Ori's second outing makes for a true masterpiece
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I first played Ori and the Blind Forest. The game and its art-style had always piqued my interest, but for some reason I simply hadn’t found the time for it. I was so glad once I finally did, because Ori and the Blind Forest sparked my renewed interest into the metroidvania revival and led me on to playing games like Guacamelee, Iconoclasts, and of course Hollow Knight. What’s striking about Ori and the Will of the Wisps is that it’s clear that Moon Studios have also taken the time to refine and see what makes the metroidvania genre work so well. The result is that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is possibly one of the best games in its genre and has made me fall in love with metroidvanias all over again. It’s not only a sight to behold, but a pure joy to play all the way through.
Will of the Wisps is a direct continuation of Ori and the Blind Forest. While both games are light on narrative, I’m going to be careful with my phrasing here to avoid giving away something to players who haven’t experienced the original yet. You play as Ori, a guardian spirit who controls the light of spirit trees. While going on an adventure Ori gets separated from his friend Ku in a storm and has to find a way to save him. With the help of all sorts of fantastical creatures Ori has to make his way throughout the Niwen woods and restore this world to its former glory by rescuing several light spirits and by helping Ku along the way. Where the original game had a couple of supporting characters, Will of the Wisps expands the world of Ori enormously with new creatures, races and even some named NPC’s, who I found to be quite charming. The somewhat sarcastic bird Tokk and the combat-expert Opher were great characters to run into during my journey.
Much like The Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is absolutely gorgeous. The world has this painterly art-style that suits almost every environment you visit along the way. Many improvements to the visual style have been added such as a larger variety of enemies, collectible objects and a more natural way of discovering hidden caves and optional paths. There are visual details in background and foreground that help guide and orientate you throughout Niwen. Whether it’s locations like the murky swamp or the old waterwheel, visual clues are almost instinctive in how they remind you to return at later points with new abilities or how to best traverse these dangerous places. I was always eager to discover new pathways or dungeons, just to see how they would visually stand out from earlier in the game. Be that the lush greens found in the forest, the warm light of the golden hour in the Glades or the death and decay in Shriek’s lair, no place in Niwen feels quite the same. Accompanied by an absolutely haunting and beautiful orchestral soundtrack, this is a game I found myself playing with others watching, just because everything clicks together so well.
Gameplay wise Ori and the Will of the Wisps at first seems to control very similarly to its previous title. Structured like a Metroidvania, you travel across the large Niwen forest, acquiring new powers and abilities along the way that open up new paths or help you find secrets. But after playing a little while it was clear that under the hood many refinements, additions and improvements have been made. First of all, there are a lot more combat options available to choose from. The first weapon you unlock is a light blade that has quite a lot of range to it. You can combine attacks with the movement stick to hit enemies in all directions. Unlike the orb Ori used in the first game, there are a lot more weapons available to switch up the gameplay. Some require the use of energy, while others can also be upgraded over time and have additional effects such as dealing fire damage or breaking specific platforms. While combat is important, what really made Ori stand out for me personally were the movement options. Ori moves quickly, fluently, and I’d say gracefully through the woods. Samus Aran or The Knight from Hollow Knight almost feel clunky compared to the way that Ori dashes from tree to tree and clings to walls to progress. This movement is really something special and I feel is exemplified best by the return of one of my favourite moves in all of gaming: the bash. Once you unlock the ability early on, every enemy, attack and environmental object gets a new meaning. Holding down the L button while being near another object slows down time and allows Ori to bash said object in the opposite direction while flinging himself forward. This opens up so many ways to traverse the world it still baffles me. You can use enemy projectiles to return them to the opponent, or you can fling them towards barriers to break them to open up a new pathway. Need a boost to get to a higher ledge? How about a wall jump into a dash and finishing it up by bashing an enemy downward to give yourself some more lift. All actions, be it combat or movement, can be chained together to move incredibly quickly from one place to another. This makes backtracking also a joy, because unlocked abilities add on to this fluid moveset.
The final piece to this refinement comes in the form of shards. Shards can either be purchased or found in the overworld. You can only equip a select few of them at a time and each shard has a unique ability. Do you want to automatically cling to walls? There is a shard for that. Looking for a way to deal more damage? You can equip a shard that boosts damage twofold, but also increases damage taken by 100%. These shards can be swapped at any time, but what makes them stand out from the badges in Hollow Knight, is that these can be upgraded to improve their capabilities. This means that you can customize Ori to a way that you prefer best. Since I love the movement in Ori I gave myself shards that allowed me to automatically cling to walls, grapple an additional enemy and increased my resistance to enemy attacks. There is something to be said that Will of the Wisps seems to take a lot of inspiration from other metroidvanias like the earlier mentioned Hollow Knight. While I think that the comparison is not entirely unfounded, I do feel that Ori and the Will of the Wisps does set its own path forward. Hollow Knight is far more focused on combat and saving up your energy to unleash special moves. I think Ori strikes a better balance when it comes to giving players more options to discover the world at their own pace. There seems to be more focus on puzzle solving and traversal, rather than getting overwhelmed by an onslaught of enemies. Every time I discovered a new location, enemy or obstacle I felt like there were multiple options to solve the problem, whereas in Hollow Knight I sometimes had to grind my way through.
Unfortunately, there are still a few sins of the father present here. I wasn’t a big fan of the use of chase sequences in the original game that cause you to instantly die when missing a jump and these do make their return here. While the game is optimized on the Switch, it actually runs at 60FPS in both handheld and docked mode, there are the occasional slowdowns when discovering new large locations. The boot-up loading screen also takes a good minute before you can start the game. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t happen to run into two game-breaking bugs that completely crashed my game without any clear indication why. Thankfully the auto-save system is a godsend and I never lost any notable progress, but I did have to sit through that long loading screen at the beginning of the game again. These were notable issues, but I am confident that these bugs can be fixed in due time. Comparatively to the launch on the Xbox One earlier this year, us Switch users seem to have gotten the better deal.
There are few games that genuinely make me feel quite as happy as Ori and the Will of the Wisps. The combination of a visually stunning world and a gameplay loop that rewards customization and exploration really make this game feel like no other. Simply put, this is not a quick rehash of Ori and the Blind Forest. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a refined masterpiece that feels like a metroidvania that has reached its pure potential. The traversal feels smooth and makes backtracking an absolute joy. The combat has plenty of options for all sorts of playstyles and puzzles make you feel clever for solving them. For players young or old, veterans or newcomers and hardcore or casual players, this game is enjoyable for everyone to play and to watch. There are a few titles on the Nintendo Switch that I’d consider as must-haves, but I am happy to add Ori and the Will of the Wisps to that list.