have to be both partnered with and fought at various points.
In general, the plot of the game is quite interesting, but it is quite difficult to tell about it without spoilers. I would like to note that a convenient storytelling tool here is the videos that are shown at the end of each task when you strengthen the bond with your companion. They tell about the character’s past, motivation, and goals, involving the player to get to know the world and its heroes, and at the end of the video, you get access to the Divine Beast associated with your new companion. Also in the game, there is a codex, which contains information in a convenient form about all the characters, demons, and gameplay features that are replenished during the game.
Great problems in great China
Each story mission has one goal – to defeat the boss at the end of the level. On your way to it, you will have to explore the level and fight smaller opponents. The main elements of interest in the locations are flags and objects. Flags are divided into two types – battle and marking. Battle banners are the equivalent of bonfires from Dark Souls, both a control point and an opportunity to replenish your supplies. Unlike most Souls-like, here the character’s health is replenished after any interaction with the banner, meaning that it is enough to set it – and your flasks, arrows, and other consumable items will be replenished. Marking banners serve exclusively to increase the level of Fortitude – one of the key mechanics.
The main feature of the game is the Spirit Gauge. This is both your stamina and mana. Unlike most games where stamina is wasted on attacks and blocking, the mechanics here are more complex. Accurate attacks and well-timed defense fill up your Spirit Gauge, while chaotic dodging and taking damage from opponents depletes it. If the player is simply stunned for a few seconds (or until the first damage is taken) when the spirit scale is empty, then the opponents have the opportunity to deal a fatal blow – a powerful attack that reduces their Morale. Morale is a special indicator that affects the characteristics of characters. Minimum morale is tied to your Fortitude level – values greater than this are lost on death and can be regained after defeating your assassin.
Also, upon death, half of your Genuine Qi is lost, one of the three local currencies used to replenish supplies at Battle Flags and level up your character. The second currency is copper coins, which can be obtained by selling equipment. With them, you can buy goods from the blacksmith and strengthen your equipment. The last currency is called accolades, and it can be used to buy chests with mysterious items from the hermit elders of Mount Tianzhushan. The higher the rarity of the item, the more expensive the chest. You can also buy gestures for it. To get this currency, it is necessary to defeat enemies with a purple halo around the morale level – these are opponents who managed to defeat another player, and for revenge, you receive a number of accolades proportional to the strength of the opponent.
Battle mechanics, in general, can be considered standard for Souls-like games, but with specific features. Normal attack, block, parry, and martial arts are available to you, as well as spirit attacks. The latter two use up your Spirit Gauge to deal powerful blows, which accordingly reduce the opponent’s maximum spirit pool. The enemy scale is updated after each death blow is dealt. Enemies can also have special attacks – they can’t be blocked, only deflected, and if they hit a player, they reduce their Morale if they’re higher than your Fortitude rank. You can also reduce Morale by striking from the back, here it is equated to lethal and has the same effect.
Spirit can also be spent on summoning Divine Beasts – an analog of the ultimate. The Beast icon is located in the lower right corner of the screen and recharges by dealing and taking damage. There are two types of Beast summons: attack and assist, each different for different Beasts. Accordingly, the attack deals damage to the opponents, and the help strengthens both the player and his allies.
Wizardry Spells are a separate mechanic in the game. Their number is tied to your level – every five levels you get one point with which you can unlock a spell. Access to spells is opened in accordance with the upgrading of characteristics – there are five branches of spells here, as well as Phases. A unique feature of magic in Wo Long is the elemental counter system: each element can be neutralized by one of the other four and at the same time each element can itself neutralize another. It’s actually useful at some points, but in this game, you can deflect absolutely every attack, even untargeted ones like an explosion or a ground punch, so its usefulness is questionable.
This is where Wo Long’s first problem comes in: the limited number of opponents. There aren’t many types of enemies and most of them are just improved versions of others. For example, there is a flaming porcupine in the game, and there is a BIG flaming porcupine. There are few exceptions, and almost all of them appear as bosses, and only then appear in locations as ordinary opponents.
Bosses are the main test on the way to saving China from demons. Unfortunately, the design of most of them is difficult to call interesting, and some are repeated several times. Among all the bosses, I had real difficulties with only two, one of them was the final one. An interesting feature is that after defeating a human boss (or its demonic version), you gain access to that character’s equipment set. Also, several bosses in the game have two phases that you don’t know about until you deplete entirely the boss’s health the first time.
In my opinion, this mechanic is not entirely fair and logical, so it’s hard to praise the developers for it. In addition, the already mentioned NPC companions (of which several are available on some levels) greatly facilitate the fight with most bosses and allow you to achieve the long-awaited victory without much effort. Therefore, the balance of boss fights is not without problems, like many other mechanics in this game. I consider the fight with Lu Bu to be the most successful of them, which provides a good ratio between the difficulty and interest of the fight, and the importance of the character itself gives it plot value.
Traveling the world
Progression in the game is divided into chapters, each of which usually consists of three or four main battlefields – local levels. Battlefields are divided into main and secondary. The main ones already mentioned are story levels in new, completely unique locations. Sub Battlefields, in contrast, serve mainly for the character’s upgrade. They almost (if at all) have no narrative value, take place in already-known locations, and do not affect the main plot in any way. Their passage is not mandatory. Consumables and equipment enhancement materials can mostly be found on these battlefields.
The variety of locations in the game is pleasantly impressive: from ancient tombs to a burning city and a foggy jungle. The only exception is the levels with water: you will have to visit a flooded city, a flooded river, a half-flooded prison, and even a sewer. In the last half of the game, literally, every second location has an interaction with water, and this, to be honest, gets boring. Other than that, the levels are well done and each one is fun to explore, both for useful items and just for the scenery. The problem I find is the difficulty of orientation due to the monotonous scenery, so you can walk the same corridors for several minutes and literally lose your way. This problem is especially acute in dungeons, which are also openly repeated on different battlefields.
More power is needed!
At the beginning of the game, you will have to create a character. The appearance editor in the game is quite detailed, in the best traditions of Souls games. The appearance of the character can be changed any number of times during the passage, but only after rescuing the elder of the hermit village.
As for the actual upgrading, it can be conventionally divided into two parts: improving the characteristics and improving the equipment. The characteristics of the character here are five Phases: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of them affects certain indicators of the character: health, a maximum weight of equipment, recovery of morale when attacking or repelling attacks, and so on. Also, as in the Souls series, the characteristics affect the weapon’s attack power – modifiers, so-called “scales”, which are denoted by Latin letters, are applied to its basic indicator.
Accordingly, scaling A from Fire shows that this weapon will cause the most damage in the hands of a character with a high level of this particular phase. Scales can also be increased when strengthening equipment. After meeting a blacksmith, you will be able to improve weapons and armor, respectively, in exchange for steel and leather of various ranks. As is customary, the higher the level, the more damage (or protection).
Also, a nice feature is decoration – the ability to replace the appearance with another one, from those you have already found in the game. An in-game counterpart to transmogrification is always a good indicator of developer attention, and I’m glad it was added here.