Review: Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Updated: Mar 21
Ori and the Blind Forest was one of my favorite platformers. It offered a compelling story, beautiful artwork, and very tight gameplay. The sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps does not disappoint in any of those areas and adds some variation and changes that I didn’t know I wanted. It isn’t all milk and honey though and there were some issues that I found along my adventure through this magical woodland world filled with danger and denizens.
First, the opening sequence is heartfelt and once again shows off the beautiful world that Moon Studios has created. It also looks a little more polished with more depth of field, better lighting, and the colors are amazing and make the world pop. Some of the areas are visually breathtaking and it takes a moment to get back to playing the game. I really loved the Luma Pools with it’s neon pinks, glistening water, and its pops of teals and deep blues. The shift from area to area is wonderous. Where the decay meets the pristine lands is a stark reminder of what you are fighting to save and continues to compel you further into the wooded world of Ori and the spirits woodland friends.
As I said above, the game play and level design are great. It feels like a world that is actually living and breathing while at the same time difficult to traverse and requires pinpoint precision to reach the highest levels. This is where Ori and the Will of the Wisps truly shines. It is incredibly difficult while at the same time fair, with a few exceptions. Inkwater Marsh, the first area, is used as a training ground and yet you will have to return later when you learn no skills and have gotten better at the precision needed. There are areas that are completely inaccessible to you until you find a new skill and will have to return to an area. Yes, this is a Metroidvania style game but I believe that have achieved near perfection in the genre. It doesn’t feel like a chore (most of the time) to go back to other areas and reach its previously unexplorable areas. There are of course a few exceptions to this. It allowed me to travel all the way to where you get the last piece needed to move onto the final stages of the game and then notified me that I needed another quest item to enter. Normally this wouldn’t be too big of a deal as there is fast travel to the shrines located around the map. However, in this particular case there isn’t one nearby and it is one of the most difficult areas to traverse.
That said the issues I have mostly revolve around my inability to find where the hell I needed to go to get to the next area. It took me forever to get the hell out of Inkwater Marsh because it gave no direction as to where to go and I tried to get into areas that were clearly out of my reach. I thought I was making some sort of noob mistake and turns out I was…I just needed to break through a wall. Once I figured it out and felt like a total dunce, I actually liked the lack of handholding. From there on out it was rare that I got stuck for too long trying to figure out where to go as I became hyper aware of anything that looked breakable or maybe just maybe reachable. It made me realize how often games in this day and age hold our hands and tell us exactly where to go. This is something I also came to like in World of Warcraft Classic, the give a description of an area and you have to go find it. This is what Ori and the Will of the Wisps does well. It points you in a general direction and you have to figure your own way through the world. In many places I made life harder for myself and forged my own way to a new or higher place. Then when retracing my steps to access a place that I may have just unlocked realized that there was a much easier or direct way I could have completed the same challenge. It is rare for a game like Ori to allow you to color outside of the lines.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps did trick me pretty good though. They finally succeeded at making a water level enjoyable. Typically, when I see a water level, I immediately get flashbacks to TMNT on the NES or Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. Both of which are nightmares and in the case of Ocarina of Time made me quit for a long time before I went back. TMNT was definitely harder but as a young child with few games available I persevered (although I am not sure if I actually beat it). The Luma Pools once the water is cleaned up becomes a beautiful under water world awash in bright colors, deadly creatures and plants. Immediately I said to myself, damnit this is going to be a pain and most definitely infuriating. Then I almost immediately realized that they had succeeded where so many others have failed. It is just as well thought out as the other sections of the game and while difficult is once again fair. I mostly worked my way through with no issue, other than the standard difficulty of any of the other levels. A lot of trial and error because you have to pay attention to your breath and a lot of areas have a narrow window of time to make it to the next air pocket.
After completing the Luma Pools and some other areas that required swimming and fighting underwater I felt like nothing could stop me. I was horribly wrong. Moon Studios was able to sneak in the Mouldwood Depths. It is of previous water level difficulty and infuriating. It is the only part that I have cussed at and complained about to my wife. There were difficult parts in the past specifically with one of the earlier bosses because of a timing issue I was having but nothing like the loathing I have for this area. You must travel from light source to light source otherwise the darkness closes in and it is filled with things that nibble and bite. Once the darkness closes on you it’s instant death. Once you are partway through you learn an ability to keep the darkness at bay but it eats through your energy. This is problematic because Ori and the Will of the Wisps does suffer from a few bugs here and there but the main one that I found is in the Mouldwood Depths. There are blue plants located throughout the entire game. When you attack them, crystals fall out and those crystals replenish your energy. Well in the Mouldwood Depths a bunch of these plants appear but will not break, it is as if they are not actually there. I was on the struggle bus for most of this area because the tight windows for keeping the darkness at bay got even tighter or impossible. I had to quit the game and restart from the last checkpoint a few times because the plants would not grow back. This level is full of unfair drops onto spikes that there is no way to see or if there is going to be an enemy on the next landing. Luckily for the most part they are bright but there are areas that you will just fall into a pit of enemies that swarm you. I hated almost every second I was down there. It really felt like it was unfair and they were purposely killing you and not for a lack of skill or ability.
After escaping that hellish nightmare, the rest of the game felt like a relief and by the end it is a supremely enjoyable experience. The story is of course sad but hopeful. You find out what family really means and what a community is. Everyone makes sacrifices and some of those sacrifices may end in disaster. Ori and the Will of the Wisps tries to show the player that not everything is what meets the eye and that people need to look at things from a different perspective. While not excusing bad behaviors, it asks us to understand why another might act a certain way and that we should strive to understand and help one another. This is one of the reasons I really love this game. It can be played by both adults and children and is just obvious enough to allow both to see the underlying message of the story. Being compassionate, asking questions, and sympathizing with others is something that everyone should learn or be reminded of (especially in this day and age).
There were a couple of bugs that I encountered. They mostly revolved around what seems to be optimization. There is occasional stuttering where the game freezes for just a second. In a game that requires precision and near perfect timing it is a serious issue. I tested it on three different consoles to see if I had similar issues or if it was just my console and I am sad to report that it occurred on all three. It rarely happened when I was in the middle of something important but one instance enraged me and it occurred in the same place every time. It was the first boss and you have to make a jump from one dangling lamp to another or you die and every time it would freeze there and I would end up falling to my death. In the end I just worked around the freeze. The other was when a plant would respawn and either I couldn’t hit it to get the needed supplies inside or there was nothing inside. I know that sometimes this happens to prevent people from spamming something to get back a resource but this would be minutes apart or even after a death.
The last thing I want to talk about is what they have added to Ori and the Will of the Wisps. There is more of an RPG element to the world. You can not only upgrade your attacks but your abilities too. You can lower the amount of damage you take, make arrows split into multiples, make enemies drop more life or energy, etc. This is pretty standard for the genre but there is also a building aspect. You can talk to one of the characters you meet in the game that can build new things, from houses to fixing a well. It helps out the locals. To get him to upgrade/fix things in the area you have to collect ore that can be found around the world. You just have to go back to him and make sure you have enough collected and then you “help” him build whatever it is you chose. It’s fun and after completing an upgrade the local NPC’s will have more to say to you about the world or offer up a quest. Quests are another addition that I really enjoyed. They are not mandatory but definitely add to the world and your connection to it. I felt more invested the more missions I completed. There are a couple of really heart wrenching ones that got me emotionally invested.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a must play game and is one of the best I have played (I couldn’t put it down and there is a COD battle royale game out this weekend). The problems are heavily outweighed by the multitudinous positives. Even with the bugs and the awful Mouldwood Depths area. The beautiful world with pops of bright colors ranging from bright greens to deep reds. Level design that is intuitive, difficult, and fun to explore. The addition of missions and building were great and I loved seeing the happy denizens of the forest find a safe place to settle down. The story is sweet and the design for the characters is cute and endearing. Now that I am wrapping this up, I really should say that Mouldwood is a minor inconvenience and that this game is amazing. It can be picked up for $30 USD on Xbox or Windows/Steam. But if you either have Xbox Game Pass or just want to play this game you can sign up for that and it’s on there day one. You can pick up a month subscription for as little as $1. However, if you really like it, I suggest supporting it and purchasing it if possible. I just want more games like this to be made.