Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s “tutorial” gives Souls games a bad look

Andrew Highton
zhang liang and wo long fallen dynasty protagonist

A lot of the talk surrounding Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has been about its first boss – Zhang Liang – and how outrageously difficult he is. More than that, the boss is brutally punishing and is evidence that Souls could be more inclusive to casual gamers.

I have played and finished every FromSoftware ‘Souls‘ game, Nioh 1 and 2, Code Vein, and I have most recently tackled Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. I’m making it abundantly clear that I am no stranger to this fascinating and frustrating genre that has the ability to simultaneously leave you in tears of joy, relief, and anger.

Team Ninja have proven that they are more than the infamous Ninja Gaiden franchise – a gauntlet of dastardly difficulty in its own right – and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is the spiritual successor to their Nioh franchise.

All the familiar Souls and Team Ninja tropes are here, but one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the fact that quite possibly the hardest boss in the whole game… is the first one, and you can encounter him within about half an hour. Quite simply, this isn’t a good look.

zhang liang smiling in wo long cut scene

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s first boss is ridiculous

It’s hard to believe, but the concept of a Souls game has been around for nearly 15 years – dating back to the original release of Demon’s Souls in 2009. Not since the days of the SNES and Mega Drive had a game been so consistently harsh if you made mistakes, fast-forward to 2023’s Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, and in many respects, the game actually shows how far we’ve come.

Gone are the days when you’d have to travel a long way, running past a ton of enemies, just to have another crack at a boss who’s killed you 50 times. Checkpoints are handily available in Wo Long and make it a stress-free jog to undertake your 51st attempt.

This number may seem like an exaggeration, however, unprepared players can easily reach figures as high as these when they encounter Zhang Liang, General of Man, in Wo Long. Then again, so can the most prepared players.

Once the game has shown you the basics with some fairly typical enemies early on, you will suddenly be thrust into the game’s first boss. Zhang Liang is a multi-phase fight, which is generally unheard of for a starter boss – even in Souls games.

Trust me, it could take you a while to even conquer the first phase as you learn to understand Wo Long’s blocking mechanic that will become a central figure in your gameplay. Timing is the key to blocking Critical Blows that can cause you serious damage, lose you a ton of Spirit, and just make the fight a difficult endeavor from then on.

As I’ve played Wo Long, I can confidently say that only one other fight in this game delivers anything like this fight. The problem? That other fight is much later on in the game, whereas this is the first boss in the game.

Considering this is pretty much Wo Long’s tutorial, it’s a frankly bizarre way of welcoming you to the game.

2nd phase of zhang liang in wo long fallen dynasty

Zhang Liang is not inclusive towards casual gamers at all

Elden Ring broke ground in the quest to make the Souls genre mainstream and managed to convert millions of gamers and even won over high-profile streamers like Dr Disrespect.

But then titles like Wo Long come along and serve as reminders as to why so many Souls games don’t hit the same heights and achieve that widespread success. It’s a game that is simply catered to an existing audience and makes no bones about it.

If someone picks this up off the shelf, gets home, and is instantly presented with a two-phase tank of a fight that demands you perfect its deflect mechanic almost immediately over the course of a 5- to 10-minute fight, then most people just aren’t going to find that fun. They won’t persevere and might just end up returning the game and watching it on Twitch instead.

driver 1 opening tutorial mission

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and Driver 1 are somehow alike

It feels insane to make this comparison, but 1999’s Driver is the perfect example of how not to do a tutorial. The opening tutorial of Driver is easily the game’s hardest mission and became notorious in gaming folklore as it required you to pull off a series of increasingly tough maneuvres in a short window of time within an unforgivingly small environment.

As a result, many people just sent the game back and decided to pick something else up instead. That’s the vibe that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty sadly gives off and it’s like the game is trying to run players off when they’ve barely even taken the wrapping off.

In the context of a game’s structure and chronology, Zhang Liang is a tutorial, and yet it feels like it should be a late-game fight, maybe even the final fight. Subsequent bosses actually end up being a cakewalk in the grand scheme of things.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a game for existing Souls players and Team Ninja’s steadfast vision to cater to those who are already experienced may prove to be to the game’s detriment in the long run.

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