To an extent, all types of action games are a fight between your stubbornness to continue and the seemingly insurmountable challenge in front of you. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty simply makes that sensation–your inherent determination to keep going–into its core mechanic using an in-game system to tie its challenge to your character’s morale. It’s an interesting idea, though I do worry it might lead to frustration much later into the game when the challenge of encounters likely increases.
Developer Team Ninja’s upcoming action-RPG sees you play as a nameless soldier battling their way through a fantastical interpretation of the Three Kingdoms period, reimagining one of the bloodiest eras in China’s history with the likes of demons and divine beasts. At the start of the game, you customize your character’s appearance and decide what combat style they use. I almost went with Fire–which sees you armed with a large sword and is designed for going all-out on offense–but couldn’t pass up on Water. Armed with twin shortswords and geared toward stealth? Yes, please.
Your style of combat will determine which spirit attacks you’ll have access to, as well. Going with Water grants you spirit attacks that help you surprise enemies by, for instance, creating icicles that launch at an unsuspecting foe or going invisible and making it harder for enemies to notice you. Using spirit attacks depletes your spirit gauge, which can be filled by attacking enemies at close range, encouraging you to always get up in the grill of whatever you’re fighting. Fights are intense and regularly over quite quickly–with no shield to speak of, your best chance of success is dodging or deflecting an enemy’s strikes and then overwhelming them with melee and spirit attacks until they’re stunned.
I do wish the sound that’s made for successfully pulling off a deflection was a little more discernable over all the other sounds of combat. Within the frantic foray of more heated encounters, I wasn’t always able to immediately tell that I’d successfully deflected an enemy’s attack because the sound of a successful deflection doesn’t pierce through the noise–like the ringing clang of the parry system in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or the resounding ping of the deflecting system in Katana Zero. This can add a bit of unwarranted frustration to fast-paced fights where you and the enemy are constantly moving and swinging at one another. I want to regularly know when I’ve succeeded or messed up a deflect, and the visual cues aren’t always enough.
Each enemy you encounter in the game has a morale rank: a number floating above their head that represents their willingness to fight you. The higher the number, the stronger the foe. Your character has a morale rank as well, which increases as you progress and kill enemies. If you die, the enemy that killed you steals your morale, increasing their rank and lowering yours. You’ll have to track down and kill that enemy to regain your morale but, of course, your lower morale and their higher morale will make the fight harder unless you go off and grind a little bit to increase your morale rank again. If you die again before recovering your lost morale, that morale is gone for good.
In the areas I played at least, losing this progress and needing to level myself back up again wasn’t too much of a hassle, primarily because difficulty spikes occurred in places where Fallen Dynasty’s regularly linear path branched. So I could go fight the tough monster again or go down a different unexplored path to fight some weaker enemies to level or discover more powerful armor and weapons. The best of these optional paths circled back around to the main path in the end, leaving me back in front of the tougher enemy that had killed me earlier with my morale rank restored–sometimes even higher than when I’d fought the tougher enemy the first time.
In the preview, I always managed to overcome an enemy, at least on the second attempt, so there was never a moment where I encountered a frustrating wall that halted my progress. I never permanently lost any morale either, largely because, again, I had another path to take in order to level up my morale instead of diving back headfirst into the fight against whatever just killed me. I walked away from the preview feeling lucky that the checkpointing system in the early part of the game is clearly designed to put you back right when the level forks. I have no idea if that level philosophy continues throughout the rest of the game, and am worried about how it might feel to get stuck on a more linear section where you have to just keep forging ahead against an enemy you already know is going to be harder to defeat than last time.
Like I said at the top of this article, the morale rank system is interesting, as it’s supposed to represent that, as you keep losing, your character loses morale and your enemies grow more confident. I just hope the game does a little bit more with it, maybe even tying it in as a narrative theme. Maintaining your willingness to continue in the face of seemingly hopeless odds would be an intriguing theme for a story set during the Three Kingdoms period. As is I didn’t get much sense of what the overarching storyline of Fallen Dynasty is supposed to be, nor how the morale rank system may play out narratively, if at all.
We don’t have long to wait and find out. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC on March 3.