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Black Myth: Wukong's combat could surpass the Souls games

Monkey business.

I'm battling an anthropomorphic tiger. He resides, of course, in the Crouching Tiger temple, the steps leading up to it littered with bloody bodies. As I arrive inside, he laps at a large pool of dark water - no not water, it's blood.

The blood drips from his face, a face formed of the most gloriously realistic wet fur texture. He taunts my silly little monkey protagonist - no, not The Tarnished but the Destined One - and battle commences.

Black Myth: Wukong is yet another action RPG inspired by FromSoftware's Souls games, this time from Chinese developer Game Science. It's hotly anticipated, with each annual trailer building hype further. The game is playable on this year's Gamescom show floor and from just a short demo, it might be the best non-From Soulslike.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the Souls series are its bosses, the true test of your skills and - more importantly - patience. Sensibly, this Black Myth: Wukong demo focuses on a handful of boss encounters to provide a sense of these one on one battles, all selectable on a menu without overworld continuity.

Black Myth: Wukong - Official Trailer | gamescom 2023Watch on YouTube

The first is the giant and poisonous Elite Centipede Guai, which acted as something of a tutorial. I begin in near darkness in an underground cavern littered with skeletons and then from a mound of skulls it bursts free, a terrifying form of spindly, skeletal legs curling above me. It spits poison, swipes with claws, and rolls around the arena requiring well-timed dodges.

And dodging is essential. If the Souls games focus on blocking, and both Bloodborne and Sekiro focus on parrying in their own ways, then Black Myth: Wukong is about dodging and swift fluid movement. Stamina must be carefully managed but is generous and allows for plenty of manoeuvrability around each battlefield. A perfectly timed last-minute dodge is represented by a copy of your monkey protagonist as you shift before landing crushing blows.

For melee, the monkey uses a staff in three different stances, like the Nioh series: Smash form, Pillar form, and Thrust form. Pillar feels particularly monkey-esque as the character scurries to perch on top before slamming down a heavy attack or spins around in a tornado flurry. I was especially fond, however, of using Thrust to cheekily poke away at bosses from a distance and whittle down their health.

black myth wukong screenshot showing the character drinking a potion in a field of short white plants, with flames around their feet and an enemy in the distance
Image credit: Game Science

Poking proved effective against the second boss, Elite Macaque Chief. This encounter took place on a snowy mountain trail, the soft powder whipped up dynamically with each twirl of the staff. The monkey boss has a suite of icy blows but with practice the correct dodge timing can be learned and pokes from the staff knock the boss over. Combat feels incredibly fluid, alternating light and heavy attacks into long combos that feel almost dancelike. The staff is a light weapon capable of rapid spins, so where Souls games are considered and methodical, the challenge of Black Myth: Wukong is its faster pace.

Magic adds another layer of attack possibility. The monkey can wield a number of spells available on a cooldown. Immobilise freezes enemies in place, while Cloud Step performs a smoking dodge that is followed by a powerful strike. Red Mist was effective against the Macaque Chief as the monkey protagonist transforms into a fire-wielding wolf master for huge damage.

Whittle its health down fast enough and it triggers a hidden, second phase of this boss. Alas, I was not quick enough. That said, difficulty is well-pitched in Black Myth: Wukong - the encounters were certainly challenging, but victory always felt achievable.

That brought me to Boss Tiger Vanguard. After many repeated attempts I came close but not enough to defeat this particularly fast and aggressive boss within the allotted time, but the sunlit temple was enchanting enough despite each death. Developed in Unreal Engine 5, the game floored me with its visuals: impeccably detailed fur textures, beautiful lighting, and uniquely Chinese folklore that's clear from the new trailer shown at Opening Night Live. The more I watch that, the more I'm desperate to try these bosses once more with alternative strategies.

Black Myth Wukong screenshot showing the character attacking a large wolf enemy with a spinning, flaming jump attack
Image credit: Game Science

The game is based on the classical 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West and is filled with animalistic character designs. Coupled with the combat animation and zen-like atmosphere, Black Myth: Wukong turns Souslike gameplay into a wuxia fantasy.

I suspect the game will be more narrative-driven than the more enigmatic Souls games, but that wasn't shown in this demo. That focus also means a more singular protagonist rather than the range of classes and styles of, say, Elden Ring. And how linear or exploratory the areas between bosses are remains to be seen, as well as character customisation. At the least, the ability to swap out spells and skills at shrine checkpoints (essentially bonfires) is enough to diversify combat.

For now, it's combat that really sings. From just this short demo, Black Myth: Wukong is as intense and rewarding as the best of the genre. And where others simply opt for high - often overly frustrating - difficulty, Game Science here comes closest to the tightly balanced, masterful work of FromSoftware. It may even surpass it.

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