Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty isn't Nioh 3, but it does have bastard-hard boss battles

Big in 2023: Wo Long Fallen Dynasty
(Image credit: Koei Tecmo)

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Team Ninja's latest project – a sprawling, high-intensity action RPG that might be its most ambitious yet. You may recognise the Japanese outfit as the team responsible for the 2017 action role-player Nioh, and its 2020 successor, Nioh 2. You might be familiar with the studio's long-serving Ninja Gaiden series – its first entry having launched in 2004; its most recent offering landing in 2021 – and, even if you're not well-versed in fighting games, it's likely you've heard of the developer's three-decade-spanning beat 'em up dynasty, Dead or Alive. 

What is less familiar to Team Ninja, on the other hand, are games set beyond the shores of Japan. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty aims to change that. Unfolding during ancient China's Three Kingdoms era, it pays homage to a time period with deep cultural roots, but with a sprinkle of the dark and twisted fantasy elements the studio has become increasingly known for. Nioh may have steered Team Ninja's popularity in recent years, but with Wo Long, it's building something different entirely. 

"Nioh is a really important series to me and the dev team," says Team Ninja president Fumihiko Yasuda. "And so, we really want to utilize the knowledge and experience we've gained over the years. We decided to explore the Three Kingdoms as a setting, and so this world and its action are completely different from our previous games. Being set in China, focusing on Chinese martial arts – instead of changing the Nioh series and trying to make this fit, we decided to create a new IP altogether with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty."

A new beast

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

(Image credit: Team Ninja)
Big in 2023

Big in 2023

(Image credit: Big in 2023)

Big in 2023 is the GamesRadar+ guide to the most anticipated games of the year. Join us all throughout January as we explore the biggest upcoming video games of 2023, and the developers making them.

In practice, having sunk some time into Wo Long's latest playable demo, this move feels like both a bold and safe one from Team Ninja. Given its success over the last five years, sidestepping Nioh at this moment in time would surely have been a big decision for the developer internally – but the nuts and bolts that drive both Nioh and its sequel, in visual and mechanical terms, clearly underpin Wo Long in just about every way. That's not a bad thing, because it means Wo Long in motion feels familiar and welcoming, despite being entirely new and typically bastard-hard. Where things are distinctly different here, however, are the movements and movesets of the protagonist, and the scores of hardened baddies and demonic bosses we'll face.

"One of the central tenets of Wo Long is Chinese martial arts," explains Wo Long producer, and one-time Bloodborne lead producer, Masaaki Yamagiwa. "Chinese martial arts films were a big inspiration for us here, we really want to showcase true Chinese martial arts, and we're working very hard to bring that through in Wo Long's combat. For example, the movements here might be more free-flowing than in something like Nioh, and they're perhaps more elegant. With this in mind, our focus here isn't always on offensive maneuvers, but also on defensive moves – that balance is essential in Chinese martial arts, so we've worked hard to get that right."  

Yasuda adds: "Koei Tecmo is, of course, very experienced with Three Kingdoms games, and the publisher has many franchises that are set in that time period. But, for us at Team Ninja, we said to ourselves: 'Okay, let's make a Three Kingdoms game in our style. A Team Ninja Three Kingdoms game: what does that look like?' Figuring that out, and figuring out how it was going to feel, look and play – the challenge of this has been very exciting for all of us, and seeing how all of our ideas have come together as a team in bringing Wo Long to life has been immense fun."

Historic battles

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

(Image credit: Team Ninja)

"With break-neck battles, flashes of blood and steel and seeing the 'game over' screen more times than I care to admit, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty's demo is great fun at 100 miles per hour."

With break-neck battles, flashes of blood and steel and seeing the 'game over' screen more times than I care to admit, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty's demo is great fun at 100 miles per hour. A short tutorial lets you learn a series of physics-defying combat combinations, on the ground and in mid-air, before you're thrown into the deep end – that is, the Three Kingdoms, that are now overrun by angry demons who, quite clearly, want you dead. Playing such a small segment within what is clearly such a sprawling ARPG sandbox makes it hard to properly gauge the scale of Wo Long at this point, but, like Nioh and Dark Souls and Bloodborne, it seems verticality will play a huge part in not just how we explore this world, but also how we'll survive its enemies and larger-than-life boss battles. 

I won't spoil any more on that front – but while keeping his cards close to his chest, Yasuda can't wait for players to be blown away for some of Wo Long's most challenging showdowns. "There's not too much we can reveal without spoiling anything ourselves," says Yasuda, "but let's just say that in the history of China there have been many military commanders, what you might call warlords, that you may know. Some of those appear in the game, and we're really excited for players to be taking on some really famous and intense individuals from history."

"It's worth also noting that some players may not have heard of the Three Kingdoms before, and they might not be familiar with Chinese history. We're working really hard to make sure that even if you don't know anything about this time period and its history, seeing some of the game's bosses will make you immediately think: 'Wow, this is intense. How the heck am I going to beat this thing?' We can't wait for players to take on these bosses, and really test their mettle against them." 

With that, on behalf of prospective players the world over, I suggested that Yasuda and Yamagiwa might cover the cost of broken control pads thrown to the floor after dying to Wo Long's toughest boss battles. They simply laughed. And so it seems we're on our own. 

Line break

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is one of the most exciting new games for 2023. Team Ninja plans to launch its new action-RPG on March 3 for PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One.

Joe Donnelly
Features Writer, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Writer at GamesRadar+. With over five years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.