Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review — There is Unrest in the Forest
There is trouble with the tree.
The Xbox One is commonly criticized for its lack of console exclusives. In comparison to the PS4, there is definitely a case to be made, but Microsoft’s current home console isn’t without some fantastic experiences. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those rare gems that gave the Xbox One credence. It took the favored “Metroidvania” genre and reinvigorated it with incredible platforming and puzzle-solving unique to the forest of Nibel. Ori and the Will of the Wisps further that notion in tremendous ways but ultimately suffers on a technical level.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a sequel to Blind Forest, as we now see Ku, the Owl hatchling that was teased at the ending of the initial game, along with Ori and their pals. The beginning shows Ori essentially parenting Ku, establishing a deep bond between the two. They truly care and would seemingly do anything for each other. Unfortunately, that claim is tested, as the two lose each other while Ori teaches Ku how to fly, kickstarting the guardian spirit’s newest adventure.
In line with Blind Forest’s melancholic tone, Ori and the Will of the Wisps begins as a tale about one’s will to help someone they care about. By the end, it’s a tale about sacrifice, and what one is willing to do to make the world they inhabit a better place. It may not be a story with great depth and it isn’t too out of the ordinary, but it’s filled with both heartwarming and heartwrenching moments that will urge you to push the story forward.
If the game’s story wasn’t enough to keep you moving, its brilliant art style will. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a beautiful game. Improving on the art from Blind Forest, the sequel is like a storybook come to life. In particular, the environments and backgrounds are both gorgeous and varied; the use of lighting should also be applauded. One moment, you’re running around the sunny village in Wellspring Glades, the next, you’re skulking around petrified skeletons in the dark and desolate Silent Woods. Every area on the map feels distinct, making exploration much more exciting than it already is.
These distinct areas are not just for admiring the game’s charming art style, either. The map of Niwen is crafted in a way I seldom experience. In most of the Metroidvanias I’ve played, it is almost a guarantee I will get lost and get frustrated. This was not the case for Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I always felt like I was moving in the direction I needed to go even when the game didn’t explicitly give directions. I’m not sure if it was dumb luck or how the developers crafted the map, but I was always able to find the next objective naturally.
The most noticeable addition in Moon Studios’ sequel is combat. If there is one area Blind Forest lacked, it was combat options. This time around, there is a huge focus on Ori’s ability to fight which is mostly to Ori and the Will of the Wisps‘ benefit.
Combat is much more deliberate, as Ori now has the ability to directly attack any creature who opposes them with a sword-like weapon. You also receive the dash and bash abilities pretty early, which is essentially the foundation of the game’s combat. You’ll use Ori’s attack to deal damage to a creature and use the dash or bash ability to evade. You will also earn other abilities as you explore Niwen or progress the story that may aid you depending on your play style.
Most of these abilities double as a means for traversal. Even the abilities that seem more combat-focused will be used to reach areas that would otherwise seem unreachable. For example, you can use bash on enemy projectiles to get a boost in any direction. Bash can even be used in tandem with the light burst ability, which allows Ori to throw a ball of light in any given direction. Garnering each ability happens at a steady pace until the very end of Ori’s adventure, which further promotes both exploration and story progression.
The platforming is a bit floaty, but the controls and abilities work well enough together to make the floatiness hardly an issue. There are also times when I felt like I was wrestling with the controls, especially during escape sequences. Despite that, completing those sections and stringing together the correct inputs was still rewarding. Throughout the majority of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, controlling the guardian spirit feels great and is a huge improvement from the original.
However, there are moments when your skills are tested in both traversal and combat resulting in some rather aggravating but gratifying sequences. Most of this aggravation stems from the few boss battles you encounter. For the majority of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it isn’t strenuous by any means. Most of the environmental puzzles and combat sequences are manageable. However, these boss battles truly test your mettle.
This presumption is mostly in reference to a boss battle in the Luma Pools. Besides the very first boss battle against Howl, each boss seemed to be split into sections with save states. This means the game would save mid-battle, so you wouldn’t have to start from the beginning. However, this was not the case with the Luma Pools boss fight. While the fight is split into steps, it never saves mid-battle; any time I died, I would have to start the entire fight over again. It was incredibly annoying, and such a downer for what is mostly an amazing adventure.
I want to say that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of my favorite modern Metroidvanias, but there is one big issue with the version of the game I played: performance. While we were told there will be a day one patch that will fix many of the issues I experienced, there were so many problems with its performance, it was hard for me to ignore them. Just to name a few, the loading times were long, environment textures were broken, and the fast travel animation is a bit janky.
One of the oddest problems I had involved climbing up ledges early in the game. There would be times Ori would climb up a ledge, but couldn’t walk forward. So, I would have to traverse down the ledge a bit, and then climb back up to move forward. Fortunately, there were no game-breaking problems, but the issues I had were jarring and definitely disrupted my immersion.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an exceptional adventure that every Xbox One owner should play. Despite its technical failings, it is one of the best Metroidvanias I have played this generation (just behind The Messenger and Axiom Verge). Moon Studios’ sequel is filled with moments of beauty both visually and in its storytelling. If that day one patch fixes those performance issues, there is no reason to skip on this game.