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Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

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Release: 11/03/2020
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Moon Studios
Genre: Platformer, XBox One Reviews
PEGI: E
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OUR SCORE

Excellent About Rating
           
 
9.0 - Gameplay
          
 
9.5 - Video
           
 
10 - Audio
          
 

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps, available as a part of Game Pass or $30 to own, is a fantastic game that’s worth whichever price of entry you choose.  During the review period, it was clear that there were some issues with performance, and while Microsoft assured us these would be addressed with a day one patch, they still recommended that the game be played on an Xbox One X or Windows 10.

Not one to do what I’m told, I played through the entirety of the game on my launch Xbox One and my recommendation still stands.  The day one patch addressed issues of some invisible objects and the title screen hanging, but as I progressed toward the end of my 15-hour playthrough, I noticed a number of times where Ori would hang in the air for several seconds before the game would resume.  The game only crashed entirely on me once and I didn’t lose any progress.

While I was able to overlook these issues, they need to be addressed, and I fully expect another patch down the line given the increasing popularity of this first-party title that looks to be a staple of Microsoft’s lineup for the foreseeable future.  Part of the reason I found myself making excuses and overlooking the technical hiccups has been that the game is just so damned fun to play.  Between the gorgeous visuals, captivating score, and pinpoint controls, Will of the Wisps is a hard game to put down.

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The premise of the Ori games usually relates to some sort of return to nature.  In the sequel, we follow Ori and a young owl friend named Ku, an adorable pair that grow up together and who must be reunited after tragedy befalls Ku.  Ori needs to purify various parts of the world, helping the other animal inhabitants along the way before collecting the titular Wisps, which grant access to the endgame.

The story is somber, yet hopeful, and I found myself slightly more invested in it than expected, particularly since I don’t look to platformers for their narratives.  A good deal of the emotional investment I felt in the story, and the game as a whole comes from the music, which I can’t praise enough.  Composer Gareth Coker has said he wants the game’s music to evoke emotion in the way it does for a Pixar movie and he succeeds masterfully.  The music in Will of the Wisps can hold its own against an animated feature film and is likely to be some of the best of the entire year.  It’s rare that a game will get you to pause what you’re doing to just stop and listen, but Ori is able to do that.

Stopping isn’t just for listening though, as when you gain movement skills and become increasingly adept at moving through areas you can forget to appreciate the amount of background and foreground detail that’s gone into making each environment feel alive.  Large, open spaces are almost jarring in their emptiness compared to an average location in the game that feels loathe to reuse assets and has an amazing vibrancy, particularly for Xbox One X and PC players.

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This has felt like a lot of focus on the window dressing of a game that has such strong core mechanics, but the visual and audio design ends up being quite complementary to the mechanics.  Walls that you can walk through to find caches up the upgrade currency, spirit light, or other upgrades, each look different, but have a familiarity that draws the player to find them.  A musical change will clue you in to the fact that while you’ve danced past the last few groups of enemies, you’re at a point where you may need to heal or equip yourself for a fight.

There’s definitely a healthy mix of zipping through sections, avoiding enemies that are either inconsequential or frustrating to fight, and clearing out bad guys.  Whether it’s to collect spirit light or just to be able to traverse a room uninterrupted though, it ends up rarely being a bad idea to clean out some space.

While you can spend time grinding for spirit light, playing through the game normally seems to give you just the right amount to be able to purchase all of the upgrades to the abilities and skill shards you’ll find before the end of the game.

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Upgrades are purchased from vendors in a central hub town that you’ll reach fairly early in the game.  This is also where you’ll buy new skill shards that aren’t found in the wild that will do things like modify combat (decreased damage taken, fire multiple arrows at once), enhance mobility (triple jump!) or even provide passive permanent bonuses (no air meter underwater).

The town itself transforms as you collect certain items, filling with homes and unlocking access to more of the landscape as you bring back ore and seeds for construction.  A warp point in the center of town makes it easy to check in frequently and upgrade yourself for each new adventure.

The different skills and upgrades available allow for a good amount of customizability when compared to the first entry into the series.  You can focus on durability and up-close combat just as much as you can turn yourself into a bit of a ranged glass cannon or stockpile mobility moves to avoid combat altogether.

Combat itself is satisfying if a bit hectic at times.  Slashes from the first weapon you’re given remain effective throughout the game and can be used to keep Ori in the air to string together some fun combos.  Occasionally in close quarters, the flashes of light that come off attacks can obscure the enemies next to you which can result in taking an extra hit or two.  Combat isn’t terribly difficult on the game’s normal difficulty, particularly once you get the bash ability that allows you to redirect projectiles or fling yourself off enemies.  If you’re struggling though, there are ample places to pick up additional health or energy containers, and you can use shards to push the caps even further.

Even if you’re not particularly combat-inclined, be sure not to skip out on the several combat shrines dotting the map, as completing each of these will unlock another slot to equip a shard, making things easier going forward.

The Ori series, though, is a bit of the yin to a game like Hollow Knight’s yang.  Both are metroidvania-style combat platformers, but Will of the Wisps focuses much more heavily on the platforming.  The tools at your disposal are extensive and, in most cases, indefinitely repeatable.  By the end of the game, Ori can grapple to a ceiling, jump three times, dash through the air, glide even further, and then bash off an enemy to start the chain over again.  This leads to long, flowing sections of travel that quickly become a game of ‘the floor is lava.’

Many upgrades are placed in a way that have a clear, intended way of reaching them, but using all the tools at your disposal, it’s quite fun to reach them in clever ways.  Getting any of these collectibles early doesn’t have any game-breaking effects or any sequence skips, they’re just fun ways to test your platforming abilities.  Racing developer ghosts for spirit light will test you in similar ways, although I’m sure some players will look for much more elaborate routes to race through to show off their skill.

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The flexibility of the gameplay combined with the wondrous environment and music makes for a both unique and unifying warm playthrough.  Elsewhere on the internet I’d heard that the game takes 15 hours and after wrapping up the last of the collectibles and heading off to finish the final boss, I was right at 15 hours.  It feels like the right length as nothing felt like a slog and yet I didn’t feel the experience was over too quickly.  I was able to play with the mechanics where I wanted to and never felt rushed.

For a ‘budget’ game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps can hold its own with heavyweights.  I’m not sure that this is a game with extensive replayability more than giving it a run through on a long weekend every several years, although the achievement for beating the game in four hours looks very enticing now that I’ve grown so comfortable with getting around the world.

Overall, the game is great, and something I highly recommend everyone give a go.  The music and visuals are unmatched, and it provides enough of a challenge to give you a sense of accomplishment without ever getting to the point where things feel unfair.

 

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