Team Ninja has been back, but I think a lot of folks are just now realizing it
While From Software typically dominates the modern action-adventure conversation (especially after the more considerable success of Elden Ring), many other games are vying for attention. As most of my colleagues know, I constantly sing the praises of recent works from Team Ninja: including both Nioh games.
While there’s still a lot more of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty for me to see, I’m two demos in; and I’m just ready for the thing to come out already.
You may recall that there was a console demo held four months ago. This month I played a private build on PC, and things are still looking good. Kicking off in a burning village (during the Yellow Turban Rebellion) as the backdrop for a tutorial, things were intense and brought back memories of the start of Ninja Gaiden [Black] so many years ago. The change in atmosphere to China is welcome and notably disparate from the various medieval European or Japan-based settings that make up so much of the genre. That urgency is obvious from the get-go, extending to the combat system: which asks quite a lot from the player upfront (and will be the focus of this preview).
It’s obvious that Team Ninja is trying to do something different here: so much so that I had to wrap my head around the entire concept of Wo Long‘s combat (refreshing!). Enemies have a life bar, and there are normal and heavy (spirit) attacks, as well as a deflect button that doubles as a dodge when double-tapped. There are also arts (physical skills) and magic. That much is easy to convey to pretty much anyone who even has tangential knowledge of the genre. But things start to go off the beaten path a bit early into the tutorial.
Normal attacks will increase your spirit gauge (kind of like a catch-all meter that governs multiple mechanics, like dodging and abilities), and spirit attacks will deal spirit damage to enemies. It’s a neat little dance as you need to be refilling your spirit gauge to pull off some big punishes, but you can also mostly rely on your raw skills of attacking, dodging, and deflecting to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Dodging often is viable, but you can’t just spam the dodge button, and even just getting a basic grasp on deflecting (the comparisons to Sekiro are warranted) will make a big difference in just about every bout. Deflecting is not just useful, it’s also flashy as hell, and really showcases how far Team Ninja has come in terms of their combat animation prowess. I’m looking forward to seeing some high-level play and skill videos after the game is out.
The morale meter is fascinating too. It’s essentially your power level rank (on top of the leveling system), which enemies also make use of. You can use this as a way to “size up” your opponents (typically of the elite variety) and decide whether or not they’re worth taking on at this current moment. With enough skill, you can take down enemies above your rank with ease, but a lot of players may want to head to another area and come back later for some of these elites. The idea of tucking away tougher encounters isn’t unique to Wo Long, but the morale system is a welcome addition nonetheless.
It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Enemies rank up after you die and you lose some morale points (remember de-leveling in MMOs? It’s a little like that but not quite as severe): beating them will reclaim it (and your Qi experience). Thankfully, just walking into a boss arena will automatically trigger this process, saving some time. Both the skill floor and ceiling for Wo Long seem high, which is understandably going to put off some folks. And I get it! But I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what the game has to offer, with concepts like its dual-weapon system (which lets you swap strategies and movesets quickly) and leveling/custom build mechanics on top of all of the other things I covered above.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is due out on March 3 on PC, PS4/PS5, and Xbox One/Series X/S. So far it’s ticking all the right boxes, and even after a few hours I’m seeing a lot of positive signs; especially when it comes to the satisfaction of finessing an enemy you struggled with moments before.