STAFF REVIEW of Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox One)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
by Josh Morgan

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Box art Full disclosure, this review is based on the pre-launch patches that were available for me to update two days before the game launched. I played a little bit of the game prior to the updates and experienced the frame rate, loading and map bugs that were reported to be in the review version of the game. I made the decision to stop playing the game at that point so I can wait for the patches and review the game in its best state. After the patches I experienced no save bugs, loading bugs or game breaking glitches. I experienced very few frame rate drops after the patches and I am confident that Moon Studios will continue these updates making it even better.

Some games just hook you in. You’re the little fish nibbling on a tasty worm and the developer yanks that line at the perfect moment and you’re done for. Ori and the Blind Forest was one of those games for me, and if you listened to our podcast, then you’ll know that it is in my top 3 games this generation. I’ve beaten it 4 times, and I am currently playing through it on the harder difficulty on the Switch. It’s been a bit of a wait for Moon Studios to deliver us Ori and the Will of the Wisps, as it has seen a few delays, but it’s finally here! Does it hold up? Does it do what sequels are expected to do and expand on the key elements of the game? If you scrolled down and took a peak at the score then you already know, but let’s dive in little fishy!!

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a 2D platformer on the surface but a Metroidvania at heart. If you are unfamiliar with the term, Metroidvania is a sub-genre of action-adventure games where there is an expanding map to explore that has smaller portions of the map locked off, and as you progress through the game you gain abilities that allow you to access these locked off areas. For example, there may be a ledge just out of your reach with a standard jump, so you progress in the game and unlock the double jump and then can go back to use your new ability to reach the ledge. Ori nails this better than any other Metroidvania that I have played.

When you first open the map it is covered in darkness, and as you explore, the caves that you traverse will be filled in on the map. I found myself opening the map every minute or so to look for dark areas to explore, as it is super addicting to fill in the map and find all the collectibles. When I found a collectible, and there were a TON, I’d abandon the main story and went off to explore the area to see what I can find. There is a constant carrot on a stick of collectibles, power and health upgrades that I just can’t get enough of. I absolutely will not stop playing this game until I am at 100% completion, and then I will probably do it all over again on a harder difficulty.

One thing that is different with Ori 2 is the rate at which you get these abilities. The first game had you wait a bit and progress in the game to unlock the double jump and dash maneuvers. I remember there being a lot of locked off areas at the start, teasing me with unknown treasures. Ori 2 throws a lot of the necessary moves at you within the first two hours. You’ll be double jumping, running up walls and dashing across long crevasses in no time. At first I thought this might have been to dumb down the game a bit for the players that thought Ori and the Blind Forest was too hard. I was able to clear out 90% or more of the collectibles in the first two areas of the map in no time. I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t have to come back to these beautiful areas later to explore more because I was finding everything so quickly, and that is just not how I wanted to play this game. I want the backtracking, I want the closed off area at the end of a long dangerous cave, because I know I’ll have to travel that cave again, and it’s just so much fun to do. After a while it became pretty clear that they gave you those abilities so early by design because they built a more complex and bigger map, and added a bunch of new abilities that you get later in the game. So I was able to explore until my little fish heart was content and they very much kept the spirit of the genre intact.

Combat in Ori 2 has seen a complete overhaul. You are able to assign 12 different abilities to the X, B and Y face buttons and swap them out at any time to match your playstyle and the task at hand. The Spirit Edge sword that you get as soon as the opening cutscene and prologue are finished gives you the ability to slash forward and backwards, slash up launching enemies into the air, and slash down if you are jumping over enemies. It’s a light and quick attack that you can use to combat the faster enemies as you dodge their quick attacks. There is a hammer like weapon called Spirit Smash, and as expected, is better suited for slower or more protected enemies. There is a beetle that you constantly fight throughout the game that has an impenetrable shell and is only vulnerable when its back end is exposed. It’s a very satisfying feeling to land a revenge fueled heavy blow with that hammer to that beetle that has shrugged off your light attacks for the past few hours. There are ranged attacks as well; Spirit Arc is a bow and Spirit Star is a boomerang, both of which can be used to combat the flying enemies and ones that strategically keep their distance from you. I found a very effective combination of using the ranged attack to stun them for long enough to get closer where I can either dice them up with quick attacks from Spirit Edge, or a bash or two from Spirit Smash.

Along with the combat improvements Moon Studios has added Spirit Shards where you can add modifiers to your combat and traversal abilities. This is very similar to the game Hollow Knight as you can equip only a certain amount of these shards at a time, but the amount of slots you have can be upgraded as you complete Combat Shrines. You can swap out these shards at any time on the fly and you do not need to visit an NPC or pay any type of currency to change shards. This comes in handy during the many boss battles and groups of enemies that you encounter. To give you a few examples, the shards that I used most often are Overcharge, Resilience, Quick Shot and Sticky. Over charge is where you deal a lot more damage but your defense is lowered taking more damage in the process. Resilience is where you simply take 10% less damage from attacks. Quick Shot lets you launch arrows at a faster rate making you feel like Hawkeye from the Marvel movies. Sticky lets you automatically stick to the wall you are facing and this helps when traversing some of the deadlier caves that are outlined with spikes. Again, you can swap these shards at any time to focus more or combat or traversal, or a nice combination of both.

Throughout the game you’ll come across gold orbs called Spirit Light. Spirit Light in Ori and the Blind Forest used to work like XP and you’d eventually fill a meter and that would unlock a point to spend in the skill tree. Ori 2 does not work like that, there is no XP and no skill tree to unlock abilities. Instead they’ve decided to streamline the process a bit. Instead of XP, the Spirit Light is now a form of currency you can spend to have a NPC vendor train you in new abilities or upgrade abilities you have already purchased. You can also use Spirit Light to purchase maps that show you the Energy Cell and Life Cell locations on the map.

The story of Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes place a bit after the events that happened in Blind Forest. You play as Ori, a small bright white Spirit of the forest and you are with your family teaching a baby owlet how to fly. Bad things happen and you are separated from the owlet and your priority is to find it and bring it home safe. During this main story quest you learn that the new forest you are in has been corrupted by another evil and it is up to you to not only save your owlet friend, but also the forest and its creatures.

During your exploration of the Niwen forest, you’ll run into quite a few peaceful critters and animals that need your help. Simply talk to these critters and you’ll be given a side quest along with a handy marker on your map showing you where you should explore next. These quests aren’t in-depth and are usually no more than fetch quests, but they do offer some nice rewards. You can earn some Spirit Shards this way and usually some Spirit Light as well. There is one quest that will take you from one end of the map to the other trading trinkets from one stranded NPC to another, but the reward is very satisfying.

Along with the main story and side quests, Moon Studios has also added a few more things to do. First you can test your combat skills in 7 different Combat Shrines hidden throughout the game. Here you will fight wave after wave of enemies, and if you are successful, you’ll be rewarded with an extra Spirit Shard slot. They’ve also added Spirit Trials which are races through each of the different areas of the game. These races usually take 30 seconds to a minute to complete and they remove the enemies from the area to ensure a clean race. Your times will be put up on a leaderboard of both your friends and the global Xbox community. In order to complete the Spirit Trial, you’ll have to beat the preset par time. Neither of these activities are too difficult but they offer a fun challenge that kept me coming back until I completed them all.

The hand drawn animations and the beautiful score are truly the heart and soul of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and they go hand in hand throughout the game. In the deep dark caves of Mouldwood Depths, where only the light from small torches and glowing plants light your way, there is a creepy and eerie tone to the wind instruments that bring a feeling of death and despair to the area. As the darkness closes in around Ori, the music shifts to a more panicked score that really enforces the feeling of being surrounded by darkness. Then as you find a light source to force away the dark, the music returns to the unnerving sounds of Mouldwood. The Luma Pools are the polar opposite and show off the most bright and beautiful colors I have ever seen in an area of a game before. This glowing pink and purple forest is so full of life and the music follows suit with an upbeat flow of wind instruments. I played this area after Mouldwood Depths and the contrast is so staggering going from one extreme to another. It’s almost hard to believe that these two areas exist in the same forest.

When you think of a 2D platformer/adventure you tend to think of the classics like Mario or Castlevania where there is a distinct foreground and background. Mario runs on the foreground and the castles and clouds occupy the background. Ori and the Will of the Wisps adds so much depth to the landscape of the forest you forget that you are actually playing a 2D game. There is not just one layer of trees and bushes to walk past, there are layers and layers of moving plants, scattering critters and trees swaying in the breeze that you can tell that the forest goes on for miles in all directions. Then to top it all off, as you move through the forest you will have trees, critters and bushes that pass between Ori and the camera that is an incredible technique that really makes this game come to life.

These incredible details come at a cost though. Ori 2 suffers from framerate drops when loading an area and they can be really distracting. I was falling from a very high spot at The Wellspring and mid-fall the game paused for nearly 5 seconds before it resumed. You can tell it was loading the area below, but a hiccup like that can really take you out of the experience. Collecting orbs, spirit and shards also result in a 2-5 second freeze at times. Not every time, but enough to make you shake your head when it happens. All of these issues can easily be addressed with more post launch patches, and Moon Studios is being pretty vocal about them coming sooner rather than later. Other than that I did not experience the widely reported map, loading or save bugs after my game was patched pre-release. Like I said in the first paragraph, I made a decision to wait for the patches to improve my experience and give our readers a better representation of what they’ll actually be playing, and I believe that was the best choice.

No game is perfect and I don’t believe giving a game a 10/10 means that it is perfect. However, I believe that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a masterpiece that deserves the highest praise that I can give it. Moon Studios is a shining example that a small team working with a lot of heart and passion can create something beautiful, fun and challenging. It expands on the original in every way and you will not find a better game in the Metroidvania genre. I personally can’t wait to dive back into the game on a harder difficulty.

Overall: 10.0 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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