Black Myth: Wukong is the fast but forgiving Souls-like I’ve been waiting for

Nathan Warby
Black Myth: Wukong character with logo

Black Myth: Wukong caught the eye of many players when it was first shown off back in 2020, thanks to its gorgeous visuals and unique 16th-century Chinese setting. Four years later, after spending nearly two hours battling its many bosses, it looks set to be a perfect jumping-in point for Souls-like novices.

The Souls-like genre can be daunting to dip your toe into, as the challenging fights and unforgiving checkpoints can force you to raise your game to progress. So, if you’re like me, this means that games like Elden Ring and Dark Souls don’t feel welcoming, despite how appealing they are from the outside.

When CharlieIntel was invited to go hands-on with a demo version of Black Myth: Wukong at a preview event, I was concerned that it’d alienate me right away. Instead, the smart blend of action RPG elements with familiar Souls tropes grabbed me and refused to let go.

A perfect mix

Wukong in Black Myth: Wukong
Wukong can pick up new transformations by beating bosses.

When you take control of Wukong and start your journey, the Souls-like DNA is clear to see. Enemies are carefully placed around each linear area, often appearing from subtle hiding spots, and regular shrines serve as checkpoints to heal but also respawn all the foes you’ve slain.

However, while I was expecting games like Bloodborne to spring to mind, I was surprised at how much influence there was from more action-orientated titles, such as the Star Wars Jedi series. Combat felt fast and satisfying, removing the block button entirely in favor of dodges that looked and felt slick to pull off.

It made fights feel immediately more familiar to someone with very little Souls experience, and it didn’t take long to feel at home avoiding blows and unleashing ones of my own. The devs later explained to us that they didn’t want to frustrate players with the difficulty and that ethos was clear throughout.

This is crucial, as it means you can spend more time looking around the gorgeous levels without being scared to take your eye off the ball. You’ll want to do that too, as the visuals on display during the preview were constantly breathtaking.

The forest I trawled through was dense and detailed, packed with little side routes that hide secret encounters or resources, but without feeling too overwhelming. I hope to see more variety in the environments once the final game launches, but the areas shown so far are a joy to poke around in.

Bosses everywhere

Black Myth: Wukong character fighting
Boss fights are the star of the show in Black Myth: Wukong.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking that Black Myth: Wukong is an easy game. While the basic enemies won’t give you too much trouble, it’s not afraid to crank up the difficulty when needed – especially when it comes to the standout boss fights.

These encounters put all of your skills to the test and can quickly whittle down your health bar if you’re not careful in your approach. Luckily, the fairly forgiving dodges mean it’s possible to spend the first run at a boss learning their attack patterns and giveaways to identify the best windows to counter.

They’re easily the highlight of my time with Wukong, so it’s great to see that they present themselves at a rapid pace. In just under two hours, I faced five different bosses, from a wild-kicking frog to a huge white wolf that jumped onto rooftops before pouncing from above.

Each was unique, well-designed, and, most importantly, fair. Some I breezed through on the first try while others embarrassed me multiple times before going down, but I never felt like I lost to a cheesy move that ended the fight too quickly.

It’s here where I can already see the depth of the game’s deceptively simple combat shining through. I was able to scrape through a couple of battles using the skills and spells I felt most comfortable with, especially Immobilize which freezes enemies in place, but I don’t doubt it’ll take mastery of each transformation to survive as the story unfolds.

Change of stance

Transformation in Black Myth: Wukong
Transformations can quickly turn the tide of a battle.

As I progressed, I also invested in the skill tree to unlock new stances, which support different playstyles and thrive against different bosses. For example, the default stance is all about landing blows in quick succession, while the first unlockable option let me evade ground attacks by extending Wukong’s staff and hoisting him into the air.

I only got to sample a small taste of the stances and the first transformation, which turns you into a fire-wielding wolf just like the boss you earn it from. But it’s clear that truly mastering the combat requires you to learn when and where each one is needed and how to chain them together mid-fight, and it’s a mountain I’m itching to climb.

The greatest compliment I can offer Black Myth: Wukong after almost two hours of playtime is that it’s gone from a game that I was quietly curious about as someone who normally steers clear of Souls-likes, to one that I’ll be picking up on launch day.

It’s shaping up to be a fast but focused ride that’ll delight both Souls-like noobs and veterans of the genre. The combat starts out simple but the introduction of new stances and skills, as well as the rapid, boss-per-minute pacing force you to learn its nuances if you want to progress further.

I hope the final product can keep the stellar enemy design and gorgeous levels going throughout the full runtime, but if it maintains the standard of this demo, we could be in for something truly special and one of the best games of 2024.