When Ori and the Blind Forest first released, hardly anyone had heard of the title or knew what to expect. It didn’t take long though, for the stunning quality of the game to shine through and for Ori & Naru to win over gamers’ hearts the world around. Word of mouth travelled fast and within one week it already became a profitable investment for Moon Studios. It kept on winning awards and it soon became one of the Xbox One’s highest-rated titles.
No surprise then, that this sequel was so wildly anticipated. Will it live up to the high standards or could we even dare dream that it surpasses the original in both execution and scope? Let’s find out!
Rarely do we get to experience a game so stunning, so picturesque as Ori and the Will of the Wisps. You could quite easily frame every single screenshot you’d take in the game and decorate your walls with them. (as a matter of fact, I’ll go and order a few right now!)
The difference in colour palette from zone to zone really help set them apart while still making the world feel complete as a whole. The attention to detail is nothing short of masterful, with platforms moving organically as you walk across them or twitching insect wings giving that extra creep-factor to one of the darker levels in the game.
There’s also the phenomenal soundtrack: It’s impossible to listen to Ori’s score and not feel anything. There are quite a few new tracks that will play at key moments in the game, instantly making me care about what’s unfolding to the characters. Ori and the Will of the Wisps would still be a great game if you’d add in a lesser soundtrack, but this key element undoubtedly plays a role in making it an instant classic.
*Promise me you’ll play this with a headset (and keep the tissues nearby!)
The rest of the sound design is nothing to sneeze at either! (in fact, please keep from sneezing at all in this Corona-infested times!) The sound effects are dead one: walking on a wooden bridge and then some moss, the sound of your footsteps match perfectly, there are ambient background noises giving life to the world of Nibel and the NPCs you talk to have this wonderful made-up language they speak which really helps with the immersion.
One other thing that set the original apart was the emotional story being told: Cute, likeable characters, dramatic music and bad stuff happening to them make for a perfect recipe to shed some tears. There’s a lot more exposition than before through the various NPCs you’ll meet and this gives the world-building and emotional investment a much-needed boost.
Ori has always been a completionist’s dream with plenty of collectables and Metroidvania-style exploring, but new to the game are the multiple side-characters and quests to complete. Restore life to a tree that’s been turned to stone, bring sad news to one of the monkey-like creatures that you’ll befriend during your playthrough or collect seeds & ores to help build a new home for the Moki, the monkey-like creatures that populate the world.
You can also farm and spend Spirit Light (the game’s currency) on abilities, spirit shards or even on buying maps from Lupo the cartographer as to not miss a single thing and get that desired 100% completion.
Now, backtracking is key to the genre, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have a few more save/warp points in the game to make it even easier to move around. I felt like the Definitive Edition of the first game handled this slightly better because of the shortcuts that were introduced. Here, you’ll often find yourself toggling between traversing the world and checking the map to see if you’re not heading back into a dead end.
It’s always a bit odd to play a sequel to a Metroidvania-like game and having your playable character basically reset without any of its abilities from the previous title. But it’s this very feeling of progression that makes the genre so damn satisfying.
You start the game even having some difficulty getting over a high ledge, but before you know it, you’re zipping through the level while hardly setting foot on the ground. It’s a sensational feeling of accomplishment that you can only get from playing games.
Ori’s offensive arsenal has also received an upgrade: You can equip multiple melee or ranged attacks and upgrade them. While you start the game feeling threatened by even the weakest enemies, at the end of your adventure, you’ll be plowing through them like a furry Goku. (analogy courtesy of Jez Corden)
Now, it’s okay to have challenging combat, but the enemies do feel a bit bullet-spongey at the start, taking just a bit too many hits to actually defeat them. Especially when you’ve already got their pattern down but are simply going through the motions, it becomes noticeable. This issue resolves itself through upgrading Ori along the way though, so perhaps this is simply the desired effect?
The boss battles were challenging, but manageable even in higher difficulties, yet the fact that beating them unlocks a rare achievement worries me. I hope this is the Gamepass effect with people trying it out but not seeing it through just yet, and not an indicator of the game being too hard. It would be a shame if people miss out on the complete experience because of it.
Sadly there were a few bugs: On one occasion, Ori’s default attack stopped dealing damage at all. It was clipping right through enemies. Silver lining: it made me switch to the heavier melee attack and that turned out to be a much more effective way of dealing with enemies. Just goes to show that I don’t experiment enough with the different abilities & weapons in games, and it’s admittedly sad that a bug is required to make me see the error of my ways.
More annoying were the moments where the double/triple jump didn’t seem to give me any lift at all. Moments before I was hopping along and zooming through a level and then at some points, I felt like I couldn’t get above a certain height while I was sure I should be able to. I’m not 100% sure if these were intentional (in which case it’s bad design) or actual bugs.
EDIT: I’ve also just now had the “Sticky” ability stop working for me, requiring me to restart the game to get it back. (it’s a very useful spirit shard you can equip that makes you stick to walls)
Either way, I have no doubt issues like these will get ironed out over time, given Moon Studio’s reputation, but it’s still something to consider at the time of writing.
We can’t get through the review without addressing the elephant in the room: News of the technical issues plaguing the game quickly flooded the internet even before the game’s release as reviewers were instructed to only play it on the Xbox One X for maximum performance and even then the game stuttered. Heck, I’ve even experienced a hard crash myself.
A day-one patch should have resolved this issue and I indeed didn’t notice it until much later in the game and when playing for extra-long sessions, but it’s still something we’d much rather avoid in games released publically. We postponed the review somewhat to see how this would play out, but we’re sad to say that it’s not yet without flaw.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is nothing short of a masterpiece. From its painting-like gorgeous aesthetic and a soundtrack that will sweep you off your feet to the tight gameplay and addictive progression system. Add some very likeable characters and emotional storytelling into the mix and you have a classic that people will be talking about for decades to come. If it weren’t for the minor issues listed above, it could have very easily gotten a perfect score. Don’t let that keep you from playing the game though, this is without a doubt one of the easiest titles to recommend to every lover of videogames as a medium.
Need to see it in glorious 4K/HDR action? I’ve got you covered!