Dark or Light

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - The RPG Files

'Romance of the 3 Kingdoms' Fantasy Soulslike

Garrick Durham-Raley Updated: Posted:
Reviews The RPG Files 0

There’s no denying that Team Ninja, the developers behind Wo Long: Fallen Kingdom and previously Nioh, is a talented studio that has found its own niche in the Souls-like genre. Where Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was From Software’s foray into re-imagining their Soulsborne genre, Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty mirrors those same steps to become something uniquely standalone, but with that same familiarity to their popular Nioh series. But how successful was this attempt at changing up the formula? Here’s our final review of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty on PC.

As I mentioned previously in my review in progress, I had put in 37 hours without getting to the end. I have now finished the main story, as well as all of the side missions, for a total of 52 hours of playtime. My thoughts on the mechanics present in Wo Long haven’t changed since then – so if you want to know more about the combat and systems at play, please consider reading the review in progress first. Instead, I’ll focus more on aspects of the story and narrative experience, the gear system, and the online play that I wasn’t able to experience before.


Fans of Nioh will know what to expect with the way Team Ninja delivers their stories. Epic battles, demonic monsters, glowing red eyes that unmistakably represent who’s Evil, and a silent protagonist overcoming all adversity that comes their way. Most of the narrative is going to be told via cutscenes mostly taking place at the end of a mission and bridging the gap between where you were, where you’re going, and why. Supplementary, short briefs are provided as text during loading screens which add a little more concise information before starting in a mission. Yet despite this, as well as my previous knowledge regarding the general timeline of ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ in which Wo Long takes place, I still felt a little lost with regards to the chronology.

Wo Long is set in the year 184 AD, during the beginning of the Yellow Turban Rebellion that eventually led to the fall of the Han dynasty. From the start, I felt confused as to who my character was and how they got mixed up in this conflict. Although, to be fair, it’s not so much their story as it is their perspective of the grand battles waged during this era. Despite my character being referred to as a “mercenary”, it felt like I was just some random villager that was pulled into the conflict of the Yellow Turbans by pure coincidence. Add to this the fact that the protagonist is entirely wordless in all of their interactions, and it’s not surprising that Wo Long’s sudden start failed to hook me at the onset. That said, what did eventually hook me was the ever-revolving layers of deceit, deception, betrayal, and redemption of the many characters I met.

Where Wo Long succeeds best at is in bringing to life the myriad of historical figures. You’ll see familiar names throughout the story, like Liu Bei and Cao Cao, which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever played Dynasty Warriors before. Although some of their personalities did seem a little too one-dimensional, I suspect that this was a conscious design choice in order to preserve their “historical” portrayals. Otherwise, the main cast of characters would be largely forgettable if it weren’t for the fact that they’ve been so well-represented before across numerous works. Thankfully, for those who might be not as familiar with these figures, there is a Character Directory in the menu that provides bios and additional story synopsis to help keep the relevant story beats straight – so you’ll know who betrayed whom and to whose benefit.

Even then, the way many of these characters will spontaneously flow in and out of the main missions as supporting party members often felt disjointed to the overall narrative. That’s not to take away from their contribution; I love the recruitment system in Wo Long that lets you add these characters as supporting members for missions. It’s a nice implementation for either offline play or for players that don’t want the randomness of other players disrupting their experience. As a nice benefit, the more you play with these characters and defeat monsters, the more their bond with you will level up. At the max level of 10, you receive a full set of their equipment to use for yourself – including their weapon, such as Guan Yu’s immediately recognizable guandao: the Green Dragon Crescent Blade (or Azure Dragon Crescent Glaive, as it’s called in Wo Long). The bonuses from these armor sets are some of the best I’ve seen for specific weapon builds, so it’s worth it to invest the time into adding them on your team and keeping them alive.

Another story element that Wo Long succeeds at is in the world-building and atmospheric storytelling presented within the level design of each mission. The architecture alone, such as in the fortified city of Puyang, is often astounding to behold in Team Ninja’s proprietary game engine. That said, most of the color palette used is a lot of mottled grays and browns with an occasional bright red that accentuates the bleak nature of these war-torn lands like freshly spilt blood stained against stark, barren soil. Occasionally, you’ll also discover notes and diary entries that add a little extra depth and immersion to the world as long as you’re willing to stop and read them in your inventory. If you take the time to look around at the environment as well, you’d be surprised at how many passive story elements there are literally scattered around in each level. Such as in the previously-referred-to Puyang: broken down barricades, destroyed homes, and soldiers’ corpses surrounded by a torrent of arrows – both in and around them – are placed within the level in such a way that it truly evoked a sense of a reality in which the the city was ravaged by war.

Towards the story’s conclusion, the overall narrative hones in and becomes more focused on the plight of Good versus Evil, with the same mysticism and intrigue (and supernatural Taoism) mixed in that Team Ninja seems to enjoy so much. It can feel a little silly at times, like the interaction between General Yuan Shao and Lady Zhen when they first meet, but it tries to keep a serious tone throughout until the end. The fantastic level design for each mission enhances the atmospheric storytelling and adds to that tone as well. I enjoyed the story for what it was, although it did occasionally feel disjointed when particularly challenging boss fights put a stop to my story progression. The length of the campaign can probably be completed closer to 25 hours if you avoid exploring the detailed levels and bypass the side missions, but these side battlefields usually offer good loot or can unlock additional spells for your character. Sadly, they rarely offer any additional story content and are often just short-form missions that add an extra layer of challenge to test your skills. I used them to help increase my level in between the main missions or to try and farm particular items that dropped in the rewards.


Leveling up doesn’t feel as important as I would like, however. It lacks the feeling that your character is growing more powerful, even after investing enough Genuine Ki (the experience points akin to Souls in Dark Souls) to level-up 10 times, unlike other Soulslikes. The power difference between the character and enemies is more dependent on the Morale Rank system during missions, so even if I was considerably “over-leveled” relative to the recommended mission level, I didn’t feel that difference in strength compared to the difference of Morale Rank in missions. Whether I was level 10 or level 50, fighting a Morale Rank 12 enemy when I’m only rank 1 or 2 was still tantamount to suicide. This makes every new mission feel like a new leveling experience and kind of defeats the improvement you would feel otherwise. The Morale Rank system was an interesting mechanic for Team Ninja to introduce, and is one of the standout features that seperates Wo Long from the rest, but I would have preferred a more traditional power differential for levels instead. It's a shame that Wo Long's combat and deflection mechanic, as engrossing as they are, play second-fiddle to the Morale Rank system when compared to its contemporaries.

This feels even more noticeable in boss fights. The difficulty curve of Wo Long’s bosses suffer from consistency and will often increase in difficulty seemingly arbitrarily. Take for example the very first boss: this fight can be absolutely brutal if you haven’t quickly mastered the deflecting mechanic, as this is the most essential core mechanic. It’s necessary in order to pull off powerful fatal strikes while simultaneously protecting your character from taking damage. Unfortunately, the trash enemies you’ve faced up until then barely require this mechanic and can usually be strong-armed through and quickly eliminated. Missions after this first one felt ridiculously easy in comparison, but perhaps that was because I had gotten a feel for deflecting already.

However, the boss difficulty will randomly spike on certain missions, acting as gatekeeping brick walls that involve hours of repeatedly dying through trial and error before eventually succeeding. By the time I had beaten these bosses, I didn’t feel like I had grown stronger or better as a player. Instead, they just felt like unnecessary hurdles that lacked proper balancing instead of teaching me how to become a better player. These spikes in difficulty are followed by a string of relatively easy boss fights in comparison, without any rhyme or reason. I knew that I hadn’t grown better as a player, and neither my character’s equipment nor my playstyle had changed much either – it just appeared to be an erratic ramp-up in difficulty for no reason. Compared to the penultimate boss fights, some of the mid-game bosses were vastly more challenging to overcome.

This coupled with a lack of trash enemy varieties bogged down the mission-to-mission gameplay considerably despite the engaging combat. Missions often utilize the exact same roster of enemy types, which meant my familiarity in fighting them only grew throughout the journey making the sections between boss fights easier over time. By the first few missions, I saw nearly every enemy that I would encounter for the rest of the story. This took away from being able to enjoy these smaller fights, as I became bored from the repetition of constantly fighting the same things. The scant few enemies that are introduced in the later half of the story also felt underutilized, with a reliance on the same enemy types being present in nearly every mission. From the Demon Bestiary available in Wo Long’s menu, there are 16 enemy entries (not including bosses). In comparison, Nioh 2 had 34 – nearly three times as many different monsters to fight. It feels like Team Ninja took a step backwards from what they had shown in the Nioh franchise, when they could have used a more robust catalogue of enemies to further differentiate Wo Long as a prominant new IP.


A lot of the repetition can be mitigated when playing with friends though. Nearly every mission is available to play with others online, with only a handful of exceptions. During my early access with Wo Long before its official release, I wasn’t able to find anyone to play with online. Since launch, however, I’ve always been able to find a list of players’ missions to join. That said, it appears that the online infrastructure of Wo Long relies on a peer-to-peer hosting connection. So the stability of the online experience is contingent on the host player’s personal internet connection. More than a few times I connected to players that did not have either a strong connection or a reliable one; meaning that enemies would frequently freeze in place and my attacks would appear ineffective, or I would get hit because I couldn’t see the enemies’ attacks in order to dodge or deflect in time.

Regrettably, those aren’t the only issues I’ve experienced either. In my 52 hours of playtime, I’ve had no less than two dozen sudden crashes. I’d give you an exact number, but I stopped counting after 20. That’s a huge problem. Especially when it happens (and it did) during a cutscene after beating one of the bosses. When I loaded it back up (after the second time, since it crashed again when I tried the first time), I was put back to the last Battle Flag I had captured before getting into the boss room – so I had to do it all again. I’ve also experienced crashes when selecting new missions to go to, as well as when I’ve simply tabbed out of the game. I just don’t want to put more time into something that could potentially void all of my work, essentially stabbing me in the back. Which it has, on more than one occasion.


Despite the repetitive gameplay, the driving force that kept me engaged was actually the sheer variety of loot to be found. Personally, I love RNG loot-based systems that feature a robust pool of modifiers. The rarity system, set bonuses, and build diversity is why I loved Nioh and Nioh 2 and stems from my initial introduction to these systems from Diablo. It’s why I’m such a fan of the Borderlands and Destiny franchises, and Wo Long is no exception. To some, the loot in Wo Long might seem egregious to the point of being overwhelming – but I relished in the sheer volume of loot that I found. It’s a good thing that Wo Long has an inventory limit of 500 items, which fills up more quickly than you would think.

That said, inventory management does suffer in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Items can be sorted in different ways, such as by highest attack or defense, or date of obtention which shows the most recently acquired items first. However, the sort differs for each category – so weapons are different from armor or accessories. The sorting type also reverts back to the default when at the Blacksmith, after changing missions, and even when you load a saved game.

This can get very tedious very quickly since item management can – and often does – require a lot of time in order to sift through all of the loot. It also lacks a uniform filtering system by default, so for example when you are equipping weapons to your character the menu will let you navigate between each different weapon type for easy type differentiation, but this same filtering can not be used when just looking at your inventory in general or the Blacksmith. There is an option to toggle this feature on in the menu settings, but it's hidden in there unless you either go looking or stumble across it. I also wish there was a way I could filter and search by modifier or Virtue, but if that feature is included I haven't been able to find it.

There are several interlaced systems at play with the loot. First is the different tiers of rarity, which range from 1-star to 4-star. Second is the random modifiers on each piece of equipment. Higher rarity gear has more modifiers on them, but each different type of gear will always have one static modifier that’s present for each piece. For example, a Podao curved sabre will always add extra HP and the Bronze Dual Swords always increase your spirit gain. This makes it easier to plan around certain weapons or builds since there’s at least a static element present on every type of gear. Third is the attack bonuses on weapons from the character’s respective Virtue stats allocated. To use as an example again, Curved Sabre weapons are always affected by Fire, Gold, and Water stats, whereas both Hammers and Poleaxes are affected by Fire, Earth, and Gold stats.

Matching your stat distribution to your preferred weapon types not only determines the damage you can output, but will also influence your entire playstyle. Investing in the Earth virtue for Hammers also means that your character’s maximum equipment weight increases, allowing for more Heavy armors to be worn without as much of a penalty. Similarly, Dual Swords that gain the most bonus from the Water virtue increases your character’s Stealth, allowing you to remain undetected and deal more damage when you sneak up behind enemies for a Fatal Strike. Since the Virtue stats also determine which Spells are available, which weapon you favor fundamentally determines your style of gameplay. Conversely, mixing your Virtues with weapons or Spells that aren’t compatible will only result in more difficulty for you.

To add another layer of depth and customization, the random modifiers on gear can be replaced with another at the Blacksmith for a cost. There’s an evergreen list of modifiers immediately available, such as increasing the amount of Copper found or the amount of Genuine Ki earned from defeating enemies. Some gear even have jewels on their modifiers that can be extracted and embedded into another piece of equipment for more powerful effects, like increasing the amount of elemental damage or increased damage against enemies suffering from status effects. These jewels are very rare however, and throughout my entire playthrough I had only extracted about 14 different types – roughly half of the ones available to find.

Once the story is finished and the credits roll, a new difficulty mode unlocks wherein old missions  can be replayed at a much higher level. This comes with a chance of earning illusive, and even more powerful, 5-star gear. This gear has the potential to completely change one’s playstyle – it did for me, at least! New modifiers become available only on these gear pieces, such as a hammer that I found which required one less set item to be equipped in order to get the set’s bonuses. Add this hunt for new gear on top of the even more difficult missions, plus the option to always assist other players (or invade them!) through ‘Recruitment’ (when it works on a stable connection, at least), and there’s still a bunch of gameplay available for players to invest in.


Yet, although I did enjoy the time I spent with Wo Long, I don’t really want to invest more time into it. And I think that fact alone speaks more than any of my words in this review could ever convey. My main reason for not wanting to jump back in is simply because of its optimization issues on PC. I’ve seen that it suffers other problems on Xbox, such as ridiculously long loading times, whereas the PlayStation version is relatively free from these worries. Which makes sense, given that Team Ninja’s last two titles, Nioh and Nioh 2, initially launched exclusively on PlayStation consoles before. On PC however, it just feels like a bad port. Which, to be clear, it is. I found the overarching experience in Wo Long to be enjoyable on the whole, though I do lament the fact that they chose to develop a new IP instead of making Nioh 3. Despite the optimization issues and random difficulty spikes, I do think that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is ultimately good –  it just could have been so much better.

7.0 Good
  • Deep Item Customization System
  • Engaging Parry-Focused Combat
  • Brilliant Level Design
  • NPC Recruitment System
  • Lack of Enemy Diversity
  • Unreliable Online Connections
  • Poor PC Optimization


Garrick Durham-Raley

Garrick is a doting father of two and devoted husband. When he's not busy playing Final Fantasy XIV, he can usually be found drifting between a dozen different MMOs. His favorite game of all time is Diablo II and he is trepidatiously excited for Diablo IV.