Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a recursive action RPG from Koei Tecmo, the developer of Nioh. Set in a pseudo-historical ancient China. Your customizable character gets a front-row seat to the various events detailed in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, albeit with evil demonic energy thrown in.

The game briskly glosses over its many characters, as well as events like rival leaders destroying whole cities or your sidekick sneaking into the enemy base in order to get you to the next stage, where you are asked to kill an important figure over it. Rather than a plot, you’re repeatedly asked to carry out tasks that take you from one level to the next.

Wo Long does not feature a single sprawling open world but has several levels that are mostly linear with optional side areas funneling you towards a final boss encounter. Often there is a quick and direct way to the boss area, but you’re better served searching and fighting across the entire map in order to give yourself a decent shot at victory thanks to the morale system.

You and every enemy in a level have a morale number representing their relative power in relation to everyone else. Starting at 0, the more enemies you defeat, the higher you can push your morale, giving you attack and defense bonuses over any enemies of a lower rank. Pedestals to plant your battle flag are hidden throughout the maps, allowing you to lock your base morale to a certain number, saving you from starting back at 0 upon death. Finding every pedestal will lock you at 20, putting you on par with the final boss, which will likely keep you from getting one-shot. The act of searching out morale-boosting pedestals is a clever way to encourage thorough exploration, as there’s a tangible benefit to it, and avoiding high-ranking enemies until you’re ready serves an additional function of properly pathing you through the environments while leaving the option to beat your head against tough enemies and bosses, if that’s what you’re into.

Wo Long has a good variety of human, animal, and demonic enemies. Thanks to fantastically animated and telegraphed attacks, I rarely felt any mechanical frustration with combat. It’s fast-paced and relies heavily on a tug-of-war-style stamina system. The more you attack or parry, the more positive stamina you will build and the more cushion you’ll have to prevent getting your stance broken, which would leave you dangerously open. While basic attacks and dodge rolling don’t use stamina, blocking, all special attacks and magic abilities do, making their use a tense wager on your own safety if you don’t have stamina to burn.

The power of these options makes them essential in battle. Special attacks are tied to weapons and can make you a whirlwind of blades while magic is unlocked as you level, and it adheres to the Chinese elemental hierarchy called the five phases. These five elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water check and balance each other, allowing you to negate enemy magic like countering fire with water or countering water with earth. This dynamic adds a sense of strategy to the fighting that pays off big if you’re paying attention.

The many boss encounters at the end of each stage will certainly demand you use every tool at your disposal as they dazzle with their over-the-top designs and eye-popping abilities. There are a lot of stages, with some looking to have been given a lot more attention than others, but they are at least fairly distinct and have some unique aspects like an aerial assault from a demon.

I ran into some nagging performance issues where my character and the world would blink white periodically. This would come and go but was a constant throughout my 30 hour playthrough. The game also suffered from occasional frame drops and crashed to the desktop a handful of times, but these hiccups never soured my fun.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty nails what makes this genre so compelling. Its overstuffed story and technical bumps don’t get in the way of its fluid combat and rewarding progression systems. It will challenge you not just to earn victory but to put it down. The game is out March 3 for $59.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S and included with Xbox Game Pass.

Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.

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