Ori and the Will of the Wisps review for Xbox One, PC

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PC
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Moons Studios
Medium: Blu-ray/Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the follow-up to 2015?s Ori and the Blind Forest, both being developed by Moon Studios for Xbox One and PC. Despite a veritable glut of ?Metroidvania? titles being released in the past decade or so, the original Ori still managed to feel like a breath of fresh air, mostly due to how incredible the platforming elements came together in the original game. Ori, as the series sprite-like protagonist, could easily run, double-jump and propel itself through the air with ease. The environment of Ori and the Blind Forest was built upon those basic mechanics in a way that made every minute spent exploring the world feel wonderous. Ori and the Will of the Wisps feels very similar but builds upon the already excellent platforming elements with a reworked combat system that makes for an even more entertaining experience overall and puts Ori and the Will of the Wisps into the mix for an early ?Game of the Year? contender.

As the game begins, Ori takes flight with the baby owl friend from the end of the first game, which results in disaster as both are caught in a terrifying storm that separates them and drops them into unfamiliar territory against a terrifying new foe called Shriek. This new world is effectively separated into a series of familiar biomes, making use of desert, snow, forest, and swamp-like areas throughout the expansive map. It?s been a bit since I played through Ori and the Blind Forest, but this new map feels larger, with more secrets and collectibles packed into various nooks and crannies, along with a host of side quests and characters to interact with. And while the game is still very much a ?Metroidvania? style adventure, I never felt stuck or unclear on where I needed to go. The map is easy enough to read and uncovers naturally as you explore. You?ll also encounter a map maker, one of a few Hollow Knight inspired elements, that will helpfully sell you a full map of an area for a reasonable price.

Traversal is handled in a similar fashion to the original game. Ori comes equipped with a basic jump at the start and can wall jump off of most surfaces at the beginning of the game. From there you?ll quickly gain access to a double jump, and then a bit later you?ll gain the ability to slow down time and propel off of projectiles and other objects, shooting Ori forward in a direction that corresponds with your input from the analog stick. This particular element, also from the original game, is one of the things that helps set Ori apart from other platformers and is worked into most of the platforming puzzles featured in the game. It feels great to pull off, especially when bouncing off of multiple points in quick succession and remains one of my favorite things from both Will of the Wisps and The Blind Forest.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps also introduces a shard system, which expands upon Ori?s abilities even further. Shards are gained either through a vendor or by finding them scattered throughout the world, and there?s plenty to uncover either way. You can equip multiple shards at once, with a limit of three early on that can be expanded by completing combat shrines throughout the game. These shards can grant Ori additional abilities like a triple jump, increase Ori?s overall damage, give more health or spirit orbs, add additional projectiles to ranged attacks, and so on. This gives Ori a level of customization that helps make additional, subsequent runs through the game feel unique, and overall is a great addition to the series. In addition to shards, Ori can gain permanent upgrades via Trees (think of these as Metroid?s Chozo Statues) and by purchasing combat-focused powers, giving Ori abilities like a ground slam, or a tiny floating sentry that attacks in conjunction with Ori for a limited amount of time.

On Normal difficulty you?ll find the combat in Ori and the Will of the Wisps to be challenging, but certainly not unfair. Most of the early enemy encounters are easy enough, but later enemies will feature additional mechanics, like a shield that protects from forward-facing attacks, that will force players to adopt new strategies. There aren?t a lot of boss fights, but the few you encounter do tend to be memorable. Also, Ori and the Will of the Wisps still makes use of the occasional large enemy/hazard chase sequence, which can result in a bit of trial and error, but checkpoints restart quickly enough that it never feels particularly tedious.

Another thing worth mentioning about Ori and the Will of the Wisps is how absolutely stunning the game looks. The art style is so full of life and color that it really feels breathtaking at times, and the only other game that?s really managed to wow me to the same degree as this is the environments in Naughty Dog?s Uncharted series. While the idea of environmentally themed biomes dividing up the map might sound a bit overplayed for these types of games, you?ll still be surprised at how effective each locale is at delivering elements of story without needing to overexplain the state of the world. It?s also neat to see Ori?s actions begin to impact the environment, like cleaning the poisoned pools of water, and how much those actions impact the overall look of the world.

Unfortunately, there are a few technical issues that hold Ori and the Will of the Wisps back in its current form, at least on Xbox One. Playing the game prior to release on an Xbox One X, I ran into infrequent freezes, issues with the start screen not loading in, and the occasional instance where a texture wouldn?t load leaving a section of a wall looking like a big purple blob. There has been a day one patch applied as of now, so anyone playing the game starting today should have some issues fixed, but after spending a couple more hours with the game after it?s been patched, I?ve still experienced issues with the start screen not fully loading (forcing a restart even) and continue run into hiccups where the game will completely freeze up for a second or two. It?s unfortunate, to say the least, and puts a slight damper on an otherwise exceptional experience.

Still, I can?t overstate how much I?ve enjoyed my time spent with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, despite some of those issues. It?s a stellar sequel to a game that I already loved, and well worth checking out whether you pick up a stand-alone copy or download it via Game Pass. If you have any affinity for platformers or action-adventure style games in the same vein, then you really owe it to yourself to check out Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

Note: Microsoft provided us with a Ori and the Will of the Wisps Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: A-