Ori and the Will of the Wisps Gameplay Mechanics: why I quit and why I came back

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This assessment of the gameplay mechanics in Ori and the Will of the Wisps comes from a player who dislikes making mechanics choices. From leveling trees to deploying finite resources, I would just rather not. Yet Ori and the Will of the Wisps manages to incorporate both of my weaknesses and for this reason, I bounced off this game almost at once. Despite my love for the first game, Ori and the Blind Forest. Despite my being excited enough to pre-order the game.

But two years later, I came back and loved it.

Let me explain why.

Original Blind Forest Mechanics

Ori looking out over Nibel

In the first game, Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori’s abilities to attack, jump, double jump, triple jump, stick to walls, zip around, and eventually hang glide all unlock as the game progresses, following the typical metroidvania formula. You don’t need the new powers until you unlock the area that calls for their use and you’ll for sure get them then. You’re good! Don’t worry about it! Increasing the health and power bars results from finding hidden power ups, so your maximum in these depends only on your willingness to explore. Straightforward. Great for me. I loved it.

New Will of the Wisps Mechanics (And Why I Quit)

Merchant menu of abilities with Opher

Most of the same mechanics return in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, but with some fun additional abilities. The difference comes in where gaining those abilities is concerned. As you run around the map, you begin collecting currency called Spirit Light. Soon after, you meet merchants who can sell you ability upgrades.

Great. Now I’m worried about collecting currency to exchange for goods. I can’t spend what little I have now on one of the lower-grade abilities because I need to save for those big ones! I’ll keep going until I collect more currency. Also, how do I keep track of which merchants sell me what? Will I have to schlep back to them any time I want an upgrade? Ugh.

When I did make some purchases, it turned out I had to choose which abilities to have hot-keyed on a limited number of buttons. (This is still a minor gripe. The d-pad is right there! Why can’t I hot-key some abilities to that!) Knowing that I would need to swap in and out abilities as I needed them did not sound like fun. Not knowing which I would need within any given section of the map filled me with anxiety.

So, I bailed.

What Fixed Will of the Wisps For Me

Abilities wheel

I decided to give Ori and the Will of the Wisps another shot two years later because of a video game review podcast, The Besties. While listening to the backlog episodes from 2020, I found other players had also bounced off this game initially. But some had come back and loved it! Maybe I could try again! Also, the jittery nature of the graphics in Graveyard Keeper had started messing up my eyes and I needed a new game to play. Might as well try one I already owned.

I almost gave up again, because the Ori games are glowy and gorgeous, but Will of the Wisps had somehow turned out so glowy that I couldn’t see to play. Fortunately, I found in the settings menu where I could turn up the sharpness enough to see.

Deciding to trust the game developers’ intentions, I went ahead and purchased the smaller upgrades, which immediately made progression easier. As I collected more Spirit Light currency, I discovered the joy of picking upgrades that would suit my play style the most. I could always go back and buy the others if I wanted. (Also, the merchants appear in each level area—you just have to discover them as you go.)

And then, I progressed far enough to unlock an ability upgrade that couldn’t be purchased. Yay! We still have these! Knowing I had a cushion—that the game would still hand me the abilities I needed and not leave me to accidentally make all the wrong purchases—assuaged my anxiety immensely.

The Joys of Will of the Wisps Mechanics

Ori in battle

Coupled with many of the beloved mechanics of Blind Forest, the new mechanics of Will of the Wisps allows players an incredible amount of mobility throughout the world. From hook-shotting off baddies, sling-shotting off projectiles, and lanterns to dashing into a triple jump and firing off an arrow before sticking to a wall out of harm’s way or slamming an explosive attack into a group of enemies below. The possible ability combinations allow players to solve puzzles in any number of ways.

Not only that, such clever combinations become necessary as the game progresses. Maybe it’s to reach a hidden item revealed on the map or to collect an important item, but the game at times requires thinking about ability possibilities in new ways. You can’t reach that hidden pocket in the usual manner you’ve become accustomed to, which forces you to stop and consider new angles.

These moments are just challenging enough to correct the issue that Blind Forest suffered from at the end, which was that having all the abilities made running around old areas of the map far too easy. Getting 100% completion became a matter of just running down all the old paths again (which can become tedious if you’re not a die-hard completionist). Overcoming these clever little challenges makes for an immense amount of satisfaction at having solved the puzzle. Knowing to expect more twisty challenges like this again is just the cherry on top.

Have you played this game? I’d love to hear what you thought about it in the comments (game discussions are, after all, the whole reason I write these reviews). If you enjoyed this review and know someone who might like this game, send them over here to check it out! And remember to sign up for my newsletter and/or leave me a tip below.

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