Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty draws you into a trance and beats you with a giant pig

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An anguished head with glowing eyes looks fearful in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.

When offered the opportunity to play Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, I was apprehensive. It's a soulslike, a genre I never enjoyed until Elden Ring. It's published by Koei Tecmo of Dynasty Warriors fame, and I've never got on with musou titles.

A soulslike by Team Ninja, developers of Nioh, set in a mythologised version of Feudal China - it feels like the exact type of game that wouldn't agree with at all. Magic, swords, and suffering. I can see the joy to be gained from battling enormously against the odds, honest. It's just not usually for me. I didn't even finish Elden Ring at the end of the day.

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To be honest, though, I have hopes for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty that far outstrip what I expected before giving it a go.

A town burns in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.

Fight, fight, fight (and explore a bit)

In the somewhat small area I was able to explore for my preview, things looked pretty unnerving at first. You have five "phases" to choose from based on different elemental powers. These are essentially your character classes, each helping you with different areas of battle. Fire is very nice for boosting that attack damage, whilst calling on water helps you become that stealthy wizard you've always wanted to be.

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Combat felt deep, but never overwhelming. For my first run, I stuck to standard attacks, which can be strung into combos. However, realising the extent of my arsenal, I started to play around with martial arts, special moves you can use with each different weapon, as well as magic spells corresponding to one of the five affinities. You have to reach a certain 'morale rank' in order to use the more powerful of these, so don't go throwing your life away without a care in the world - you'll need to get yourself ranked back up or reach one of Wo Long's bonfire/site of grace equivalents to increase your base morale rank.

It was really nice to be able to tweak my spell and weapon loadout on the fly, as the section I was able to play wasn't necessarily best served through stealth or defence - it was a parry-attack kind of game. Maybe that's just my hyper-aggression, though.

The game rewards aggression, too. It's pretty nice. I don't like to block in games like this, and the parry mechanic is Wo Long telling you it doesn't like it either. You have a poise-like meter which allows you to weaken enemies, but also be weakened yourself, when hit. Sneaking in extra shots here and there and perfectly parrying foes' strikes offers generous windows for attacks, and once you get them staggered, they're in for a hugely-damaging critical hit. Poor things.

Two rivals lock swords in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.
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The animal kingdom wants you dead

Again, the area I played in was a small one. However, I absolutely adored the main challenges presented.

That's mostly because the first tough enemy was a massive porcupine. Just a huge, flaming, spiky ball of anger and destruction, rolling at me with the desire in its eyes for nothing but death. A horrible guy. I love him.

I got absolutely ruined by ol' porcy. My parrying game wasn't quite on point, and I wasn't quite in tune with the martial arts and magic Wo Long afforded me. No worries. I trained a bit, shooting fire and poison at a rock, figuring out which martial arts would work best, and repeatedly slashing up the grunts on the way to this foul beast. Boosting my morale rank and perfecting my parrying gave me the chance to make the return and show this flamey boi who's boss.

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It was through this fight that I managed to place myself into a sort of trance-like state. I am the master of combat in this world. If this porcupine can't beat me, I'm unstoppable. I turn the corner and beat up a few more challenging grunts without even breaking a sweat and find some sweet loot I'll use later. Now to keep plugging on.

I wonder what's through this door?

Oof.

An absolutely comically oversized pig. The porcupine was about twice my size, but this pig was so big it could feed a family of five for a century. Not that you'd want to eat it. He looks absolutely horrid. Rotting, flaming, and absolutely furious, he has one thing on his mind: killing the sword-wielding wizard who keeps entering his big ol' pen.

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The big pig ran at me, gobbled me up, spat me out, and stomped on me, playing with his food like a cat with an injured mouse. Trance broken. I'm out.

It was the perfect challenge, though. It took both planning and execution for me to get past this big porky boy, multiple tries with different builds, spells, and levels of success. When I finally beat the big guy, I had a few seconds to revel in my victory. Then, the demo ended.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty feels like it could be a real treat. Of course, it was only a small portion of the game I was able to play. Exploration, levelling, looting, and the like weren't as explorable as I'd like them to be, but that's something we'll have to wait on for the full release. For now, all I can do is wonder just how they can possibly top the big pig. Will they keep making the animals bigger and bigger before the final boss is an incomprehensibly enormous Katamari of fallen livestock? Only time will tell.