Ori and the Blind Forest was a game that surprised me upon release with a cool art style and its well-paced platformer action. At the time, I was not actively looking for the type of experience it offered but found myself very happy that it crossed my path. In the years since its release, the competition elevated the genre to unforeseen heights, particularly in the case of Hollow Knight and Dead Cells. Developer Moon Studios is back to kick off a new decade with its second attempt at the genre in the form of Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Expanding or improving on virtually all parts of the original game, Will of the Wisps marries a peerless visual presentation with immensely improved combat and exploration mechanics, offering a journey that would be supreme if not for technical issues.
No rest for the Ori
Protagonist Ori is a spawn of the Spirit Tree, the guardian of the forest of Nibel, which is the backdrop of the events in the first game. Looking like a weird mix between a sugar glider and a rat-rabbit-cat, Ori glows with a faint blue hue that matches that of the Spirit Tree. Following the events at the opening of the original game, Ori is adopted by this white-faced ape thing by the name of Naru. Circumstances see the pair separated and eventually reunited when the main antagonist, an owl by the name of Kuro, sacrifices herself in an act of love. This sacrifice restores order to the forest, which had been in danger of becoming burnt toast during the game. Kuro left behind an unhatched egg that Naru and Ori take in as their own.
Will of the Wisps opens with a beautiful montage that shows Ori and Ku, the owlet hatched from Kuro’s egg, being raised in your typical four-occupant family, headed by Naru and Gumo, a former enemy turned friend by Ori’s kindness. Ku was born with a gimped right arm and is unable to fly, leading to some sad times, especially when combined with its confusion over why it finds itself being raised by two folks who are not owls. Ori remembers that Kuro left a single feather behind and gives it to Ku. This feather gets stapled onto Ku by Gumo and then Ori and Ku take off into the skies, allowing the owlet to get a taste of freedom and a sense of place in the world.
During this flight, the duo finds themselves in the middle of a bad storm that decouples the feather from Ku and sends the pair into a tailspin, splitting them apart in a strange, swampy land known as Inkwater marsh. Ori wakes up from the fall-induced coma they were in and sets out to find Ku. Avoiding spoilers, the journey takes place across a wide variety of locations, with the forest of Nibel only being seen for a very small portion of the game. The action takes Ori through the swamps, into a desert area, canvassing ice, spelunking underground, and more. With the narrative being an integral component of the action, the less known going into the game, the better.
This neon sugar glider/rat/rabbit/cat has moves
Fans of the metroidvania genre will have a strong idea of how Ori and the Will of the Wisps works. A large world is there for the exploring, with big chunks of it being inaccessible to the player until certain items or abilities are discovered or earned. What may have been previously out of reach to players should the ability to double jump, glide, or flip switches be granted during the course of the journey. There are special wells that can be found during play that allow for life and energy to be recovered, progress to be saved, and that facilitate fast travel between major areas of the game world.
NPCs will be littered throughout the journey that can offer clues on the location of special side missions, speed trials, or other points of interest. These things will be marked on the game’s map for easy reference. Each main area also has an NPC you can find that will sell you a map, much like what was seen in Hollow Knight. NPCs can also sell Spirit Shards and upgrades to the shards.
Spirit Shards are items that grant either passive or active abilities to Ori such as the ability to grab walls like Spider-Man, deflect a percentage of damage taken in combat, or enhance offensive prowess. Initially, only three of these Spirit Shards can be active at once, but additional Shard slots can be found or earned. These Shards can be swapped in and out of action at any time.
In addition to a basic energy sword, Ori and the Will of the Wisps offers a serious expansion of the combat system from the first game. New weapons like bows and whips are now on the menu, allowing players different ways to dispose of the odd, menacing creatures that litter Ori’s path. These weapons and other abilities are mapped to the three upper face buttons on the controller and, like the Spirit Shards, can be adjusted quickly within the game’s menus.
The enemy encounters are a welcome step up from Ori and the Blind Forest and add depth to the journey. In my opinion, the combat falls a bit short of what was delivered in Hollow Knight and a fair bit behind the exceptional Dead Cells, but it suits the game well and never drags down the enjoyment to be had.
A shot of adrenaline for the senses
If I was forced to describe the audiovisual presentation of Ori and the Will of the Wisps in a single word, it would be “DANG”. It could be argued that Will of the Wisps is the best-looking game released this console generation. A mix of colorful, dreamlike vistas paired with wonderful animation never fails to impress. Unlike the original game, which used loads of 2D animation, the sequel is presented in 3D, allowing for better, smoother animation from all parts of the visual output, from characters to environments.
The original game had animations and movement locked to 30Hz, with even the PC version unable to add much to the experience, even for those with powerful rigs. It could be run at 60Hz on PC, but going beyond that resulted in weird quirks and some serious audio problems. Will of the Wisps suffers no such limitations, running at 60Hz on the Xbox consoles and even higher on well-equipped PCs. The difference in visual presentation is akin to when the Street Fighter series moved between the hand-drawn animations of Third Strike to the 3D Street Fighter 4.
The image has depth, with fluidly-animated foreground vegetation sometimes occluding the picture and serene background scenery oozing style. The camera will often zoom in and out to emphasize important moments and situations. The wide-angle perspective on the impressive boss encounters is a particular standout, especially when accounting for the diminutive Ori. The accompanying soundtrack does its job well, working with the narrative to wrestle some tears out of the player during heavy moments and providing bounce during the more hectic platforming challenges.
Flies in the ointment
I hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend Ori and the Will of the Wisps to all but the diehard series fans at this time due to some technical issues and oversight specific to the PC version of the game. I was given a code for the Windows 10 version, though a Steam version is also available on launch day. On my PC, I ran into stuttering issues almost immediately. After troubleshooting and a few reinstalls, I believe the issue may be due to background loading, as the performance problems I had never seemed to have any direct correlation to spikes in CPU or GPU usage. The faster I would navigate through the world, the more often the framerate would take a dive and then quickly recover. Running the game at resolutions from 720p all the way up to 4K revealed similar behavior and it made the difficult platforming and combat sections of Ori’s journey feel incredibly laborious.
Adjusting settings for better performance, a mainstay option for PC games is not a possibility for Ori and the Will of the Wisps because there are virtually no video options, save for a motion blur toggle and VSync toggle. The VSync solution seems to be of the double-buffered variety, meaning that if your framerate drops from 60Hz to 59Hz for a split second, the game drops all the way down to 30Hz and the back to 60Hz, effectively exacerbating the stutter issue. I tried running uncapped at 1080p, but was never able to get close to a steady 120Hz, even on a powerful PC. Monitoring tools showed around 40% GPU usage and 15% CPU usage in this scenario, so I’m not sure what was holding the game back from smooth output.
HDR output is also absent from the PC version I reviewed, which is a huge bummer. I’ve had this game on my radar since its first E3 showing years ago waiting with bated breath at the prospect of taking the journey with expanded dynamic range and color volume, but, as of right now, this feature is only on Xbox One. Save for volume sliders, the rest of the available options were similarly limited. The inability to rebind anything or swap movement from the control stick to the directional pad is a letdown. I always prefer to do platforming with a directional pad and being forced to use the stick took a bit of the enjoyment away for me. I was told that an update for the PC adding HDR support and additional options was in the works, but no firm timetable for release was given.
Genre fans and devotees of the first game should put Ori and the Will of the Wisps on their must-play lists. It looks like a million bucks in motion (when the performance holds together) and the narrative is sure to please franchise followers. The standout musical score and a major expansion of the game world and its mechanics are all a welcome addition to the experience. We are living in the golden age of metroidvanias and Will of the Wisps will deserve to stand with the best of the bunch should its technical shortcomings be resolved. 8/10 sugar glider/rat/rabbit/cats
This review is based on the Windows 10 store PC version. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Ori and the Will of the Wips is available for Windows 10, Steam, and Xbox One March 11, 2020, for $29.99.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Outstanding visual presentation
- Fluid animations leading to responsive controls
- Great soundtrack
- Narrative will please series fans
- New mechanics and larger game world
- Missing features/options on PC
- Performance issues
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Ori and the Will of the Wisps review: A great sugar glider/rat/rabbit/cat game
On my PC, I ran into stuttering issues almost immediately. After troubleshooting and a few reinstalls, I believe the issue may be due to background loading, as the performance problems I had never seemed to have any direct correlation to spikes in CPU or GPU usage. The faster I would navigate through the world, the more often the framerate would take a dive and then quickly recover. Running the game at resolutions from 720p all the way up to 4K revealed similar behavior and it made the difficult platforming and combat sections of Ori’s journey feel incredibly laborious.
That was the last thing I was expecting with this one. I know it would kill my enjoyment, stuttering like that in a game like this is the worst. At least I'll be able to check it out for cheap on game pass.
I wonder if the issue could be exacerbated by the standard Unity engine releases not using exclusive fullscreen mode? Which you also cannot force on windows store / gamepass releases like you can on steam with the -window-mode exclusive launch option.