Ori & The Will of the Wisps Review – Flying High
Xbox One / PC
For a console that laboured with a dearth of high-quality console exclusives for the longest time, the arrival of Ori & The Blind Forest was a breath of fresh air and a hint of hope for owners of an Xbox One. Instantly winning over critics and fans alike, Ori captured hearts and minds with its incredible visuals, heartfelt score, and deeply moving narrative apexes. Xbox had heavily backed Ori developers, Moon Studios, and the investment paid off, with the game lauded by all who played it, and it gave the Xbox One consumer base a tent-pole title to collectively celebrate. Two years later, perhaps to the surprise of no-one, Xbox used their E3 2017 Presentation to announce a sequel – Ori & The Will of the Wisps. A painstaking 3 years later, and Will of the Wisps has finally arrived for PC and Xbox One, but can it recapture the magic that made the original title an instant classic?
Many recall the emotional mark that Ori & The Blind Forest left upon those who played it, the knife-turning gut punches that lay the foundations for one of the most inspired games of the generation; and it would be reasonable for one to assume that the sequel would attempt to elicit similar responses as well. Will of the Wisps is set a short period after the finale of the original game, and the land of Nibel continues to live in peace. Ori, Ku, Gumo and Naru are settling into a peaceful life as Ku continues to grow into a young owl. Ku unfortunately, has a damaged wing, requiring some creative thinking from her friends to get her mobile. The quartet is successful, as is Ku’s first flight until the over-enthusiastic owl carries Ori over water to a new, quite battered island called Niwel. Unfortunately, Niwel is suffering from the same affliction that Nibel faced, and the rolling storms on across the land envelopes the duo, bringing them to ground. Separated after a crash landing, Ori sets out on a journey to rescue Ku, before discovering the much wider-reaching mystery of Niwel and the Decay, becoming intrinsically linked to the future of the land as well. The plot doesn’t hit as hard as its predecessor does, but there’s no shortage of powerful, heartstring-tugging moments, as you find yourself amidst an enthralling, saddening plot.
If you could critique Ori & the Blind Forest for any one thing, it was that the world was a wonderfully realised MetroidVania, that hardly incentivised you to go out and explore it; that’s not the case in Will of the Wisps, with a small handful of side-quests littering the map, encouraging the player to explore the numerous nooks and crannies of the world map. Pair these with the various spirit balls, life, and energy cells, as well as other useful resources ri[e for the picking, and you suddenly have a multitude of awesome reasons to explore the world outside of the main narrative thread. It’s not excessive, and certainly not necessary, but it gives players who are looking for a little more challenge and some more to do that little bit extra to enjoy. Players can also dive into Combat Shrines and Spirit Trials to further test their mettle in combat or speed-based challenges. Pursuing only the critical path is no longer your only option.
All of these additions and changes serve as the cherry on top of an already excellent playing experience. Ori’s skillset has broadened, and though the game certainly favours players who have a penchant for melee more than its predecessor, players do still have enough scope to custom their skill loadout to suit their preferred combat style. New acrobatic abilities such as the Spirit Arc, Grapple and Burrow give Ori more tricks to work with, and the level design gives you every opportunity to take advantage of these skills to proceed in the most effective and stylish way possible. You could be forgiven for thinking that all of these inclusions might stifle the exceptionally fluid movement of the original title, but in actual fact, Ori handles even sleeker than before. These inclusions look and feel great, but don’t make the game any less difficult though, with new enemy types included to throw a host of new obstacles at you, while the epic escape sequences of the original game return, and if you’re not careful, will still inflict significant pain upon you, despite being a little more forgiving overall than what Blind Forest dished up. Players who might be a little intimidated by the challenge, or are looking for more of it, will be happy to know that the game features multiple difficulty modes to give you an experience more tailored to your level of proficiency.
It’s not all smooth sailing however, with the game feeling the brunt of numerous technical hiccups. Though not frequent, the game will sometimes lock up for as long as five or six seconds, usually doing a prolonged platforming segment, breaking your momentum, jeopardising Ori’s safety at risk in the process. There were also a number of occasions where certain parts of the environment wouldn’t render, leaving a strange murky mass without any detailing present, which may sometimes lead to the player hurting themself on a spiked obstacle that they simply cannot see. Players who boot up Will of the Wisps might also want to take the opportunity to put on a meal and pour a coffee because the initial loading, as well as the segment between the “Press Start” and the “Load Game” screens, are extremely long, and on a pair of occasions straight up crashed. Despite the plentiful number of different problems, they don’t emerge regularly, leaving players with a wonderfully pure, largely untainted experience to enjoy 99% of the time.
Two of the most acclaimed aspects of Ori & the Blind Forest were the visuals and the orchestrated soundtrack. It’s hard to top how exceptional the original game looked, but with more diverse environments present, it gives the game more opportunities to impress you with some stunning vistas and eye-searingly gorgeous set-pieces. Meanwhile, Gareth Coker’s masterful soundtrack for the first game has only been improved for this sequel. The previous game leaned heavily upon variations of the iconic “Light of Nibel”, whilst the sequel brings with it some new tracks, some new variants and more breadth of tone.
Though there are a few rough technical edges, Ori & the Will of the Wisps is exactly what a fan of the original game could ask for. A world that’s 3x the size of the original, with much more to do in it, the same (but dramatically improved) beautiful audio/visual design, refined and evolved gameplay mechanics, and a moving story that’s sure to touch hearts. It feels far more like the MetroidVania that its predecessor intended to be, and improves on everything else that the original title did so well. Ori & The Will of the Wisps is a wonder to behold, a joy to play, and a must-have for anyone with the means to play it.
Born and bred on the Super Nintendo era, Paul relishes any opportunity to sink his teeth into an RPG, action or platformer. Despite being an owner of all major platforms, Paul does have a particular love of the Playstation family of consoles – take only a few minutes to skim through his Twitter and you’ll see him ranting about the next big thing on PS4. We swear he’s sane.