Wo Long: fallen dynasty was always going to be one of the most interesting games of 2023, even in a year as stacked as this. It’s the next game from Nioh and Ninja Gaiden creator Team Ninja, so game mechanics like me were always ready to get hooked.
But for the general gaming audience, who are typically put off by that same kind of mechanically dense action games, Wo Long might not even register on their radars. Except, of course, that it launches on Game Pass on day one.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Game Pass is Wo Long’s “Trojan Horse” in many new players’ homes. Some may be curious about Souls likes but have never dipped their toes in the water, while others are likely lured in by the flashy combat and Three Kingdoms setting.
This is an important part of what makes Wo Long one of the most interesting releases in the genre, as it’s a chance to see what concessions – if any – have been made to invite all those potential players to join in. stay.
After playing Wo Long for about five hours, I was impressed with how deftly Team Ninja managed to walk the line between designing challenging battles, rewarding gameplay, and providing new players with an array of new options to helping them understand why this particular genre is so popular. so loved.
Just as Elden Ring added the option to summon AI companions to help players navigate through the most challenging moments (even if many newcomers missed it initially), Wo Long also takes a similar approach. In all the missions I played, I was accompanied by an ally almost all the time.
There are narrative reasons for who gets to join you and why, but the gameplay implications are all the more pertinent here. The obvious advantage of having someone else next to you to attack enemies is that you don’t get outnumbered as easily. It also lets you move around the environment more freely, as ambushes and traps are less likely to end your run.
Pulling Aggro away from you and buying you time to heal or take a breather is all part of the package. But even beyond the standard blessing of not being alone, your ally’s fighting style can make for some unique combinations.
A faster saber-wielding companion will behave differently than a slow, hammer-wielding brute. In a way, the game almost teases you with the other weapons and combat abilities you could use, but even playing out those differences in approach can make for more varied encounters. If you have a heavy-hitter with you, you’re free to be the agile glass cannon, for example.
You can also replace the long list of available allies in Wo Long with real human players. Similar to Nioh, you can open your game for random players to join, or set a password and share it with a friend to lock it.
And like Nioh (and Elden Ring), Wo Long is fun in co-op, but don’t expect the same level of quality of life that something like Destiny 2 is going to offer. But there are also more options beyond human and AI companions.
The addition of a jump button frees up Team Ninja’s level designers to give levels much more verticality and more freedom with the layers and complexity of each level. This creates much more opportunities for you to observe and reflect on your approach. It helps confrontational players looking for a fight, but it works even better for stealthy players.
Stealth is a much bigger deal in Wo Long than any other Team Ninja project. It’s a cliché at this point, but yes, this approach is similar to Elden Ring’s – or even Sekiro’s.
You can’t crouch, but you can walk slowly and surprise enemies. Depending on your strength, you may not be able to kill them completely, but a sneak attack will deal significant damage nonetheless. If you’re serious about being stealthy, you can further specify in a stat that makes it harder for enemies to notice you.
You can also feel the effects in real time by seeing how long the warning bar above neutral enemies fills up as you approach them. While this is a pre-release build, I’ve seen a few instances where I should be clearly seen by an enemy, but my high stealth stat prevented them from noticing.
It’s funny, but it’s certainly a path you could walk if you wanted to. Later, you will gain access to spells that can make you completely invisible to enemies. Like Nioh, those are incredibly useful when you need to get back to where you died without having to go through every grunt along the way, or letting you get to a certain part of the level (like a boss fight) quickly with little resistance.
With AI companions, a wide variety of stealth options, and the design of the levels themselves, I see far more players finding it easier to navigate Wo Long than any other Souls-like.
This is still a challenging game, and some might not stick with it because of that, but those willing to meet it half way through and invest some time to learn the intricacies of the game will be rewarded with satisfying combat and the all-too important feeling of coolness.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty releases March 3 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.