Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a puzzle-action platformer (commonly referred to as a “Metroidvania”) developed by Moon Studios and is exclusively available on Xbox One and PC. It’s a sequel to the highly-regarded platformer Ori and the Blind Forest, which originally released back in 2015 on Xbox One but recently saw a release on Nintendo Switch in 2019. Ori and the Blind Forest was a polished platformer with an effective emotional narrative that caught many gamers by surprise. Does this sequel provide more of the evocative, challenging platformer gameplay that made the original so great? Let’s see if Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a fitting sequel or an underwhelming follow-up.
Beyond the Blind Forest
Ori and the Will of the Wisps picks up not long after the end of Ori and the Blind Forest. Having saved the forest of Nibel from impending darkness, the small sprite creature named Ori spends her days raising the newly-hatched owl, Ku. After months of practice, Ku finally learns to fly, taking Ori on a blissful ride through the sky. Unfortunately, when Ku flies into a particularly nasty storm, the pair are separated in the sky and sent tumbling down to the dark island of Niwen.
Upon awakening, Ori discovers that the island of Niwen is slowly being rotted away and consumed by a dark force known as Decay. In addition to recovering Ku, Ori also takes on the task of revitalizing Niwen and eradicating the Decay. This exceptionally dangerous adventure sees Ori battling massive bosses, traversing hazardous zones filled with spikes and thorns, and speeding through areas with gracious movement skills.
Although the majority of Ori and the Will of the Wisps is focused on the tough and rewarding gameplay, there’s a bigger focus on narrative than in the previous game. You’ll meet many more characters, chatting it up with local inhabitants and helping them with their woes. While the atmosphere and tone of the story is effective and heartfelt, I wouldn’t call the plot itself very compelling. However, it’s more than enough to keep you invested in Ori’s adventure, adding some story context to the bigger gameplay mechanics.
If you’ve played Ori and the Blind Forest, the general gameplay and movement should feel familiar and comfortable. For those who are new to the series, Ori and the Will of the Wisps provides a fast-paced platforming adventure, complete with character skills, hidden collectibles, and a slew of side content. At the start of the journey, you can only jump and wall-jump, but after a couple of hours, your arsenal of abilities will grow. As you explore the various areas of Niwen, you’ll gain new abilities that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas. Whether through extended jumps, wall-climbing, or mid-air dashes, Ori and the Will of the Wisps often produces a quick, flowing movement experience that feels excellent to control.
Your mission to find Ku takes you on an adventure all across Niwen, snaking through swamps, forests, mountains, and more. Each area is an awesome playground for hopping around, dodging obstacles and killing enemies. In addition to providing a fresh visual landscape, new areas often introduce other gameplay mechanics such as swimming, fire and ice manipulation, and more. The areas all link together to form one big map, which can be quickly referenced in case you get lost. Ori and the Will of the Wisps does a good job of letting you get comfortable with new mechanics before throwing you into the action and the level design reflects that. You’ll often need to backtrack to previous areas as you uncover new abilities, which allow you to access various hidden secrets and challenges.
While you’re always propelled forward by your main objective of reuniting with Ku, there are newly-added side-quests and activities to indulge in. Some characters may ask you to retrieve a specific item or investigate an area of the map, rewarding you with goodies upon task completion. In addition to side-quests, you can test your skills at various shrines littered throughout the world. Combat Shrines pit you against a handful of enemies, while “Spirit Trials” have you racing against a ghostly Ori through tough time-trials. The various activities you can undertake are often well worth it, both in terms of rewards and gameplay quality. I had a great time participating in all of the side-quests and activities I came across, as they consistently helped me refine my skill and bolster my abilities to boot.
One of the biggest additions in Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the Spirit Shard system. Spirit Shards are occasionally found in the environment, given as rewards for quests, or bought from a merchant. Each shard grants Ori a unique passive bonus, such as increased defense, faster attacks, or even the ability to stick to walls. Although you’ll only be able to equip three shards at first, new slots open up as you progress through the story and complete Combat Shrines.
Shards can also be upgraded using light orbs, which function as a sort of experience/currency. Light orbs can be used to buy a bunch of stuff, but upgrading your shards is one of the smartest strategies for getting ahead. Upgrading a Spirit Shard simply increases it’s effectiveness, providing a stronger boost than before. While this might seem negligible, strengthened shards can completely change the way you approach the game. With the right set, you can play ultra-defensively, barely losing any health and absorbing currency from across the screen. Alternatively, some upgraded spirit shards encourage you to get directly into the action, allowing you to leap off enemies, fire tons of projectiles, and generally become a combat master.
A Beautiful but Dangerous World
Just like its predecessor, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is absolutely gorgeous and immensely effective in terms of atmosphere. Dialogue is limited, so most of the storytelling is done through the environment. As the mood of the story shifts, the visuals get darker and more foreboding, whereas moments of triumph are full of color and light. Each new area you’ll discover is a treasure trove of visual splendor. You’ll often stop to appreciate the beautiful and vibrant surroundings, which luckily never have an impact on gameplay. Often, games can feel too visually busy or cluttered for players to effectively track the action on-screen. Luckily, Ori and the Will of the Wisps never falters in that manner, but it does have some other (arguably worse) problems that impact gameplay.
Unfortunately, that beautiful experience is often disrupted by some technical issues. The frame-rate is all over the place, at times slowing down to a crawl in areas with lots of visual effects. In addition to that, the game will occasionally completely freeze for a few seconds while attempting to load a new area. This isn’t terrible during leisurely exploration, but it’s a real momentum killer when it occurs during a fast-paced boss sequence or combat trial. I also encountered a few instances of clipping through solid walls and weird physics freak-outs, but these were infrequent enough and occasionally entertaining, so I didn’t mind them as much as the other issues. Your experience may vary depending on the power of your PC or the model of Xbox One you’re playing on, but players with the original Xbox One model should expect these technical issues until a patch is released.
The Bottom Line on Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an exceptional sequel and an adventure that’s full of color, emotion, and quick platforming gameplay. The lush environments and near-psychedelic visuals are consistently engaging and enjoyable, offering plenty of eye-candy along the journey. Extra content like side-quests, time trials, and hidden collectibles are fun enough to keep you interested, while the surprisingly emotional narrative helps maintain motivation throughout the journey.
From beginning to end, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an engaging and beautiful adventure that’s well worth the occasional frustration that comes from the game’s difficulty. Unfortunately, consistent technical issues have a tendency to sour the overall experience, especially once you reach the latter half of the game. Depending on your level of skill, Ori and the Will of the Wisps will take you anywhere from 8 – 12 hours to finish, assuming you check out side-quests and other content along the way. Those looking to reach 100% completion have at least 20 hours of content to enjoy, making Ori and the Will of the Wisps a pretty good deal at its mid-tier price point. Simply put, this is one of the best “Metroidvania” platformers of the generation, but that experience comes with some annoying technical issues.