Shedding New Light | Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review
Updated: Feb 26, 2021
If you know anything about how we operate over here at GameSharks, you'll know we love Metroidvanias. We even recently played both of the games that make up that moniker, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, often argued as being among the greatest video games ever made. In the decades since, we've seen the genre explode in popularity, with a multitude of new games building upon the groundwork of the originals, in the process creating instant classics and hidden gems alike.
One such game was Moon Studios' first soiree into game development, Ori and the Blind Forest, released in 2015 for Xbox One and PC. It achieved immediate success, receiving glowing reviews across the board, and later in the year, being nominated for multiple awards, including winning Best Art Direction from The Game Awards. Fast forward to exactly 5 years later, and the long awaited sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, releases, yet another addition into the plethora of already great Metroidvanias. It thrills me to say, however, that not only is it an absolutely fantastic Metroidvania, but it is a perfect sequel.
Now, you may be wondering why I decided to open this review with a semi-lengthy ramble about Metroidvanias instead of, you know, talking about the game I'm reviewing, and the answer is quite simple: I forgot this isn't a high school essay! In all seriousness though, I thought it important to establish some context to really show why Will of the Wisps is truly special. There have been many great Metroidvanias that just barely fall short in some areas, preventing it from being recognized in that "best of all time" status we love to talk about so much.
Blind Forest, for example, was amazing in almost every way: the art was breathtaking, the soundtrack was majestic, the story was simple, yet emotional, and exploring the game's world was extremely rewarding, filled with secrets that make full use of Ori's abilities. However, the game's lack of an engaging combat system held it back just enough. This is paired with a linear ability tree that doesn't add much to the combat, and offers upgrades and abilities that are a natural progression for a Metroidvania. They feel like placeholders within a system that should be about player choice. Will of the Wisps reiterates the original's strengths, while improving its weaknesses, and throwing even more new treats on top of it.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is everything the first game is, and more. It takes Blind Forest's art direction and modernizes it, making it one of the most visually stunning games of this generation. The music is just as elegant as before, accompanying some key story moments that will sweep you away. The story of Will of the Wisps, while loosely tied to the events of Blind Forest, is simple to understand without having played it, and is heartfelt and emotional throughout. The world of Niwen is beautiful and rich, full of adorable wildlife to interact with, within a variety of landscapes that host many a secret for you to uncover, rewarding paying attention to your surroundings, and in some cases, creative use of your abilities.
Where Will of the Wisps really shines above its predecessor is in its combat and progression. Instead of "press attack button if in range and do damage" Ori's Spirit Fire move, Will of the Wisps hosts a wide selection of weapons and abilities that will offer a different experience for each choice. These include but aren't limited to: a spirit light beam-sword, a classic bow and arrow, and of course, a big hammer. These abilities are all part of a wheel, equip-able to one of three ability slots that can be swapped at any time. Having access to potentially different combat styles and movement options at all times sets it right past Blind Forest.
Speaking of movement options, holy crap. The traversal in this game is some of the most smooth, fluid, and satisfying gameplay I've ever experienced! The amount of ways to get from Point A to Point B are massive, and those abilities can be used in tandem with one another to make even just walking through a regular area enjoyable! Obtaining those abilities never feels overwhelming, and each one offers new heights to reach (sometimes literally!) and new secrets to find. They of course add multiple new layers to combat as well, further encouraging player creativity!
You can't talk about creativity, though, without talking about Shards. The Shard system in Will of the Wisps replaces Blind Forest's Skill tree, and what a welcome addition it is! Instead of linear paths to choose from, you can equip a number of Shards, which can be found through exploration and quests, that enhance Ori's stats and abilities however the player sees fit. The Shards themselves can be upgraded via certain NPCs, and the amount of maximum Shard Slots can be increased through Combat Trial Shrines scattered throughout Niwen. On top of the different abilities at your disposal, the Shards open the gates to endless possibilities for ways to play the game, buffing different weapons, or focusing on adding more health, or adding an additional jump to your arsenal! Credit where credit is due, this system is very reminiscent of Hollow Knight's Charms, but as far as anybody at GameSharks is concerned, no complaints there!
Will of the Wisps also does away (mostly) with the long environmental chase sections that were so prevalent in Blind Forest, instead providing proper boss fights. These fights are epic, unique, and challenging all in their own right, and make great use of the environments in which they take place, dynamically changing as the fights progress, providing for thoroughly enjoyable battles. Some chase sections are still present, but they are not nearly as egregious as the first game.
Another new addition to Will of the Wisps is the side objectives for you to complete throughout the game. Whether it's collecting Gorlek Ores, or investigating rumors, there's always something to be discovered somewhere in the world. These tasks are done at the behest of many of the characters Ori will meet along the way, all congregating in the Wellspring Glades, acting as the hub area of the game. Upon completion, many sidequests will have a direct effect on this area and the characters in it, offering new rewards for Ori as you go.
The world of Niwen feels so much more alive than that of Blind Forest's Nibel. This is mainly due to the direct influence Ori's actions have upon building the world and helping its inhabitants. Paying attention to the desires of particular characters can help with the game's trading quest, and helping Gorlek renovate the Wellspring Glades is heartwarming, watching a community of Moki grow right before your eyes. And yes, the Moki are adorable. Interacting with other NPCs scattered throughout the world, such as Kwolok the big friendly Frog, or Baur, the big friendly Bear, really makes the journey feel like everyone in this world is putting all their energy into Ori to reach a common goal.
"I went into Ori and the Will of the Wisps thinking that it was going to be another slightly above average Metroidvania that looked pretty, but nothing more. However, as I watched the credits roll, I found myself debating in my head if Will of the Wisps was as good as Hollow Knight, one of my favorite games of all time and easily the best game of it’s genre. Now after sitting on and thinking about it, I think I can confidently say that Ori and the Will of the Wisp is touching the bar that Hollow Knight set so high. The general map movement is as fluid as Spider-Man PS4. The combat is strategic and reactive, creating a sweet spot of enjoyment. The upgrade system feels rewarding and encourages exploration, which I already want to do because it feels so good to move in this world. And to top it off, the visuals are beautiful, the music is emotionally powerful, and the story is heartwarming. Will of the Wisps cleanly blew past the expectations I had for it and will certainly be looked at as a crowning achievement of the genre." - Jeff Ferrara, Host of GameSharks Podcast
Now, be warned: Will of the Wisps has been known to have some bugs and glitches that make things a little weird, namely removing Ori from some cutscenes altogether. However, I personally did not experience any of these bugs, and Moon Studios have been working on fixes, possibly having implemented them by now (don't quote me on that). So they shouldn't detract from the experience in any meaningful way.
The most important thing is that Will of the Wisps didn't abandon what made Blind Forest so great in the first place. Its gorgeous world, cute creatures, and genuinely touching story gave me the same feelings I had when playing through the first game. It felt, if this can even be defined from just two games, like an Ori game. But that severe upgrade of the core gameplay is really what sets this sequel apart. It's everything I wanted out of a followup to an already great game. It's nearly perfect. A must-play for Metroidvania fans and newcomers alike!