There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to sequels to match the quality of what came before. If a game is too similar, it’s met with the same criticism as if it were, ironically, too radically different. You can never really please everyone, and the balance between what is acceptable and atrocious is a fine line to walk but when developers manage to strike that magical balance just right, it’s always an amazing feat. It’s even more important when an original has as much praise and acclaim as 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest.
Moon Studio’s follow-up Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes everything that made the original game such a profound experience and expands on them in ways that only serve to enhance what was already there.
Making its appearance again is another heartfelt and touching story circling around Ori and creatures of the wilderness. Will of the Wisps opens with a bond being formed by Ori and Ku, a bird with a bad wing yet still desires to fly. Once they figure out a way to make Ku fly again, things go poorly and the two get separated. That kicks off the first act of the game and from there goes into some dark and emotional swings even before the other acts follow and veer off into some exciting and sprawling ways.
When the first game came out, there were a lot of comparisons to its story and presentation with that of a Pixar movie. For a videogame, that’s about as high a complement as you’re ever likely to see. This is still true for Will of the Wisps, and while its resonance is nowhere near as impactful as the original game, all is forgiven when you realize how much they’ve added to the meat of the game.
Looking back at the original game, I remember Ori and the Blind Forest being much more of an explorative Metroidvania with some sinister platforming challenges sprinkled in. Capitalizing on all of that, Moon Studios have also decided to add side quests, shops, and even base building to the mix; all of which help elevate your reasons for exploration – and to keep you motivated to explore deeper into this world. They were correct!
Taking inspiration from Hollow Knight (or any of the thousands of Metroidvanias released over the last 5 years), the developers also incorporated much more combat into the mix to inject a bit more excitement. The combat is fluid and engaging with plenty of variety to help you take out enemies in a multitude of entertaining ways. This isn’t just a barebones addition as enemies can now withstand different kinds of attacks, requiring much more strategy. Bigger enemies with shields can be a hassle until you smash that shield with your heavy attack first, leaving them open to wail on it with your sword.
All of Ori’s powers of attack and maneuverability are varied in interesting ways and you can start to feel overwhelmed at times when asked to string multiple of these mechanics in one fell swoop in order to avoid certain death. But luckily respawns are normally pretty quick and the checkpoints are forgiving. By the end of the game, you’ll feel as if you’ve actually mastered all of Ori’s moves and it feels totally earned.
Like the first game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is simply gorgeous. With a beautiful artstyle and incredible depth, the game always manages to look sharp and pristine using vibrant colors and lighting to really bring the forest and its inhabitants to breathtaking life. This is the type of game that really shows off the power of a great display, and the extraordinary soundtrack never felt intrusive and always felt intrinsic to the philosophy of the aesthetics. In every way that truly matters, Ori is an audio/visual tour de force.
As beautiful as it may look, however, the game isn’t without some flaws. Released through the Play Anymore program, Will of the Wisps can be installed and played on both Windows and on Xbox One consoles, with your progress synced via the cloud. My playtime was mostly on a very respectable Windows machine where it, generally, ran without much fuss. I did run into the odd glitche more often than I’d have liked, one of which caused everything on screen but the hud to go completely black (and for whatever reason these moments also affected my previous saves). While still frustrating these were rare, thankfully, and restarting the game managed to fix everything up.
On my Xbox One, however, the game seems to be less optimized than it should be, which is something we’ve been seeing a lot of in Play Anywhere titles (looking at you, Crackdown 3). In Metroidvania games the map is a vital piece of the game and it’s important to pop in and out to know where you’re going. While snappier on the PC, the Xbox took noticeably longer to load, making the transition from gameplay to map almost feel like the game is stuttering or locking up.
Ultimately, these issues are largely inconsequential to the overall experience and it’s only just a matter of waiting just a bit longer than normal, but having to pause your game should never feel like a chore.
There’s a lot more to Ori and the Will of the Wisps then just beautiful visuals, intoxicating soundtrack and addictive gameplay. It’s an incredible expansion of the original game that pushes both the possibilities of the franchise and the Metroidvania genre, excelling at both while remaining true to the developer’s original artistic vision, which left me anxious for more in the series or anything Moon Studios produces from here on out. While there may be some bugs that will be, I hope, ironed out and the game remains sub-optimized for consoles, Will of the Wisps is still an absolute pleasure to play – even if it can be a challenge.