However, this 2.5D action-platformer has amazing production values in both its gorgeous visuals and captivating soundtrack while it proves to be much bigger and tougher than it appears.
The same can be said for its predecessor Ori and the Blind Forest, released five years ago. That game told the story of a young orphaned guardian spirit named Ori who has to brave through the titular forest to break its curse.
It also didn’t hold back in a heartbreaking prologue that will immediately send you reaching for tissues. Influences of The Lion King continue in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, reminiscent of that film’s Elephant Graveyard scene as two young friends recklessly set out on an adventure but quickly find themselves lost in a perilous place.
Fight not Flight
Will of the Wisps doesn’t just iterate on its predecessor’s Metroid-like gameplay as you acquire new abilities to explore an expanding interconnected world, it also has some fundamental changes. Whereas in the original, you had another spirit attacking for you like a sentry drone, this time Ori puts up a real fight themself.
A focus on melee combat with what’s basically an enchanted light saber is a striking change of tone, but wielding the Spirit Edge is satisfying with its massive arc and range. The game seems to revel in it too by occasionally trapping you in rooms to fend off waves of enemies.
Your arsenal steadily builds up as you unlock more new abilities, including ranged weapons from a bow to explosives. But it’s not just to make Ori a killing machine. In Zelda-like fashion, they’re also used for solving puzzles or traversal.
Nonetheless, it retains the original’s use of boss chases since there are some so huge you just can’t face them head-on. However, these sequences are often dulled by their frustrating instant-death design, so what starts out as a spectacle becomes an irritating case of trial and error, trying to suss out the environment before one little mistake punts you back to the beginning.
Lost in the wild
While there are many new abilities, a few skills also make a welcome return, such as bashing through lanterns or projectiles to launch yourself to further distances. As a sequel, it’s just a shame that you need to unlock these all over again because exploration can feel restrictive at first, especially in the game’s daunting opening area.
If you run into the creature selling maps of each area, we highly recommend buying one to avoid getting lost. But once you start recognising the distinct flora and have more skills, traversal really is a lot of fun as you make use of all Ori’s abilities in tandem.
There’s a wide world out there to explore, often gorgeous to look at, though you’ll contend with some oppressively dark places too. These environments are also teeming with life, and fortunately not all hostile. One area is a particularly welcoming home away from home where its residents offer upgrades and quests that you can opt to help do the place up nicely over time.
Taking further advantage of Ori’s skills you can also unlock special combat and racing trials complete with online leaderboards, which can be accessed outside of the main game that gives it some extra longevity.
A buggy life
Yet despite largely building on becoming a bigger and better game than its predecessor, our experience of Will of the Wisps prior to launch was also blighted by some technical problems.
Frame stutters or freezes were a regular occurrence, more noticeable when flipping back and forth between the map screen. Sometimes, switching to the map would result in icons not appearing where they should be before they glitch into the correct position a few seconds later, adding to the disorientation.
Most egregious was how our progress was getting ignored if we opted to explore another area of the map after being stuck at one particular section, death taking us all the way back to the previous section. Considering this game makes use of fast-travel and auto-saving, both end up getting undermined. Fortunately, the game also backs up your last ten saves so we were able to restart from an earlier save state.
While we do have assurances from the developer that most of these issues will be optimized as a day-one patch, there’s no guarantee that will resolve all issues - and these are issues that have been reported on both Xbox One X and Xbox One S hardware.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps verdict
Some sore technical issues stop Ori and the Will of the Wisps from being necessarily better than its predecessor.
However, it is still a bigger breathtaking sequel that doesn’t just iterate on but expands with all new features and mechanics, which makes exploring its beautiful yet dangerous world a thrill.