Underneath my yellow skin

Team Ninja for better and worse

I’m in te second act of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty (Team Ninja), and I have to admit, it’s wearing a bit thin. It’s still enjoyable, but by the time I reach the boss (which I have now), I feel beleagured and worn. In the Demon Fort mission, and the level itself is nothing to write home about.

I mentioned this in a prior post, but Team Ninja’s level design primarily consists of burning villages. And, I will say, fortresses. I was watching a video by a guy who likes Team Ninja games despite himself and he’s right on the money with many of his critiques. He also rages much like I do when I play these kinds of games. He does slip into the ‘I’m a hardcore gamer and I hate those filthy scrub n00bs, but his critiques of Team Ninja in general are on point. I have included his review below.(Not the bemoaning of the fact that Wo Long is easier than Nioh 2 in general–that’s a deliberate choice that I can applaud.)

The levels, never the highpoint of the Team Ninja games, are especially uninsipired in this one. Now. I will say that given my spatial issues, some of this is me, but I cannot for the life of me find all the marking flags in the levels. I explore as carefully as I can, and I always end up at the boss with at least two marking flags missing. This time was three of seven. I found one by going up on a roof of a temple and finding the hole (this is often the solution. Get as high as possible and jump down a hole in the buliding you’re on the roof of), but that still left two. I went back through the level and found another by going a different way in yet another cave and jumping down.

By the way, there are so many caves in these games. So. Many. Caves. And forts. And burning villages. I was excited that this game was going to be set in China, but you could not tell that it’s not Japan. The levels feel exactly like Nioh levels. That’s not a compliment.

I cannot for the life of me find the third marking flag I was missing. It was late last night when I was playing, otherwise I would have done what I’m going to do today–open up a walkthrough video and follow it. Look. I spent an hour looking for the flags last night, but still could not find that final flag. I know it’s partly me because I have a hard time with spatial issues, but I never have these problems with From games. I do not get lost  in them the way I do in Team Ninja games. When I look out at the vista in a Team Ninja game, I just sight and resign myself to getting lost.

I’m not being completely fair. There are some  very pretty Team Ninja levels, but they are not designed with care. In the current level, there are three ladders within eyesight. One of them actually goes somewhere. The other two, I have no idea why they are there.

Here’s the thing about From games. People look at them and take away the wrong lesson. “From games are so hard!” Well, yes, they are. But the enjoyment (at least for me) is not in the difficulty. In fact, Elden Ring is probably the least-difficult of the From games, and it’s my second-favorite of the From games. I play the games because of the amazing levels (legacy dungeons, what??), which gets bastardized into THEY HAVE SHORTCUTS HAVE YOU SEEN THE SHORTCUTS??? Yes, they have shortcuts. Yes, it feels terrific when you find a shortcut that brings you back to the beginning of the level. But it’s because, in the case of Bloodborne and, say, The Forbidden Woods, you can then skip huge chunks of the level because of the shortcut.

In Wo Long, there’s a shortcut door that can’t be opned from the side where you first find it. Fine. That’s expceted. I know that later I will be able to open it from the other side. I’m down with that! Something to look forward to. Except, I keep going. I can’t find the other side of this door. I’m sure it’s not there for show, so where the hell is the other side of this door?

With From levels, you can usually tell where, approximately, that shortcut is going to be as you approach it from the other side. In this case, I had no idea where that might be. No idea! And then I got stuck in the level and could not find my way forward. I was flummoxed. Until I realized that the angry mermaids I had skipped (because they were way too high level for me) were blocking the way I needed to go. That’s the other thing about From levels. There are subtle clues (and some not-so-subtle) that push you forward. In  Team Ninja games, they have no interest in showing you the way forward. In fact, I feel as if they’re actively hiding it sometimes as a ‘look, aren’t we so clever?’ joke to themselves. No, you’re not. It’s not clever to completely obscure the way forward.

Another issue I have with the games that the video I included specifically notes and that I have mentioned before is that you cannot peel one enemy off from the group. Even if you headshot them with an arrow, all their friends will be notified. Oh, and Team Ninja likes to hide enemies where you can’t see them, either. Last night, I was going into a tent to open a prominent chest. I knew there was going to be an enemy somewhere because of course there would be. i could not see one as I went in. As I was about to open the chest, an enemy HIT ME FROM BEHIND. I had been about as careful as you could be and still got tagged.

“You can stealth”. Yeah, no. You might be able to get a plunge attack from above, but if you’re approaching a group, you better be ready to take on the whole group. Which is tiresome. Then it’s just repeatedly pressing the deflect button (B) and hoping you’ll get enough deflects in not to die. There’s a section in the level I’m in where there are two demon tigers prowling around (and they are the worse. I cannot get the timing down for them at all). There is also an angcry exploding  rolling porcupine (hello, pale version of the worst enemy in the Dark Souls II DLC!) and a shambling zombie soldier in the mix. If you stray too far to the right, there’s a chonky zombie captain who will paste you into oblivion.

Let’s talk about the magicks for a minute. There is no mana and there are no set number of casts you can have. Instead, it uses spirit (which also fuels your stronger attacks). At first, I thought this was great because that meant you could keep using your magicks if you kept killing the enemies. It seemed like a natural flow of energy. However, and I’m sure you can see where this is going, if you are bad at the game and cannot kill people, you cannot use your magicks. You also can’t use them at the beginning of a level, especially the ones that tatke more spirit. This discourages you from using the bigger spells, which I do not like.

I faced the boss of this area once with three marking flags missing. It’s a humanoid who has taken the demon elixir and can cast lightning. I was not doing enough damage with my bam-hammer because I’ve only upgraded it once.

I’m still enjoying the game, but I’m not sure how much more I’m going to play. To recap: each level is just a repeat of the level before with a palate wash. The NPCs who help you are both a help and a hindrance, and I’m not sure the addition of them was a good one. Althtough, I will admit that for the last boss I beat, having my two boys and repeatedly buffing them got the job done.

It’s funny. I used to play From games for the boss fights. I used to hunker down to spend hours bashing my head against the wall when up against a particuarly difficult boss (looking at YOU, Biggie & Small). Now, however, that’s not why I play the games. I did have a few bosses in Elden Ring that tested me, but in general, I called in help after a dozen or so tries without even thinking about it.

So, I’m not opposed to the fact that the bosses in Wo Long so far (except for the first one, but that was because of a glitch) have been fairly easy. The deflect is much more generous than in Sekiro, and the systems from the Niohs have been stripped down. I’m actnually good with that because I could not master the Niohs and gave up trying. But there is something lacking in Wo Long that is a feature, not a bug, for Team Ninja. The things that irritate me are in all their games, and it’s very much intentional. We’ll see how much longer I play this game.

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