Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Screenshot 1 of 6

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty raises the bar for Soulslike combat to such an extent it deserves to break free from that descriptor entirely in favour of something new. It provides deeply intricate combat and an exhilarating arcade alternative to FromSoftware's more contemplative formula.

A game like Elden Ring seeks to draw you into the mystery of its broken world, letting the player piece together how it all fell apart as they tip-toe around sleeping giants. This approach was and remains a revelatory breath of fresh air in RPG design. Wo Long is the dark side of that moon, choosing instead to loosely retell one of the most classic tales in all of world literature, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, adding in some demonic possession for extra spice. Expect to crush the Yellow Turban Rebellion and clash with Dong Zhuo amidst the flames of a burning Luoyang, just like you did in Dynasty Warriors, and face the legendary Lu Bu in some truly epic encounters.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Screenshot 2 of 6

It tells a story, but outside of bookending each major mission with some melodrama, it's really just the vehicle through which epic combat scenarios are delivered to you. The player character, a silent protagonist, is crudely shoehorned into overly dramatised moments from Three Kingdoms-era Chinese history.

Each environment (called battlefields) in Wo Long seems straightforward at first, but quickly you find they're riddled with complex encounters, traps, shortcuts, valuable treasure, NPCs to chat with, and secrets to uncover. Exploration is made not only rewarding but essential due to the implementation of the Battle Flag system, which is kind of genius but also somewhat overwhelming.

As you explore a battlefield (of which there are around 40, both major and minor), you encounter recesses that function like bonfires or checkpoints in similar games. When you raise a flag in one, it replenishes your stock of reusable Estus stand-in potions (called Dragon's Cure Pots), but without respawning any of the enemies you've defeated. In addition, this will raise your Fortitude level which, along with Morale, makes you more powerful in various ways, but crucially, only within that specific battlefield.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Screenshot 3 of 6

Morale is effectively your power level, and it actively makes you stronger. You raise it by defeating enemies, using certain items, and raising Battle Flags (which are hidden all over the place). Every enemy has their own Morale level, and you can lower it map-wide by defeating specific foes. Your own will decrease when you die, but never lower than your current Fortitude level.

While complex, this all feeds into the combat system, which is uniformly excellent from front to back. The moment when it clicks, and you understand how to deflect attacks and dodge effectively, to parry a Critical Blow and strike back even harder, the experience kicks into high gear and becomes its own beast entirely.

Wo Long rewards excellence and perfection, and if you're a gameplay-first kind of gamer, it's going to blow your mind. You start playing it like any other Soulslike — with your guard up, creeping around more powerful foes — and finish playing it like the kind of Wuxia legend Romance of the Three Kingdoms immortalised. You'll be flipping around the place and engaging dozens of foes with ease, and even the most mundane encounters can end up looking like a scene out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Screenshot 4 of 6

Developer Team Ninja has foregone the stance system of predecessors Nioh and Nioh 2 for something more weapon focused. There are more than a dozen varieties, and purists of the period will appreciate the plethora of polearms available. Each has its own move set and associated special abilities, almost to an absurd degree. For example, wielding a spear is quite different to a slashing spear which, in turn, is different to both a halberd and a glaive, despite them all being long sticks with sharp ends.

Gear is randomised, and while this isn't our favourite aspect of the game (being somehow even more granular than everything else), it suits the system in which it exists. There's an undeniable thrill to getting the perfect drop after a particularly tough encounter.

Plenty of build variety is possible within Wo Long's progression system, with each attribute tied to one of the classical Chinese virtues and elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Further, the magic that is available to you is tied to each.

We played with a heavy focus on Wood, which increases your health as a baseline (the secret cheat code to beating most Soulslike games) and the damage you inflict with an appropriately aligned weapon. In addition, it opens up its associated magic tree, which revolves around buffing, inflicting lightning damage, and even allows for some limited healing of yourself and any nearby allies.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Screenshot 5 of 6

In another unique twist on the tried and true formula, magic is tied to your Spirit, which also functions as your stamina. So, rather than watching an MP pool or having a set number of casts of a spell, you instead must decide whether you can afford to cast anything, as you may not have enough Spirit left to dodge as well. Further, spells have a Morale requirement, meaning that until you raise it on a given battlefield, you can't use your best abilities right out of the gate.

As you progress through the game, you'll encounter legendary figures like Liu Bei, Cao Cao, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei (to name just a few), and two such individuals can join you on the battlefield at a time. The AI is surprisingly competent, and as you defeat enemies together, you deepen your relationship, eventually being rewarded with replicas of their iconic weapons and armour, which are some of the best in the game.

Of course, you can replace these NPCs with real players, which was unfortunately not something we had much success with pre-release. Suffice it to say, though, that environments in Wo Long are designed for large-scale and exciting encounters. Provided the system can handle it, slicing through Wo Long's various battlefields would be an absolute blast with some trusted blades to watch your back.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Screenshot 6 of 6

Boss encounters are incredibly intricate, and Wo Long opens with a doozy of a boss encounter which we struggled with right out of the gate. Definitely not for the faint of heart, the level of difficulty remains high throughout the game, as does the complexity of many of its basic systems. Again, whereas Elden Ring might be able to entice a more casual player with its air of mystery and open-world design, Wo Long knows exactly who its target audience is, and they're going to love every minute of it. If the thought of an Easy difficulty in a Soulslike game causes an involuntary and irrational pang of fear inside a deep and sacred recess of your heart, then Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty might not just be your Game of the Year — it's probably your spirit animal, too.

Unforgiving, intricate, and, at times, almost impenetrable, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty offers a unique take on the increasingly familiar Soulsike formula, carving out a place to call its own with its complex and deeply satisfying combat system. It doesn't pull any punches, and many will likely bounce off it after only a few hours. However, for those willing to achieve the level of mastery it demands, it might be just the thing you've been looking for.


Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an excellent action RPG that offers an even more hardcore take on the increasingly popular Soulslike formula. It's fast, frenetic, and hits like a truck, with one of the most mesmeric combat systems we've ever had the pleasure to master. It might scare off more casual players, but those looking for a challenge, well — you can stop looking.