Ori and the Will of the Wisps on Xbox One
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the more frustrating games I’ve had to review. Not because the game is inherently bad. In terms of gameplay, Will of the Wisps is bigger, bolder and better than Ori and the Blind Forest, but is hindered by technical issues which, when they rear their heads, detract from the experience.
Just like the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is a metroidvania platformer. You’ll explore the world, taking on quests while having free reign to stop and smell the roses down whatever paths you can possibly reach on its sprawling map. The more you progress, the more abilities you’ll unlock, which enable you to traverse the environment in ways you previously hadn’t. It’s all standard stuff.
Will of the Wisps follows on from its predecessor’s story. It kicks off with Ori, Gumo and Naru finding and raising a small owl that’s just hatched from an egg called Ku. Sadly, its wing is damaged and it cannot fly. Ori manages to find a feather, and the others strap it to Ku’s wing, allowing him to fly. With a newfound means of travel, Ori and Ku — now bestest of buds — take flight to search for food, only for Ku’s makeshift wing to come apart in high winds.
The two get separated, and it’s down to the player to help reunite Ori with Ku and find their way home. Of course, not all is how it seems and Ori soon discovers the entirety of Nibel is suffering from a decay that’s killing off the forest. It brings up its own issues that you’ll need to resolve as Ori, such as getting the watermill running again to allow fresh water to flow through the forest so you can pass through it.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ setting and story are just as charming and magical as in their predecessor. Be it the way the game is narrated, or the way that every frame looks like it’s been taken out of a children’s animated fairytale movie, the game hooks you into its world and seldom lets up. I often found myself playing for hours more after I purposefully saved the game to come off.
It’s a testament to just how good the platforming is here. The world of Nibel is enormous, dwarfing the area we were free to explore in the first game. While its general overworld conceals a bounty of collectibles and hidden treasures just waiting to be grabbed once the necessary abilities are unlocked or you finally figure out how to reach them, it’s the separate stages within this overworld that really stand out.
One example was the aforementioned watermill you reach fairly early on in your adventure. To get the water flowing again, Ori must fix the watermill by removing this weird evil goo from the cogs. Scrambling up walls, flinging Ori hurtling through the air off cogs, and traversing its inner mechanics like a magical parkour-running mouse, I began chipping away at the darkness jamming up the cogs.
That’s when things got interesting.
The whole interior of the clock then becomes this ever-moving maze, controlled by various levers that can rotate the entire level, blocking off previously accessible paths while freeing up another formerly-blocked nook full of surprises. Once I’d made my way to the top of this majestic monument to knowledge (it has a library inside it… ’cause why not?) and water, Ori hacked away at the last blotch of darkness on the ‘heart’ of Nibel’s water supplies. This resulted in a massive surge of water chasing me down as I tried to escape the watermill and certain death. Ori nimbly double jumped, grappled, air dashed, and slung his way to safety… albeit not on the first try because I needed to git gud.
It’s exhilarating, and a change of pace I really hadn’t seen coming.
Will of the Wisps does this on a few occasions, quickly switching up the tempo and seeing just how well you’ve mastered the skills and abilities you’ve just been learnt. These make for some of the most exciting moments in the game, and some of the most enjoyable moments in games I’ve had so far this year.
It’s this contrast between calm — the stunning backdrop, the cute characters and the floaty feel of Ori — and chaos that just works. There were moments where I just looked at the screen and sat back, admiring the dynamic backgrounds swaying with the breeze. The light rays shimmering down through the forest canopy high above, illuminating small, shiny particles in the air that add to that sense of wondrous magic. All my worries evaporated.
Then two minutes down the line, I was in a boss fight and wanted to pull my own face off.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ boss battles are fantastic. While the first few aren’t all that challenging, the difficulty seriously ramps up towards the end. These put you through your paces, requiring you to be precise and fast with your movement to avoid taking damage, while also waiting for an opening to get a few hits in before retreating back.
The two final boss battles, in particular (which we’re not going to reveal here for the sake of spoilers), had me stuck for a good chunk of time, but it was never the game’s fault. I was being too greedy trying to get hits in, or I just wasn’t reading a particular attack, leading me to watch Ori’s glowing body fall limp to the floor for the umpteenth time.
All in all, playing on Normal difficulty, Will of the Wisps is a demanding experience that’ll put you through your paces. You can always up the difficulty to Hard if you’re a real glutton for punishment, too. But that’s not all.
As part of Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ evolution from the Blind Forest, it does away with its sequential upgrade system in favor of a ‘Shard’ system. Players are able to purchase and unlock Shards as they progress through the game. Shards can either grant you a buff such as reducing the amount of damage you take, or my personal favorite ‘Sticky’ which makes Ori permanently stick to any wall or surface, or they can ratchet the difficulty up even further.
Want enemies to deal even more damage? Go for it. Want enemies to respawn faster, go ahead and equip the Turmoil Shard. It gives players a means of customizing their loadout and fine-tuning the experience to suit their tastes, as opposed to the more linear affair in the Blind Forest. These can be swapped in and out at any time, too which can come in handy when trying to clear out any remaining secrets from the map.
You’re not the only friendly creatures in Nibel though. Alongside Twillen and Opher who’ll offer you items that’ll help you on your journey for Spirit Light (the in-game currency), you’ll find a bunch of Mokk — meerkat-like creatures — and other animals that need your help. Some may be looking for a particular item, while others may need your help trying to build a new home for them.
These are Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ side quests. Alas, almost all of them result in simply being fetch quests and little more. One is an item chain fetch quest requiring you to give an item to a particular character to then give the reward they give you to another and so on. Others task you with finding a collectible or completing a task that simply requires you to go somewhere and then return to them.
As a result, Will of the Wisps’ side quests in terms of gameplay aren’t all that much to write home about. However, they do manage to encapsulate the emotional undertones that run throughout the main story beats. A father looking to start a new life for his family away from the decay, or a creature desperate to save a tree from being turned to stone before it’s too late.
The other new distraction here comes in the form of Spirit Shrines and Spirit Trials. Spirit Shrines are combat challenges, tasking you with defeating numerous waves of enemies for a reward, while Spirit Trials allow you to race your way from Point A to Point B in the hope of topping a leaderboard. These are nice distractions from the general gameplay, and offer a bit more variation than the fetch quests manage, too.
If you’re enjoying the narrative and don’t mind doing more traversing around the world, then you’ll find something to like in the side quests. The Spirit Trials and Spirit Shrines are interesting enough, but after you’ve done a couple of each, your mileage may vary depending on how much of a completionist you are.
Even if you start off intent on 100%-ing Ori and the Will of the Wisps, you might lose some steam along the way if the game’s technical issues catch up on you. Though, it’s worth pointing out at this point that the game has since received a day-one update that makes the whole thing a lot more stable and optimized.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps did not play well on an Xbox One X as I played through it for review. Throughout my time with the game, Will of the Wisps froze up or crashed no less than three times. Whenever I opened my map — something you’ll do a lot while navigating the mazey overworld or intricate levels — I was greeted with a few seconds pause. Thankfully, this is one technical issue I can confirm the day-one update appears to have resolved.
Similarly, cutscenes chugged at times, I had an audio issue that resulted in a horrible grinding noise coming through my speakers instead of the sublime orchestral score. Texture pop-in, graphical glitches, artifact issues, and massive load times are the order of the day here, and it really hindered the otherwise free-flowing experience.
Fortunately, Moon Studios’ day-one update does appear to rectify most of the technical issues that plagued my playthrough. Though there are still noticeable instances of the game freezing up or suffering from massive framerate drops having gone back to play a few more hours since it’s gone live. It’s a relief, as Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ presentation, both in terms of visuals and the fantastic soundtrack, is part of what makes the adventure so magical.
Every triumph, every epic face-off and every different area has its own sound, its own segment of this beautiful score that puts that magical cherry on top of this delectable, moreish sweet treat. Moon Studios has made an incredible piece of art here, and I’m glad its already getting updates out to ensure it can be appreciated in all its glory.
Despite its technical woes, I still found myself wanting to return to Nibel long after I finished Ori’s story. Will of the Wisps is challenging, its platforming ever-evolving, throwing you into different areas with different traits, unlocking core skills that’ll help you traverse more of the world and uncover more of its nooks and crannies.
Everything’s easy to pick up, but difficult to master and it’s in this that makes the game so satisfying. The more you play, and the more you die in trial and error attempts at making that damn jump or just seeing if you can get up that path that you almost definitely can’t, the more you learn about the mechanics, the world, and Ori’s capabilities.
Over time, those abilities become natural instinct to use, and you swiftly despatch of enemies as you glide from surface to surface, uncovering more of the sprawling map and its various biomes.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the platforming, metroidvania gift that keeps on giving. Completionists will find plenty to sink their teeth into outside of the main story, and its difficulty-modifying Shards and Hard mode allow you to fine-tune the experience to your liking. Its story is incredibly emotional and heartfelt, having me hold back those tears during cutscenes.
Fans of the first game, as well as platformer and metroidvania fans in general need to give Ori and the Will of the Wisps their time. As long as the performance issues are completely ironed out in the near future, this is one platformer that’ll long be remembered.
- Compelling platforming gameplay
- Challenging boss battles
- Stunning visuals
- Introduction of side quests and Spirit Trials help flesh out the experience
- Enormous map full of unique biomes offering variety in the gameplay
- Technical issues can creep up, though are far less frequent and noticeable after day-one update
- Side quests are mostly fetch quests and get kinda dull
Feb. 11, 2020
Xbox Game Studios
Xbox One, PC