Pure Xbox's Craig Reid has spent the past few days at Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles, where he's had a chance to preview a series of upcoming Xbox releases. Today, we're sharing his thoughts on a hands-on demo of Black Myth: Wukong, which let us get stuck into two hours of an early chapter from Game Science's 2024 ARPG.

For most, Summer Game Fest came to a close once Play Days wrapped on Monday, but not for us! Game Science, the talented developers responsible for the upcoming ARPG Black Myth: Wukong, found time for Pure Xbox the following day, and we’re so glad they did because the game is phenomenal.

Say what you like about SGF’s opening show, but there’s no denying that when the Black Myth: Wukong trailer dropped, the air left the YouTube Theatre and goosebumps were felt by many. So you can only imagine the anticipation we felt whilst ascending to the top floor suite of The Proper Hotel in Downtown LA for a private two-hour hands-on preview of the game.

For those who didn’t know this already, Black Myth: Wukong is inspired by the 16th century Chinese novel ‘Journey to the West’, considered one of East Asia’s most popular literary works. It’s not the first time the video game industry has been inspired by the shapeshifting Monkey King, Sun Wukong - a notable example includes Ninja Theory’s favourable 2010 release, ‘Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’.

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Image: Game Science

Our preview began by panning down on an extremely detailed peach (you could even see its individual fuzzies) chilling on the forest floor. Before we knew it, the peach revealed itself to be our shifty protagonist, Wukong. It took just a few seconds for us to acknowledge Black Myth: Wukong is an Unreal Engine 5 game, so for the next 1 hour and 59 minutes we knew we’d be in for a visual feast for the eyes.

The demo tasks Wukong with scaling the “Black Wind Mountain”, an early chapter of the game, and it's a location familiar to those who know the source material. Our experience with soulslike games (which Black Myth: Wukong isn’t, but kinda is - more on this later) is that each location is a character unto itself. This is just as important - if not more so - than the charming Yaoguai that inhabit them.

There were three locations we pilgrimaged through during our time with the game. The first was a rich greenwood where fallen leaves danced atop reclaimed temple ruins as we pummelled wolf-like beasts with Wukong’s trusty staff. The second housed several larger temples, swampy marshlands and boss encounters including a massive white wolf Yaoguai with glowing red eyes - elevating the whole experience to spectacular levels. The third was the summit of Black Wind Mountain at sunset. Here we were faced with a gigantic, fire-wielding, black bear. No kidding, this writer’s heart was pounding so hard he could feel it in his neck as the scene was set for this closing confrontation. It’s fair to say that Black Myth: Wukong goes full bombast on its set-piece locations and doesn’t hold back on the thrills either.

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Image: Game Science

Our main weapon throughout the game is Wukong’s longstaff: an agile and quick-hitting pole capable of swatting demons twenty-odd times in a single combo. Wukong is a nimble protagonist, opting for speedy chain attacks to best his foes, and dodges to avoid enemy assaults. There is no blocking system in Black Myth. Instead, it focuses on perfectly timed dodges to evade incoming blows. Technically you can block with LB, which orders Wukong to spin his staff, but this only seemed to deflect certain projectile attacks like arrows. If a physical blow were to head his way, he’d have to dodge, which you get used to fairly quickly. We noted the perfect-timing window to be rather generous, which almost balanced the limited defensive options. You can spam ‘X’ for your fast-hitting combo, or hold ‘Y’ for a heavy attack. These are both at the cost of stamina… y’know, pretty straightforward stuff.

Things get a bit more interesting where Wukong’s stances are concerned as they alter his moveset. During our demo, we managed to sample two of the three stances on offer. We began in ‘Smash’ stance: a quick combination of moves that reward you for being aggressive by building up a focus meter to pull off heavy attacks. The second stance was made available to us once Wukong reached level five. We’d like to think of the ‘Pillar’ stance as the antagonising, cheeky sh** moveset. In ‘Pillar’ stance, Wukong sits atop his staff. If you’re able to hold this position and build your focus meter, the staff gets longer, and longer, and looonger. This goads his enemies into range before unleashing a mega ground slam assault, practically one-tapping anyone caught under his staff. ‘Pillar’ was our favourite stance. We found ourselves giggling as we squared up to foes perched safely atop our 20ft tall longstaff like some sort of immovable, heckling, arsehat. The third moveset is ‘Thrust’ stance. It was still quite far out of reach when our time with the game came to a close, only becoming available if we hit level 20. We suppose you can blame this on how long we sat on our black iron pillar, like the brave little monkey we are.

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Image: Game Science

Some final notes on combat are the spells and shapeshifting abilities on offer in Black Myth: Wukong. Each offers a wide range of strategic options to control the battlefield in your favour. By progressing through the story or by beating specific enemies, Wukong can learn spells - like the aptly named ‘Immobilize’ spell, which when cast consumes Mana to freeze an enemy in place for a limited amount of time, opening them up for a barrage of bonks. There’s no definite number of spells we’re likely to see in the game yet, but there should be a fair few.

Wukong, of course, is known for his shapeshifting ability. In Black Myth he uses these transformative skills to replicate certain special enemy Yaoguai. In this demo, once we managed to best a flame-wielding daddy of a mini-boss, Wukong could adopt their physical form, weapon and powerful attack patterns for a limited time. Being able to shift into Yaoguai whenever things got spicy (or when we fancied capitalising on an immobilised foe) varied the combat and elevated the whole experience.

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Image: Game Science

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking Black Myth: Wukong was a soulslike game. There are a lot of similarities to Dark Souls. Vanquish an enemy? Gain willpower (souls). Need to replenish health? Drink from your gourd (flasks)... you get the idea. Black Myth: Wukong draws a lot from the genre, but in actuality is more comparable to an action RPG. Game Science opted for a more traditional skill tree instead of tying character abilities to weapons and armour. Stances are unlocked by reaching levels and enhanced by spending earnable sparks on foundation skills or stance upgrades. Also, rather than punish the player for dying, it encourages strength and power with an awesome amount of named boss fights. Black Myth definitely feels easier than your traditional soulslike, but strikes a solid balance between that and an action RPG.

Now, there’s plenty more we’d love to say about Black Myth: Wukong, but considering the game is still in active development and subject to change, we’d prefer to wait until its full release before definitively expressing how we feel. And before you ask, whilst we shared a room with a handful of developers and PR for Game Science, we were advised that they wouldn't be discussing the recent delay to Black Myth: Wukong for Xbox Series X|S. We hope we won't be waiting too long, because if our two-hour session is indicative of the whole experience, this could potentially be in the running for GOTY - it’s that good.

Looking forward to Black Myth: Wukong on Xbox? Let us know down in the comments below.