A charming successor, with minor blemishes in its’ new combat and story structure
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the direct sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest. The game oozes with even better art, music and cutscenes compared to the original. Will of the Wisps is also longer than its predecessor. The new game is filled with side quests, time challenges and puzzles to solve. There are a few blemishes to Will of the Wisps such as its’ new combat system and story. It is also not a substantially different game than Blind Forest, so don’t expect something completely original.
Will of the Wisps takes place right after the ending of the original. A beautifully directed introduction sequence follows Ori and friends with their new owl friend, Ku. Ku is the same owlet that Ori rescued at the end of Will of the Wisps. Ori decides to teach Ku how to fly using a feather plucked from Ku’s mother. After learning to fly, a thunderstorm erupts separating Ori and Ku. Both of them fall in an unknown land populated with friendly and also fearsome inhabitants. Ori is once again tasked with gaining abilities to traverse different thematic environments and collect wisps to restore balance to the land.
Most of the platforming is the same as Blind Forest. Ori will eventually gain roughly equivalent move set and abilities in the original to traverse the environment, so I won’t discuss them in this review.
The first major difference in Will of the Wisps is combat. In this game, Ori will gain a repertoire of melee and ranged attacks including a sword, mace and bow. Unfortunately, the combat never feels necessary with the exception for boss fights and battle arenas. Even when in combat, it doesn’t feel quite as polished as the platforming. There are too many particle effects when Ori uses melee attacks making it difficult to see what’s going on. The mace is also substantially superior to the sword because of it’s knockback potential and ground pound ability, so I never found myself using the sword afterwards. And in the second half of the game, both sword and mace are superseded by the bow. The bow is straight-up broken and trivializes all combat encounters. I was able to mow down most of the bosses in less than a minute.
The reason why the bow can be completely overpowered is in the second addition to Will of the Wisps which are the Spirit Shards. Spirit Shards are perk-like upgrades that Ori can swap in and out at anytime. These shards can be found in the world and are completely varied. Some shards help Ori be more resilient, some shards help make the platforming easier while other shards make Ori a combat machine. Shard effects can also be stacked, so it becomes easy to completely break the combat and have Ori shoot the bow as if it were a super-powered Spread Gun in Contra.
The last major difference is that there are NPCs in the game now, including a hub area unlocked roughly 2 hours in. The hub area is a great way for Ori to learn new abilities, obtain new Spirit Shards and venture off and complete side quests. The side quests are nice distractions to explore other areas and test your platforming/combat prowess. The hub area also continually improves as you play the game. In the world there are special collectibles to find which can be used in exchange to improve and unlock new areas in the hub area.
Outside of the above differences, Will of the Wisps pretty much plays like a more accessible version of Blind Forest. The platforming puzzles are still there, but they are much more forgiving. In the original game, Ori had to manually create checkpoints, but in Will of the Wisps checkpoints are generously scattered at most platforming sequences. There is also a wealth of life and energy orbs to discover making most platforming tolerable even with many mistakes. Will of the Wisps also introduces a heal ability early on, so that Ori can heal anytime as long as he has enough energy.
I can’t shake the feeling of being disappointed with how the game is structured. The first third of the game is narrative heavy and is the best part of the game. It introduces our side-characters, our villain and has several nicely directed cutscenes. The other two thirds of the game is a stark contrast and completely absent of all of this. The side-characters and the villain are omitted and never mentioned but in brief cutscenes and in the end game. I no longer cared about the story because I spent the next 8 hours going through the motions of exploring levels, gaining abilities and collecting wisps. The game tries to salvage itself at the end, but I didn’t feel any real impact because there was such a long time gap between significant plot events.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an artistic accomplishment. The platforming is as sharp as ever. The collectibles are fun to discover and find. The additional combat options don’t feel like they belong in this game but are serviceable. The story, well at least in the first third of the game, is an impressive showcase of friendship, family and love. If you loved Ori and the Blind Forest, you will enjoy Ori and the Will of the Wisps.