There’s prolific, and then there’s Team Ninja. No sooner had I finished an evening with the demo of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – a demo that has just gone live for everyone on PlayStation 5 – when news broke of another in its long line of games. action with Rise of the Ronin. And all of this before I’ve even had a chance to finish the team’s take on Final Fantasy, Strangers of Paradise, or even manage to fully understand what exactly Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is.
Preview of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Developer: Team Ninja Publisher: Koei Tecmo Played on: PS5 Availability: Out 2023 on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S
There’s a lot that’s familiar about Wo Long, though, both from the Nioh games it’s based on – themselves a pair of hard-hitting and deeply enjoyable spins on the action-RPG model presented by the Souls games from FromSoft – and the wider Koei Tecmo story with the Three Periods of Kingdoms. For, in the simplest terms possible, Wo Long is Nioh transposed into the mythology and legends of 3rd century China.
It’s more than that, however, with a whole new approach to combat and an entirely different feel. Nioh was a studied cool game, and one that rewarded consideration in your attacks. Wo Long, meanwhile, flows like water and invites you to lose yourself in his fight, pulling you through his stages with a momentum quite different from what you associate with your typical Soulslike. It’s not quite a musou – that brand of mob-clearing action that Koei Tecmo has made a living of for the past 20 years – but it incorporates some ideas with its morale system that lets you conquer the map to gain more power. The end result is something that feels startlingly new.
Multiplayer is returning, so co-op is also on the maps if you need help.
“We wanted a new flavor for the next Team Ninja game,” Wo Long producer Fumihiko Yasuda told me earlier in the week as the studio made its final preparations ahead of the Tokyo Game Show. “We were thinking about what we were going to do for this new action RPG, and we really wanted to create a title with the main themes and setting of the Three Kingdoms – this Chinese setting brings a new land to explore, and the main focus because the fight and the game itself are Chinese martial arts, so it’s about bringing that to life.”
It’s what impresses most after a night out with Wo Long, and it’s certainly what sets it apart from the likes of Nioh. There was a complexity to the combat in both Nioh games that was funneled into something more immediate in Wo Long, with systems in place that reward a more aggressive playstyle.
“With Nioh, we were going for samurai action, that was our main focus. And because of that, we had the stamina bar, and each specific attack had a lot of weight,” Yasuda explains. In Wo Long the stamina bar is effectively flipped on his head and instead there is a spirit gauge which fills up when attacking but is also used when dodging or executing of specials, emphasizing the attack. “What we’re looking for here is smooth action, fluid combat, and we’ve added jumping to give you a lot more options. What you’re actually doing when you control your character makes the game feel a lot more instinctive. ”
In the hand it’s fantastic, the quick fluidity of your moveset makes it a distinct take on the action RPG. It will be interesting to see how Wo Long’s strong flavor impacts build variety and viability, because while the starting class I went with leaned towards stealth, it seemed like the only way to get through enemies was a relentless attack, suggesting there will be a more defined path. in front of you. There’s breadth there, though, and a set of movements that expands outward in other ways; there’s a deflection in your arsenal that allows you to absorb attacks, while that spirit gauge encourages some back and forth in combat. He’s similar to Sekiro in that he emphasizes combat timing, but Wo Long also has a lot of quirks of his own.
Perhaps most distinctive is its morale system – something that’s a little fuzzy in that I explained and fiddled with it in the demo which I still haven’t fully grasped, although there are some similarities to the global trend of Demon’s Souls, a system I’ve never really understood either, perhaps not surprisingly.
Some familiar faces from the Three Kingdoms emerge throughout Wo Long as enemies.
“The initial inspiration was to take the level design of these types of games and combine it with the emphasis on the Three Kingdoms and the strategic elements of these games,” says producer Masaaki Yamagiwa, a producer who brings the experience of Bloodborne from its previous role at Sony’s Japanese studios. “There is rank and number value for your character and enemies. You can defeat enemies to get stronger, and it shows you how strong they are and how strong you are – and you can become stronger by raising it by securing the map. It’s kind of a general explanation.”
From what I can see from the demo, it’s basically a world leveling system that’s different from how you level your character in the traditional RPG way (something that’s done in Wo Long by assigning your skill points to one of five affinities, each of which grants you different attributes). It all adds up to a game that feels very malleable, with multiple ways to overcome the challenges inherent in the Soulslike genre.
“It’s another option to adjust the difficulty level in their favor,” Yamagiwa explains, “because the game itself could potentially be considered a very difficult thing. If players are struggling, the morale system is something they can focus on and try to keep increasing their rank, to try to help them decide how they want to move through the game and get stronger.We also want to add that we want all players to start on the same foot – everyone is on the same level, but they have all these different options of how you want to fit it.”
It’s an interesting take on the perennial issue of difficulty in this gaming neighborhood, and I’m fascinated to see how it plays out – and how the wider audience adapts and makes sense of a system that helps differentiate Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Like the two Nioh games before it, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels like a more than worthy spin on the ever-popular action RPG model. The demo itself just dropped on PS5 and Xbox Series X, where it will be available until September 26.
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