More importantly, you have a lot of control over how far your Morale rank falls when you die. By raising special flags spread throughout levels, you can raise your minimum Morale level in order to ensure that it only drops so far (if at all) when you die. You still lose some Qi (the game’s equivalent of souls) when you die, but this aspect of the Morale system is another way the game addresses the fear of failing. It allows you to take reasonable steps to build a safety net. At the same time, you can ignore (or minimize) the impact of the flag system to make things more difficult for yourself if that’s what you prefer.
That Morale system is only one of the ways that Wo Long aims for accessibility. The game’s parry and counter mechanics encourage a more active and aggressive style of play that ensures you’re not constantly waiting for attack windows. Instead, you can block pretty much everything and remain aggressive if you wish to do so. You can also summon companions to help you at pretty much anytime (many of them are automatically assigned to you and can also be dismissed). The game even lets you respec your character whenever you want so that you don’t have to worry about getting locked into a bad build or one you just don’t like.
In so many ways, Wo Long tries to reach across the aisle to appeal to those who don’t usually consider themselves Soulslike fans. Much like Elden Ring, it finds ways to keep the experience challenging without always relying on some of the genre’s more intentionally cumbersome elements. It’s fascinating to see this new wave of notable Soulslike titles that are obviously intentionally trying to be more accessible without simply falling back on implementing an easy mode option.
Yet, for the many ways that Wo Long addresses the gatekeeping “git gud” fans of the Soulslike genre, it also relies on gatekeeping as a part of its experience in ways that make you reexamine the heart of that genre.
Consider Wo Long’s now infamous first boss: Zhang Liang. At first, you’ll probably think that Zhang Liang is one of those Soulslike bosses that is supposed to kill you. He is not. Not only are you supposed to kill him, but Zhang Liang effectively serves as a kind of trial-by-fire conclusion to the game’s introductory/tutorial experience. The idea is that Zhang Liang is supposed to be the culmination of the mechanics you’ve learned up until that point. In reality, though, he’s the thing that teaches you many of those mechanics the hard way. Only by failing to defeat him time and time again can you hope to execute those mechanics in the ways the game expects you to.
Zhang Liang is not the only difficulty spike roadblock in Wo Long or in Soulslike games in general. However, that’s kind of the point. Elden Ring’s first major boss (Margit) was also a massive roadblock who was so difficult that he almost made the rest of the game feel easier by comparison. In a game that emphasized its open world and the freedom that world offered, Margit was still the thing that determined whether or not you could pass. At least that game let you farm some extra levels and equipment before you fought Margit. There’s really only so much you can reasonably level yourself up before the fight against Zhang Liang.