Review: Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Blind Forest was one of my favorite games in recent memory. One of the few long, exploration-focused games I committed to beating a second time. The melancholy world that focused on themes such as loss and rebirth really spoke to me. And of course the main character was positively adorable.
It’s no slight exaggeration to say I was really looking forward to the sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It had a lot to live up to, and there was a part of me worried that it would be a disappointing followup. Oh how unfounded those worries were.
Developed by Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios, Ori and the Will of the Wisps was released on March 10th, 2020, for XB1 and PC. The PC version was played for this review.
Note: Please be warned, there will be spoilers about the ending of Ori and the Blind Forest.
A New Branch
Ori and the Will of the Wisps picks up where the previous game left off, with Ori, Naru, and Gumo caring for the egg that the owl Kuro had left behind. They become a surrogate family for the newly hatched Ku, and the intro deals with them helping Ku grow up.
Ku, however, was born with a damaged wing and longs to fly like other birds. Ori realizes that the feather from Kuro that they still have could work as a substitute wing for the much smaller Ku, and after a quick bandage job they take to the skies in a moment of exhilaration…only for a thunderstorm to roll in while they’re over a neighboring island of Niwen, separating the pair. The game then focuses on Ori seeking to reunite with Ku, as well as the devastation wrought on this land that has seen no spirits in a very long time.
Will of the Wisps explores many of the same themes that the first game did. There is still a definite sense of loss, that some precious things have either been lost forever, or so damaged that they soon will be. There are themes of extinction and ecological devastation. These are all tempered with rays of hope however; the knowledge that while some things have been lost something new will rise from the ashes.
One of the main differences storywise from the original is the introduction of many more NPCs. Ori and the Blind Forest was a very lonely game, with Naru being out of commission since the start of the game, the only speaking being done by Sein and the great tree, and the only helpful NPC you find outside of the two being Gumo. In Will of the Wisps however, there are a whole host of helpful characters. There are a few shopkeepers, various questgivers, a hub area to build up, and, on top of the named NPCs, there is a whole race of helpful critters in the form of the Moki.
It definitely leads to a different vibe than the original, to know that there are some friendly faces I can expect to find in most reaches of the world. It’s a bit more light-hearted than the original, though it’s not afraid of occasionally pulling the rug out from under you, tossing out a bit of hope to lure you in before hiding behind the next corner with a sadness bat.
Up Close and Personal
The platforming is still the same fluid and graceful movement we grew to love in the original. You start with most of your abilities gone (Maybe you gave them all back to the great tree at the end of last game?) save for the wall jump, but you quickly earn back all the old ones alongside plenty of new ones. The world is also still a large interconnected space with shortcuts and secrets to uncover, and plenty of things that require coming back with new powerups in that classic Metroidvania style.
The one thing that was changed considerably was combat. You no longer have Sein just tossing out fireballs at anything that comes close like the original. Instead you get a new ability early on to create a light staff and melee your enemies, and later on meet a weapon master that sells new combat abilities such as a boomeranging shuriken, an exploding spear, or a giant hammer to smite your foes. In addition there are plenty of abilities required for progression that can be used for combat, like light arrows or the power to simply glow bright and hurt any enemies close by.
Combat feels like a more involved part of the game now, with several abilities that are ONLY useful in combat and your melee abilities (the staff and the hammer) having movesets depending on whether you’re holding up or down as well as if you’re in the air. It probably says something that they added combat shrines to the game to test yourself in arena challenges for rewards.
On the whole, I largely enjoy the new combat, but it does seem to have some balance issues. Your ranged attacks suffer from both doing less damage than melee options as well as requiring energy. While it’s a “safer” option, it often felt both faster and more survivable overall to simply melee most of my foes and use my energy for healing instead. When I occasionally absolutely needed a ranged attack, I found the plot-required arrows more useful than any of the myriad abilities I could purchase and upgrade.
For an extreme example, I especially felt concerned over the Burn ability, which inflicts damage over time on enemies…but does maybe only three damage in the time I could do thirty with my hammer. Still, it is a game in our modern always-connected world, and it did just come out, and I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, so maybe it’ll get changed somewhat down the line. If it does, I will say the prospect of playing a “mage” build utilizing some of the shards to allow for increased energy usage sounds enticing.
A Beautiful Flower
I know it, you know it, the whole world knows it, Ori is an absolutely beautiful series. I really can’t say enough about how the art direction forms a core part of why I enjoy the game, from the character design, to the background art, to the animations themselves.
For example, Ori doesn’t control much differently than a lot of other platformer characters, but they FEEL far better to control due to the animation. One of my favorite little touches is how if you are running one way and quickly decide to jump the other way, Ori will do an absolutely graceful backflip where other games would simply have them do the same jumping animation in the other direction. Dashing looks differently depending on the terrain you’re crossing, and air dashing into a pole causes you to hook yourself onto it and swing around it. Every opportunity the developers had to add extra style to Ori’s moveset, they delivered on.
The soundtrack is also amazing and does a great job of setting the tone for each area. You can tell the Luma Pools are vibrant and lively, while the Silent Woods are a place of bleakness and death. The main theme’s beautiful leitmotif is woven into the most pivotal and tense scenes. It’s just…I really wish I knew more about music so I could better describe why it makes me feel the way it does. It’s haunting and beautiful and distinct and I’m listening to it right now as I write this review and I’m feeling myself transported back to the locales I visited and the tense moments that had my heart in a vice.
A Light in the Darkness
So far, this is easily my game of the year (Yes yes, I know it’s just barely started.). I’m unsure of how to compare it to the original Ori and the Blind Forest, but I can say it’s a shining example of how to do a sequel. They kept the core of what made the original enjoyable while switching up just about everything they could. There are some elements I feel it did better, some where I feel the original did better with, but on the whole they feel like they’re on equal footing.
If you want a game that’s more of an experience than simply something to kill time, if you want something that showcases how artistic games can be, if you want an action platformer with plenty of approaches to combat, I can’t recommend enough that you pick up Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Also Ori and the Blind Forest if you haven’t played it already.
Review copy purchased by reviewer for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.