How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. The game is clearly divided into segments that don't necessarily require any cross-over, but there is still plenty to explore with meaningful rewards
Primary Challenge: Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~12 hours
Review Info: Ori and the Will of the Wisps was played on Steam on the Hard Difficulty.
Buy Ori and the Will of the Wisps if you like…
- Masterful Platforming
- Gorgeous Presentation
- Treasure Hunting Exploration
- Guided Experiences
- Emotional Stories and NPC Interactions
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Ori and the Blind Forest set a lot of standards when it was released. It was a gorgeous example of what “indie” games could look like, and for me, at least, it was the exemplar of how a platforming-centric game with Metroidvania elements could be done. Ori and the Will of the Wisps provides more of the same, but with improved graphics and a wider variety of locales to show off those presentation values. It’s to the point that some media outlets are calling it the “AAA” Metroidvania game. Presentation of course isn’t everything, so it’s good that it also carries the torch of excellent platforming. The biggest change that The Will of the Wisps brings to the series is more refined combat mechanics, which is an oft-cited weakness of the Blind Forest. It doesn’t necessarily do everything perfect – at least as of a few days after the game’s launch at the time of writing – but if you enjoyed all of The Blind Forest, then Ori and the Will of the Wisps is certainly going to be at least as pleasing to you.
The strongest feature of the game is still the platforming, and Ori controls like a dream. You begin the game with the ability to climb and jump off of walls, and with every upgrade after, the complexity unfolds brilliantly as you become one with the flow of the movement. Platforming is often a physics puzzle of figuring out how to get from point A to point B, and while the previous game’s self-made checkpoint system has been abandoned, it’s no less interesting to piece together your own solution to the provided problems. The game rarely tells you what to do, so often times it may feel like you’re cheating the system to reach places that seemed impossible – and that’s a great feeling. It’s especially fun to legitimately sequence break something that would have been made easier to achieve with a later upgrade. Since there’s a little more choice on how you progress through the game, you’re even more likely to get this feeling through a normal play-through than before.
One of the more divisive aspects of the first game were the chase scenes, which sort of acted like the “Bosses” of platforming. They required you to really put the skills you’ve been carefully honing in the level previous to the ultimate test – and if you haven’t mastered the game’s controls, then you’re in for a lot of trial and error as all of those sequences require you to complete the whole thing in one go. Those chase sequences are back in The Will of the Wisps in full force, and they’re even harder. If the chases were a deal breaker for you before, then you’ll be disappointed with this game. I personally found most of them to be exhilarating conclusions to each segment. However, at the time of writing, one of the game’s mechanics related to a new upgrade doesn’t seem to always work the way you’d expect it to, and the chase that requires you to use it feels less like a test of skill or memorization, and more like you’re fighting the game to get it to do what you want. This is a bad feeling in what would otherwise be a perfect platformer. I suspect that many other critics will be highlighting this same issue, so it’ll probably be patched in the near future.
My other major gripe about Ori and the Will of the Wisps isn’t as easily patched, which is the game’s Combat content. While combat in the first game wasn’t particularly good (some may call it straight up bad), it was also far from a focus for the game. There were no bosses, and forced combat sections were generally short. It was the lack of combat that gave The Blind Forest a unique niche, making it easy to recommend to my friends who weren’t interested in brutally challenging combat such as the kind you’d find in a game like Hollow Knight. With that said, I was pretty optimistic when early reveals of The Will of the Wisps showed off that combat was a new focus. Even after playing the game, I can happily report that the combat is generally good, or at least definitely “better” than the first game.
The first impression of the combat inspires the elephant-in-the-room comparison that The Will of the Wisps seems to take a lot of cues from Hollow Knight. Your first weapon is a sword that can swing in 4 directions, you get a spell that you can channel to refill your health, and the talent tree from the first game has been completely replaced by “Spirit Shards” that function very similar to charms from Hollow Knight. Each shard only takes up one slot, however, and they’re just as important for platforming as they are for combat. You can also swap out shards any time you want, so you can change your “build” for whatever situation you’re in just as easily as pressing the pause button. Moment to moment, hitting enemies and dodging attacks is done very well, and adding this combat to Ori‘s iconic platforming skills has the potential to provide some really meaningful encounters. The combat mechanics are all there – they just needed to create the content to really make it interesting.
Content is where combat becomes lacking in The Will of the Wisps. There aren’t that many bosses in the game – at least compared to other Metroidvania games with a combat focus – and the majority of the bosses that are there have some major issues meshing with the combat mechanics. The main bosses have both chase scenes and fighting segments, thus for the chase scenes they were made big and intimidating, but when you fight them their weakpoint is high up and out of reach. This could be a plus for Ori, since at its core it is still a game about platforming challenges above all else. Scaling giant creatures to stab them in the head would have been more than appropriate. However, the bosses all deal contact damage, so sitting on their skulls is out of the question. Their movement is also sporadic, and they have attacks that simply come out with little warning, generally punishing a melee approach in a game where melee is your only consistent option for damage without using energy. You are given quite a few ranged options to use instead, but they share the same resource pool as your healing, and the only default way to restore your energy is by breaking crystals and collecting blue shards. Each boss room conveniently has at least one crystal in it, which respawns after a short while, but it only provides three energy units at a time, essentially putting any ranged strategy on a cooldown system. Ironically, giving you access to that energy can make the boss too easy as well, if you decide to rely on melee in spite of the problems. One unit of energy can be converted into three units of health, so each time that crystal respawns you can restore up to 9 units of health as you slowly pick away at the boss while trying to stay as safe as possible with your weak melee attacks. I suspect that these design decisions are less of an issue on the game’s normal mode, but on hard mode it makes these bosses a frustrating chore that I simply wish I wasn’t forced to do.
Regular enemy encounters don’t have the same issues that the bosses do, but they also get very repetitive as the game progresses. There aren’t a ton of enemy types in the game, and when you face off with them in an arena rather than simply as obstacles in platforming, that lack of variety becomes grossly apparent. Even on the hard difficulty mode it doesn’t take too much exploration to get to the point where these arenas aren’t particularly challenging either. You can find 10 upgrades to your health besides the ones you get just from progression, and you can find that same number for your energy which can be converted into healing as I mentioned before. There’s nothing wrong with a little power fantasy, however, especially if it’s a reward for exploration in a Metroidvania game. Ultimately I think the new combat in Ori and the Will of the Wisps is very good, it just doesn’t quite reach that laudable position of “great”, and as a result making it such a focus bogs down the experience as a whole, even if it’s only slightly.
Exploration is at least as good as it was in the first game, with some excellent optional segments filled with great rewards. There are still a lot of secret walls and hidden alcoves that provide shards, health or energy upgrades, and money, but the game helps you out a lot by telling you on the map just about everything that is in your immediate vicinity. At about the mid point of the game you also have the option to go to four different objectives in any order you choose, altering what abilities you’ll have unlocked depending on the order you tackle them. That “Dungeon” style design of the first game is still basically the norm in The Will of the Wisps though, it’s just got a different coat of paint on it, since each area can still be tackled independently in the same way with only optional secrets enticing you to backtrack to them. Exploration is so rewarding that I almost felt like I was finding too many upgrades as I searched around – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a really fun part of the game and definitely scratches that “Metroidvania” itch that they were going for.
Besides equipment and upgrades, the world is vibrant and alive with a lot of NPCs to talk to. Something that Ori has always done well is atmosphere, and adding additional voices to the game elevates that atmosphere to the next level. Performing quests for game’s denizens feels good, and its rewarding to watch their lives improve with your contributions. Hanging out with your friends is simply relaxing, and it can provide an important emotional connection to Ori’s world to drive the player through its plot.
The plot is a little disjointed at first, at least compared to the first game. It takes a good four hours into the 11-15 hour experience before you even start pursuing your ultimate goal, and before that point it’s unclear how your actions are directly tied to what you’re ostensibly trying to accomplish. Thematically those early four hours are like a mini version of The Blind Forest since the objectives are reminiscent of that first game. As a result it doesn’t really feel like the game even starts until a third of the way through it. Beyond that point though, the story – and gameplay – really picks up, and it all ends off in a more satisfying way than the original. However, in order to really appreciate the story aspect of this game, it’s sort of important that you’re at least familiar with what happened in the first.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is very much an excellent game. It’s more of the same in ways where it matters most, and I can really appreciate that it at least tried to expand on what was considered the weakest mechanics of its predecessor. While I don’t think the existing content provides a meaningful payoff to its new combat focus, the rest of the game is so excellent that it hardly matters. Simply adding more content could potentially assuage all of my gripes, and based on how The Blind Forest was updated with a “Definitive Edition” (which is the version I reviewed on this site), most of my criticisms here will probably be made obsolete or at least demoted to nitpicking in the coming years. If you enjoyed the platforming – and chase scenes – from the first game, you’re likely going to find a delightful and fulfilling experience with Ori and The Will of the Wisps.
Mechanically the combat is nearly perfect, however there just isn't enough variety in the combat content to push it into ''Greatness.''
Phenomenal variety in the challenges with many different ways to approach each of them.
A good percentage of the game is basically optional, giving you plenty of meaningful treasures to find
Puzzle Platforming is taken to the next level compared to the first game, with even a few riddles to solve
Ori's journey is made a more personal this time around, especially if you're familiar with the events of the first game
The bloom effect and explosions can take a little getting used to when in the action, but I don't think I need to mention that overall the graphics are gorgeous
Orchestrated soundtrack is as epic as it is always appropriate for a given scene. Generally creates a relaxing atmosphere.
The new Spirit Shard equip system is flexible, there are a few weapon options, and the last half of the game can be done in any order.
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