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Ori and the Will of the Wisps review: Sensational and mind-blowing but rough around the edges

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a masterpiece, despite its rough edges.

Ori And The Will Of The Wisps Review Pics
(Image: © Windows Central)

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a heart-wrenching game in numerous ways. Hypnotic visuals, enthralling soundtrack, and meticulously precise gameplay meet some truly incredible subversive storytelling.

Make no mistake, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a true work of art, a hallmark of excellence for the medium, and an example to be followed. That said, a bit more polish would have gone a long way to put the icing on this very glorious cake.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Art, music, and sound

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a bit like its predecessor, will be held up for its utterly incredible art direction across the board, assaulting your senses with some of the most enthralling stimulus ever committed to a video game. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a true work of art, said without a shred of hyperbole.

CategorySpec
PlayersSingle-player
Xbox Play AnywhereYes
Game PassPC and Xbox
GenreAction-platformer, Metroidvania
DeveloperMoon Studios
Completion time13 hours (Normal difficulty)
Price$30
Launch dateMarch 11, 2020

Ori and the Will of the Wisps uses a masterful blend of stylized 3D and hand-painted 2D backdrops to give this sidescroller the sort of depth you'd sooner expect to have emerged from a Disney/Pixar studio.

Every single scene looks like it was stolen from a high-end art gallery, regardless of how mundane the sequence might otherwise be in a gameplay context. Every pixel looks as though it was born of love and affection.

One thing Will of the Wisps does far better than its predecessor is creating uniqueness in its biomes. From forests of magical coral, dank, mould-infested caverns, and ice-blasted mountain climbs, Will of the Wisps intersects complex gameplay setpieces with its connective level structure, often with large stunning backdrops that set the tone of each area.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The decaying forest wastes teem with corpses, with piles of bones making up its platforms and ledges, while spires of ice and sprays of water create new platforming opportunities in other areas. There's always something new and fresh to find, hidden behind every corner.

Every pixel looks as though it was born of love and affection.

There are countless times where the art and sound design intersects directly with play, rather than being merely incidental. For example, the way Ori uses HDR lighting and shadows to evoke fear in the Mouldwood Depths, while also playing a huge part as a gameplay mechanic. The way Ori's powers in combat make the flora in the foreground and background shift and sway. It's all a testament to close relationship Moon Studios maintains between its artists and its gameplay designers. This is often something that even larger, Hollywood-budgeted studios often seem to struggle with.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I have to hand a special shoutout to the soundtrack composes for Will of the Wisps too, with music that never disappoints, dripping with raw emotion. Each song feels like a story in of itself, shifting effortlessly to match the tone and pace of the current sequence. Even after events permanently alter certain areas, the music too will illustrate that change, it's a true labor of love. Will of the Wisps joins a select few video game soundtracks that are powerful enough to stand on their own.

It's a bit of a shame that Will of the Wisps does suffer from occasional audiovisual glitches, where assets and sound effects can be missing, but the occasional trip doesn't hinder the overall experience.

For anyone who came in from Ori and the Blind Forest, exceeding the incredible audiovisual work Moon Studios did with the first game was going to be a tall order. Moon Studios not only exceeds the first game, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any game that delivers such an assault on the senses as consistently, as beautifully, as this one.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Story (no spoilers)

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Ori and the Will of the Wisps follows the events of the first game, with Ori and his adopted family inheriting a new member, in the form of Ku the owl. While attempting to fly for the first time, Ku and Ori get separated deep in the forest, which is still suffering from similar decay and corruption that lingered in the first game.

Trust me when I say tears will be shed.

Without giving too much away, Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells an incredibly moving and relatable tale, of friendship and family. Ori travels to the four corners of the land to fight back the encroaching darkness, meeting an eclectic cast of ancient forest spirits and hulking abominations that lurk in the game's darkest climbs.

Will of the Wisps' world feels a lot more "inhabited" than the first game, with various cute (and not-so-cute) NPCs scattered throughout the land, some travelling with you as you move through the different areas.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Some request items which can then be traded, helping to build up a central safe haven village hub which grows and develops as you bring materials and quest items back home.

Like Ori's music and presentation, the story delivery weaves seamlessly into the rest of the game as you move through it. And truly moving it is. I won't give away much more, but trust me when I say tears will be shed. This is one of the most memorable, haunting, and bittersweet stories you will experience this gen. It is simply sublime.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Gameplay

I often write in reviews that a game is only as good as its gameplay, and Ori might be one of those rare exceptions where the art, music, and story is good enough by itself. However, Will of the Wisps delivers gameplay by the bucketload, vastly expanding on the traditions they built up from the first game to create something truly exceptional.

Will of the Wisp's combat system is pure ecstacy.

The first thing to note here is the gargantuan improvement to Ori's combat mechanics. You'd sooner expect the design here to be the product of a veteran action RPG studio, given how tight, precise, and fulfilling it is. Like much of the rest of the game, it also weaves seamlessly into the progression of the story, with Ori unlocking new abilities along his quest, while also intersecting nicely with the platforming mechanics that return with confidence.

Ori's toolkit now includes ranged attacks such as a magic fireball, a bow and arrow, and a spirit spike that can impale and do large amounts of damage. Ori also has a sword attack, which has numerous moves, and a heavy spirit mace that can smash through larger enemy's defences. You can weave these attacks into Ori's platforming skills too, as each swing resets Ori's double jump meter.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Ori And The Will Of The Wisps Review Screens (Image credit: Windows Central)

Ori And The Will Of The Wisps Review Screens (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

There are achievements in the game for juggling and defeating enemies without hitting the ground, as well as combat and speed trials for additional rewards. Indeed, Will of the Wisp's combat system is pure ecstacy once you learn it.

Joining the combat system is a range of other new and returning tools that make the platforming gameplay even more gratifying. Returning players will recall bash, which lets you rebound from objects, with improvements to jumping and dashing that help you unlock new areas and obtain more collectibles along the way. It takes a fair bit of practice to learn all of the best ways to battle certain enemies, but by the end of the game, you'll be a bounding, bouncing ninja felling several enemies without once hitting the ground.

Expanding on combat is a new progression system, which lets you purchase ability upgrades and passive bonuses at various vendors. Obtaining spirit containers can be spent like currency, and includes things like maps and markers for finding additional collectibles as well.

Usually I groan at collectibles in games, but Ori's are supremely rewarding, considering they open up new side missions at the Wellspring Glades village hub, with visible upgrades to the facilities and villagers who dwell there. Also, it's just another excuse to 'Metroidvania it up and backtrack to previous areas, and fell previously-tough enemies using your shiny new powers.

Perhaps the most exciting thing Ori and the Will of the Wisps does can be found in its setpiece boss battles, which are jaw-droppingly epic and often intertwined with major story beats. Without spoiling, one boss battle in particular is especially emotional and somewhat disturbing, and will stick with me as one of my favorite boss fights in recent memory.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps builds on virtually everything it set up in its predecessor, elevating the very idea of what a modern side-scrolling action platformer can be. It is then, a bit of a shame they couldn't squeeze a bit more polish into the finished product.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Bugs, and performance issues

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Will of the Wisps was patched a couple of times during the review period to fix a multitude of outlying issues. Some of you who saw streams of Act 1 last week might have seen performance problems, missing assets, and other strange issues. Thankfully, in testing this morning with the day one patch, many of the outlying problems I faced have been resolved.

With the day one patch, many of the outlying problems I faced have been resolved.

The performance could still be improved, particularly while moving more quickly through an area, the engine seems to have issues streaming textures, with large areas of assets blanked out until they load in. The frame rate nowhere near maintains its target 60 frames per second on the Xbox One X in many areas too, particularly with multiple enemies on screen. None of these are potentially game-breaking problems, though, save for this one.

The biggest problem I encountered towards the final third of the game was a totally broken save system. Ori and the Will of the Wisps has an automated checkpointing system, ditching the manual system from the previous game.

Source: Windows Central Even with the day one patch, I've encountered instances where large areas of foreground and background assets were blanked out, loading in a few seconds later. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

For most of the game it worked well, warping you back to the start of any sequence you fail at (and fail you will, even on normal difficulty Ori is a challenging game).

However, in the final few areas, the save system became stuck on specific points, without warning. This resulted in me losing anywhere up to 45 minutes progress at times, which was painfully frustrating. A workaround is reloading the game once the bug becomes apparent, but in the final area I found myself having to reload the game every 15 minutes to get rid of it. Moon and Microsoft says it'll be solved permanently in an upcoming patch, but that won't be much consolation for you if you're hit by it.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps A labor of love

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Despite the issues I had with the engine, Will of the Wisps is still an incredible achievement that will stand the test of time in the years to come. From the art and music, to the ecstacy-inducing gameplay, to the gorgeous character designs and emotional story delivery, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a study in excellence from cover to cover, save for a few easily-patched rough edges.

It's quite honestly almost absurd that this game costs just $30. Simply put, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has more of a soul than many $60 "AAA" titles I've played in recent years, and is a cherishable experience I'm sure I will return to repeatedly for many years to come. There wasn't a single moment throughout Will of the Wisp's powerful campaign that I felt bored, or fatigued, and the ending left me with an immediate sense of longing for more of Ori's enchanted world.

You may want to wait a little while after launch to see if the issues I encountered get smoothed out to get the best experience, but the issues did little to stop me having an incredible experience. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a true joy.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

16 Comments
  • I only started playing the first game when I got Game Pass for PC last year, I love the game but nowhere near completed it yet. This one will be ready for me when I get to it, hopefully with bugs fixed by then too
  • Sucks to hear about the save bugs, this is one thing I really hate about checkpoint types of systems. Many a time I have found myself practically praying to pop a checkpoint to no avail or getting one in a stupid location. I much perfer manual saves for this reason. Graphical bugs will hopefully be sorted soon.
  • I'm replaying the original. I think I'll hold off on WotW until the saye bug is sorted. I assume you'll put up an article whenever the patch is released that fixes it?
  • Aye, the day one patch "reduced" the chance of it occuring, and apparently a permanent fix should be in this week.
  • Assuming the patch does fix the few niggles, is this a straight 5 out of 5? Glowing review, as have all the others I have looked at on YouTube. Just looks beautiful. I bought the first one, but life got in the way, and I never bothered with it. These type of games usually leave me a little lost, as my fingers and thumbs are not as dextrous as they used to be. Returned Cuphead for that reason. It just had a faster play rate than my thumbs.
  • Uh... What now?
  • Yeah, what now?
  • Or what when?
  • This comment line made me laugh. Hehehe
  • I am really not into gaming, but Ori and the Blind Forest was the only game in the past several years that I bothered to finish. It was fun and beautiful and even gave me movie feels (not quite Spike Jonze-level feels but close). Unfortunately I don't think my dinky Windows tablet can handle the new one. Oh well.
  • Will be playing this tonight at the stroke of midnight. Ori 1 is in my top 3 games of the whole generation. I have no doubt that Ori 2 will be up there as well. It's visuals look utterly amazing.
  • Played this for 2 hours now. Maybe I got lucky, but haven't seen a single bug. No frame dips, no save bug, no nothing. What I did witness was the absolute best graphics I've ever seen. No question. The animations are unbelievable. The way the characters and world come to life. Nothing this Gen is as impressive to your eyes as this. Truly awe inspiring. And the sound. I recently bought a Dolby Atmos Sound bar. And boy oh boy is the score and sound in this game a new achievement in video games. Absolutely unreal. I'm only 2 hours in. But if there is a gane that exists that deserves a perfect score its this. So many titles get perfect scores and they are nowhere how good this is. This is very very special indeed.
  • Glad to hear it lives up to the original. When I bought my original Xbox One, it was included as a digital code. I didn't plan on playing it, but so glad I did. I even bought the Deluxe edition, just to get a little more, and support the dev even more. I plan on picking this up once I clear up some stuff at home, so I have time to play. If I get it now, I'll never finish my work, lol
  • I'm playing the DE now, first time I've ever done the new area that was added, and man that area is a lot of fun.
  • I'm now about 8 hours or so in. I'm suprised you are not seeing any performance issues. Many times I have seen significant frame rate drops and freezes. Just about every time I use the map it takes about 3 seconds to load off the black screen. The most frustrating one yet is where I will die and it looks like the game crashed, but 15 seconds later it starts off the checkpoint this fortunately has only happened twice. Currently playing on an external SSD, I think I will try the internal to see if it improves. Other than the performance issues, you are absolutely correct. This game is great.
  • Played another hour when I got home from work. Still been flawless. I've had 0 issues. Alot of people are saying there was a patch right before midnight. Loads of people have finished it and experienced trouble free gaming. Maybe I have been lucky. But not had any issues so far. I had more issues with Ori 1 on release.