Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review: The Perfect Sequel
SPOILERS: I discuss a few areas, characters and gameplay mechanics in this Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review. Nothing major though!
It’s been a tough generation for Xbox. A disastrous launch, a change in management and a load of lacklustre exclusives. Seven years later, it’s only now that the tide has started to turn in Microsoft’s favour. We have the affordable Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and with it the first Xbox exclusive that is finally worthy of masterpiece status.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps has vast improvements to combat, in-game economies and exploration rewards in ways which far exceed its predecessor. The result is a game which is as close to flawless as any can be. And considering we are towards the end of the Xbox One’s life cycle, it’s about flipping time.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review
- Developer: Moon Studios
- Publisher: Xbox Games Studios
- Available on: Xbox One/PC
- Played on: Xbox One
Ori and the Will of the Wisps uses emotional storytelling to keep you engaged. Even the first five minutes are emotional as we see Ori teaching a new member of the family to fly, a baby owl called Ku. It’s a touching sequence with all the emotional heavy lifting down to the incredible facial animation work alone. Ori and Ku become separated by a storm and you instantly feel the pain within both characters.
It’s a tried and tested formula, but using family as a plot device is a sure fire way to make us all empathetic. Because that’s what Ori and the Will of the Wisps is about; being separated from family and doing anything in your power to be reunited. In this case, that means travelling to the far corners of Niwen Forest, retrieving ancient Wisps and saving Ku. And yes, it’s sad. It’s very, very sad.
In some emotive indie games, gameplay takes a back seat which can lead to a mundane experience. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Moving through platforming sections is fluid and freeing, as Ori’s move-set makes sailing through the air effortless. Grapple flings you upwards whereas triple-jump and dash boost you forward, and much more. I personally loved using dash underwater (or under-sand) to propel out the surface in majestic fashion.
Because movement feels great, everything you do is enjoyable. Whether you’re running side-quests or exploring hidden areas for a new upgrade, gameplay never feels drawn out. Other elements help in this regard, like platforming variety in each area. For example, exploring the desert involves burying through sand to find hidden treasures, whereas the peat bog has rogue gas bubbles to bounce off. A lot of the time the platforming is utterly mind bending, such as in the Water Mill. Clinging onto a huge water wheel builds momentum allowing you to blast off like a rocket. It is so much fun, with each area showcasing a masterclass in 2-D platforming. The movement is as close to perfect as possible and it all feels great.
Improvements all around
The biggest improvement to Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the combat. A variety of weapons, which range from a bow and arrow to a butterfly spirit auto-sentry can be mapped to either X, Y, or B. This allows for a lot of creativity and depth as you expermient with different load-out options. Depth is added to how each weapon feels too. A spirit sword is fast with a five hit combo, whereas a giant mallet is slow and heavy hitting. You can attack in any direction including in mid-air, which adds even more depth when combined with Ori’s large move-set. Every hit feels weighty, impactful and unbelievably satisfying.
Another small, but significant change is the inclusion of NPCs. Some offer side quests, act as vendors or simply want a chat. Meeting characters on your journey makes Ori and the Will of the Wisps feel much less lonely, and much more immersive. As you meet monkeys, spiderlings, and even a huge grizzly bear, the forest feels like a real-life ecosystem, rather than a series of cobbled together platforming sections. Some NPCs offer assistance through hints or by offering unique items. For example, a vendor named Lupo sells maps revealing hidden sections of each area. It was always rewarding finding Lupo hiding away, and even more so when new areas were added to my map.
Everything is Rewarded
As with most Metroidvania style games, you spend a lot of time exploring areas and searching for upgrades. Sometimes the reward structures within these games are shallow, like in Jedi: Fallen Order where an in-game economy is absent. In Ori and the Will of the Wisps, this is not an issue as you are literally rewarded for everything you do. Spirit Light is hidden everywhere and used to buy maps, new abilities and more. On top of this, there are upgrades for health and spirit meter (mana of sorts). And even unique currencies like Gorlek Ore and Seeds to plant. It’s safe to say there’s a lot going on.
Once collected, Gorlek Ore is used to rebuild the game’s main hub, Wellspring Glades. I was hooked by exploring, collecting and then building as I watched the Glades return to their former glory all around me. New huts were built, cave entrances cleared and thorns removed making it safer to get around. It was surprisingly relaxing, especially when accompanied by a soundtrack likely influenced by the Shire theme from the Lord of the Rings. I had similar feelings when handing over seeds to friendly beaver, Tuley. Once sprouted, the new flora makes reaching the highest tiers of Wellspring Glades a breeze. This is again similar to planting seeds in Fallen Order’s Terrarium, but Ori goes one step further by giving you permanent upgrades.
I had a few technical difficulties playing on the original Xbox One. There were many times the screen froze for a few seconds and with it came three crashes. An audio bug was also common when firing consecutive arrows or sentry shots, although this will be patched soon. All in all though, there’s nothing major to ruin your experience.
Unfortunately, other issues affect the game. For me, there were too many chase sections. While each section was nail bitingly-good, tension was low by the end as I’d seen one too many. Tension in combat suffers the same fate. When you’re fully upgraded you can simply tank hits rather than dodge.
There’s also one area which felt weak in comparison to the rest. I didn’t enjoy exploring the Mouldsworth Depths, where insects fall and decay. Admittedly I was impressed by the grotesque visuals as dieing flies twitch their wings as you pass by, but the unique platforming mechanic was frustrating. You follow slow moving torch bugs to navigate through constant darkness. It felt restrictive, rather than expansive like in the other areas. There’s a Flash upgrade to bypass the torch bugs, but it took me ages to find it.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review – Final Thoughts
Ori and the Will of the Wisps improves on everything from the first game. Platforming is near perfect where traversing through Niwen forest is a joy. The depth of combat has drastically improved with load out options now available and each weapon with a satisfying weight behind it. The whole experience feels much less lonely due to the inclusion of NPCs, making the forest feel like a real-life ecosystem.
Outside of minor issues Ori and the Will of the Wisps is as close to flawless as any game can be. The emotions I felt over the eighteen hour experience are rare in gaming, with a state of constant awe at the visuals, soundtrack and mechanics playing out on-screen. At the perfect moment, the stirring soundtrack plays and it’s clear the stars that Moon Studios aimed for have been well and truly hit. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the first masterpiece available exclusively on the Xbox One. It is a monumental achievement, even if we had to wait seven years to finally see it.