Another forest needs saving in Will of the Wisps.
Since the launch of the Xbox One back in 2013, Xbox Games Studios has released dozens of sequels and new IPs. Among the latter, 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest sits at the top for us, narrowly edging out the criminally underrated Sunset Overdrive. As such, we’ve been looking forward to the sequel since it was announced nearly three years ago at E3. Now, the waiting has come to an end as Ori and the Will of the Wisps has arrived.
As with the original, you once again control Ori, a guardian spirit that possesses a mix of combat and exploration skills. Probably the biggest change here is that melee fighting has become a big part of the action versus the range-heavy approach seen in Blind Forest. You’ll also unlock a range of abilities as you progress (basic melee attacks, self healing, light bow, burst jump and more), but only three can be active at any time and are mapped to the non-jump face buttons. This is in addition to core skills like dashing and riding air currents.
Beyond that, you’ll also be able to equip a number of secondary skills, many of which are passive (such as damage boosts or increased toughness) and some that are active (triple jump, more arrows per shot). You’ll only have access to a few slots initially, but if you complete the various combat shrines scattered about you’ll increase that number considerably. As with the first game, Will of the Wisps does a great job of encouraging you to scour the map to find the various shards and energy/health pieces to strengthen Ori.
While the game puts lots of tools and options at your disposal, they often don’t feel as smoothly implemented as we wanted them to be. Far too often we found ourselves cursing a missed jump or taking damage from an enemy that our melee strikes carried us into. There’s little more annoying than getting stuck on some thorns, unable to leap to safety as you watch your life slip away. We welcome the challenge of smart level design, but uneven controls added more frustration than we would’ve liked.
Developer Moon Studios has once again brought Ori’s world to life in stunning fashion with a beautiful array of distinct locations to visit and explore. The dark fantasy world hits on all cylinders from start to finish, creating a truly memorable experience for the senses. The smart use of Metroidvania progression also generates plenty of incentive to revisit areas, extending the run time and allowing you to take in its beauty. Creature and boss designs shine as well, even if the main baddie feels a little too familiar.
Taking the trip with you is a beautiful soundtrack that rises for big confrontations and falls for the game’s many emotional turns. For a game that contains very few spoken words, none of which are in a real language, Ori and the Will of the Wisps generates the type of “feels” that many big budget titles can only dream of.
Set after the events of Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps finds Ori, Naru and Gumo living happily together as they raise Ku, one of Kuro‘s hatchlings, as their own. The bird has an injured wing that prevents it from flying until Gumo attaches a feather. In celebration, Ku and Ori soar through the sky only to get caught up in a storm that sends the pair crashing down onto the island of Niwen.
Separated, Ori must find Ku, but what starts as primarily a search-and-rescue mission evolves into something much larger as the spirit must do what he can to heal this corrupted place. To do this, Ori will need to gather the wisps, which are essentially pieces of the Spirit Willow that have been scattered about the land. Standing in his way are all manner of creatures, including corrupted guardians and the dangerous Shriek, who detests the light.
There’s little depth to the story, but the game still does a strong job of building up the bonds between Ori and the world he’s trying to save, creating some genuinely touching scenes. The challenge is typically fair and consistently varied as the game keeps introducing new elements each time you enter a biome. Spirit wells allow for quick travel around the sizable world, allowing you to revisit previous areas quickly after you’ve acquired a new skill allowing you to reach previously unattainable goodies.
An all-new hub world offers a base of operations and more chances to collect items as the village can be rebuilt with special ore and plant seeds to create new access to increase Ori’s health and energy. If you invest the time you can turn Ori into a formidable force, which helps take some of the sting out of non-platform challenges against some surprisingly hard-hitting foes. While your mileage may vary, we dropped around 15 hours into the game while collecting pretty much everything on the default difficulty setting.
While it can’t recreate the freshness of its predecessor, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a very good sequel that offers up more of what the original delivered in terms of design and challenge.