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Ori and the Will of the Wisps releases today, and fans of its precursor, Ori and the Blind Forest have been anticipating it with breath bated since its announcement (and two release delays) in 2017. While the game is exciting and graphically breathtaking, there are some unfortunate caveats. Lost progress and game-breaking glitches prevent this newest Ori from being a slam dunk.

Ori and the Darkest of Souls 

Ori and the Blind Forest already demonstrated its mastery of Metroidvania-style gaming. Will of the Wisps adds a third muse to the mix: Dark Souls. Personally, I’ve never been partial to games that test your emotional endurance vis-à-vis repetitive head-bashing. However, I absolutely respect that Moon Studios hasn’t sacrificed a challenge for aesthetics, or vice-versa. I came to enjoy the balance between pressure-cooker chase sequences, hair-raising boss battles, and discovery-focused narrative side quests.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps 1

Of course, there were challenges that felt unnecessarily aggravating, such as the game’s many chase sequences. In other games, skilled playthroughs may grant you enough distance from your threat to buy extra time. Will of the Wisps grants no such advantage. No matter how much I improved, the boss would, conveniently, close the gap I had fought for.

There were also times I discovered a new area that offered unfamiliar challenges, making me unsure if it was myself or Ori who lacked ability. These were some of the few times the actual gameplay itself, rather than the game’s glitches, were discouraging. While this did offer heightened feelings of satisfaction upon victory, it also succeeded in misdirecting me from the main quest at hand, thinking some side quests were necessary to the completion of the game.

Ori and the Corruption of Forest and File

For all its merits, my Will of the Wisps experience was significantly hindered by consistent frame drops and save failure. Despite meeting the minimums requirements, there were moments in which I was unceremoniously dropped to 9 FPS despite no major graphic embellishments.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps 2

After this, I got about six hours of reliable gameplay before I started seeing the next major glitch in the middle of a chase sequence in the Wellspring. After tearing my hair out over my 24th attempt despite frame dropping, the entrance into the next phase just…disappeared, leaving me to ruin once again. I admit that I considered taking a long break to play Cuphead instead.

I also had inconsistent results with the new autosave feature. Game time was lost in minor ways throughout the first act, but the most frustrating instance was after the boss fight in the Luma Pools. More concerning was a lost manual save in the Silent Woods after entering the Windswept Wastes. Some of my fellow critics reported losing up to seven hours of gameplay.

Manual save errors only appeared to occur after major fight sequences, but the frame drops were so persistent that I eventually lowered my PC resolution to 720p and found much more success. While this isn’t ideal, budget-conscious gamers will most likely have to go and do likewise.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps 3

It wasn’t until the final boss battle that I encountered another round of significant lag, and an eventual freeze and crash. I found that this had nothing to do with the game’s inability to run at 720p, but instead that it decided to automatically change my resolution settings for me…to 4K. And while I can take a hint, I’d much rather not have my gaming experience dictated to me.

Ori and the Weep of the Wisps

Despite all of these, not unsubstantial, complaints, Will of the Wisps still manages to be an incredible game. In the stretches when both the game and PC were cooperating, the animation is a marvel to behold. Once you have the rhythms rehearsed for a challenge, movements become so fluid you’ll wonder if you have, in fact, triggered a cutscene. There were also nuanced detail changes.

A personal favorite was the adaptation in the animation of light absorption. In Blind Forest, there is a spirit circle that forms around Ori as you absorb light from the ancestral trees. In Will of the Wisps, this circle is exchanged for an infinity symbol, perhaps signifying both the replay value and narrative theme of the game.

The score, composed by Gareth Coker who also wrote the music to Blind Forest, soars. This succeeds in motivating the player to keep on trying because Ku needs you. I often grow weary of most game music, but Coker’s work avoids being tedious and suits each area without being trite.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps 4

The narrative arc of each act also impresses. Every time I thought “Surely, this is the end,” there was more game to play. Despite several avowals that I would not cry about fantasy wetland pollution, I did, in fact, do just that. And although I haven’t made endurance tests my bread and butter, the amount of detail given to the land of Niwen was reward enough to make me reconsider this.

There are some fun new abilities featured as well, such as Burrow and the oft-used Regenerate. I also appreciated the switch from Blind Forest‘s skill tree to Spirit Shards that can be swapped in and out at will. This offers a customizable experience that can compliment your play style. Spirit Light then becomes a way to purchase various skills and upgrades from NPCs, which emphasizes the dynamic melee combat. If the new fighting style is jarring to you, there are Combat Shrines to hone your skills.

I am looking forward to going back and finishing up all of the side quests, particularly helping Tuley plant the hidden seeds you find in each area and assisting Grom in rebuilding Niwen with ore. I also quite enjoyed the Hand-to-Hand questline, which has Ori delivering odd items to the NPCs that happen to need them most.

And in the end

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a gorgeous game. I appreciate that the gameplay is as challenging as it is, while thoughtfully maintaining captivating (and heartrending) narrative beats throughout. It was great seeing familiar elements from Blind Forest retooled for fresh challenges. Despite this particular style of gameplay not being my typical forte, I know I would have persevered had it not been for the discouraging amount of frame drops and progress loss. Once a patch is released, Ori and the Will of the Wisps could set a new standard for platform adventures at large.
Screenshot 2020 03 10 10.48.15

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps

8

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is aesthetically brilliant and offers familiar challenges with a new twist. An expansive world filled with interactive NPCs gives you plenty of game for your buck, making this a must for newbies and die-hards alike. Implementation of anticipated patches would bump this score up to a 9.

Ashley Mowers
Ashley is the former Artist in Residence for St. Mary's College at the University of St. Andrews. She co-hosts The Min/Max Podcast with her husband, Allen, and their mutual friend Kyle, where they discuss all things nerd culture and theology.

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