In today’s gaming climate, releasing a free demo is emblematic of a developer’s utmost confidence — even more so on PC, a platform that has consistently received the short end of the stick in terms of optimisation. Team Ninja’s latest, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, shows some promise — a theatrical dark-fantasy getaway that feels like a lovechild born of Nioh and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The short demo gives us a peek into its China-set lore, its flashy combat, and showcases new features that ease your journey in the intimidating Souls-like title. However, for a game that’s merely days away from launch, it also exposes some microstutters and a major issue with keyboard and mouse controls.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: PC controls and camera
As a Koei Tecmo-published title, control issues on PC were somewhat expected, but I commend Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s layout for being far less complicated than those of the Nioh series of games, from which it feels descended. Keyboard + mouse button prompts can be enabled, which is a major step up from 2021’s Nioh 2 PC port, which only showed controller button icons no matter what scheme you used. Sure, this was fixed in a patch, but until that happened, players were forced to spend time acquainting themselves with the mapping.
Camera controls in the Wo Long demo also aren’t up to par, and fail to respond well when using a mouse. Even after maxing the in-game sensitivity setting, I couldn’t shake the feeling of moving through sludge, as the camera would slow down at points and then a sudden jerk would turn it around. This was fairly common with vertical movement and when running around the map. Switching to a DualSense controller made the experience smooth and snappy. As someone who has played every Souls-like on a KB+M setup, the switch wasn’t easy, so I constantly swapped between low and high mouse DPI settings based on the situation. Thankfully, this didn’t pose a big problem during combat, as I could simply lock on to enemies.
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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Premise and character creation
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty throws you into a fictionalised version of the later Han Dynasty in China, plagued with demonic forces. Meanwhile, a mysterious Taoist in Black clings to the ideal of the Elixir — a rare substance that seemingly grants immortality. Amidst the madness and eternal bloodshed of the times, a hero rises, who we build in the character creation screen. I’d suggest going all-out with the customisation here since free demo progress carries over to the full game. You might as well save yourself some time after launch. The creation options here, while in-depth, are subtle, so any major changes to your character’s appearance won’t be evident unless you drag a slider to its extreme ends. Unlike Dark Souls, you can’t really mess around with crazy skin colour to create a pasty green Grinch or a blue Smurf, either. The most you can get is a light olive tone.
After selecting a base figure — male or female — you can mess around with their facial structure, hairstyle, and makeup; even including some dashing scars. Each eye can be edited to look a distinct colour, with adjustments to pupil sizes and shapes. You can even stretch ears to resemble those of an elf. Pick an ideal physique, decorate your body with tattoos, add an elongated neck for effect — those are just some of your options. None of this has any effect on your stats, though.
You start out as a nameless soldier fighting the Yellow Turban Rebellion and eventually grow into a legend. If you’re short on time, pick a model from the numerous character templates, one of whom is a spitting image of William Adams, the protagonist from Nioh. Cool easter egg!
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Gameplay and combat
The latest free demo consists of two key Chapters, the first of which places you in a village engulfed in flames with sparks flying about. The framerate is a little rough and choppy here, partly thanks to smoke and particle effects, though these remained consistent even in combat, in my experience. Enabling V-sync and motion blur barely had an effect on performance, which was disappointing. Things got smoother in the boss area and beyond, but I can see this opening segment leaving a bad impression on many people. The second area ran near buttery smooth at a consistent 60fps, but with minor hiccups.
Sekiro veterans will feel right at home here, as Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s gameplay relies on perfectly timed parries. You can try evading or blocking enemy attacks, but that will lead lead to needlessly long and drawn-out fights. Foes are smarter here, so they will stay en garde as long as you keep spamming attacks. And so, you remain patient. You wait until the very last second — when they’re just about to hit you — and then quickly deflect the assault, throwing them off balance to get a couple of strikes in. Repeat the process once the enemy reassumes their defensive stance, and you’ve basically mastered the core gameplay loop. However, depleting their health bars isn’t the only way to achieve victory.
“Hesitation is defeat” is a quote from Sekiro that fits perfectly in this context. You see, the game has a Spirit Gauge that fills up as you successfully land hits or deflect incoming ones, granting you the ability to use martial arts, Spirit (heavy) attacks, and Wizardry Spells. The only way to ensure that its level stays up is to play aggressively, but beware, as getting hit by an enemy not only reduces your Spirit, but your health too. That said, it works the same way with baddies, so you could unload a barrage of attacks until their Spirit Gauges are drained, essentially staggering them and leaving them open to a fatal blow. It’s the same posture bar mechanic that Sekiro has, where your adversaries can have 100 percent health, but once you break their stance, it’s GGs.
There’s a steep learning curve to this combat style, especially when fighting demons with flailing movesets. But once it clicks, you realise that every fight is a dance, with the metallic clang of weapons serving as beats. There is a specific rhythm to it that you need to find.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo Impressions: Exploration and looting
Compared to the Nioh games, exploration is more open, with a focus on verticality. You can jump onto huts to discover an opening in the roof that leads inside or search for loot elsewhere in the world. Who knows? You might come across handy shortcuts along the way. If you’re lucky enough, you can acquire better weapons, each catering to a different playstyle. The Polearm Podao that I found early in the game helped create some distance between myself and foes, whilst dealing swift piercing damage. On the other hand, the Great Club of Polaris, which I earned by defeating the first boss, Zhang Liang, dealt high damage numbers but was too heavy and slow for my liking. While you can beat the game with a single weapon, switching them based on enemy attack patterns is the ideal way to go. Additionally, if fighting a group head-on feels scary, simply whip out your bow and arrow, and shoot them from afar — one by one.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo Impressions: Morale system
Difficulty in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty ties into a Morale system, which is indicated by a floating number above each enemy’s head, helping you gauge whether it’s safe to engage them in combat or not. Think of it as a secondary levelling, so the higher your Morale rank, the stronger you are. However, if you die to an opponent, you lose the XP you collected throughout your run, and your Morale resets. Death results in the enemy stealing your Morale, and the only way to get it back is to kill the being who beat you last time — only now, they are way stronger. Still, it’s nothing a few perfectly timed deflects can’t solve.
Some of this resetting can be mitigated via Fortitude, which can be raised by placing flags at designated posts, preventing your Morale from ever dropping to absolute zero. For instance, if you collected 8 Fortitude, no matter how many times you die, your Morale will not fall below 8. This guarantees you have a better chance at redemption. The free Wo Long demo also includes a quality-of-life indicator in the top-right corner — a radar of sorts and icons that denote any remaining flagposts you can collect.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Levelling
Flagposts also serve as checkpoints — or bonfires, as they’re called in Dark Souls — for levelling up your character and resetting ailments. These are divided into five phases or virtues. Wood affects your HP, Fire determines Spirit build-up when attacking, and Earth indicates your equipment weight limit. The Metal attribute lessens Spirit consumption when casting spells, and Water helps with stealth. In the early stages of this game, Wood might seem like the best choice, but once you master the art of deflection, you’ll realise how much more potent the other phases are. Some of these help with weapon scaling, granting bonus damage depending on what armament you’re wielding. Furthermore, these posts also let you fast-travel to other checkpoints, summon AI or players online for co-op, and even learn Wizardry Spells.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Wizardry Spells
All spells in the Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty demo align directly with the five aforementioned elements. Fire is more offence-based, letting you hurl fireballs, summon pillars of flame, or imbue weapons with temporary buffs. Alternatively, opting for water-based magic can briefly turn you invisible, send out a blinding fog, teleport you short distances, or even let you throw sharp icicles that freeze and slow down enemies. Poison or curse purists can dump their points into the Metal class, while lighting attacks and the ability to heal yourself align with Wood. There’s a lot to experiment with here.
You can only hold four Wizardry Spells at a time, which I personally think is sufficient. On keyboard, they are assigned to the 1–4 number keys for quick access — no unnecessarily long combinations. My only gripe with spells is the casting time, which could be reduced. You can also summon Divine Beasts to come in and deal destructive damage, when you’re in a pickle.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Closing thoughts
The PC demo for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, much like other Koei Tecmo releases, certainly has issues with optimisation and keyboard + mouse controls. However, once you look past that, it offers a hard-to-master yet rewarding combat system, flexible exploration in an otherwise linear world, and tools to ease your playthrough. As an extension of the punishingly difficult Nioh games, the studio is clearly catering to a larger audience with its latest release, and this free demo serves as a great showcase to see if it suits you. Beneath all the mythology-inspired visual glamour, I suspect the narrative will involve some well-worn tropes, but as a video game, it shows deep promise. Plus, this game will be available for free to Xbox Game Pass members, which is always a positive!
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty releases March 3 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The demo is now available to download for free across all platforms, with progress carrying over to the full release.
Finishing the demo grants access to a Crouching Dragon Helmet DLC.
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