This is one of those reviews where I wish I could give "half stars" because it's far better than a "three out of five" but it's also not worthy of a "four." At least not yet anyway. Wo Long Fallen Dynasty suffers from the "large game spread across months of content" syndrome as to be expected from Koei Tecmo. Most of their games, including Nioh and Ninja Gaiden always had a "long-term" release system. Nioh 2 in its complete form was not the same game as it was on launch. This is usually reflected with an updated "complete 'GOTY' edition" that includes all post-release DLC as well as the base game.
While this is perfectly fine for the older titles, games like Wo Long Fallen Dynasty suffers as there's not much to do once players clear the main story campaign. Wo Long's story was really interesting to me as someone who is a Dynasty Warriors fan, having played the first four games (yes even the first one) and the eighth title. Coincidentally, the series is also published by Koei Tecmo, meaning the franchise is no stranger to releasing games with a long-term DLC plan only to release a "complete" edition with the included DLC. Sometimes, even the "complete version" gets bonus DLC exclusive to that version, like Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends for example. What both games have in common is that it's difficult to reinvent the wheel. Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, along with Suikoden are some of the most storied legacies in world history.
Simply "retelling" the events of the Three Kingdoms wouldn't be enough, as the original story did not have demons and generals battle each other on epic kaiju-level proportions. By the time the player defeats the final boss, the story would have led to the end of AD 200, representing the Battle Of Guandu. In the original story, Cao Cao defeats Yuan Shao to claim Guandu which unofficially marked the beginning of the "Three Kingdoms" arc. This is teased in the final cutscenes which shows what would become the Wei, Wu, and Shu forces all preparing for the future. While there is peace due to the defeat of Yu Ji, the war had only just begun.
I have no doubt in my mind that the story DLC update for Wo Long Fallen Dynasty will either feature the entirety or certain events of the Three Kingdoms. So far, character deaths had remained accurate to the time period in which these events happen, unlike Dynasty Warriors where the generals appear from across different timelines. Lu Bu's story is perhaps the most interesting as Diaochan, who herself was a fictional character created as a foil for Lu Bu in the original novel, would be replaced by Hong Jing. Hong Jing would also be a fictional character with the same effect, but she's original to the plot of Wo Long as Lu Bu's sister. It was known that he had a wife and a daughter, but not a sibling. These liberties, especially with the original source being a historical fictionalized novel, keep Wo Long Fallen Dynasty firmly planted in its story without fear of going off track.
The Battle of Xiapi notably ends with Lu Bu losing to Cao Cao's forces as he is promptly executed. How this is played out in Wo Long was that he was used by Yu Ji willingly in an attempt to keep his sister from the conflict and turmoil. They made a character with questionable morals at best more of a hero character and that's also the beauty of the Three Kingdoms in general. There are no "heroes," rather each general is fighting for their own beliefs in what's right. Zhang Liao, who would become one of Cao Cao's important generals, is an example of this as he was spared by the protagonist. Without context, this may appear confusing until it lines up with the events of his surrender in the novel.
Even Sun Ce's death in Wo Long Fallen Dynasty lines with his fate from the source, as he was one of Sun's strongest generals. Yu Ji would be the one to defeat him in strategy, as shown when he disguised himself as his brother only to stab him in the chest. The game does a fairly accurate job of retelling the events of AD 184 to AD 200, from the Yellow Turban Rebellion to Guandu. However, if this was just an account of how successful Team Ninja was at retelling a historic story in their own way without compromise, I'd give this a five-star easily. Things start to fall from the seams by the end of the game as Wo Long loses steam in the latter maps.
There are some cool ideas, such as the Xiapi map where a flooded city must be drained in order to flush out Lu Bu. While most levels begin on ground level, the player and Hong Jing are traveling across rooftops with the entire city submerged. The penultimate level serves as a "greatest hits" of everything the player has done up to this point and at this point, I had no inclination to fight any of the enemies. Because of the morale system, it was far better for me to raise as many marking flags as possible and speedrun the boss. I was at a high enough base level to effectively defeat almost any boss with minimal effort. Unless of course it was a boss with a gimmick like Liu Bei flying everywhere.
I have mixed feelings about the ending because of this. The penultimate final boss and the final boss himself were both obvious, but I can't help but think that Team Ninja was playing coy here. The final boss is effectively a "book end" version of the first boss encounter. Both fights began with a similar premise, at the same location, and are treated the same way. The final boss is effectively you, so everything including parrying critical blows and having mastery of all the virtues is thrown at you. Don't get me wrong I'm a fan of fights where the boss is on equal footing with the player. Zhang Liao and Lu Bu were some of my favorite fights in the game because it was a clash of swords between two skilled warriors. This fight was no different, but I was expecting at least a second phase.
After clearing the game, players will unlock the "Rising Dragon" difficulty, which lets the player earn five-star equipment and weapons as well as special abilities. These are what is known as "Grace" sets and are considered by the community to be some of the best gear sets in the game. Each set has an active buff that's permanent until death, meaning the player will always be one step ahead. Even so, what's the point? Part of the reason why I adored Elden Ring was because of how massive the map was. It took me three times the amount of time to clear Wo Long Fallen Dynasty on the first playthrough because I wanted to explore more. I want to explore more of Wo Long's world as blending Chinese history with mythological creatures made the experience super cool.
Until new content is on the way, I don't find much of an incentive to keep going unless I wanted to try out interest builds. It's easy to mix and match as resetting stat points are free and there are custom slots players can save their loadout too, making each build seamless. I'll revisit Wo Long Fallen Dynasty once it receives DLC and I'm certain by then this "three-star" will very well be a "five-star." I highly recommend this game as it was the most fun I've had with a video game of this kind in a long time. If anything, it encourages me to actually finish Nioh 2. It also helps it has nearly twice the content. Wait for a sale or wait for a major update, but also understand that this is far from a terrible game.
Wo Long Fallen Dynasty is available on PC, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.