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Black Myth: Wukong is a perfect chaser for Stellar Blade fans

A monkey man faces off against a fiery boss in Black Myth: Wukong.
Game Science
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

When I sat down to try Black Myth: Wukong at Summer Game Fest, I began asking the person leading the demo questions about the gameplay to get myself situated. What is the resource for leveling up my stats? Would I drop currency when I die? Could I parry attacks? I went in assuming it was your standard Soulslike, just with a more fantastical premise. After getting a few surprising answers, the demo runner noted that the developers didn’t exactly want it to be viewed as a Soulslike — they prefer to just call it an action RPG.

That made total sense by the end of my demo. While Black Myth: Wukong does include lots of elements you’d expect from a game like Dark Souls, parts of it are much more in line with traditional action games. That makes for a happy medium between subgenres that’ll resonate with players who want more games like this year’s Stellar Blade.

Fast and furious

My demo begins early in Black Myth: Wukong’s first chapter. I’m tossed into a thick jungle that’s mostly linear, but has a few branching paths that lead to secrets. I get the basics of combat down quickly when I find some weak enemies and thwack them with my staff. The first thing that stands out is how quick my attacks are. While I do have a slow heavy attack that can punish me for overcommitting, my light attacks let me pepper foes with lots of little hits in rapid succession.

I get the sense that developer Game Science always wants players to stay on the attack rather than hiding and hitting enemies with a safe poke here and there. That flow is reinforced by the fact that there’s no block or parry system here. I can roll to evade attacks, and the window for dodging seems generous, but that’s all I have for defense. It’s a little hard to get used to at first, especially in high-octane boss fights with long attack strings, but the aggressive pace suits my own preferred playstyle well.

A big boss dives at the main character of Black Myth: Wukong.
Game Science

I only got a taste of Black Myth: Wukong’s depth in my 90 minutes with it. A deep skill tree contains plenty of upgrades that look like they’ll radically change combat. That includes different attack stances that have my interest piqued. I unlocked one during my playthrough, which featured a special attack that let me sit on the top of my staff. The longer I sat, the bigger it got until I released the button to hit my foes with a massive attack. While sitting on the staff, I’m also safe from attacks like shockwaves that move across the ground.

Creative ideas like that are what set Black Myth: Wukong apart from its peers. Battles aren’t just about slashing enemies. Players also get access to some creative spells that operate on cooldowns and use mana. One of those freezes an enemy in place for a few seconds, allowing me to press the attack. Another that I saw temporarily turned me into a fiery demon that could inflict burn on my foes. Transformations like that seem to be an important piece of gameplay. In one exploration segment, I become a tiny beetle and stealthily fly through the woods to evade enemies. I’m excited to see how more ideas like that can give the action RPG a unique identity.

As for whether or not it’s fair to call it a Soulslike, that’s going to be a bit of a Rorschach test for players. There’s no corpse run system, though players do lose half their currency when dying. There are shrines, which act as bonfire checkpoints, but they aren’t used to level up characters with collected resources. Instead, the character levels up with experience points like in a normal RPG and earns skill points that can be spent on abilities. It’s a bit in-between genres, which puts it in the same spot as this year’s Stellar Blade.

A boss knocks over the main character of Black Myth: Wukong.
Game Science

For those who do want a proper Souslike, though, don’t worry. My demo was filled with incredibly difficult bosses that wiped the floor with me. One battle against a human in a lake had me dodging watery explosions and attack strings that went on and on. That battle even had a fake-out second phase. I got ambushed by a frog boss when casually walking through a pond, while a giant creature with a baby-like head punished me for daring to attack it. Fights like that are still tough as nails, though tools like my time-freezing magic alleviate the difficulty a bit. There’s always a way to gain an advantage in battle if you time your skills as a means of avoiding a big hit.

As someone who has a love-hate relationship with the Souls trend, Black Myth: Wukong feels more my speed. It still offers all the challenges of the genre, but with less frustration and more creative action. Combine that with a visually inviting world steeped in Chinese mythology, and you’ve got a promising action RPG on the horizon.

Black Myth: Wukong launches on August 20 for PlayStation 5 and PC.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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