Ori and the Will of the Wisps appeals to all of my gaming senses with it’s gorgeous environments and backdrops, fluid movement and combat, and music that perfectly ties this all together.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a platforming metroidvania adventure game developed by Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios. It releases worldwide on March 11, 2020 on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC’s utilising Xbox PlayAnywhere, as well as Steam. The game will also be available day 1 as part of Xbox Game Pass, and is a sequel to Moon Studio’s 2015 acclaimed first title, Ori and the Blind Forest.
As part of this review process, we were afforded the privilege of playing a preview build of the game. As such, I experienced a few issues such as garbled audio, incorrect key prompts due to my ability key bindings and some glitches where Ori fell off a tree branch mid-conversation with an npc. There were more issues reported on the Xbox One X version of the game, however my playthrough was on PC and I only had these particular issues which were not game breaking. Moon Studios has collated a lot of the feedback from many sources and will release a day 1 patch that should hopefully get rid of these issues. Kudos to those legends and I wish them a successful launch of what is an incredible game.
I had not previously played much of Blind Forest, not being too much of a fan of platformers in the past few years. It’s a combination of not being patient enough for the often-challenging nature of these games and where I enjoy other genres more. However, since having now played Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I’m kicking myself for not experiencing the wonder that is Blind Forest. I did catch up on videos showing the whole story of Blind Forest in preparation for this review and playthrough. Skittles from the GOA admin team wrote a review of Ori and the Blind Forest back in July 2018, fresh after seeing gameplay trailers from E3 that year. She absolutely loved the first game though made comment about the steep difficulty curve. Skittles was watching intently like Kuro the owl for release date announcements throughout 2018-2019 and now finally the long-awaited sequel is upon us, and it’s gorgeous.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ story picks up from the end of Blind Forest where you again play as Ori, a white guardian spirit in Swallow’s Nest, one of the many sections of the lush forests of Niwen. The familiar music from composer Gareth Coker is back and straight away sets the tone well for each scene. Naru and Gumo are present from the first game, nursing a young owl called Ku, the last surviving offspring of Kuro the owl. Once again this is a heart-warming introduction to the game, showing the interaction between Ori as Ku grows, thankfully without as much of an emotional gut punch as the first game. Ku is learning how to fly but is limited by a damaged right wing. The sky is calling to Ku as she sees geese flying in the distance but is continually frustrated with her deformed wing. Ori comforts Ku as best as he can, sitting beside Ku day and night like all best friends would.
The narrator’s guttural voice prompts Ori to remember the past and Kuro’s final parting gift from Blinds Forest, Kuro’s Feather. With this and by holding shift on the keyboard, it allows Ori to glide across long distances. He takes this feather to Ku where Naru and Gomu manage to affix the feather to Ku’s wing. With Ori on her back, you control Ku as she excitedly launches off a ledge, and with a shaky start she sours high into the sky. Naru and Gomu wave as Ku and Ori fly through the clouds, soaring blissfully around the landscape. That was until a fierce thundery storm blows the feather out of Ku’s wing and the two are separated by the force of the wind, landing in separate parts of the dense forest of Nibel. This is where the main story begins.
From here you are back in control of Ori in Inkwater Marsh where you start with three energy and three life orbs. At the bottom of the screen you have ability slots that are bound to left mouse button, ‘E’ and ‘R’ on the PC but they are initially empty. You could also use ‘Z’, ‘X’ and ‘C’, or any combination of buttons given you will have the ability to rebind your keys – a much sought after feature for PC players. The music is sombre as you hear thunder crackling in the background, and flashes of lighting help illuminate your surrounds. Playing on keyboard and mouse felt a bit more clunky than playing with an Xbox controller, which I had spent 10 minutes mucking around with prior to starting on PC. I found I don’t have as much control over my movement than with a controller, however this is negated further into the game when you unlock abilities and can grapple enemies and objects.
After minutes of playing, you learn the essential controls for the game. On PC, holding ‘shift’ and pressing ‘A’ or ‘D’ allows you to push/pull switches and large blocks. You collect life cell and energy cell fragments and spirit lights which are the game’s currency, discovering secret hidden caves and quickly learn the perils of the game, including those dastardly thorn brambles. The game’s map, accessed by pressing ‘M’ is incredible, having not experienced it myself in Blind Forest. In the game’s options is a toggle to show Ori’s recent trail which became invaluable for remembering where I have been. There is a lot of running backwards and forwards in this game. As the adage goes, sometimes to you need to go backwards to go forwards. I was starting to see obstacles, such as a pile of thin logs blocking a pass, light sources attached to vines and other objects that just screamed for me to interact with them. I would be able to surpass them, but only after unlocking a relevant skill or spirit shard which often took time to acquire.
Our initial combat ability comes when we find a flaming torch. Using the left mouse button or pressing ‘Z’ enables me to swipe at monsters. Abilities come in the form of light burst that replaces your torch after a scary waterfall sequence, double jump, wall jump, stomp and bash. Spirit shards are equippable upgrades found through general gameplay and can be purchased from npc vendors. Where the spirit shards differ from Blind Forest is they can be hot swapped and upgraded in any order that suits your play style. You are initially limited by the number of shard slots you have, with a maximum of 8 equippable towards the end of the game, out of a total 35 that you can obtain. Spirit shards give you passive abilities such as energy efficiency (reducing energy costs), magnet (orbs float to Ori from half a screen away), to enhancement abilities such as triple jump (so bloody useful), splinter (splitting projectiles into three with 33% damage each) or sticky (stick and climb on walls).
I always had my staple spirit shards I relied on, and then was able to trial other ones with my last slot depending on the situation. Some spirit shards also come at a cost, like reckless which increases the damage you deal by 15%, but also increases the damage taken by 15%, so it’s a trade off. Shard slots are unlocked by completing Combat Shrines through the world. These throw waves of monsters at you that you must defeat for rewards. Another big addition to Ori and the Will of the Wisps is Spirit Trials. These metroidvania style platform games often attract speedrunners – gamers who work hard to find the best and fastest route to complete sections of games, or world record completions of whole games. Your progress in multiple facets of the game is also recorded when visiting a certain npc in-game.
I have never delved in speed running, often because I can get frustrated by constant defeated attempts to pass an area that I get impatient and move on. However when I came across the first spirit trial and watched as the game showed me the path I had to take, I immediately gave it a go, and boy was I hooked on these. It shows you a ghost of Ori which sets the par for the course. I’m unsure if this is the ghost of the next online player who did the course faster than me, as there are in-game leader boards for these spirit trials. However, after only a couple of attempts I was successful in completing the firs trial and I was hungry for more.
There are main quests within the game that drive your exploration forward, and sometimes down, and often all around. Some are outside the reach of where you’ve explored which makes you wonder what other areas you haven’t discovered yet. Side quests also make an appearance in this game, giving you optional activities to complete along the way. You can also help to rebuild village huts with ore for the natives which gives the world a feeling of being alive and the progress you’re making to make this place better for them all as well as Ori, Ku, Naru and Gomu. These Miku critters give you words of encouragement as you come across them throughout your travels. Our ultimate goal with the main story is to find and rescue five Wisps that have been trapped in the forest’s varied zones and return them to the Spirit Tree. The game world really is there to be explored at your own pace, and gamers really need to get in and experience the wonder of this game for themselves.
This brings me back to a point I made earlier. The music of these two Ori games is just so damn beautiful. I’d argue that this soundtrack is the best collection I’ve experienced in a game, in over 30 years of being a gamer. Mix it with the incredibly rich art aesthetics of the game, with a depth perception that had me staring at the backdrops in wonder. And no matter how bloody frustrating some of the challenges or bosses were, I just couldn’t get mad at the game. I was constantly stopping what I was doing to marvel at the amazing environment I was in at the time – in particular some of the underwater scenes. I loved how the sound muffled slightly when I was underwater. I was streaming my gameplay live and there were many times where viewers would just say, “wow, look at that!” or marvel at the music. It’s these subtle changes that add so much to the atmosphere of this game.
I was told Act 1 takes around 3-4 hours to complete – it took me 9, and I could have taken longer. The allure of seeing ‘100% complete’ on each of the map zones kept driving me to jump, dash and grapple further within each zone. The ability to warp around the zones was incredible and so useful, considering the pace at which you unlock abilities. You must be willing to move on quickly from a currently impassable obstacle/area, with the knowledge that you will eventually unlock that particular ability. The game’s map shows all of the grey areas that you haven’t been able to get to, and they become reminders of where you can go next if you are looking for a change of scenery.
Like what Skittles experienced in Blind Forest, the difficulty of the game ramps up as you progress through it. I find for me it was moreso difficulty in mastering the use of abilities available to me at the time. There were occasions where I had to use all tricks in my bag, and that included just closing my eyes and mashing every ability and skill I could. There were also times where I was grappling from monster to walls, back to monsters, up to flowers and huge leaps, all with my heart racing and then it would all stop, and somehow I had surpassed that section or defeated the foes. Don’t ask me how I did it, but i gave a little whoop of achievement every time. The boss fights I’ve experienced so far were difficult at first but if you slow yourself down despite the sometimes harrowing fear you have, you will be able to work through the fight/challenge. This game pushes you to learn and get better, and I look forward to playing more.
Overall, I am in absolute love with this game. Ori and the Will of the Wisps appeals to all of my gaming senses with it’s gorgeous environments and backdrops, fluid movement and combat, and music that perfectly ties this all together whilst playing with your emotions. I see now why Ori and the Blind Forest was such a success and will be going back to play that afterwards. I highly recommend all types of gamers give Ori and the Will of the Wisps a chance, even if platformers aren’t your style. I believe you will find many aspects appealing and this has definitely cemented the Ori games as a legitimate franchise within the metroidvania platformer genre.
This review utilised an Xbox game key provided by Microsoft/Xbox for review purposes. Ori and the Will of the Wisps will be available from March 11, 2020 on Xbox One and PC via Xbox PlayAnywhere and Steam.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis