Soulslikes, a genre of punishing action RPGs popularized by Japanese developer FromSoftware, are all too common these days. Ever since Dark Souls came onto the scene in 2011, a bunch of studios have been trying their hands at FromSoft’s iconic formula. Some attempt to mix things up by introducing new mechanics, like Mortal Shell with its hot-swappable “shell” classes that provide player variety. Others, like Dolmen, misunderstand what makes these games great with sluggish combat and linear level design. And then there is Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, the upcoming Team Ninja (Nioh, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin) game that presents a solid, if familiar, sampling of various Soulslike tropes, offering an accessible entryway to the genre.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty puts you in the shoes of a nameless customizable militia soldier fighting for survival in a fantastical interpretation of China’s Three Kingdoms period. You’ll fight alongside familiar historical figures—including the strategist Cao Cao and the warlord Liu Bei—and slay ferocious beasts, regular foot soldiers, and demonic monsters while roaming ancient China. If you’re thinking Nioh but in historical China, you’re right on the mark.
And that’s probably the most apt description of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty: Nioh meets Sekiro with a dash of Bloodborne, all in an ancient Chinese setting. There’s dodging and parrying, lots of loot to collect (from armor to weapons to firearms), a posture bar to manage, and a plethora of difficult (occasionally macabre) bosses to fight. This assortment of genre tropes means any muscle memory from other Soulslikes will transfer to a Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty playthrough. While it might sound reductive to call the game a compendium of FromSoft mechanics, this just makes it easy to pick up and play. And even if you’re not familiar with Soulslikes, the game does a decent job of onboarding newbies with copious on-screen tutorials.
Take parrying, for instance. A maneuver to deflect incoming strikes and deliver fatal counterattacks if an enemy is weakened enough, parrying in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is faster than in Nioh and Sekiro. The timing window is short. Throw a parry out too soon or too late and you’ll inevitably take damage and exhaust yourself, meaning you’re opened up for a devastating death if you spam the move too frequently. But throughout the game, it’ll display handy on-screen guides (that can be further explored in various submenus) reminding you how and when to use the parry so that it’s most effective. This might sound rudimentary (especially to FromSoft fans who subscribe to the “get gud” logic), but ongoing tutorializing in a genre notorious for beating the shit out of you helps lower the barrier to entry. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty wants you to succeed despite constantly bodying you, and I can appreciate that.
Nowhere is this encouragement more apparent than in the morale ranking system. A floating number above the health bar, everyone in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, including yourself, has a morale rank. The higher the number, the stronger the enemy. Die and your morale decreases. You can raise this number by killing foes, with more challenging enemies rewarding a greater morale boost. But on top of beating creatures and goons to a pulp, exploration becomes a viable method for increasing your morale rank by finding and raising battle flags littered around a location. Flags, this game’s rendition of Dark Souls’ bonfires, are battle rest points that not only let you level up and customize abilities, but raise your fortitude rank, which is a sort of floor for your morale.
If your morale rank is, say, 16 while your fortitude rank is 14, no matter how many times you die, your morale will never drop lower than 14. This makes spelunking an almost leveling strat as the more flags you find (especially the smaller marker flags specifically targeted at your fortitude) the stronger and more capable of fighting tougher enemies you become. No longer are you relegated to grinding the same handful of opponents at a nearby rest point. By exploring ancient China, raising battle and marker flags, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty emboldens you, whether you’re a Soulslike beginner or veteran, to take risks and rewards you for it with either an exotic locale, interesting loot, or an enthralling boss design.
And trust me, you’re going to need those fortitude and morale ranks to be as high as possible. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, despite being more accessible than other games in the genre, is still hella hard. You’ll die a lot, and the game has no problem pitting you against multiple combatants at once like they’re your private grave escorts. However, this is a compendium of familiar Soulslike mechanics. So, you’ve got Sekiro’s posture bar (called the spirit gauge here), a double-jump a la Elden Ring’s Torrent, a deflect that recalls both Nioh and Sekiro, and some unsettling enemy encounters that remind me of Bloodborne. All this is to say Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is an excellent melting pot of Soulslike ideas that welcomes newcomers to the genre while providing ample challenge to oldheads looking for a bruising. Seriously, it rules.
I only had the opportunity to play a preview build of the game, which lasted approximately five or so hours with a few different locations to explore. But based on what I’m seeing of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty so far, Team Ninja seems poised to come through with another solid Soulslike. Sure, it’s a lot like Nioh and Sekiro, but there is enough difference here (aside from the oft-ignored Chinese setting) that makes this an intriguing game worth checking out. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty launches on March 3 for PC, PlayStation consoles, and Xbox systems. I’m stoked about this one, y’all.