Ori and the Will of the Wisps, out tomorrow for Xbox One and PC, is a meditative, poetic, beautiful platformer, with as many quiet moments as it has intense monster battles. It’s also brutally difficult.
As in its predecessor, 2015’s notoriously punishing Ori and the Blind Forest, you control the guardian spirit Ori and navigate a mystical forest full of increasingly unforgiving platforming challenges. This time around, combat is given a bigger role. You’re even provided a Zelda-like arsenal including a sword, a bow, and a boomerang. Still, enemies can pose a serious challenge. One wrong move and Ori will blink out of existence in a heartbreaking flash.
When you first boot up Ori and the Will of the Wisps, even if this isn’t something you’d normally do, you might want to consider playing on Easy mode.
In Will of the Wisps, the difficulty setting only alters how much damage you dish out and how much you take. The physical platforming is unaffected, besides the fact that environmental hazards will inflict more or less damage. So choosing a difficulty setting is largely a choice about how tough you want combat to be. The game doesn’t outright specify how, exactly, the numbers are affected, but it appears to give you a roughly 50 percent boost both offensively and defensively.
For instance, your Spirit Edge—a sweet energy sword, and Ori’s most basic attack—deals eight damage to the game’s starter enemies on Easy and four damage on Normal. Those enemies’ standard attacks will take out a full cell of your energy bar on Normal, half that on Easy, and two entire cells on Hard.
But playing on Easy doesn’t mean combat is an automatic cakewalk. The game’s first mini-boss can wipe you out in one hit on Normal—and on Easy, too. The difference with Easy mode is how much damage you do. Each hit on Easy takes away a significant chunk of its health bar, whereas on Normal, you’ll need to carefully chip away at the beast.
You can’t switch difficulty in the middle of a game. Once you choose a setting at the start, you’re stuck with it for the remainder of your playthrough. It’s the classic difficulty-setting conundrum: At the beginning of a game, before you have any experience with it, you’re asked to make a fundamental choice that will change the whole game. How are you supposed to know what to do?
Here’s what I recommend: Play Will of the Wisps on Normal until you open up an area called Kwolok’s Hollow. It’s far enough into the game that you’ll have an idea of how the difficulty level feels, but not so far that starting from scratch again is a total pain. (It took me about 90 minutes to reach Kwolok’s Hollow, but I’m a painfully methodical player when it comes to games like this. You’ll probably get there faster.)
If you make it to Kwolok’s Hollow without dying much at all, you’re probably fine sticking with Normal or even bumping it up to Hard. Conversely, if you’re getting wiped constantly (guilty as charged!), you might want to turn things down.
Or, hey, here’s a fun fact about video games that not everyone knows: You can play games however you want! Playing Ori on Easy allows you to laser-focus on the traversal—one of the game’s true pleasures—without having to fret too much about slipping up in a fight.
Additionally, any players who want to juggle multiple save files and experiment with difficulty settings should know that you can skip the prologue chapter. Doing so shaves a good 15 minutes off the start of any new playthrough. Ori and the Will of the Wisps has room for 10 different save slots, so experiment away!
CORRECTION: 10:00 a.m.: This post originally identified the release date of Ori and the Will of the Wisps as March 10, 2020. It’s March 11, 2020. Kotaku regrets the error.