Everything here glows. The luminescence smothers the thicket like a warm, snug blanket, dusting the world with a soft, preternatural radiance, piping the edges of the leaves and twigs that dance as you glide and tumble past them, leaving them trembling in your wake.
Ori dances, too. They leap from platform to vine to outcrop, their acrobatics growing in scope and confidence as their skill-set expands. You’ll be routinely rewarded for your exploration and the idle curiosity that takes you off the beaten path, and soon enough, you’ll be voluntarily throwing yourself into the air, bouncing off projectiles and enemies and lanterns with a confidence that’ll astonish you.
Nothing feels copy-and-pasted or created by rote. Every twig and leaf and cloud has detail and purpose. The biomes you explore – each one feeling simultaneously both familiar and new – have been crafted with care and affection, stuffed with bespoken motifs and secret little hideyholes. There are distinct areas with their own friends, foes and landmarks, and plenty of opportunities to revisit old stomping grounds when you learn how to access a previously inaccessible pathway. There are deserts and snow-capped mountains and lush, tranquil pools and caverns with suffocating darkness. The world itself is a tangible, moody NPC all of its own, and it’s one with a shockingly poor poker face; the further into the story you tread, the more it will telegraph exactly what’s at stake here.
Will of the Wisps is an immediate successor to Blind Forest that continues Ori’s tale, albeit in a slightly different way. The sequel has ramped up the combat, expanding Ori’s arsenal to include a heap of new weaponry and skills to enable you to fight confidently and competently. Spirit Shards, too, add passive abilities, although it’s surprising how many of the most effective ones – such as Sticky Walls and Life Pact – unlock early game, perhaps curtailing organic experimentation.
It’s hard to talk about the soft-touch story without indelibly smudging it with my careless fingerprints, so I’ll do us both a favour and not even try. However, I will promise it’s everything you expect/hope/want, especially if you spent any quality time with its predecessor. You play as titular Ori, brutally separately from your pal, Ku, and sent through the sprawling reaches of Niwen in search of them. It’s a tale of love and loss and loyalty, and of how everyone – and everything – beats its own path in this world. Things are often not what they seem, and heartbreak can corrupt even the brightest of souls. Yes, it made me cry. Yes, I cried more than once. Though a truncated cast, Ori and the Will of the Wisps features expressive, memorable characters that masterfully convey the contents of their hearts without ever saying a word.
I have a love/hate relationship with Metroidvanias – the term we give to this flavour of action-platformers that blends combat and exploration and sends you scurrying across a vast, interconnected world – chiefly because of my dexterity (or lack thereof). Will of the Wisps, however, feels a tad more forgiving than others, making it considerably more accessible for newcomers. Yes, there are several tricky sequences that require quick thinking and even faster reflexes, but it’s with relief that I can confidently confirm they weren’t prohibitively complex.
The combat, however? That’s not quite as forgiving. Ori’s world is stuffed with a colourful collection of adversarial creatures and so you’ll spend most, if not quite all, your time fending off their attacks. There’s a good assortment of foes, though, each species painted and animated as carefully as Ori themselves. Occasionally you’ll be challenged to take on a combat shrine, and it’s here you’ll really be put through your paces, forced to take on wave after wave of angry enemies. Pop on your sentry, perhaps, and try not to panic – it’s always worth beating one in the end.
Thankfully, Ori has more than just a sword and bow in their toolbox. Though your sword is technically “free” – and by that, I mean you don’t use up any mana, or energy, if you swing it – other abilities, such as a powerful spike or a flash of light, gobble it up. Therefore, you must frequently switch up your attack plans depending upon your resources – and what enemies you’re taking on, of course.
Sadly, combat is hit-or-miss – literally – owing to a litany of technical woes. This review comes to you a little late because prior to a day one patch, autosave didn’t work correctly (or at all, sometimes), resulting in the loss of hours of progress – a shame, really, given the autosave feature is a welcomed addition. Even post-patch, however, the game remains littered by slowdowns and frame-rate drops and complete freezes, sometimes for 10+ seconds at a time, on my Xbox One X. Other times I found I couldn’t warp – the warp-points were on the map, I just couldn’t use them – and once in the middle of a boss fight, the game stopped registering the damage inflicted on my foe. A hard reboot later – something I’ve learned can fix most issues here – and I defeated the boss on my first attempt.
There’s also a handful of maddening boss fights and chase sequences, too, both of which increase in length and complexity the closer to the game’s climax you get. And while, on the whole, Ori’s frequent auto-saving is fair and appreciated, there are a few frustrating sections – and one stealth sequence in particular – that doesn’t clearly telegraph what your next steps should be. I’ve learned the hard way that pushing you back to the start of the encounter each time you’re discovered only heightens the resentment, not the peril.
Which brings me to my conclusion, I guess, although I’ll be honest: I’m conflicted. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is at once both one of the best and most frustrating games I’ve played this year and whilst its flaws are few, they have an immense and sustained impact on the overall experience. In many ways its satisfying platforming is peerless, but with a myriad of technical issues so substantial, it’s difficult to unreservedly recommend it in its current state even with the application of the day one patch. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but a stutter-free screen isn’t just a nice-to-have for a platformer like this – it’s a necessity.
That said? Oh, I loved my time here. I adored the gentle storytelling and the ethereal atmosphere and the melancholy that drapes, like a damp rag, across every inch of Niwen. I loved befriending Twillen and Tokk and Grom and Kwolok and every fuzzy, friendly member of the Moki. I took scores and scores of screenshots – picking them for this review was a nightmare; each one is a masterpiece – and poked my head into every crevice and cranny I could find. When unfettered by freezing, it’s an unmitigated pleasure to play, and an even greater joy to behold. If it could just sort out its technical troubles, it just might be one of the best things you play all year.