Beautiful and Broken: Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

This was perhaps one of my most difficult reviews to write.

Normally, when I love a game, a burst of enthusiasm propels me forward when typing up how I feel about it. If I hate a game, my disgust and loathing would likewise fuel my writing.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps straddles that divide.

If you read one of my previous posts, you’ll know that Ori and the Will of the Wisps burned me with game-breaking glitches and bugs that permeated the entire experience. The game actually made me cry with how broken it was.

However, I will never review a game here that I have not completed, so I made sure to power through these issues before writing a review.

And here it is.

I want to focus on the game itself for my review, but I also don’t want to ignore the bugs that plagued my playthrough. So before I dive into the game, I’m going to list the bugs I encountered and stress that when I finished playing the game (about two weeks ago), a patch had not yet gone through to address them. Do not assume they have been fixed by the time of this writing.

The bugs I came across are as follows:

  • Slowed frame rate when many enemies were on the screen
  • Glitching into walls and becoming unable to get out unless the game was restarted
  • Inability to access the main menu
  • Hiccups every time the game automatically saved
  • Freezing when opening the map
  • Triggered boss encounters causing black screen
  • Loss of audio
  • Increased poor performance if play-time exceeded two hours

That said, the rest of this review will focus on the game minus the bugs (though I may gripe every now and then). Still, do not disregard this list as it very much impacted my enjoyment of the game.

Let’s do this.

Story

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells a touching tale very much in the same vein as its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest. It picks up where the first game left off, with Ori having saved his/her forest and adopted Ku, the offspring of Kuro (antagonist of Blind Forest). Ori and Ku live with their family of Naru and Gumo, spending inordinate amounts of time playing with each other, eating, and teaching Ku how to fly.

Unfortunately, Ku’s wing has been damaged since she hatched, so no matter how much she wants to, she is unable to soar like she is meant to. However, thanks to Ori holding onto one of Kuro’s feathers and Gumo’s ingenuity, they finagle a way to let Ku fly again.

During a test flight, Ori and Ku travel far beyond their home and get caught up in a storm. They land in a place called Niwen, which once had a Spirit Tree just as Ori and Ku’s land of Nibel does. Sadly, Niwen’s Spirit Tree, a willow, has fallen to decay, and the denizens of this place are prey to the vicious creatures and corruption that come with it.

It’s up to you and Ku to bring life back to Niwen and somehow make your way back home.

I do not want to spoil the conclusion, but I will say it hit me right in the feels. Even with my frustration with those glitches, the ending reminded me of why I’m a fan of Ori and his/her world and the themes that were also in Ori and the Blind Forest.

If you loved the first game, Will of the Wisps gives a satisfying conclusion (or new beginning) to Ori’s story.

Exploration

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tickled my fancy as a video game completionist. It’s as pleasant as it ever was to collect everything and see the percentage of the game completed slowly climb up.

Ori’s traversal options are expanded, and not always in the way you think. Blue moss provides sections of the map where Ori can grapple between spaces, like Spider-Man. Packed sand creates caverns where Ori must burrow through in order to reach objectives.

These new options for moving Ori around feel absolutely natural to Ori’s familiar moveset, and it does not take long to get used to.

Will of the Wisps also gives Ori a few more items to collect aside from Life, Energy, and Spirit Light. You can gather Gorlek Ore to build up your home base at Wellspring Glades. You can also collect Spirit Shards to upgrade Ori’s abilities. The collect-a-thon continues, and I loved every minute of it.

I 100% completed Ori, gathering every item, doing every side quest, and beating every encounter.

Oh, but one glitch I forgot to mention prevented me from getting the achievements related to collecting everything. So yeah…there is that.

Combat

It took me a while to get used to Will of the Wisps’ new approach to combat, but afterwards, I can recognize that it is an improvement upon the first game.

In Blind Forest, the Heart of the Spirit Tree, Sein, traveled with you. It was Sein that attacked Ori’s enemies. Sein blasted them with a dazzling light that you could upgrade over time.

In Will of the Wisps, Sein is no longer with you, leaving Ori to fend for himself/herself. As such, he/she is given an arsenal of weapons that players have to buy or collect.

This improves the combat of the game as it now requires players to pick and choose what weapons they want to use in battle. You no longer spam an attack button so much as you perfectly time a shot from an arrow, a jab from a blade, or a swing of a hammer. Combat becomes a beautiful dance that perfectly matches the manner in which Ori moves through the world.

Environment

If Ori’s movements are a sight to behold, then the environments of the game are doubly so. Every location is a work of art, beautifully rendered to convey both practical and thematic concepts to players.

In the Mouldwood Depths, the eerie yellow and blue lighting gives off a sinister vibe that all is not right in this place, and players soon learn that to go into pitch black darkness is deadly, making those glowing lights safe havens along the way.

I honestly believe the locations in Will of the Wisps are even better than they were in Blind Forest because they are so distinct from each other. Inkwater Marsh, the place where Ori first lands on Niwen, is a swampy and wooded area. Baur’s Reach is a spectacular icy world, as beautiful as it is deadly. Luma Pools feels like an alien tropical paradise, with strange pink foliage and crisp pools of water to explore.

If I could spend hours just staring at screenshots of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I would.

New Additions

As with any good sequel, Will of the Wisps adds to the formula created in Ori and the Blind Forest. Perhaps for the first time when playing a sequel, I heartily approve of every addition.

Combat shrines are placed at certain points on the map. These Shrines give players a chance to test their skills fighting a variety of opponents. I only had supreme difficulty with one Combat Shrine, and that was because I was insisting on using a specific weapon that was, looking back, really not suited for the enemy types thrown at me.

Alongside Combat Shrines, Spirit Trials are also speckled throughout the game. These things are a bitch and a half, I shit you not. They’re basically timed races that require you to use every one of Ori’s traversal abilities to perfection. I spent more than half an hour on several of these races (because I wanted that 100% completion for the whole game). Part of the reason the bug that broke my game made me cry so much was because I lost the progress I’d made, including completing one of the Spirit Trials. Had to do the damn thing twice. However, if your game isn’t bug-riddled, Spirit Trials are basically fantastic challenges to overcome.

Ori also picks up Shards in Will of the Wisps. These Shards are what allow him/her to upgrade his/her abilities. This gave the game more of an RPG bent that I was not averse to.

Will of the Wisps gave players a central hub, in the form of Wellspring Glades, where they could relax and meet interesting characters. Populating the world with characters made the game breathe better. You no longer feel like you and Ori are alone against the world. Rather, you and Ori are handling dangerous situations for critters who, while cute, could not cut it against some of the bosses you go up against.

Speaking of bosses, yeah, Ori and the Will of the Wisps gives players boss fights. These are basically epic fights against massive creatures, complete with a mega health bar to deplete. They are way tougher than a normal enemy encounter, but they are not impossible. (I’d prefer a million boss fights to five Spirit Trials.)

Final thoughts

Honestly, the game is phenomenal. I could see that even through the tears obscuring my vision as I factory-reset my Xbox after a near-bricking bug. It challenges you as a gamer, giving you a Dark Souls-esque rush when you beat a particularly tough moment, all while being wrapped up in fantastic game mechanics and artistic visuals.

But even though my review of the game is largely positive, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Ori and the Will of the Wisps until its issues are patched out.

I rate Ori and the Will of the Wisps a heart-breaker-because-you-can-see-how-beautiful-it-is-beneath-its-flaws-almost-as-if-someone-tore-up-Van-Gogh’s-Starry-Night-and-then-taped-it-back-together.

There Is Something WRONG with the Video Game Industry

As you can tell by the title, I’m not happy. In point of fact, I’m livid. I’ve never been angrier.

Why?

Because I’ve never been this hurt.

Let’s rewind a bit.

My early gaming days were ones of quiet receptivity. I never explored game stores or picked out intriguing titles for myself. I relied on recommendations from friends or direct sequels to games I already knew I enjoyed.

Perhaps one of the first games I ever chose to try out for myself was Ori and the Blind Forest, and I couldn’t have chosen a better game to start building my personal taste in games.

It was beautiful, it was challenging, and it was fun. In short, it was everything a good video game should be. I fell in love with the game, and the developers of Ori and the Blind Forest earned my trust with that single endeavor. I had such confidence in them and their dedication to a polished and engaging gaming experience.

So when Moon Studios and Xbox Game Studios announced a sequel, my gaming heart never soared higher. In less poetic terms, I jumped all over that shit.

I was your typical gaming fangirl, buying Ori and the Will of the Wisps shirts at conventions, hyping the game and its predecessor to all of my friends, and proclaiming loudly and proudly that I was preordering the Collector’s Edition, thereby cementing my fandom to the world.

Anybody who knows games and the industry behind them can see where this is heading. Gamers reading this can probably already foresee the reckoning that came my way.

After collecting my copy of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I rushed home to play it. I had taken a day off from work solely to play this game. The first melodic notes from the menu uplifted my soul, but after a few minutes, the seeds of dismay were planted in my gut. The bugs were small at first, negligible. The game would hiccup every time it automatically saved. But the problems only got worse.

Too many enemies onscreen froze my game for several seconds, at one point crashing it, and shoving my nonplussed self back to the main menu. Ori glitched into a wall at one point, and with no way to get the little critter out, I had to quit and restart the game. At another time, after a spectacular death by combat trial, the game picked up again with a black screen, and only the sounds of Ori dying once more let me know the game was still going on.

But this was Ori, I kept telling myself. This was Moon Studios. So what if there are a few glitches. It’s annoying, sure, but just power through it.

And for the most part, I did.

A review on the game is (hopefully) upcoming, and it’s without a doubt a beautiful game…when it’s not breaking.

The bug that destroyed me, that finally broke me, came shortly after. It was 11pm, and after a decent three hours of playing Ori, I decided to call it a night. But the game refused to let me select the Return to Main Menu option. Flat-out refused. I could select any other thing in the pause menu, except that.

So after quitting the game using the Xbox side menu instead, I tried restarting it just to check if it was doing okay.

It wouldn’t turn on.

I would slip the disc in and wait for the game to start, the menu to appear, but there was just a black screen.

I ended up uninstalling the game, resetting my Xbox to factory settings, and reinstalling the game, only to discover that I had lost all the progress I had made in those three hours.

And so, this beautiful, broken game broke me. I was sitting on the couch at 1 in the morning, after dealing with this whole process, silently sobbing.

Before you call me a wuss or a baby or decry this as a first-world problem (which I’ll admit, it is), you have to put yourself in my shoes for a minute.

Playing video games, for me, is more than just a hobby, more than just entertainment (though it is that, too). It’s a safe space where I can forget about the world and its woes for a bit. It’s an invigorating experience that challenges me to overcome impatience in order to achieve a goal. It’s a story I dive into and experience first-hand. It’s a room where I can let out a scream of frustration every once in a while.

And a game that shatters this for me, robs me of all that it could be.

Again, I call out to fellow gamers who know this pain. The bitterness of losing hours of focus and work (yes, work, goddammit) for nothing is crippling at times.

Bare minimum, a video game is supposed to be entertaining, and when a game fails to reach that expectation it can be infuriating and depressing.

Now, glitchy games are considered a norm these days, and I knew that. But I had trusted Moon Studios and Xbox Game Studios. I had trusted them with my time, my money, my enjoyment, and with that all important space that video games create for me.

And that trust was betrayed.

I am aware I’m sounding melodramatic. If you share a love of video games, you’ll know where I’m coming from. But if this is still sounding a bit too overdone, let’s talk brass tacks then.

I paid a fairly hefty sum in advance for a product. What I received was not what I paid for. I received a bug-riddled game that halted my progress more than once, erased time spent playing due to unexpected crashes, and actually negatively affected the hardware it was playing on.

That’s more than just receiving a broken product. That’s receiving a harmful product.

In this post, I’m clearly laying the blame on both the developer, Moon Studios, and the publisher, Xbox Game Studios. The buck has to stop somewhere, and where else would it stop in this case if not the people who both made and sold the game.

However, they’re the symptom of a larger disease plaguing the video game industry.

Game companies are pushing to release poor products, expecting gamers to pay full price for something that can be fixed at a later time through updates and patches.

Bullshit, I say.

This practice is screwing us over at every turn. We shouldn’t pay for something that is broken. This is unacceptable.

And the worst part about this trend is that it hurts a game’s most dedicated fans. It hurts the people who go out of their way to buy a game on its release date, before any of those oh so helpful patches are applied. Why pay the full price for a game on the day it releases when, if you wait a year, it will have a reduced price slapped on it and will probably be updated enough so that it actually runs like it’s supposed to, am I right?

Updates and patches should be reserved for post-game content, a bonus for dedicated players who return to a game continually. They should not be used as a bandage over a gaping wound of a game that could have done with a few more days (i.e., months, even years) in development.

You know what I wish?

I wish I could invite any and every game developer and publisher who insists on fixing a broken game through patches instead of releasing a finished product to my house. Yup, I’d invite them in for sandwiches. Then I would take a shit on the sandwiches and hand those shit sandwiches back to them. And if they complained that this isn’t what they wanted, this isn’t what I promised, I would apologize. I would tell them I’d fix it, take it out of sight, scrape the shit off, and then hand the dish back to them.

Maybe then they would get the point.