Updated: Mar 25, 2020
It feels like an expansion pack, and not in a great way. The new features they added were an improvement on paper, but are actually tacked on and unnecessary. In the effort to create a new feel with a sequel, they left a lot of the old Ori on the table. I also had a ton of frame rate issues. Sometimes it would only drop for a few seconds. Once, it glitched out so bad, I had to quit out and restart the game. At least that time it was by choice. Three times while I was in Baur’s Reach the game froze entirely, and eventually crashed to the main menu. Luckily their save system didn’t cost me much, but it is not what I expected from the developers.
I liked the story, although I will say it is basically the story of Blind Forest. You have your light that needs saving, your giant, flying, big bad boss, and your cute, lovable characters. Naru and Gumo got gutted into non-characters, and the ones they replaced them with were abundant, mostly pointless, and devoid of any charm. The story of some of the Moki in and around the Decay is touching, but a lot of it is filler, and most of it is not a prerequisite to finish the game. The interaction between Ku and Ori is a good emotional pull, but it’s mostly Ori alone otherwise. The story is almost completely filled with cliches and story hooks that have been done before, but that’s okay, because it does them pretty well. The soundtrack is incredible, and absolutely does it’s fair share of work that the story does not. The music will move you, and it will certainly amplify the heartfelt moments and story beats it accompanies.
A ton of new abilities were added, but most of them unneeded. In Ori and the Blind Forest, all of your movement, jumps, and eventually bashing, felt really precise and controlled. Some gaps I would have sworn were pixel perfect. It felt really good to complete a challenging jump with the limited resources they gave you. In Will of the Wisps, that is gone. Right away you get a dash ability, which makes crossing land and air mostly trivial. They let you unlock triple jump as soon as you first get to the Wellspring Glades if you have enough light, whereas in the first game it was at the end of a tier of skills you had to unlock in order. The progression of the first game was completely diminished by trying to add too much. Light is extremely plentiful in this game and triple jump was the first ability I unlocked at the glades. Most of the other abilities I didn’t even bother with getting. Since they allow you to buy them at any time, none of them are required to bypass objects or blockades in the story, so they are mostly superficial. Helpful for battles, which aren’t hard because they give you a spammable dash move and spammable attack moves. Battles are a joke and all of the battle shrines were simple to overcome, and again, I unlocked no additional moves. I never felt they were needed, and I never struggled without them. The arcshot is the only move given to you by story means, but still only required for one small section of the map. Most of the game felt like this. They didn’t make many of their added abilities a requirement, therefore they couldn’t properly account for if you would have them or not, so they just didn’t make them necessary. Doesn’t really add much to the game if you add a bunch of flavor moves to a battle system that isn’t hard enough to warrant them at all.
They also took a step back in movement from the first one. Three types of objects you can now grapple: blue lamps, blue moss, and enemies. The blue lamp grapple is essentially a non-ablility. It’s the same thing as bash, only without the pause to line up the trajectory. This makes it harder to get the correct angle you need, especially in the chase scenes. Difficulty is often a good thing, and this difficulty does not come from honing your skills, but rather from the wonky design of the game. Sometimes the grapple which normally works from very far, won’t work when you are too close. I also ran into a problem where the games frame rate drops considerably when you are trying to grapple. I would then tap the grapple button twice, and it would shoot me one way, and then immediately shoot me back, often killing me or slinging me into a spike wall or enemy. Grappling enemies was a disastrous choice. Most of the time when you grapple an enemy, and they hit you before you can attack. This will knock you out of the attack animation if you started it, or your momentum propels you into them, making you take damage from the grapple. In Blind Forest you can bash enemies and it is a very useful and timely skill. You can also bash enemies in this game, but I never knew when it would trigger a bash or a grapple, because they were on the same button. Most times when I wanted to bash, I grappled instead, and vice versa. It felt like a step down mechanically, on a game that is lauded for it’s precision.
Spirit trials are new time-trial races added against a “ghost” Ori. They were completely boring and unneeded, and were implemented in a horrendous way. If you want to complete a spirit trial, you have to first find the finish line goal. Once you find and activate that, you are rewarded light, but then if you actually want to run it, you have to go back to the starting line. Then it will slowly show you the path you have to run, which is not always the same as the current map layout, so you have to watch it. Also, they limit your abilities in the trials, but they don’t tell you this. I’m not sure if they strip you to only the abilities that were available when the trial was first available, but I know they never let you use triple jump. This caused significant grief as I fell to my death in a vertical trial, only to realize my abilities weren’t working. They simply handicap you for them. Another strange and poor design choice. Why reward me with the triple jump when you plan on stripping it away for an arbitrary challenge? Being an achievement hound, I felt compelled to complete the trials. After the slog of activating and running three of them, I decided it wasn’t worth it to finish.
After you beat the game, you can check your name on the leaderboards for boss fights. At first it made me want to go and get better times, but the leaderboard is clearly overrun with cheaters. With some boss fight times reading “00.01”, and others reading “00.015”, it’s wildly apparent they implemented a leaderboard for a boss battle time trial where you can attain an impossible time through some form of cheating.
All of the good things about Will of the Wisps were carried over from the first game. Any praise we could heap on this game are feelings of longing for Blind Forest. They even took out some enjoyable and fun components of the first game. You no longer send out a “light burst” to all enemies on screen when you level up. The maps are zoomed out, which emphasizes the art, but makes enemies and movement obstacles harder to see. For story reasons, they changed the way you attack, but it fundamentally alters gameplay. The spirit flame has been removed, but now you are mostly stationary when you attack, instead of being able to attack and move together. The spirit magnet ability takes 4 levels of one branch of your ability tree in Blind Forest to max out. In Wisps, the first magnet shard ability is more than enough to keep for the whole game.
The abundance of shard abilities and use abilities in Will of the Wisps is closer to a drawback, not a feature. They can’t design the levels and movement around them, because they are not required. They can’t balance the battles around them, because they are not required. The movement/battle hybrids often don’t work, or work less than Blind Forest, which did it masterfully. An entirely forgettable metroidvania that makes you think it’s good on the same merit of Blind Forest that it simultaneously dismantles for this installment.