Ori and the Will of the Wisps: Hands-on with the Stunning Platformer

Our initial thoughts on an impressive new game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps...

Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Photo: Xbox

In late February, Den of Geek popped along to a preview event in London to get our first hands-on experience with Ori and the Will of the Wisps. And we’re pleased to report that this upcoming Xbox One and PC game, from the Microsoft-owned Moon Studios, makes an immediate good impression.

It’s a sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest, but this new installment has clearly been designed to cater to new players as well as returning fans. You can choose from three difficulty levels at the start, and the protagonist Ori begins his journey with only basic abilities – you’ll pick up the more complex stuff later on and it always comes with an explanation. You could easily jump into this game if you didn’t play the previous one.

The story setup is a fairly simple one: the main character Ori, a bright-white spirit that looks a bit like Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, gets separated from his owl-like pal from the first game, Ku, and embarks on a mission to reunite with his blue-feathered friend. All of this is explained in a semi-playable introduction, which culminates in a visually-stunning cutscene where Ku struggles through a storm while learning to fly. Emotions, graphics, music, and gameplay collide here in a way that is very promising.

Throughout the hours that I spent with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the graphics were consistently impressive. There are brief glimpses at beautiful vistas and each new area you discover has its own eye-catching elements. Many of the early areas have an autumnal vibe that encourages warm and fuzzy feelings, but there are also some segments where rain is pouring down and everything feels a bit miserable. You’ll also meet heaps of creatures both big and small – ranging from pesky insect-like things to giant frogs – each of which looks visually distinct and has its own unique ways of challenging you. Some enemies you’ll have to jump over and attack from behind, while others require careful timing or brute force to overcome.

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The gameplay has a lot of variety to it, as well. At some points, this feels like quite a traditional platformer – you’ll be jumping between platforms, batting away small foes while attempting to avoid the poisonous waters below. At other times, the Metroidvania influences really shine through – you’ll realize that you can only progress by backtracking, picking up a new ability and using it to discover a fresh pathway. The boss battles can get quite big, too, and you’ll find yourself perfecting your timing as you dodge blows and dish out your own damage. And there are sometimes puzzles, as well – you’ll have to use your noggin and move things around to open up the next area.

As you traverse through the forest-like world of the game, you’ll pick up new abilities and weapons. And you’ll have to decide which ones are right for each scenario: there are three button slots in which you can map the weapons of your choice. Some weapons you’ll pick up naturally through gameplay, and others you’ll be able to buy from vendors with the in-game currency that you find along the way. I became very fond of a bow and arrow weapon, but there was a boomerang option that also seemed tempting as a mid-range option – the boomerang did more damage than the bow, but it used a lot more of magical energy to deploy it.

There’s an element of thoughtfulness here – you’ll have to size up exactly which advantages you want at any given point, and you’ll have to keep an eye on how much energy you have left at all times. There’s even an ability that lets you convert magical energy into health, which can help you out in a tight spot while also leaving you very short of magical energy. There’s a balance you’ll need to strike, and different players will have their own preferred methods. It’s very satisfying nailing down your own approach.

Underpinning all of this excitement is a sublime score. From the soothing flow of woodwind instruments to the sharper sounds of the strings, the music that charts your adventure is consistently excellent. And this serves to amp up the emotions, too – the game is quite a simple “save your friend” story, at least to start with, but the music combines with the visuals to make it feel mythic and important. There is a sense of propulsion to the proceedings, too – we always wanted to rush into the next area, to see what treats it had in store. The hours we spent with the game flew by in a flash.

Overall, this is a strong package. The game looks and sounds great, it tugs on your heartstrings, and there is heaps of variety in the gameplay itself. No two areas are the same, and you’ll feel like a real maestro after a few hours of playing. There are some really satisfying skills to learn, including a highly enjoyable mid-air traversal ability: if you combine jumping, double-jumping, and dashing, you can stay airborne for ages and reach ledges that previously seemed impossible to land on. There are lots of little tricks like this, and as you learn more of them and get used to the controls, it feels like the world is opening up all around you. We can’t wait to explore more of it.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps will launch on March 11 for Xbox One and PC.