WarriOrb sets expectations early: “the path ahead is challenging. Do not despise failure. Every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”. If anything, it underplays what’s to come, as WarriOrb isn’t so much challenging as it is a series of kicks to the orbs.
It starts harmlessly enough. You are a demon, the Spirit of the Unknown, accidentally summoned to the mortal realm by a mournful man, looking to bring his wife back from the dead. Neither of you get what you bargain for, as you’ve taken the corporeal form of a ball-shaped demon thing. It’s a problem we will all face at some point in our lives.
If you want to get back to the barbecuing of sinners, you are going to have to fulfil your bargain and bring his wife back to life. That means trekking through an inhospitable world that’s happy to swing a boot at any ball-demons that bounce by.
The game is as much a mishmash of influences as your character is. It’s a platformer, but being a ball gives you an unusual toolkit: you can roll about like Samus, you can bounce to reach high ledges, and you can rattle through pipes. The world is constructed in a Metroidvania manner (as all games seem to be nowadays), so your improving skills will unlock more and more of the environment. There are hack and slash sections whenever you encounter enemies, there are environmental puzzles to be resolved, characters to chinwag with, and there’s a surprisingly broad spell system that is reminiscent of action-RPGs.
All of this is seen through a FromSoftware lens, both in terms of the grim, gloomy world and the emphasis on difficult but earned progression. The platforming requires precision and patience, the combat means memorising patterns, and the saves are deliberately limited. On the default difficulty, you place your checkpoints manually. You can have one at a time, and they can only be placed in safe areas. Die, and you will respawn at them, but with chunks taken out of your health. Even on lower difficulties, where the checkpoint system is more forgiving, the core platforming doesn’t become any easier.
As with other hardcore titles, there can be supreme joy and catharsis after you’ve mounted the difficulty curve and given a rodeo-like yeehah. There are plenty of those moments in WarriOrb, and the pattern of beating a section, sticking down a checkpoint and realising that you’ll never have to do that section again is sugary sweet. I thought I’d never master the bounce-and-leap rhythm of the platform sections, but stone-me I did it.
But, as the old gaming adage goes, you’ve got to feel that you are at fault for mistakes, not the game, for a good game to pull you through to the end. It’s got to be fair, and a player should always feel like they’re on an upward curve of their own ability. The problem with WarriOrb is that’s regularly not the case.
Exhibit 1 – you’re a bouncing ball in an extremely precise platformer. You can probably imagine the frustrations, as you nail a landing but proceed to dribble off the ledge. Or you overcompensate. Or you hit an odd angle on the platform and ricochet off. Even without being a ball, the game would be a challenge: with the ball, it’s diamond-hard. And don’t forget that lower difficulty levels won’t affect the platforming, just the manner in which you respawn.
(It’s a good time to mention that lowering the difficulty CANNOT be done mid-game, which is a crime against video games. A crime!)
Exhibit 2 – Complete a section and you might be able to place a checkpoint, depending on an irregular cooldown system and the game’s loose definition of where it thinks is safe. When the game is a continuing chain of challenges, with jumps followed by lasers followed by spawns of enemies, this can feel punitive. To make matters worse, you will sacrifice health points every time you respawn, which can mean that the challenge outpaces your ability to overcome it.
(It’s worth noting that the easy difficulty relaxes the checkpoint and health rules, but this is not the default difficulty, and weird cooldown rules are still present even on easy.)
There’s a roughness to the edges of the game that mean you never quite feel like you are in safe hands. I’ve never played a Metroidvania without a map before, and I never want to again. Sure, the game is on a 3D plane, which would make a map difficult to make, but you try to keep a mental map of all the locked doors you can now open, thanks to the ability you’ve just gained. This is crime against video games #2.
Combat is splashy, with no real impact to your hits, and collision detection’s a wee bit off. I found myself cheesing a few battles, as tall or flying enemies couldn’t get to me in tiny nooks, and overusing the Y attack, which hits and dodges at the same time. Some traps or enemies come out of nowhere, with little signposting, which intensifies the frustration of not having a decent checkpoint down.
But through all these barbed edges and knotty sections, I found myself liking WarriOrb. The puzzles and platforming were inventive enough, and the drip feed of spells, abilities and cosmetics were enough to keep me plugging away at them. While the world was grim almost all the way through, I enjoyed the back-chatty characters that lived in it. I can’t remember a world design as dense as this, where pushing forwards into the level was such slow but satisfying work.
Altogether, it’s a recommendation with huge, huge caveats. This is a game that you have to approach knowing the scale of the endeavour. WarriOrb on Xbox One is hard. It is unfair. You will have to swallow that unfairness until you can find a workaround. There are undoubtedly better hardcore platformers out there. BUT, if that doesn’t dissuade you, and you’ve beaten Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Salt & Sanctuary and the rest – hats off to you – then there’s some charm and joy to be had in this little sphere’s adventures.