Ori is back for another beautiful adventure but is it a worthy sequel to the landmark original?
This review was written before a subsequent day one patch was made available, but we decided to run our original critique because the technical issues weren't serious enough to affect the final grade at the end of this review. We're also aware that to check whether the bugs we encountered during our first playthrough were present after the day one patch had been released we would have to replay the whole game from scratch, which simply wasn't feasible. And so, without further ado, enjoy the review.
Generally, there are two types of continuation. Some, like the Mass Effect trilogy, are planned from the top-down from the beginning, with scripts that stretch to thousands of pages. Others, such as The Last of Us, Final Fantasy X, or Life is Strange, sprout follow-ups more spontaneously, solely thanks to the success of the original. Having found yourself with a golden goose on your hands, it seems reasonable to bet on a successful franchise rather than risk starting over with a new one. Ironically, this often brings the opposite effect than the one desired: it can be quite difficult to carry on a story that has already ended. Even if that ending offers possibilities, the full stop, ultimately stands in its rightful place. There's no need to scribble over it or change it into comma because that full stop was put there to give the game a perfect finish.
You can already guess to which category Ori and the Will of the Wisps belongs. The first game was a beautiful, wondrous and surprisingly challenging game. Through gameplay alone, it managed to tell a story of a small forest spirit fighting against the cruelty of nature. Ori's first journey, as he escaped clutches of the evil owl Kuro and tried to restore life to the forest, left a meaningful mark on the recent history of video games. And that's because this charming, snow-white creature managed to save not only its dying homeland - but also the entire Metroidvania genre. Its success sparked a whole new wave of similar titles, including the likes of Hollow Knight and Dead Cells.
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Now, five years after the release of the first adventure, we got to see its proper continuation. And as much as Hollow Knight drew its inspiration from Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori's new adventure seems to be an heir to Hollow Knight.
It is certainly an intriguing experience to watch how history has come full circle, causing both titles to mutually inspire each other - but it's not enough to ensure that this sequel leaves a strong mark in the memory. You can't repeat the success of the original just by copying everything that it did well. Over Ori and Will of the Wisp there looms a shadow; a shadow the game simply can't escape, even though it tries to with all its might.
Initially, it seems that Moon Studios wanted to make a sequel in a format similar to what Bioware did to Mass Effect: thanking its predecessor for the solid foundations and then creating something completely new on top of them. Through its first hour, Ori awes with its visibly altered formula - much like Hollow Knight, it has been more fleshed out. Instead of the simplicity of a gameplay-driven plot with scarce narration, it tells its story through long, detailed cutscenes. It feels more like a quasi-RPG as it introduces NPCs that Ori can interact with and complete quests for. It adds challenges, a race mode, plus a whole bunch of new activities such as allowing you to buy and improve new abilities and even develop your own settlement. Unlike the previous game, it features an autosave function - but don't be fooled into a sense of security: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is significantly harder than its predecessor. Even the first boss on normal difficulty requires several attempts to beat (and incredible patience and self-control if you're to avoid smashing the controller against the wall).
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With all its new features, it seems that there's enough to put together a satisfying, fully-fledged sequel - and yet in key aspects, it's still the same old Ori. In fact, if you played Will of the Wisps just after the end of the Blind Forest, you'd probably be bored to death.
At first glance, Ori and the Will of the Wisps appears to have a much lighter atmosphere - but this was just a superficial first impression. The player is greeted with a long scene presenting the daily life of Ori and the friends he met in the first game: Gumo, Naru, and the little owl Ku. The events from the first game carry over with all their consequences: Ku's small wing means she can't quite fly and so her adoptive family is trying to find a way to help her take to the skies. Eventually, we witness a touching moment of joy as the friends set off on Ku's first proper flight. This, however, does not end well and our heroes, having found themselves separated from each other and far from home, must find a way to return to the safety of their nest.
But once we're deeper into the woods - this time literally - we realised that this land, much like Ori's homeland Nibel, is also beset by a mysterious corruption.
Now, if there is one thing we did NOT expect Ori to disappoint us with, it's the game's music and visuals., however, it's difficult not to feel that Will of the Wisps is much less vibrant and diverse than its predecessor. Most of the locations blend into one and there are hardly any memorable areas, although there are a few exceptions, such as the Mouldwood Depths or Luma Pools - were it not for the exemplary level design, we'd likely get lost in them.
Unfortunately, it doesn't cover up the fact that a lot of elements were straight-up copied from Blind Forest and its overused formula. Travelling across the Niwen we meet the same, known enemies, unlock abilities we have used thousands of times before, avoid ominous spikes and thorns, and even the same poisoned lakes and rivers, well aware of underwater locations that we'll get to explore freely in detail once they've been purified. It's not that Will of the Wisps lacks innovation - quite the contrary, the RPG elements expand the possibilities and give it a new style - but it feels like Moon Studios failed to utilise its potential to its fullest.
But most importantly, it's still a pleasant, challenging game - and failure only encourages further attempts. As well as a number of old skills, we're served a whole bunch of new ones too, and little crystals collected along the way allow us to further expand on their utility. Active skills are located in the circular/radial menu (three of them can be assigned keyboard shortcuts if you're playing on PC), while the passive skills are put into special places in the inventory, the number of which can be expanded with time. It makes Will of the Wisps feel much more personalised - and more fun - as well as less passive when it comes to skirmishing with enemies.
The introduction of NPCs expands the game's lore and they're so cute that it's impossible not to find them likeable - even if often they're just a cluster of pop culture archetypes. Each race communicates with Ori in a different way, each leads a different lifestyle, but they have one thing that unites them - a sinister disease is ravaging their land. Being the pure-hearted creature he is, Ori helps them in every possible way; he brings them necessary items, finds lost family members, rebuilds the village thanks to the ores he collects, or plants seeds found in distant locations on the map.
One could say that Ori and the Will of the Wisps suffers from Skyrim syndrome: its side content offers complex storylines, surprising twists and turns that happen much more often than they do in the main quest. Ultimately, they straight out outshine the main storyline and feel much more fleshed out and intriguing.
Speaking of the main story, it resembles "Blind Forest" down to the core. Moon Studios seems too eager to recreate those moments that worked oh so well in the first game, with an escape from a fiery mountain, stealth sequences with an antagonist with malicious, glaring eyes, and the rescue of a dying friend. Every meaningful scene was already present in the first game, and that significantly lowers the value of the sequel, which doesn't try to be a new, separate instalment and instead lifts ideas that proved successful in its predecessor.
Perhaps our enjoyment was also disturbed by some of the annoying bugs that effectively hindered the experience itself. Although it might only be the case in the pre-launch review version (there will be a day one patch), the game crashed on us several times (we even got stuck in the main menu). We experienced glitches, missing textures, and we saw things levitating; in many locations, the number of frames per second seemed to drop down to around 20. That said, the most infuriating thing was the broken autosave system; after each death, no matter when it happened, it would load one particular save and lose progress - at least until we reset the console. We hope subsequent updates will help patch up the holes, but we have to say that these issues did leave a bitter aftertaste.
In the end, Ori and the Will of the Wisps isn't much more than a solid continuation of the original. It gives the player new and more demanding challenges, expands the intriguing universe, and at times it's just as visually stunning as we thought it would be. Despite some technical imperfections, the RPG elements and fleshed out experience ensures hours of enjoyable entertainment. Unfortunately, it fails to be as diverse and, more importantly, as memorable as the Blind forest - even though it tries to. In fact, you could say that it tries a little too hard.
7 / 10
RPG elements; exemplary level design; more fleshed out and detailed plotline; side quests; new skills; it's beautiful and fun to play and meets some of our expectations...
...although it's also less diverse and not very memorable; technical issues; too often tries to mimic elements of the original rather than bringing something fresh.