Team Ninja surprised a lot of people today by releasing a demo for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (the studio’s upcoming Soulslike title set to release in 2023). While that demo strongly suggests Wo Long could be one of 2023’s best games, the action title’s most fascinating feature so far has to be its elegant approach to the kind of optional difficulty settings the Dark Souls franchise (and many other Souslike games) have avoided so far.
First, some bad news. While Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will be available for PS4 and Xbox One when it launches in 2023, this recent demo is currently limited to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Furthermore, it’s a limited-time demo. That means that even PS5 and Xbox Series X/S owners will only be able to access it from September 16 to September 26. After that, we’ll all have to wait until Wo Long is actually released (or Team Ninja is nice enough to offer another demo).
Even in its limited, early form, though, Wo Long feels great. I’ll hold off on my full impressions until I’ve spent more time with the game, but I can tell you that fans of Nioh, Soulslike titles, and modern action RPGs will want to keep their eyes on this one. It just gets a lot of little things right.
However, as I mentioned above, Wo Long‘s best early feature is its approach to the notorious difficulty that so often defines other Soulslike titles. While Wo Long is shaping up to be an incredibly challenging action game in its own right, the title’s fascinating Morale system actually offers a way to keep the game’s difficulty in check. Well…kind of.
In Wo Long, every character (meaning you and your enemies) has a Morale level. In its most basic form, that Morale level represents a character’s general strength/difficulty. If you encounter an enemy that has a much higher Morale level than you, then you will have a harder time defeating them. If their Morale is lower than your own, though, then the fight should be “fair” or even in your favor.
However, Morale levels can change through the course of play. As you defeat enemies and discover key locations, your Morale level will rise. Get that Morale level high enough, and you’ll become significantly more powerful. Indeed, those with high enough Morale levels may start to feel like an unstoppable force of nature capable of tearing through many foes with relative ease.
Before you start feeling too confident, though, you should know that your Morale level will be reset each time you die. Specifically, it seems like it’s lowered to match your current Fortitude rating whenever you die (though I’m a little hazy on that part of the system at this time). To make matters worse, enemies can actually raise their own Morale levels by killing you. Not only does that mean that already tough bosses can become tougher each time you die to them, but even basic enemies can become bigger hurdles over time. Do you know how you can sometimes get caught up by a basic enemy’s surprise attack pattern in Dark Souls? Well, imagine that same enemy getting a little bit stronger each time it catches you off-guard.
To be honest, it’s a little too early to say whether or not that system will remain engaging/balanced over the course of the full game. Even in its early stages, though, Wo Long‘s Morale system accomplishes a few key things.
First off, it lets players know roughly where they stand in relation to certain enemies. Historically, Soulslike games have favored “trial by error” systems that encourage you to explore (or avoid) certain areas based on how quickly you die in them. Wo Long utilizes a similar approach, but Morale gives you a slightly clearer indication of how dangerous certain locations and enemies really are. You can still go in above your head if you’d like, but some of the guesswork has been removed.
Second, Morale allows players to more efficiently “farm” their way out of roadblock areas. There’s more to winning a battle than your current Morale level, but anyone looking to get past a particularly tough enemy has a much better chance of doing so if they take the time to raise their Morale. Again, farming for levels is one of those things that most Soulslike players already do, and Wo Long‘s Morale system just makes it a bit easier to understand how much more farming you should do before diving back into a tough fight.
Finally, Morale gives Wo Long the kind of Nemesis System-esque mechanic that many games sadly lack due to the copyright issues surrounding that concept. It’s not exactly the same thing as the Nemesis system seen in the brilliant Mordor games, but I’m all for any concept that lets enemies become more powerful over time just by defeating you. That’s just fair play.
Fair play really does seem to be the point of the Morale mechanic. While it’s hardly a substitute for the easy mode option that some still want for Soulslike games, I’m impressed with how much more accessible it makes the whole thing feel. Much like Elden Ring‘s NPC spirit summoning abilities, Wo Long‘s Morale mechanic offers a little help when you need it. Yet, it’s still integrated in such a way that ensures those who want to utilize or avoid it don’t feel as if they’re being asked to play a different game.
While I do worry that Wo Long‘s Morale system could end up creating some balance issues over the course of the entire game, it certainly makes a fantastic first impression. At a time when Soulslike developers are still forced to answer questions about the genre’s difficulty, it’s nice to see those same developers find clever approaches to necessary challenges that don’t require you to simply select a different mode or bang your head against a brick wall until it falls.