Black Myth: Wukong Is A Speedy Souls-Like Where You Can Transform Into Your Enemies

The versatility of the Souls-like genre is that a lot of its best ideas can be applied to just about any action-RPG and work well, and Black Myth: Wukong is a good example. It carries a lot of the subgenre’s conventions, such as bonfire-like checkpoints that respawn enemies in the area around you, a flask for healing that has a finite number of charges and refills when you rest at a checkpoint, and upgrade points you drop when you die and have to find and recover.

The difference with Black Myth: Wukong, however, is that it’s not nearly as slow, deliberate, dark, or perhaps even difficult as a usual Souls-like. I played a two-hour demo at Summer Game Fest 2024’s Play Days event, and found the game to be quick and agile, with boss fights that were tough and required a lot of reactivity and skill, but didn’t demand nearly as much time put into the usual intense process of learning an enemy’s moves or hitting specific openings to win fights. There’s difficulty in Black Myth: Wukong that echoes a Souls-like, and a lot of the beats are the same, like reading your opponent and dodging their moves, but this is more of a middle ground between traditional third-person action games and a Souls-like in terms of the overall experience.

Now Playing: Black Myth: Wukong: A Fun Action RPG filled with Bosses

In the two hours I played Black Myth: Wukong, I was impressed by how well it struck a balance between a Souls-like feel with an angle on faster gameplay. The game is based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West, and you take on the part of Sun Wukong, a shapeshifting martial artist and anthropomorphic monkey. The demo was a portion of an early chapter of the game, and the impression it gave was that Wukong hadn’t yet unlocked most of his martial-arts capabilities yet. You fight through most of the game with a staff used to wallop enemies, but while you’re mostly using this one weapon, you’ll unlock additional stances over the course of Black Myth that give you different combos and move sets. At the start, however, you have a limited number of moves and abilities–namely, a light attack and a heavier attack you can link together into combos.

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Gameplay mostly focuses on getting clear of an attack and then punishing your opponent for the misguided belief that they could ever hit you. The whole feel of dodging will be familiar to anyone who has spent significant time with this kind of game; dodging depletes a stamina gauge that recharges quickly when you stop moving, but it’s pretty forgiving with the number of quick getaways it allows. You get i-frames when you roll clear of an enemy (or quickstep, if you’re dodging while locked on), and if you time the dodge perfectly to avoid the incoming strike, time slows a bit and you leave an after-image of the Destined One where you just were. Dodging is always snappy and immediate, and while you can’t dodge endlessly, you generally have enough stamina that, with a good sense of timing, you can out-maneuver just about anything an opponent throws your way.

The meat of combat is a fast-paced dance where you zip around attacks and lay into an enemy whenever you get a chance. Early on, Black Myth also adds another wrinkle in the form of spells you can fire off in the midst of battle. I only saw two spells during the demo, with the first coming as part of the narrative and adding an essential element: the ability to briefly immobilize an enemy mid-motion, opening them up to attack. You can even use the spell on bosses–or maybe, it’s especially for use against bosses–and it’s great when you know you’re about to get whacked with an attack you’re out of position to avoid, or you need an opportunity to deal some free damage.

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Spells have cooldown timers, so you can’t spam the immobilize ability over and over again, and what’s more, they’re controlled by a sort of mana meter that refills like your health flask whenever you rest–so you’re not going to just be zapping a boss into stasis over and over to beat them down. The spell does give you a key advantage, though, especially if you use it intelligently in concert with combos to maximize your damage potential, or to save yourself from a mistake.

The demo took place on Black Wind Mountain, a location populated by intelligent monsters called yaoguai, including a band of anthropomorphic wolves. Ascending the mountain, the goal was to reach its summit and the wolves’ leader, but that required fighting through a fair few bosses along the way.

Structurally, at least in the demo, Black Myth consists of a few short areas where you’ll fight common enemies, most of whom were easy to beat down in this early area, before hitting a boss fight. It doesn’t seem that the game is providing especially large levels, at least on Black Wind Mountain. While there are always a handful of opponents between a checkpoint and a boss, the runs seemed pretty short, keeping a fast pace that quickly got you to your next major challenge.

The boss fights, though, are pretty exciting. The first notable opponent was Guangzhi, a wolf-like monk who wielded a staff with blades at either end–which were also on fire. Guangzhi was a fast, intense boss with a lot of sweeping, fiery moves, so avoiding them often required seeing them coming as early as possible to get the distance to avoid them. Defeating him took a couple of tries, primarily to get a handle on the timing of some of his hardest-hitting attacks, both of which he fired off from a distance. He would sometimes dash forward for a big strike or even throw his staff forward, spinning for a while before it returned to his hand, in an attack that reminded me of nothing so much as the double-bladed lightsaber of Darth Maul.

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Upon beating Guangzhi, Black Myth showed off its major addition to the Souls-like formula: transformation. This was the second of the spells I unlocked. It seems that you’ll sometimes be able to claim the weapon of an opponent after you beat them, which gives you the ability to use it in a fight, transforming from Wukong into the enemy you previously defeated.

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It’s a pretty cool ability. Morphing into Guangzhi gave me an alternate weapon–his fiery, bladed staff–alongside an entirely different move set from what Wukong uses. What’s more, transforming into a different character comes with its own health bar, separate from the one you’re using (and healing) normally. How long the transformation lasts is dictated either by health, or by doing too many cool moves, with your light and heavy attacks depleting a meter called Might at different rates. When either meter runs out, you transform back into Wukong.

The useful thing about that second health bar is that taking damage while transformed doesn’t affect your normal health–which means you can use a transformation in a pinch, when you’re close to dying, to give yourself a brief but extremely useful second wind, as well as a potential damage boost. Like your other spells, transformations run on a cooldown, so you have to use them wisely. Transforming back into Wukong opens up additional opportunities for attack, though, with the ability to fire off moves as you switch back to keep a combo going and inflict extra damage.

Just after Guangzhi was another wolf boss, but where the fight with the monk was more of a duel, this one filled the “huge monster” role that’s common with Souls-likes. The second wolf was a giant white creature with a long reach, huge jaws, and a ton of speed, appearing in a courtyard surrounded by low buildings. Bloodborne skills served well in this fight, where dodging toward the boss was often key to avoiding its sweeping claws, in order to get behind it and actually deal damage. The boss also exerted a ton of speed and agility, leaping up onto the rooftops and bounding around and off them to come down on me from different angles. With Guangzhi and Immobilize in my back pocket, though, I was able to capitalize in a few key moments, freezing the wolf and transforming to get in close and slashing with my fiery blades to take advantage of a burning status effect that dealt extra damage over time.

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Proceeding along the path, I next entered a thicker forest full of snake soldiers. Like the low-level wolf enemies before them, none of these were particularly challenging. They moved a bit slowly, and while they had a snake-strike lunge move that could be a bit dangerous, they were generally slow and easy to take down. Among the snakes were a few bodies sitting against rocks or trees, and getting too close would see nearby snake skeletons come to life, slither into the armor, and come at me. It was a cool enemy design and added a little bit of the feeling of a trap to wandering the woods, as it was easy to suddenly find yourself surrounded by undead snake warriors if you weren’t paying attention. But as with their living cohorts, none of the skeleton snakes could withstand much damage or put up much of a fight. The weak common enemies further emphasized that they’re not the focus of the game; bosses are.

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And just beyond that relatively small group of snake enemies was another boss. This one was something of a magician compared to the martial artist and giant wolf I’d just fought. While he wasn’t as deadly up close as those flaming blades had been, his ability to teleport around the battlefield presented a different challenge. The boss summons small tornadoes that force you out of certain areas, making it particularly tough to attack him head on, and if you commit to hitting him too much, he drinks from a flask full of poison and spits it all over you.

He can also summon spectral snakes all around the arena that also spit poison. Taking too many poison hits, like in a From Software game, gives you the poison status effect and drains your health, making it very easy to take only a little damage but find yourself in a seriously bad situation midway through the battle. The spectral snakes appear across the whole arena and force you to disengage with the boss himself so you can run around, smacking each snake individually to dissipate them and protect yourself from their speedy, tough-to-dodge spit.

The final boss I faced, just after the magician with the fans, was a spear-wielding human in white, flowing robes. This fight took place in a marsh in knee-deep water, making for a calm, pleasant setting to get absolutely wrecked. It was another duel-style fight, with the added caveat that the boss could sometimes slash the air to send ranged attacks my way or spin in the water to summon a delayed blast if I was in too close. The moves reminded me a lot of fighting Isshin the Sword Saint in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, with a similar reliance on agility and long reach.

While the other bosses could be difficult and took a couple of tries each, this last enemy felt like the first real challenge, especially because the boss busted out a second phase where he got even faster. He also had the tendency to attack in ways that were tougher to read, more like your typical Souls-like encounter. For instance, instead of stringing an expected three attacks together, he might throw out a combo with six or seven strikes, linking several kinds of moves to break the rhythm and catch me off-guard.

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Bringing down the man in white was about as far as I got in the demo. There was apparently another boss to take on, as well as at least one more area to explore, but I ran out of time before much longer. What struck me, though, was how much Black Myth: Wukong scratched the itch for something Souls-like, but was satisfying in its faster pacing and more agile approach. Battles against bosses often had the same intensity of what you might find in a Souls-like, but with a heavier emphasis on quick reactions and without being quite as punishing. With a quicker pacing, it felt like there were more boss fights more often, with enough variety to make them all interesting in their own way.

Alongside some great voice acting and gorgeous visuals, I found Black Myth: Wukong’s approach to some tried-and-true third-person-action elements to be fun and refreshing. A two-hour demo isn’t necessarily demonstrative of the entire game, but what developer Game Science showed off at Summer Game Fest felt like a smart take on a formula that brings a lot of familiar aspects that fans of Souls-likes will enjoy, tuned to a different frequency that makes it feel like something wholly its own.

Don’t miss the rest of GameSpot’s Summer Game Fest coverage.


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