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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty - well-designed but technically unstable

The DF tech review: PS4/PS5 vs Xbox Series X/S + One.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a new Soulslike adventure from Team Ninja. A spiritual successor to Nioh and its sequel, the game offers a dark fantasy twist on Chinese mythology with a formidable learning curve - and a comprehensive list of release platforms. We're looking at PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and the older Xbox One and PS4 machines for today's tech breakdown. With seven consoles plus two modes each on the current-gen machines, that's a total of 11 ways to play and perhaps predictably, some options are very much better than others. Series X and PS5 offer the best ways to play, but there are interesting wrinkles in the narrative along the way.

Normally, when we see performance and resolution modes on a current-gen game, we'd expect to see one 30fps option and one 60fps one - but, weirdly, both options run at 60fps in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. Graphical settings are identical amongst the modes and both have uncapped frame-rates too, so the big difference is the resolution they target. Performance mode has an internal resolution of 2240x1260 on both PS5 and Series X, while the resolution mode targets 2560x1440. There's not a drastic visual difference between the two options honestly and the performance mode helps each console zero in on a tighter 60fps lock.

On PS5's resolution mode, exploration and small battles hit 60fps without issue, but there's no GPU headroom for more lavish effects work. Fire spells, terraforming moves and counter-attack particle effects trigger drops into the 50fps region, sometimes into the 40s. The game's cutscenes are also capped at 30fps (with uneven frame-pacing) regardless of mode. Series X's resolution mode is a similar story, but offers a slightly higher average frame-rate. For both machines, a VRR display to smooth out the uneven frame-rates in this mode goes a long way. However, the performance mode is the better mode overall, as it allows for much longer 60fps stretches and less severe frame-rate dips.

The full video tech review of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.Watch on YouTube

Series S also has sports two modes, but this time they do affect frame-rate. Resolution mode renders at 900p at 30 frames per second, albeit with uneven frame-pacing, while the performance mode appears to target 60fps - but oddly enough, sticks at 900p as its native resolution as well. The good news is Series S really does a respectable job of hitting 60fps in its performance mode. It's possible that DRS may be more aggressively deployed to help the performance mode hit 60fps, but the resolution counts don't deviate drastically. That makes the 60fps performance mode the obvious choice here, and puts its frame-rate in a similar space to PS5 and Series X's best.

On the surface, Series S hasn't turned out too badly then - but there is a penalty in terms of its core visual settings. Textures, shadows, and even physics are all downgraded on Series S. And putting its 60fps support aside, this surprisingly places its visuals more in line with a last-gen experience.

Let's run through the downgrades in order. The texture mapping on Series S is obviously compromised, with lower-quality assets for mountain walls, rocks, mossy terrain and more. Shadow detailing is removed from the scenery too, while transparency effects also take a nosedive in resolution. Likewise, the sprite work used for plants is not only lowered in quality but also in density on Series S. Draw distances for grass are further afield from the player, too, though geometry and shadows draw in at similar ranges. Perhaps most surprisingly, though, is that cloth physics are significantly dialled back. The flag checkpoints, for example, dynamically billow with the wind on Series X, and PS5 - but on Series S you get only a basic scripted motion. Even the motion blur is downgraded with more dithering in movement here. Ultimately this makes Wo Long one of the most visually distinct Series S releases - and not in a good way - but the last-gen machines require even more substantial cutbacks.

Cutbacks between Series X and S are plain to see, with more of a "last-gen" look about the 4TF machine.

What of the last-gen situation? All four older consoles run at 30fps for a start, with uneven frame-pacing to boot. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X render at 1920x1080, higher than the 900p on Series S, but the original last-gen consoles are lower still. The base PS4 targets just 1280x720, while Xbox One S renders at 1152x648. Thankfully, performance here is at least mostly solid in exchange, with a fairly good lock on 30fps - albeit with fluctuating frame-times. It never feels smooth in action as a result, but genuine drops under 30fps are at least surprisingly rare. Still, the fact resolutions are scaled back so aggressively - especially in base PS4 or Xbox One's case - means the game never produces a flattering image.

Beyond the performance and fidelity discussion, any tech review of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has to recognise the fact that the game has some issues and requires extra polish. In my time playing, I've spotted visual bugs, with flickering shadows on Xbox consoles old and new, and a single multi-second freeze on Series X. Also distracting are the often absent shadow maps: entire chunks of terrain and grass are bereft of shadow and ambient occlusion. Even on PS5 and Series X, the best-case turn-out hardly screams 'next-gen'. In both cases, Wo Long has the look and feel of a last-gen project running at 60fps. Thankfully, the SSDs inside the PS5 and Series X/S at least ensure that loading times are significantly faster than on PS4 or Xbox One. That, at least, is a guine game-changer.

After recently covering Wild Hearts, another Koei Tecmo produced title from a different developer, it's hard to shake of a sense of deja vu here. Both Wo Long and Wild Hearts are fun, mechanically well-designed games that feature tight combat, superb art direction and intriguing settings - even if heavy inspiration is taken from elsewhere. I'd recommend them both but with their unstable technical delivery - and in particular Wo Long's frame-pacing issues on last-gen and pared back visuals on Series S - any recommendation has to come with an asterisk. The best way to play these games on console is obviously on PS5 or Series X. I just wish these games scaled down more gracefully to the lower-powered machines.

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