I love a game with a good parry system. Whether it be the frame-perfect execution of nullifying an attack in Street Fighter 6, or rapid katana deflections in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, parries are the most satisfying defensive tool there is for those who want to stay on the offensive.
Along comes Team Ninja’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a soulslike that puts a demonic twist on Three Kingdoms-era China, all with a heavy focus on rapid combat and split-second parries. And while the game’s source of inspiration, FromSoftware’s Soulsborne games, have always featured a parry system, it’s usually tied to deflecting attacks with shields under very strict timing.
Pulling off parries in FromSoftware’s games, like Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, always feels fantastic. However, it can only be done reliably if you’re intimate with any given enemy or boss’s animations and timing. Conversely, Wo Long lowers the barrier for entry to one of my favorite gameplay mechanics, making that soulslike formula accessible to a much wider audience.
Souls for all
Now, I adore the Soulsborne games; from Demon’s Souls to Elden Ring and everything in between. Throughout its tenure, developer FromSoftware has championed richly detailed worlds, interconnected level design, near-limitless build variety and a real feeling of accomplishment in overcoming sheer adversity. Its games are often punishingly difficult, and while I appreciate that unwavering commitment to high challenge, it can understandably turn some folks away.
There are at least a handful of sections in the Soulsborne games I dread revisiting. The trudging poisonous swamps of Demon’s Souls Valley of Defilement, the infamous Anor Londo archer section in Dark Souls, and the encounters with the frenzy-inducing Winter Lanterns of Bloodborne, to name a few. They’re all moments of sigh-inducing dread in otherwise phenomenal games.
It seems that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has recognized its peers’ penchant for occasionally irksome environmental design, and instead has taken a different approach to soulslike difficulty. It’s a challenging game, with plenty of one-on-one boss encounters that tested my nerves as much as my skill. But it’s also a game where progression constantly feels manageable to even more casual audiences.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s parry system works against every attack in the game – including projectiles – and is designed to feel both satisfying and rewarding. The timing required is strict but just generous enough that you’ll feel encouraged to learn the timings of every enemy attack instead of attempting to panic dodge roll through everything.
In fact, Wo Long makes it very clear you should only dodge roll as a last resort by having rolling negatively affects your Spirit gauge. When that hits the lowest point, any successful enemy attack will leave you breathless and open to a devastating follow-up.
Meanwhile, your successfully executed attacks and parries will swing the gauge positively, allowing you to spend it on more powerful Martial Arts and Wizardry Spells. The Spirit gauge is a genius system; yes, it punishes panicked play, but it can reward you with buckets of extra damage should you keep up the offensive with well-timed parries and attacks.
Successful parries will reward you with exceptionally satisfying feedback. The gorgeous sound of steel swiping away glancing blows is accompanied by lustrous fireworks of particle effects, which visually signify a successful parry. The PS5 DualSense wireless controller’s haptic feedback kicks in, too, putting the icing on the cake. Wo Long’s parry system is intellectually and visually stimulating while rewarding the player for a job well done.
There is a tradeoff, though. In focusing so much on getting the player to parry, Wo Long: Fall Dynasty somewhat limits its build variety compared to its soulslike contemporaries. Various weapon types exist, such as lightning-quick staves, twin swords, and hard-hitting clubs. But these all feel like different flavors of the same thing. Wo Long sacrifices some player expression here, but it’s all in service to its commitment to a peerless parry system.
If you’ve struggled to get into soulslikes in the past because of the punishing difficulty spikes or otherwise, I’d strongly suggest trying out Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. It’s still far from an easy game; however, by emphasizing learning its core mechanics over learning environments and optimizing builds, it offers a novel addition to the Soulsborne space. It’s a different flavor of difficulty that might fit your liking.
And if you’re on Xbox Series X|S, it practically costs nothing to check the game out, as it’ll be available day one of release on Xbox Game Pass. I had a blast playing through my new favorite soulslike, and I hope you will, too.