Title: Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Developer: Moon Studios
Release Date: March 11, 2020
Reviewed On: Xbox One
When Moon Studios debuted Ori and the Blind Forest, it was met with high regard and could stand alongside full-priced triple-A titles. Now the pressure is on with the long-awaited sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. This title entry ends up bringing the same magic and fantasy provided by its predecessor, but if you’re eyeing the Xbox One version, I would advise a wait and see approach.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes place soon after the first game. Kuro’s egg hatches and gives birth to Ku, who is born with a defective wing that continues to be a burden as she longs for adventure. After a few failed attempts at flight, Ori remembers safekeeping Kuro’s feather and affixes it to Ku’s wing. With nothing holding them back, Ori and Ku set off to see new sights, but then trouble soon follows as a dark and unfamiliar land is met with a powerful storm that blows them apart. Now, Ori must navigate the terrorized land of Niwen to find Ku and uncover his true destiny.
The opening sequences introduce players to new and returning characters while providing insight on Ku’s unique situation. It was easy to become attached to the narrative, thanks to how well-animated and expressive the characters are. When the controls are finally put in the player’s hands, the desire to find Ku felt like second nature.
I tend to prefer games that show me the situations rather than tell me about it. This attention to detail doesn’t stop at the beginning of the game either. Nearly every cutscene adds to the tension that Ori feels when trying to safely get through dark areas like the Silent Forest. The works because the visuals, sounds, and movement do a great job conveying the narrative.
Story aside, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a Metroidvania-style platformer. Players start with a few basic abilities, and as the adventure progresses, they get more skills to help with traversal and fighting. Before even acquiring the more advanced moves such as double jump or dashing, I noticed how intuitively Ori handles in basic mechanics. Jump arcs don’t have much height, but the range takes Ori a decent distance.
There are a few inconsistencies when it comes to Ori not “gripping” on to walls and objects, leading to some premature deaths. Regardless of holding the analog stick up against the wall and tapping the jump button to stay on the wall, Ori tends to fall without ever sliding off like he’s supposed to. Using the ‘sticky’ power-up that enables Ori to stay on the wall without slipping does help with this particular issue. However, I think using up one of your ability slots to have a better experience isn’t ideal, especially with the number of different abilities Ori can switch between.
Speaking of these swappable abilities, they come in two categories, the first being Spirit Shards. Spirit Shards are equipable stats with effects that stack as long as the player has enough slots. With 32 spirit shards, the combo you choose will change Ori’s effectiveness in combat or platforming. These range from increased damage resistance, sticking to walls, or even trade-off effects like 15% damage dealing and receiving.
The other category is the Ability Wheel, a quick menu that can assign up to three buttons with attacks, and magic. From light blades, arc arrows, and healing spells, trading abilities are swift. Again, this can be tailored to the player’s choices, even switching up the button layout for attacks completely. There’s a bit of a balancing act to swap abilities for the right situations, as there are a lot of different environments and monsters that Ori faces. There is no “right way” to defeat a particular enemy; it’s more like what’s convenient for the player when tackling each situation.
Patience is essential in Ori and the Will of the Wisps when fighting even the simplest of monsters. The first encounter with a pink hedgehog-like enemy showcased this when I learned that it launched spikes at the sight of Ori. Later encounters also had me redirect projectiles through a new ability, but the recoil from the attack launched me straight into hazards. As you play, you’ll notice that taking the least amount of damage should be a priority.
When it comes to enemies, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has plenty. In the later parts of the game, the difficulty scare ramps up, but the steady rollout of skills and abilities matched my own knowledge of the game’s controls, which made them easier. Enemy attacks are well projected with fair warning to dodge once I got the attack patterns down. When it comes to the map’s design, the interweaving tunnels and areas do a good job laying out an adventure that feels full of player choice. Backtracking never felt cumbersome or annoying as there was always something to discover or something new to see when returning to old areas.
On the Xbox One S I used for some of our playthroughs, the game had slowdowns from the opening sequences that became more frequent as I progressed the game. Eventually, the slowdown turned to freezes. Moon Studio is aware of the issue and noted that the game is expected to have a patch for it soon. There are recommendations to restart the game or console but I had a better experience when doing a full shutdown and turning the system back on, as restarting still had issues and even caused a crash.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a fantastic game that found a balance with its art and gameplay. At a glance, this game could be mistaken for a high-budget animated movie thanks to Moon Studios’ quality of animations and attention to details. I understood the tasks that Ori and friends were facing and felt easily attached to this adventure. The game’s current state on Xbox One is a huge shame. The stuttering, slowdowns, and crashes break the momentum that Ori and the Will of the Wisps worked so hard to gain. My experience on PC luckily was more favorable as nearly all issues weren’t present. Still, Unless you have the luxury to switch between the platforms, I would stick to the PC version until Microsoft and Moon Studios can fix the issues.
If the issues get fixed in a timely matter, I say Ori and the Will of the Wisp is a must-buy for platforming fanatics. The mechanics are smooth and intuitive without being repetitive. The well-made map layout, good soundtrack, and modern animated movie quality rivals what can be seen in high-budget titles. As the standard of mainstream gaming improves, Ori and the Will of the Wisps can be the game that raises the bar in quality, as long it’s playable.
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