In the years since its announcement, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has been shaping up to be a universal improvement over its 2015 predecessor Ori and the Blind Forest. Not only did it seem to be making beneficial gameplay enhancements, but it also looked like a larger scale production overall. Thankfully, both of these things are true, with Will of the Wisps being a near perfect follow-up to an already great game.
Much like the first game, the setup in Will of the Wisps is straightforward and brief. There’s a quick prologue that introduces players to the world and its characters, before tragedy befalls the cute and cuddly creatures. From there, it’s up to the titular Ori to traverse an unexplored land, unlock new abilities, discover secret areas and engage in many platforming challenges, all in typical metroidvania fashion.
Those familiar with the original won’t be surprised to hear that Will of the Wisps is gorgeous, with a vibrant, watercolour-esque art style making the large variety of different areas a treat to explore. The addition of talkative friendly NPC’s of different species also adds an extra level of authenticity to the world, as well as more personality.
These characters aren’t just there for set-dressing: many act as vendors, providing new abilities and upgrades for Ori, as well as additional side quests. These side quests will often reward Ori with extra currency, making the already natural act of exploration for hidden upgrades even more heavily incentivised. Everything in Will of the Wisps feeds into the core principles of exploration and character progression, making the satisfaction that comes with combing through a dense world even more engaging.
Traversing this new world is even more fun than before, with new moves such as the Grapple and Burrow abilities – which allow Ori to latch onto certain surfaces from afar, and plough through heavy sand and snow with ease respectively – being irreplaceable additions to Ori’s arsenal. These also add additional functionality to returning abilities such as Bash, with the combination of different moves being the backbone of a lot of the game’s best platforming sequences.
The platforming shines strongest in the returning chase sequences, in which Ori is pursued through areas by a much larger creature at a rapid pace. Not only is it a great spectacle to see vast structures crumble away effortlessly, as you fly past narrowly avoiding an instant death while Gareth Coker’s immaculate score blares in the background. It’s also a perfect showcase for how seamlessly Ori’s different abilities can be used in tandem, as you’ll find yourself almost automatically reacting to incoming obstacles as you circumvent them at a hair’s breadth.
The biggest improvement to the gameplay comes in the form of the newly revised combat. In Blind Forest, combat almost felt like a means to an end, whereas now it’s been notably fleshed out into its own core mechanic. Ori can map different abilities to the three face buttons separate from the dedicated jump button, and these can also include a range of different weapons, such as a bow, a swift hitting staff, and a large weighty club. Each of Ori’s different weapons have their own distinct properties and drawbacks, so naturally some become a better fit for certain enemies than others. While it’s not a complex combat system, forgoing varying combos for each weapon in favour of a more simplistic approach, the punchy feedback that comes from knocking around enemies is gratifying enough to make it a worthwhile addition.
This also means that Will of the Wisps has dedicated boss battles too, which do a good job of adding some additional climatic moments to the game, as well as further diversifying the gameplay scenarios as a whole.
The consistent diversity in gameplay throughout Will of the Wisps may be the game’s biggest achievement. Despite being denser than its predecessor both in content and size, it doesn’t lose the sense of immaculate pacing and constant diversity that made the original so engaging to play through. Instead, it relishes in the opportunity to have more room to breathe, not cutting any creative corners and making full use of its more refined mechanics.
While the gameplay and design of Will of the Wisps is an improvement over its predecessor in every way, it unfortunately has some frustrating technical drawbacks that hurt the experience as a whole, at least on the base Xbox One. While none of them are game breaking, frequent issues with frame rate that occur mostly during area transitions and busy combat sequences, and a map that takes a couple of seconds longer to load than it should bog down the pace of the game enough to be noticeable. The most frustrating technical hiccup for me came when the Achievement for completing the game didn’t pop. Even after beating the final boss and sitting through the ending cutscene for a second time, I have yet to gain the Achievement for some inexplicable reason.
These technical issues aren’t damning enough to spoil Will of the Wisps’ excellence, but they are enough to be an unfortunate blemish on a sequel that otherwise improves on its predecessor in every way. Will of the Wisps isn’t just a fantastic follow-up to an already great game, it’s a brilliant metroidvania in its own right, and arguably the year’s first major must-play release.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Reviewed on Xbox One)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Will of the Wisps isn’t just a fantastic follow-up to an already great game, it’s a brilliant metroidvania in its own right, and arguably the year’s first major must-play release.