Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
If there’s one thing you can always count on to get excited for, it’s a Team Ninja demo of their upcoming Soulslike. Leaving behind a fictional 16th century Sengoku period of Japan for Nioh and Nioh 2, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty takes us instead to 184 A.D. China. While still not exactly knowing what is going on, as this is just a first look without context, which is also some of the fun of these, your skills will be put to the test and if you succeed? You’ll both get an item for the full release and a feedback form to let Team Ninja know what you thought of the current build.
For those that have followed my trek through the Nioh series, you know that I love a good demo trial. Nioh alpha demo, Nioh beta demo, Nioh last chance trial, Nioh 2 alpha demo, Nioh 2 open beta demo, and my reviews of both in the paragraph above. I’ve sunk a lot of time into each of these and not because I’m good at them, I wish, but because I enjoy the challenges that they bring. Each had its unique twist and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is no exception. Ditching some of the more “staple” elements of a Soulslike, it may have made itself even more so as a result.
Starting off with a character creator, you are free to make your own avatar that you will fight, and most likely, die with. From there, you are given a choice to go through a tutorial session in order to better learn all of the mechanics that you’ll need to know in order to survive. Generally one could think, alright, I should know what I’m doing, do I really need this? Super hardcore players will most likely figure it out but I would recommend learning the ropes as the ring has certainly changed.
Other than being super smooth, and I mean, SUPER smooth, Wo Long starts you off in this demo in a cliffside region filled with both human and monstrous enemies. To fight these enemies you’ll have access to your normal attack and a stronger attack which are par for the course. From there, Wo Long has a new magic and guardian system from Nioh’s in which once the gauge is filled, you can summon them for attack, or, you can summon them to help out your teammates if you’ve summoned anyone. Alongside your guardian is a magic system in which four spells can be equipped each with their own gauge costs.
Finally, la piece de resistance is that Wo Long does not have a stamina bar. This threw me for a while as you think to yourself, ok, I can dodge “X” amount of times or swing “X” amount of times before I need to back up. Not here. Here you’ll instead have a whole new system to worry about and I also hope you’re good at parrying as blocking isn’t exactly an option. Thankfully I learned to dodge in Bloodborne / The Old Hunters because my parrying sucks…
So instead of a stamina bar, you’ll instead have a spirit bar that acts as a type of advantage / disadvantage system. The advantage portion can be seen directly in front of you and lets you know whether or not you should be pressing an attack. When the gauge moves towards the right which is shown in blue, press the attack. If the gauge moves towards the left which is shown in red, just stop and get out of the way. What I enjoyed about this is that, even if you suck at parrying like I do, you’ll get one right eventually and you can easily go from the negative side to the positive side and take out whoever’s in front of you.
This really changes how you approach this system but in some ways feels more “natural”. The reason that I say this is because when you’re in the moment and not looking at your stamina bar, things can get messy. Here, with the spirit bar, it’s right in front of you at all times and if you’re not swinging as much as you thought you would, stop. If you’re not dodging as much as you thought you should be, stop. If you’re really good at parrying? Do it! There are only upsides to performing a parry, as long as you can. I really need to get better at it…
Another interesting switch from the stamina gauge into the spirit gauge is a morale system. No, not like Fable, Dragon Age or Mass Effect, but a far more intriguing system that could either make or break your adventure. In any Soulslike, mission based, closed world or open world, you’ll have enemies of varying strength. From there, some titles have allowed for the ability to raise said enemies’ strength if you wanted to either globally or independently of a region, looking at you Dark Souls II. Wo Long however has a set enemy strength that is then enhanced by banners that can be removed and then replaced with your own. Does it bring their morale down? No, but it does bring your fortitude up. This is going to be pretty important once you fall in battle as it creates a limit to how far your morale can actually drop once you die. Repeatedly.
Your character’s morale can go up or down depending on your actions. Taking a critical blow for example will bring yours down by one. Performing a fatal strike, a coup de gras, a visceral attack or just the shiny triangle button, will decrease your enemy’s morale and increase yours. The tricky part here is that, if you die, your morale will not only drop, but the morale of the enemy that killed you will increase, making them even tougher the next time. Not only that, but taking a slightly different page from what was done with Nioh, Wo Long will see a return of player graves but in a different format. Now, instead of being able to fight NCPs of fallen players for better equipment or a challenge, these graves will be boosting certain enemies on the field instead.
Between your melee attacks, your ranged attacks, your magic attacks, and your martial arts alongside both spirit bar and morale systems, you’ll be able to summon two types of help. The first type of help is in the form of an NPC who will fight alongside you for as long as they can until their hit points are depleted. The second type of help is in the form of another real player. In both cases, these forms of help can alleviate aggro in order to heal, can help pincer attack, can add more damage than you yourself can do, and above all else, THANK YOU Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, can pick you up if you fall.
Falling in battle while in actual co-op is not a death sentence. If you can pick up the other player, or they you, the fight can continue and it doesn’t just “stop” there. This alone was one of Stranger of Paradise’s shinier aspects in co-op, but the application in a real soulslike is a game changer. Not having to worry about things just being over because someone else had an unlucky dodge brings the level of stress down just a notch. Not completely, but just a notch and with how tough some of the normal enemies already seem to be? It’s a welcomed addition!
So overall, I absolutely loved my time with Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s Demo. Super smooth on the PS5 whether in solo or co-op, while there’s going to be a lot to adjust to in terms of gameplay, I cannot wait for either a new demo trial or the full version as this may be once again setting a new bar in this genre of Soulslikes.Score: N/A