Ori & the Will of the Wisps Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One
Hey you, gamer person. Do you like to cry at your video games? Did you play Ori and the Blind Forest back in 2015? I did. If you did too, chances are this will be right up your street with Moon Studios putting on a master class of deep, emotional storytelling and slick Metroidvania style gameplay in Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
It seemed like this day would never come but Ori and co are back for another fantastic jaunt through the beautifully haunting world of Niwen, taking place immediately after the first game finished and with a new pal in the form of Ku.
Like its predecessor, you take Ori from basic jobber to seasoned veteran while going back and forth discovering new abilities. It’s all classic Metroidvania stuff and of course, it’s done well. Those familiar with the genre will know the process. As always, the inquisitive will be rewarded with secrets and upgrades and if you can’t reach areas, you’ll most likely be able to backtrack later once you have the right upgrades. It’s a simple yet satisfying gameplay loop that’s executed well in Will of the Wisps. It’s a little simpler compared to others in the genre with a more linear progression meaning you won’t get lost as often, but I’m ok with that as part of Ori’s charm is its stunning visuals and narrative.
Overall the combat is improved from its predecessor. You start off with no skills and much like the first game, will spend a little time improving your defence game before being able to slice up some critters with your melee attacks. It’s not long before you get hold of the awesome Spirit Edge or as I like to call it ‘The Super Sweet Ghost Lightsaber’. It’s got some serious range to it and feels pretty cool swinging it around, hitting enemies from all directions. The Spirit Arc is ace, also, having a similar look to the Spirit Edge apart from the fact you’re firing light arrows at enemies. Who doesn’t like that? Of course you will unlock many other cool weapons as the story goes on.
The bash ability returns meaning you are free to style your way through levels once more, bouncing off enemies and zipping in whatever direction you choose. It made watching runs of the first an absolute spectacle and it will be the same here. These are just a few of the abilities on show but there’s more than enough to discover so you can really optimise your game play experience.
These skills, combined with the newly featured Spirit Shards is really where the customisation explodes! Spirit Shards are akin to Hollow Knight’s Charms, giving various buffs like Catalyst which replenishes some Energy when dealing melee damage or Finesse which gives you a 10% or 20% chance to deal 50% bonus damage. Also like Hollow Knight, some of the better Spirit Shards are hidden in tricky to reach areas so hunting these down will be difficult yet rewarding.
The platforming itself is smooth. So smooth in fact that I haven't felt this way about a platformer since Dandara. It feels fluid almost immediately with Dash playing a big part and Bash linking together to give you some real creative freedom. Eventually, you’ll find yourself wall bouncing all over the place, reaching incredible heights. Hat’s off to the devs for making each and every room an absolute pleasure to traverse.
Despite traversal being so good and combat options being plentiful, WotW is still brutal in its difficulty. Not as difficult as the first game mind, but enough to make you want to throw your controller. If you feel that way, the game is doing its job. Critters are of course there to challenge you but it’s the bosses that will really keep you on your toes. Not only are they stunning to see but they are also brutally punishing. Early in the game I was being punished by a rather ginormous spider boss which really made me feel uncomfortable. Not a fan of spiders, see. I managed to stave my fears after numerous deaths, finally finding the pattern and punishing certain attacks. Persistence is key.
There’s nothing quite like learning a sequence of jumps or the pattern of a boss enemy and feeling invincible after you’ve done the thing. It’s a little like a Soulsborn experience to that effect where practice and persistence make perfect. As you progress and unlock new abilities, the path ahead will place more obstacles to make sure you are putting those new found gifts to good use. As mentioned previously, those who want to backtrack later in the game will be rewarded.
Soul linking from the previous game is gone and instead, a kind checkpointing system is in place to make sure that if you do die, you won’t have to go through the grind to get back to where you were. A major turnoff for me is unfair checkpoints that see you repeat fifteen minutes of gameplay when you miss-time a dodge. I just don’t have that much time to waste. The only time they are not present is during escape sequences which is fair. Escape sequences return from the previous game and are still as heart-pumpingly gratifying to complete.
It’s easy to get lost in WotW’s beauty, however. I often found myself stopping and appreciating every piece of minute detail in the stunningly crafted land of Niwen. Every area is distinct and bursting with character meaning you always know where you are. The Midnight Burrows was one of my favourite areas, brimming with a dark and haunting atmosphere that really assaults your senses. The stellar sound design also adds to this with Gareth Coker returns to provide an orchestral soundtrack that will blow you away.
There’s plenty to do on the side to keep you interested for a long while. Side quests are given by NPC’s which can serve as a nice distraction when bounding around the forests. Most can be located in Wellspring Glades - a place you will be seeing a lot of on your journey. The completionist out there will love going back and searching every nook for hidden secrets. It’s a satisfying feeling, for sure.
It’s not often, sequels are done well but Moon Studio’s have really nailed it here. WotW successfully builds on everything its predecessor strived to achieve even though its generally more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, however. At the end of the day, a good chocolate cake is still a good chocolate cake. You’ve tasted it before and you know it tastes great. Well, Ori 2 tastes fantastic. The fact that this is on Xbox Game Pass is insanely good value for money.