Ori & the Will of the Wisps is Metroid-y Nirvana
If you know any of those heathens that claim games aren’t art, get them to play through the first half hour of Ori and the Blind Forest. That gorgeous and heartfelt opening turns the burliest of dudes into blubbering messes (yours truly included). Naturally, those first few moments helped propel me through the rest of that game, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating Moon Studios’ follow up since. Surprise! Ori and the Will of the Wisps is another Ori game (and that’s a damn good thing).
To the casual observer, the gorgeous hand drawn art of Blind Forest is what makes it notable. There was obviously much more to it than that, but Moon has taken great pains to make sure Will of the Wisps looks even better than the first game. Animation framerate is up to 60 from 30. The whole scene is now rendered polygonally, allowing for much greater interaction between onscreen elements. There’s an absolutely bananas lighting model that allows for light to interact with surfaces realistically while still looking hand drawn. The team is even targeting full 4K at 60FPS on Xbox One X. It wasn’t quite there yet in the demo build, but after speaking to the team I have little doubt they’ll get there. Will of the Wisps is already stupid good looking.
Combat is another area they looked to fill out in Will of the Wisps. By golly did they ever. Most Metroidvania games have simple weapon mechanics where there’s a clear solution to every encounter. Any enemy is weak to ice? Use the ice beam. Things like that. The team at Moon liked having puzzle solving elements in their combat, but wanted to make the experience more direct and diverse. What’s resulted is a system that allows a great deal of choice. There are still situations where you’ll need to use certain tactics, but the moment to moment combat is far more fluid with options like a light sword for quick combos and a giant hammer for massive damage. The ones I tried in the demo all felt unique, so I could see myself replaying sections with different loadouts as a challenge.
More Approachable, But Not Necessarily Easier
What they didn’t want to lose in the process is the Ori and the Blind Forest’s ramping difficulty. The team were quick to agree that first game got tough in a hurry, so they’ve spent a lot of time making sure the build in Will of the Wisps is gradual and empowering. They want players to feel powerful, but weak. Agile, yet challenged. The demo, uh, demonstrated this really well with challenging jumping sections that were brilliantly satisfying to pull off.
Imaginations have run wild in the Moon Studios art department too. The NPCs and environments are ridiculous and inventive – every single thing I stopped to look at was more beautifully crafted and whimsical than the last. The vehicle for all these cool characters is a questing system that’s new for Will of the Wisps. Expect a far less linear experience here than the last time around.
Lips were firmly sealed on the topics of release date and number of weapons, but they did say the scope of Will of the Wisps far exceeds that of Blind Forest. Fortunately, a good deal of effort was also placed into baking secrets into the world. That’s critical to a good Metroid style game, and even in the demo area I found many secret areas using skills I picked up over the course of the demo.
One last note. Gareth Coker returns to score Ori and the Will of the Wisps. That alone is enough to get me on board.
Ori and the Blind Forest is in my top 5 Metroidvania games of all time. Although it flew under the radar at E3 2018, Will of the Wisps is one of the very best things I played.