EDITOR'S NOTE: Ori and the Will of the Wisps won "best graphics" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.
I'm a good many hours into Ori and the Will of the Wisps (out now for Xbox One and PC) and have just dealt with a frog who wasn't in his right mind. Said frog made sure that eventually I wasn't in my right mind either, thanks to the game's sharp difficulty spike during this encounter. The spike was exacerbated by a few technical bugs and the fact that you can't change difficulty modes once you've chosen one for your save file.
However, even during this bout of frustration, I couldn't help but love Ori. Now past the frog, I'm hurtling toward the game's finale and am sure that more difficult foes lie ahead.
But even if I find myself irritated at the next fight, I'll still appreciate Will of the Wisps for everything it already did for me, including reminding me that gaming has meaning.
Ori and the art of storytelling
Unlike so many of its contemporaries in the year 2020, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has no desire to feed on players' compulsive spending habits with seedy microtransactions or cosmetic DLC. It has no plans to punish you for buying it. It simply wants to tell you a story. And what a story it is.
I've yet to see Will of the Wisp's conclusion, but I can smell it — I'm close. By the time you read this, I'll likely have beaten the game and be mourning over whatever the closing scenes have in store for me. Because for all its childish whimsy and colorful energy, Ori is predominantly a sad series about death and decay, and it's not afraid to make that obvious.
Many games talk about the importance of life and saving the world but fail to show why these things matter. Meanwhile, Will of the Wisps successfully articulates the value of life in its first ten minutes. The game opens with a wholesome display of family bonding then immediately puts two innocent creatures' lives in jeopardy, creating a tonal shift sharp enough to give the player whiplash. Emotions only intensify from there as your bond with Ori and company grows deeper.
Will of the Wisps is a bit more plot-heavy than the previous Ori title, which is why I'm doing my best to avoid describing anything that could possibly be construed as a spoiler. But know this: if Ori and the Blind Forest punched you in the gut three times during its story, Will of the Wisps will do it four times, then five, then six—and it'll keep going until you lose count. It's painful to watch the characters endure hardship in this game, but their purity and endless love of life compels you to help them see their quest through to the end.
If you're fatigued by games like The Last of Us and Doom where everything is relentlessly gritty and dour and you're tasked with "saving" a world so vile it feels like it's not worth saving at all, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is here for you. It's the antidote to a seemingly medium-wide narrative plague where AAA game writers have forgotten that in order for life to matter as a stake in a story, it has to be beautiful.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps gameplay: different, but not lesser
As for Will of the Wisps' gameplay, it's just as much of a moment-to-moment adrenaline rush as the previous game in the series, Ori and the Blind Forest. You play as Ori, an agile bunny-like creature who runs and hops around dense, maze-like levels and occasionally takes down violent monsters.
Though Ori has more combat tools in this game such as a sword and bow, their movement is the same as it was in the Blind Forest. For this reason, combat takes a while to get used to, since the physics trick you into thinking you can play Will of the Wisps like the last game, even though the mechanics themselves won't allow it. I personally prefer the previous game's platforming focus, but this one leaning on the combat side of the fence isn't a drawback.
What matters most is that Ori's gameplay doesn't contradict the story or get in the way of it. The gameplay remains the focus for long-enough intervals to keep you engaged, but knows exactly when to go away and let the story shine. That's one more feather in Will of the Wisp's cap: it's expertly paced. A well written story is great, but a well written story delivered at the right speed is the sign of true narrative excellence.
The technical component
My only genuine qualm with Will of the Wisps thus far is the launch week bugs on PC. Chief among them are some disturbing audio issues (semi-frequent "bzz" noises make it sound like my computer is about to hard-crash and never wake up again) and random bouts of stuttering that completely destroy the flow of gameplay and all but ensure an unwarranted death during tense fights.
Thankfully, the above issues have been widely reported by the game's community and the developers are undoubtedly already working on a much-needed patch. Though, honestly, it's not like these technical hiccups are enough to stop my playthrough. My love of this game is going to force me to push forward and see the undoubtedly heartbreaking ending well before a patch arrives. So to Moon Studios GmbH, I have only one request: release the patch, please, but be sure to include some digital tissues as well.