A beautiful action-adventure with breathtaking visuals and gameplay…when it isn’t suffering performance issues.
Ori and the Blind Forest was a brilliant entry into the action-adventure genre when it released in 2015. By coupling fantastic action with a heartfelt story and exhilarating platforming sections, it received critical acclaim from many of those who played it. But the Xbox One in 2015 was a bit of a no man’s land as the PlayStation 4 was already running away with the market share in this generation of consoles. A Definitive Edition in 2016 brought a few more eyes into the fold but Moon Studios’ debut title was given a boost when it released on the Nintendo Switch in September 2019. After years of hearing people praise the game, a brand new audience had the opportunity to play the game just in timefor the sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Without delving into story spoilers, Will of the Wisps picks up immediately following the events of the first game. Following a short montage of scenes, Ori and new companion Ku fly away from the forest of Nibel from the first game to this title’s forest of Niwen. The two are separated in a storm and Ori sets out to find their companion, along the way stumbling into the familiar adventure of restoring the light to the area’s Spirit Tree. The story has a lot of powerful, emotionally-resonant moments that are best experienced so I won’t go deeper but if you enjoyed the story of the first game, this latest installment continues to deliver.
Blinded by the Light
While one of the design allures of the first game was how brightly the titular white Ori shone against the backdrop of the dark and dreary blind forest, Will of the Wisps almost immediately opens up into a wider array of biomes to explore. The introductory area still features a new forest to explore, but there are also areas like the shimmering clear waters of the Luma Pools, the snow-capped Baur’s Reach, and the barren desert Windswept Wastes, to name a few. And the land of Niwen is much more populous than the first game with other Spirit Guardians present to guide you on your quest and a series of smaller denizens who will aid you on your journey just as you may aid them in building and restoring their village the Wellspring Glades.
Each of these areas have a visual look and easily identifiable touchstones that help orient you within the world and the art design really shines. In addition to the detail and vibrant foreground that serves as the games plane of action for the 2D platforming, many of the environments have incredibly-detailed backgrounds that flesh out the broader landscape and history of this world, whether in the form of a run-down water mill or the tragic vista overlooking a graveyard of creatures turned to stone when decay ruined the land. Virtually any screenshot of this game could be blown up into a piece of artwork worthy of display.
Defining Your Spirit Guardian
As is common in Metroidvania sequels, you begin your adventure having to reassemble your skills. The pacing of your more essential skills feels pretty good, with many of the different areas of the game being built around a core ability that you will acquire in that particular part of the world, before you then take it back to other areas you’ve visited to unlock new secrets or health and ability points. The skills themselves will be a mix of active and passive. Passive skills – like one of the standout abilities of the first game Bash that allows you to move through the air by redirecting your momentum off an enemy or projectile – are always equipped and at your disposal at any time with one of the triggers. Active abilities can be equipped to one of the X, Y, or B buttons at your choosing (with A reserved for jumping). You can switch these assignments on the fly with a skill wheel if needed.
In addition to the skills, you can also equip shards, which will add various modifiers to your character. At the start of the game, you can equip up to three shards but you’ll be able to add more as you complete a series of combat shrines that will throw a few waves of enemies at you to defeat before rewarding you with an upgrade slot. Combining the skills and shards allows extensive customization that allows you to tailor Ori to your personal style of play.
As this world is more populated than the prior game’s, you will also encounter a cast of characters who will sell you new skills, shards, and area maps in exchange for Spirit Light, a currency found around the world or acquired upon defeating enemies. Some of the skills and shards you acquire can also be upgraded with Spirit Light. For example, I equipped a shard early on that gave me 2 extra Spirit Light for every enemy I killed that I immediately upgraded a couple times to give me 4 Spirit Light per enemy, allowing me to upgrade and improve my loadout that much quicker throughout the game.
While I indeed loved so much of my time with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I did face some considerable performance issues over the course of the game. Playing on a base model Xbox One, the game often suffered significant slow down and freezing, which is not ideal during some of the more hectic fights or some of the series trademark tense precision platforming challenges. I died multiple times from these issues throwing off the rhythm of a chase sequence that left me mis-timing a jump or aiming in the wrong direction. The game’s auto-save and checkpoint system is well-placed so I never lost any kind of substantial progress but it was a frustrating experience all the same.
Five times on my way to completing the game (and another two on my way to getting all of the collectibles and 100%-ing the game), the title crashed entirely and sent me back to the Xbox dashboard. In the grand scheme of my time with the game, I probably suffered these types of issues less than 5% of my time and those who play on PC or perhaps even an Xbox Series X might not face these issues at all, but it did impact my experience heavily enough that I would be remiss if I did not detail it here.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the finest action-adventure platformers/Metroidvanias of this generation of games and its story, gameplay, and world design all build on the first game’s foundation. With a richer and more vibrant world than Ori and the Blind Forest, it is also one of the most beautiful games in recent memory. Graphical and performance issues aside, this is a fantastic game and arguably one of the best titles in the Xbox One’s library.
9.0 / 10
That Incredible Game
- Beautiful art design
- Fantastic platforming
- Great diversity in combat styles and loadouts
- Occasional performance issues and game crashes
Ori and the Will of the Wisps was reviewed on a Base Xbox One unit through Xbox Game Pass. That Nerdy Site’s Review Scoring rubric can be found here.