>> Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (2023) - Short Thoughts

Finished the game mainly offline with Dual Swords on Hard Mode and using little to no magic to focus on parrying.

My primary interest for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (2023) is the focus on parry gameplay as the demo sparked my interest. Sadly, I did not enjoy the combat and gameplay barring other issues like the subpar story, underdeveloped characters, superfluous loot and unappealing magic. I will just tackle two problems that made my experience miserable: parry timings and morale system.

My primary issue is the parry timings from the player and enemies which can overall feel unrewarding. First, I believe the player's parry window is slightly delayed, so the parry trigger must be slightly earlier than the actual hit. In general, the longer the delay, the less responsive it feels and more tricky to compute the offset. I do not mind the slight delay in parry, but this becomes an issue with the next problem.

The enemy attack animations (startup, active and recovery) are mostly too fast or slow to parry on reaction, meaning the game focuses on memorization rather than reactions. Having varied attack timings are good to keep parrying a dynamic risk and reward strategy; however, the issue rather is the tells are unreactable regardless if an attack was fast or delayed. I also do not mind these where blocking and dodging are safe options, but enemies take longer to fatal attack making those options punishing.

So with both fast attacks and delayed parries, it is less about reading the animation and feeling the trigger timing but rather working backwards from the hit to get the timing. A specific problem with this is that startup attacks which signal the rest of the attacks are too fast leading to haphazardly parrying any animation and missing the rest. Another problem specially in combo chains is that parries must be unfairly triggered even before the start of the next attack. I find the attack animation misleading most of the time and prefer to parry while blocking as an overall safe strategy to learn them. Although parrying and combat do have more nuance, the overall implementation tends to favor passive knowledge by trial and error more than actively reading and reacting to opponents which is not for me.

The other primary issue is the morale system which I believe is to motivate exploration and balance stages. The rough idea is that the player and enemies have a stage level and the player can increase their level by reaching certain checkpoints or hidden areas in a stage which starts at 0 and ends at 20. Between two combatants, the higher the difference between their morale, the more damage the winner does and the lower the damage the loser does. There is some nuance in manipulating morale, but conceptually think of it as a stage level separate from the actual character level.

Assuming the player character is on the recommended character level on a new stage, the morale system serves to direct players to an intended path and accumulate enough morale by the end to fight the 20 morale boss. The problem is that collecting every morale points will always total 20 morale that is simply fighting the boss with equal morale; however without the collecting the hidden (around 6 or 7 morale) morale, boss fights tend to be at a disadvantage. The stages are big and non-trivial so finding those missing flags can feel like busywork and demoralizing specially if the boss is difficult. This also hurts stage replays whether for farming or grinding as the hidden morale points must still be collected even though the stage is already beaten. So exploration is required for a fair fight, not something that will give an advantage say 22 or 23 player morale to make it worthwhile.

As a stage balancing mechanic, it feels very artificial. Before any fights, the player has to always check their morale against their target's morale which encourages the player finding better odds typically the intended route. While weaker enemies may be sometimes stronger, difficult enemies have higher morale while guarding checkpoints, so important fights tend to be at a disadvantage despite the inherent skill difficulty. While this also deters taking alternative routes, the stages rarely have alternative routes as they are optional challenges rather than choices. I think morale is also holding back more varied level design despite how big they are because of how damage and exploration are tied together.

As a risk/reward mechanic, it is very punishing on death where extra morale is lost and reset back to the morale checkpoint known as fortitude. The primary way to acquire extra morale is to defeat enemies and execute fatal attacks up to 25 morale. First, morale is not usually farmed but rather gained throughout the stage, so dying would put the player more at a damage disadvantage where they last left off. Second, the player losses morale whenever they are hit with a fatal strike commonly from bosses, making it harder to win with less damage. Lastly for bosses, they reset their morale to 20 whenever it drops via fatal strike, so doing well does not make boss fights easier. The player always has to work more for a slight advantage but more to lose.

In summary, the morale system in this game forces exploration and disadvantages upon the player. I feel the morale system is a lost opportunity to be more an active resource rather than a static number possibly as items, buffs, debuffs, decisions and so on. The strange thing is that the morale in Dynasty Warriors series is a good global system as it affects other active units and alters the flow of battle as well as swings back and forth more dynamically with events unfolding in the battlefield. Perhaps they just have the same name, but the potential was clearly there.

This game was clearly not for me despite my early enthusiasm for it, but nonetheless this still offers some challenge and value on sale.