Before we begin, a note on spoilers. I have tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. I am waiting to add screenshots to the review until the game has been out a while, because even with spoiler tags an inadvertent click on a tagged screenshot could reveal something to the viewer that they would rather see for the first time when they play. That being said even vague references to plot or gameplay might spoil something for you, so read this review at your own discretion. Also, the review is LONG.
A word about reports of it being unplayable on Xbox One: As of this writing, the day one patch has been released and I have played several hours on it. You may have heard reports that the game was "unplayable" on Xbox One on the preview build. While it did have some issues with framerate and freezing, as well as excessive load times on the start menu and graphics glitches in-game, it was far from unplayable. The day 1 patch seems to have fixed most of those issues. There is still an occassional hiccup. Notably I had to wait a second on the side of the screen for the next area to load due to moving faster than the game could keep up with, but only once in several hours. The team has said they continue to work on optimizations and more tweaks are still to come. Players on PC with relatively moderate or high specs aren't experiencing these issues at all. I played on an Xbox One X at 4k.Ori and the Will of the Wisps
is the sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
. It follows on with Ori and Ku at the end of the first game, but this time you’re helping restore more than just a forest. The land of Niwen has slid into darkness and decay due to spoiler-type events that I won’t get into for the spoiler-averse, but rest assured it gives our beloved Ori ample reason to explore a new world and save it yet again.
Many of you will remember that I was a massive fan of the original. However, I tried to keep my fandom at bay and go into this title without rose-colored goggles. There are some changes that big fans of the original may not be in favor of, namely the increased focus on combat. The first game was a platformer metroidvania first and foremost. The fluidity of movement in that game, which I talk about in its review, lent itself to a lovely interplay of jumps, dashes, and bashes to traverse the environments with lightning speed.Will of the Wisps
will find you stopping to kill enemies more frequently, however. Not just because there are more of them (which there are but not overwhelmingly so), but because you’ll need the Spirit Light they drop to purchase maps, weapons, a few shards not found on the map, and upgrades to the weapons/shards. You can wisely skip buying the expensive maps from the map vendor in town that reveal health cells, energy cells, and shards on the map however, because one of the game’s quest paths leads to the full reveal of every collectible item on the map. That should be a huge relief to the completionists out there.
Speaking of quests, the game has plenty of them in store. There are several that are just one-off fetch quests that reward you with Spirit Light. However, the longest (and most important) is the trade chain quest. You can obtain a sidequest very early on that tasks you with bringing a map to a character at Wellspring. He in turn gives you another item for which to seek an owner, and thus begins the chain. Each item must be taken to its prospective owner to receive a new one in turn, and so on through to the end. The final step of this quest, once completed, accomplishes the aforementioned reveal of the map’s secrets, a huge help for post-game mop-up.
After the first act, the game opens up quite a bit and allows you to tackle the next portion in any order you see fit. While exploring each of the main areas in this part to get upgrades without actually tackling the bosses or escapes might make the penultimate portions of each area easier, it is entirely doable to tackle each area here in its entirety. It’s no secret that the devs added actual boss encounters to WotW
, something absent in the Blind Forest due to its focus on platforming escape sequences. This may turn off some veteran players, but fret not as there is an equal mix of both bosses and harried platforming escapes.
I was always a bigger fan of Ori’s escape-focused style of metroidvania than boss fights akin to the approach of games like Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition
, and was initially turned off by them in WotW
. After a few replays though, I found myself liking the boss fights more and more because once you stop face tanking them and employ the movement mechanics and platforming abilities during the fight, it becomes a hybrid experience far more enjoyable than the learn-the-pattern stand-in-the-safe-spot bosses in a game like Hollow Knight
The visuals are nothing short of stunning. I struggled to focus on the backdrops to see if I could spot any re-used assets, and I could find none to speak of. Just like in Blind Forest
’s environments are all painstakingly created to bring us a world we can traverse and feel like it is a living, breathing thing. To further that, the backdrops are much more alive than in the first game. In Blind Forest
there was movement and life in the backgrounds, but WotW
takes this so much further. You’ll even see spike obstacles in some areas bob, sway, and bounce around in a way that makes everything feel so much more vibrant and living than even in the original Ori, let alone any other game. The team at Moon Studios has without doubt found some of the most talented artists in ANY creative milieu.
Gareth Coker’s score is equally impressive, with orchestral cues and choir additions that fit each area and moment perfectly. The music establishes the mood so well that I don't think the game would be the same without it, no matter how good the environments and gameplay may be. The way the movement, environments, and music come together is a certain kind of magic Moon Studios has been able to capture like very few studios creating games today. I worried that the lightning in a bottle they managed to achieve in the first game couldn’t be duplicated, but here it is again and arguably better than ever.
As for the moment to moment gameplay, it feels comfortably familiar to veterans of the first game. As such, veterans will have no problem tackling the first Act and getting into the meat of the game with reckless abandon. Newcomers might have to go a little slower in the first few hours of the game as they come to grips with the movement mechanics. Don’t worry if you didn’t play the first though, as the game is laid out in such a way as to introduce them at a rate paced to prevent anything from feeling overwhelming or to allow too many opportunities to break the game via sequence breaks. We’ll see what the speed running community comes up with.
With that paced addition of new mechanics and abilities, we see a wide array of tools at Ori’s disposal this time around. My primary means of gameplay in the first game was limited to Bash, Double/Triple jump, Dash, and Launch. With those four tools I was able to fly around the world of the Blind Forest at a blistering and thoroughly enjoyable rate. Think they can’t top it? Think again. Although it doesn’t show up until near the end of the game, there is a new version of the Launch ability here in WotW
that, when combined with the other mechanics we’ve come to know and love like Bash/Dash/Triple jump, leads to some of the most blistering traversals of the environments you’ll ever likely see in any metroidvania.
There are of course a lot of other tools at Ori’s disposal too, including the combat variety such as the Spirit Bow, Spirit Hammer, etc. For yours truly though the heart of the game has always been in the beautiful fluidity of Ori’s movement. The combat is there for those that enjoy it, though. There is also the Shards mechanic, which allows you to customize Ori with 3 shards at the start (upgradeable to 8 shards if you complete all the combat challenge shrines). There are shards for all sorts of tweaks such as damage dealt or taken all the way to gaining energy from enemies or converting life to energy to cast spells. Having played Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition
myself, I feel like the devs were heavily inspired by the Charms in that game, as the shards mechanic here is nearly identical.
One particularly potent combination is 2 charms: Overflow and Catalyst. You’ll constantly be regenerating energy and/or health from melee hits as you fight, and I found this combination to be invaluable against a boss or two on Hard mode. Overall the shards mechanic is done well here, and I can honestly say that I found them far more useful here than I did in HK
for the most part. In HK
, I settled on one particular charm setup that I liked and rarely used any of the others (some not at all). In WotW
I found myself often tweaking my shard to suit the particular situation I was dealing with. Unfortunately triple jump IS a shard, so you’ll likely be reserving one slot for that almost all the time once you purchase it in town.
Achievement hunters can relax in the knowledge that the list is entirely doable without much of a guide of any kind other than the trade quest I mentioned earlier. That will reveal every single collectible in the game on the map, and only a select few are somewhat tricky to figure out how to reach them once you have all the abilities from the main campaign completion. Nothing is missable and all can be done after completing the game, including side quests and collectibles. All of the game’s achievements can be unlocked on Easy except for the Hard Mode one. Theoretically you could 1k the game in two playthroughs, one on Easy where you do No Deaths, No Shards, No Purchases, and the speedrun all at once, then a 2nd on Hard. It might be tricky to get the speedrun on your first go though, so I’d suggest an initial playthrough for 100% completion, then a 2nd run on Easy for No Shards, No Purchase, and the speedrun, and lastly a 3rd run on Hard.
Overall Ori and the Will of the Wisps
is an incredible experience. The day one patch appears to have cleaned up most of the pre-launch build's issues, so the rest of the Xbox gamers jumping in should come away with socks blown sufficiently off. My hat is off and my heartfelt thanks go to Moon Studios for allowing me into the early access for this game, but that hasn’t colored this review in the slightest. My fandom from the first may have, but I genuinely feel that I would love this game just as much if not more even had I never played the first.