'Ori and the Will of the Wisps': Game Review

Ori and the Will of the Wisps_Graveyard Game Still - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Microsoft
Builds on the original in (mostly) promising ways.

Moon Studios returns with a follow-up to its 2015 platformer in this challenging, but rewarding, new adventure.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps, developed by Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios, doesn't mess around. An early game boss fight, in which you square off against a gigantic beetle, had me dying half a dozen times before I was able to send the beast into the great beyond. However, while it may be difficult, Will of the Wisps is also a wonderful, fitting sequel to its 2015 predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest, encompassing a Lion King-esque narrative that pans out over a lush 2D-world full of branching paths and new abilities.

In Will of the Wisps, you explore the world of Nibel, which is reminiscent of a classic impressionist painting at times, and all its nooks and crannies, fighting off enemies big and small by learning their patterns and getting better after each death. The developers at Moon Studios did a lot to help guide me through the world, such as including environmental cues that help point in the right direction that really help with the game's sometimes frustrating difficulty level.

A few features from Blind Forest are expanded on in deeper — albeit occasionally less interesting — ways. Will of the Wisps is a fundamentally different game than its forebearer. There are many non-playable characters spread across the map that offer side quests, as well as a handful of shops and purchasable goals that compliment the story. Some of these feel like good additions to the base platforming and story while others, unfortunately, fall flat.

While Blind Forest played on themes of climate change and loss (with a healthy dose of magic added in), Will of the Wisps features a similar setting, but one that's improved in subtle ways. The change in atmosphere makes Will of the Wisps feel unique. You'll enjoy the change of pace quite a bit if you're a fan of games like Hollow Knight or Celeste, and while Will of the Wisps still has moments of sombre gravity akin to the original, the addition of many colorful new faces to play an active role in the story is a welcome change.

The challenging platforming, meanwhile, remains. New mechanics, weapons and playable characters mix up the gameplay throughout the entire adventure. A bow and arrow made of light and a powerful staff are two highlights. The change in the atmosphere also means improved enemy AI and design. There are more enemy types, including dog-like creatures, praying mantises and golems, as well as massive bosses that serve as both fast-paced platforming challenges and combat-oriented segments.

That same platforming, however, is hindered by one change that Moon Studios made in Will of the Wisps: the save button. In the original game, you could use stored energy to save at almost any point as long as you weren't in the middle of a fight or on unstable ground, like a crumbling platform. In effect, saving was a choice left up to the player's discretion. Will of the Wisps removes this option, adding an autosave feature that saves throughout at different times. The save-whenever-you-had-energy-system in Blind Forest let me split up difficult platforming segments whenever possible, making tough sections easier to manage. Will of the Wisps' autosave removes that choice.

The game did lag and chug at times as it tried to autosave. Slow downs and weird load times when opening up the map also occurred throughout my playtime, but Microsoft said that an update addressing performance and gameplay issues had been applied on Tuesday morning.

Overall, Will of the Wisps is still an incredible game with tight mechanics and controls set in a vast world that builds upon the foundation of the first game by introducing, for the most part, welcome changes. Side quests and new characters add a lot to a playthrough, even if you choose to only focus on the main story. It's a testament that even after a dozen hours of bounding along trees and over poisonous marshes, I'm still eager to explore more of Nibel and whatever other forest creatures lie in wait, wanting to kill me.

This game was reviewed on Xbox One.