With its recent release, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has been turning a few heads in the action RPG sphere. While clearly carrying the torch handed off by developer Team Ninja’s Nioh series, Wo Long delineates itself with a large emphasis on parrying enemy attacks before executing powerful finishing strikes. This has led to fair comparisons with FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice from 2019, which was similarly demarcated by its focus on deflection. But is Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty better than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, or is it the other way around?
That’s right; it’s the battle of the Souls-likes and we’ll be throwing our own hat into the ring. In the interest of a more granular comparison, we’ll be breaking down each game into three categories, comparing their differences, and deciding which title excelled the most in each area. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some stories.
Narrative & Lore — Winner: Sekiro
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes place in a fantastical, fictionalized iteration of Japan’s Sengoku period, which occurred throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. It sees its immortal protagonist, Wolf, charged with guarding the life of a young boy named Kuro. Additionally, many of the game’s more magical elements are derived from Buddhist mythology.
Through its story, the title explores themes of protection, self-sacrifice, and determination. More importantly, it discusses these concepts through what is perhaps FromSoft’s most concise narrative yet, with a clear through line to follow and characters to get attached to across its duration.
Similarly, the events of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s story unfold across a dark fantasy interpretation of China’s Three Kingdoms period. As such, the game draws heavily from Chinese martial arts and mythology, with particular nods to the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms for its depictions of certain characters.
Unfortunately, storytelling has never been Team Ninja’s strong suit, but that isn’t to be fully dismissive of Wo Long’s plot. There’s a lot to appreciate about the strong emphasis the excellently choreographed cutscenes place on the major players of the time period and the way they develop through the constant conflicts, but it’s simply not as tightly plotted a story as Sekiro’s.
Gameplay — Winner: Wo Long
It didn’t take long at all for Wo Long to endear me to its gameplay. From the word go, it wastes no time in pointing at the parry button and urging you to use it as often as possible when handling the enemies being thrown your way. This lends itself handily to learning the move sets of your foes, and it’s easy to feel yourself improving as you put more time into it.
Patrolling above enemies in levels with high degrees of verticality and swooping down to eliminate them before entering the parry-laden combat is something that never gets old in either game, but what really keeps things addicting in Wo Long is the fast pace of nearly every mechanical aspect of the game. A majority of the player’s arsenal, be it an offensive spell, a buff, or a straightforward attack, all play out speedily and end just as quickly.
This forces players to look for windows of opportunity and calls for split-second decision making regarding what they want to do and when they want to do it. Should you take this brief lull in the encounter to heal, or should you push your damage? What about buffing yourself or spending your accumulated Spirit Gauge? All of this is facilitates a tangible feeling of forward momentum and customizability in many situations.
Sekiro’s parrying has been humorously referred to as a rhythm game by some, but there’s a lot of validity to the claim. The entire thrust of your gameplay is to wait for the enemy to attack you, parrying until their posture meter fills up and memorizing the move sets to ensure your victory. It’s a more rigid system, in other words, that predominantly tasks the player with doing one thing well until they win.
This is where a lot of the satisfaction from taking down its bosses comes from, but it also means that if you aren’t a fan of what the game is asking you to do (in this case, memorizing attacks and parrying them) it’s easier to bounce off of it. In Sekiro, it’s very much a case of sink or swim.
This goes double with the relative lack of build options compared to Wo Long, which lets players pick the weapons and spells that best suit their playstyle. Its adherence to a breakneck pace and room for player expression causes Team Ninja’s latest to edge out Sekiro, and it’s also the more accessible game given the opportunity of cooperative play with NPCs or other players.
Exploration — Winner: Sekiro
Like most FromSoftware action RPGs since the release of Dark Souls, Sekiro guides the player through an expansive, largely interconnected world that’s constantly branching off into new areas before eventually wrapping back around. It makes for a heightened level of immersion, and the feeling of discovering a new location or hidden item is always an exciting one.
While the level design of Wo Long does sport more verticality and interconnectedness than the Nioh games preceding it, it simply isn’t to the same level of Sekiro’s execution. Wo Long also has the distinct disadvantage of being level based, which inherently makes lengthier detours impossible because the stage has to play out with a similar cadence to the others and eventually end with a boss fight.
Sekiro is also the only game of the pair to give you a grappling hook for increased verticality, which naturally gives it the exploratory win by default.
Overall Winner: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
As is always the case with direct comparisons of this nature, the discrepancies between the games largely come down to personal taste and what you expect heading into either one, but Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the more finely crafted video game upon an examination of all its parts, offering an incredibly unique experience in full service to the concept of parrying.
Not to be outdone, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty offers players a similar emphasis on parrying with more room for player expression in its gameplay, but at the tradeoff of technical execution and worldbuilding falling short of the high bar of quality established by Sekiro.
Both games are largely excellent, but one thing is a certainty irrespective of which is better: If FromSoftware and Team Ninja continue to develop games along this same trajectory, fans of challenging action RPGs will have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
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