With update version 1.0.4193.0, the technical issues mentioned later in this review have been alleviated. The review and score have been updated accordingly.
Following up the incredible Ori and the Blind Forest is one hell of a tall order. Moon Studios’ first title was an exceptional combination of gameplay, storytelling, art and sound design and a reinvention of familiar tropes. It was tightly scripted and a great example of the kinds of experiences Microsoft and Xbox were nurturing and seeking out. Having captured lightning in a bottle once, Moon Studios returns with Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
This direct sequel iterates on the first game and delivers another wonderful experience. However, Ori and the Will of the Wisps suffers from diminishing returns and doesn’t feel nearly as fresh or impressive as Blind Forest.
It also suffers from some serious and frequent technical issues that loom large over proceedings. Microsoft has assured me that a patch is coming on day one, so you may not experience the same problems…unfortunately, I did.
Fortunately, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is (almost) good enough that you can overlook any issues.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Beginning directly after Blind Forest, this game sees Ori, Gumo and Naru caring for Ku, the newly hatched child of Kuro. Life is great for this unconventional family, but as Ku grows, her misformed wing stops her from flying. Her desire to fly is so strong that Ori and the gang, strap one of Kuro’s feathers to her wing and away she goes.
With Ori on her back, Ku soars across the sky. However, a storm catches the two and, losing the feather, Ku and Ori plummet to the ground, separated. And here, we begin.
Those familiar with the original will sense the same Miyazaki inspired themes and story beats as well as similar thematic elements overall. It’s more of a personal story this time, with Ori’s quest driven by the need to find and protect Ku. There’s a paternal/maternal undercurrent driving the action that, as a parent, spoke volumes.
Sadly, this thread gets lost as the game unfolds. That being said, with barely any dialogue, Ori and the Will of the Wisps features better storytelling than 99% of games available today. It’s heartfelt, genuine and incredibly moving throughout and a perfect example of the medium’s ability to interactively tell a story.
Let me tell you a tale
A huge part of the storytelling success in Ori and the Will of the Wisps comes down to the art and sound design. Both are absolutely stunning and work together to bring this storybook to life. The hand-drawn visuals and watercolour style truly give it a fairytale look and feel and the attention to detail is simply incredible. At any given moment you can stop and look at the environments, the foreground and the background and find dozens of little details and elements that bring this game to life.
It’s also bright and vibrant. Even during ‘darker’ scenes, there’s a glow to Ori and the Will of the Wisps that’s difficult to describe. When you play it and when you see it, you’ll know. It’s like a warmth that extends beyond the screen, inviting you into this make-believe world, beckoning the way home.
When it comes to audio, I honestly can’t think of a game that compares to this. The orchestral score is such an amazing piece of work that it needs to be released on its own. It ties so well to the visuals and the action and always keeps you invested. Whether it’s jaunty and fun or tensely thrashing, the score is the thing about this game that helps to elevate it the most.
It swells and soars, rises and falls and hold everything together. The score for Ori and the Will of the Wisps should be held up as what other games strive for.
Feathers and Stone
Like Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is a Metroidvania title that features 2D platforming, exploration, backtracking and sequential unlocking of abilities to drive forward. As Ori, players will jump, climb, bounce and more while seeking out secrets and upgrades across a fairly large world map. In the original game, combat took a backseat to exploration, however, this time it has a much larger presence.
Early on, Ori unlocks the ability to wield light like a sword and can assign this to X, Y or B. Pressing this button consecutively launches Ori into a combo that will damage and eventually kill enemies on screen. Over time, you’ll unlock a lot of abilities, both offensive and passive that can be assigned to the face buttons for you to use. However, I found myself sticking to the same one or two throughout.
While it’s nice to have choices and the option to use different abilities, the combat system doesn’t really support the ideas that Moon Studios has included. Everyone has a different playstyle, so what works for me, might not necessarily work for you and vice-versa, but I found the focus on combat abilities to be pretty underwhelming.
It’s also really annoying to be continually hot-swapping abilities. Why Moon Studios couldn’t have mapped each to a face button and shoulder button combo, I don’t know but it certainly would have felt like a better solution to me. As it stands, you need to hold LT to open the ability menu, select an ability with the right stick, then press the button you want to assign it to and repeat…
While combat might be mediocre, movement and exploration are anything but. Even from the very beginning, when you only have access to a single jump, moving Ori around this world is extraordinary. As you unlock additional abilities you come to appreciate the level design for what it really is; a giant 2D parkour stadium.
The best games introduce new mechanics that slot right alongside the existing ones and are both made better for it. Think of the manual in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, every new movement ability in Ori and the Will of the Wisps is like that. Eventually, you’ll be speeding through the world, jumping, boosting, climbing, flipping and exploring, all while barely ever touching the ground.
Such was the impressiveness of the movement mechanics, that I made it a game to try and stay off the ground for as long as possible.
Many 2D platformers of late have used interesting ways to get around but none have come close to the spectacular, layered experience that is Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
With the implementation of update version 1.0.4193.0 the issues mentioned here have all but disappeared. There are still occasional framerate hits but for the most part, Ori and the Will of the Wisps runs silky smooth on Xbox One X and PC.
We haven’t tested the game on Xbox One, though we expect it to have significantly improved as well. Thankfully, the egregious save issue has been totally eradicated making it very easy to recommend this game.
Unfortunately, the time I’ve spent with Ori and the Will of the Wisp has not been without issues. In fact, I’ve experienced myriad technical issues, both large and small that have very nearly undermined the entire game. Frequently, textures and elements on-screen fail to load properly. This leaves large areas of the world unrendered or glitching, while it occasionally meant I wasn’t able to see where I was going or what I was supposed to be doing. Other times, audio issues have meant that all sounds for Ori simply stopped. While not game-breaking, it does make it more difficult to play when your character isn’t making the sounds it’s supposed to. That, and it’s far less enjoyable.
ramerate problems are probably the most frequent and range from a few dropped frames here and there, to total freezing of the on-screen action for up to five seconds. In a game where precision is key, it really hurts to die because the game locked up for a moment. Often, when multiple enemies appear on-screen together, both the Xbox One X and PC versions simply couldn’t handle it and the game slowed to a crawl. On a standard Xbox One, it’s even more of a dog’s breakfast. However, far and away the worst technical issue experienced during my playthrough was the game’s failure to save. Ori and the Will of the Wisps uses a checkpoint system. It’s fairly generous given the frequency of deaths and the progress you can make in a short time. However, on more than one occasion, my game refused to update the quicksave and whenever I died, I was returned to the same, previous checkpoint. What’s worse is that the first time it happened, I had explored and played for over an hour without dying and when I finally did, all of that progress simply evaporated. I had to quit the game (twice) and start a fresh save file to finally get it to start saving again. This issue is game-breaking and when it happened to me on multiple occasions, I was ready to give up.
In spite of the lacklustre combat and the reduced impact due to coming back for a second go, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is still great. If nothing else, the exploration and movement are absolutely top-notch.
When combined with the story-telling, artwork and sound design, you can look past the issues and still enjoy the game for what it is.
Now that the game has been properly patched and the technical issues have been resolved, it’s easy to call Ori and the Will of the Wisps a contender for Game of the Year. It’s a stunningly brilliant achievement and a game that simply demands to be played.
If you’re interested in seeing a video game at the very pinnacle of the art form, look no further than Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Fingers crossed that Moon Studios and Microsoft can patch out the issues sooner rather than later because if Ori and the Will of the Wisps had a little more polish, it’d be a very strong contender for game of the year. As it stands right now, it’s a really good game, with some really bad issues.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps was reviewed on Xbox One X using a digital copy provided by Microsoft ANZ.
Game Title: Ori and the Will of the Wisps