Imagine: Ori… but with a sword. Weapons are one of the many new features in Ori and the Will Wisps, a sequel designed to cater to multiple playstyles. But when I first started swinging my light sword (officially called Spirit Edge) I felt powerful and a little concerned that Ori and the Will of the Wisps may have strayed too far from the first game’s light. Fortunately, as I unlocked more abilities, experimented with this new combat, and strategically leapt across the forest, all those fears vanished. After two hours of hands-on gameplay, it’s clear Ori and the Will of the Wisps is aiming to improve on its established formula with more freedom, experimentation, and a fun new set of weapons and abilities. But in the process, it’s picked up a few new weaknesses as well.
From a story perspective, Ori and the Will of the Wisps continues where Ori and the Blind Forest left off: with a new family member. As we’ve come to expect from Moon Studios, the animations, music, and dynamic lighting evoke a sense of wonder as we’re re-introduced to these adorable characters and their obvious kinship. By the end of the opening scene I was immediately protective of them.
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The charm from the first game is there but the catalyst of this story isn’t nearly as sad. Instead, it’s a childish misstep – an Icarus-like moment of recklessness. But instead of demise, this blunder leads straight into an adventure. Don’t worry though, “You’ve got to get your tissues ready,” says Daniel Smith, Senior Producer at Xbox Game Studios. “It’s a sad story once again [but] a joyful story as well.” After all, tragedy is nothing without catharsis.
Familiar Yet Foreign
As the adventure began I was happy to see that, unlike the first game, I wasn’t undulated with information about system after system. Will of the Wisps feels far more streamlined in that regard. And even when an explanation was needed, having that information delivered through non-player characters – new to the Ori series – felt so much more authentic and helped accomplish Moon Studio’s goal of making the forest feel alive.
It’s immediately apparent that Will of the Wisps is a marriage of old and new. Objectives were similar: scour the forest for keystones, find and unlock doors, and proceed into the next area. But this time around I was given a torch I could use to attack enemies (the precursor to Spirit Edge, which you get about 20 minutes in) and burn down bramble walls to progress.
I was surprised to get sidelined by a boss so early in Will of the Wisps. What started as a short chase sequence quickly escalated into a one-on-one brawl against Howl, the giant, shadowy wolf that stalks the forest. While enemy encounters and chase sequences aren’t new to the series, legitimate boss fights are, and the gruesomeness of my bought with Howl was an early indication of just how much more combat will play a role in Will of the Wisps.
Though intimidating and gnarly in its own right, Howl was more of a fake-out boss than anything else. But it’s a tense moment that introduces a new way to engage with the darker side of the forest. The whole encounter succeeded in shocking me, but I never felt truly engaged from a gameplay standpoint. In that sense, it was a perfect precursor to the real first boss, which came about 90 minutes after Howl made his introduction.
While fighting with the sword-like Spirit Edge in Will of the Wisps initially took some getting used to, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it as a welcomed alternative to Blind Forest’s Spirit Flame. Instead of just firing, I was actively fighting and taking charge. It accomplishes Smith’s goal of adding “new things that feel like they’ve always belonged” in this world.
Everything feels more lived-in and alive in Will of the Wisps: branches shift as you walk across them, ancient stones activate at your touch, and structures shelter small societies of dainty woodland beings. Newly added side quests are meant to serve this purpose too.
The story is still centered on Ori and his family, but there’s much more going on in the world than just that main tale. Characters like the Moki (cute, woodland creatures who inhabit the forest) “add a lot of peripheral color and influence,” to both the world and the story, says Smith.
“People love the characters from the first game,” said Gareth Coker, Will of the Wisps Composer, “and we hope that players will like [these new] characters enough to want to do those side quests.”
There’s no question that Ori and the Blind Forest’s soundtrack played a role in building players’ emotional connection to the cast and, fortunately, Coker has returned to compose the music for Will of the Wisps as well. Much like the game in general, this time there’s a bigger budget and more resources to bring this soundtrack to life. Most notably, “a real choir used for scenes where [they] really need[ed] an emotional impact” and the opportunity to record with 72 musicians from the Philharmonia orchestra in what Coker referred to as “one of the best studios in the world,” Air Studios in London, where the soundtracks for popular films such as Inception and Interstellar were recorded.
In addition to new mechanics, players can look forward to a wider array of music than the previous game. “I’ve [played] thousands of hours… to learn the flow [of Ori and the Will of the Wisps], says Coker, “each environment has at least two [musical] loops [but] usually three or four and sometimes five… they’re not totally different pieces of music; they’re more like suites of music tracks [for each] environment so they’re all related but develop organically.”
Choice and Customization
What stuck out the most to me was just how many choices I had in how I wanted to experience the world. Following in the footsteps of Ori and the Blind Forest’s Definitive Edition, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has three difficulty settings to tailor the experience. This is just one of the many additions meant to cater to a wider range of players.
Don’t worry though, Will of the Wisps maintains its challenge while managing to remove some frustrations in the process. Chiefly, autosaves at checkpoints have replaced manual saves in which players had to remember to create a Soul Link. It’s a very welcomed quality of life improvement.
That change does a lot, like freeing up a facebutton that can now be mapped to a weapon from Ori’s extended arsenal. And you’re going to need that slot considering weapons can be purchased and upgraded with in-game currency, so there are more options than ever.
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Player choice goes a step further with Wisps’ Spirit Shard system. Instead of a traditional skill tree you can select up to three Spirit Shards – more Shard slots can be unlocked in the future – that give you different perks or abilities. While exploring I found, earned, and used shards like Magnet to draw nearby items to me automatically, but I used Resilience to reduce incoming damage during the boss encounter by ten percent. Shards can even be used to raise the stakes. For instance, the Reckless shard increases damage dealt and taken by 15%, opening the door to a high risk/high reward playstyle.
“Whatever your preference there will be a way to defeat [a] boss whether you only want to play with the sword or you only want to stick with a certain shard,” says Coker, “there’s even an achievement for completing the game with no shards at all.”
Some unfriendly faces have returned and using the environment and your enemies’ own strengths against them is still a big part of the battle and one of the most engaging aspects of any fight. Like the original Ori, I still love getting a foe to stun themselves by dodging at just the right time, or knocking them back so they fall to their death or directly into a pile of spikes… also to their death.
Maps can be purchased with in-game currency and even show your most recent path but there were still moments where I felt a little turned around. That nagging question occasionally crept up: Am I going back where I came from because I need to or because I messed up? Fast Travel points still exist but they’re better for general backtracking rather than first-time traversals.
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Though it’s too soon to say based on the first two hours of the game, but all the combat options afforded to you may make for some dull boss battles. Because every boss can be defeated using whatever tools a player wants there seems to be a bit less freedom there to design encounters that challenge all playstyles. For example, fighting the giant beetle boss toward the end of my playthrough was just a matter of patience and dodging some dull waves. There was some challenge, sure, but because every kind of player and every weapon needs to be able to take it down, it felt very straightforward and didn’t offer much in the way of intrigue.
Fortunately, Will of the Wisps’ environmental puzzle-solving remains promising and strikes that delicate balance of being easy enough not to bring the adventure to the halt while still giving you a feeling of accomplishment for figuring it out.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps shines in making traversal a blast. I’m compelled to crawl up every wall (easy to do with the Sticky Spirit Shard), swing on every branch, and carefully comb over every section and that’s a crucial part of any good Metroidvania. The more I play the more enamored I become with the different acrobatics I can pull off by combining abilities and unlocking Spirit Shards.
Will of the Wisps’ is designed to give me just the platforming playground I want and I was constantly pushing myself to get every item in sight, especially if it required a little finesse to reach.
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Double jumping through the air before dashing to a wall and kicking off to reach an even higher spot is a joy and downright beautiful to watch thanks to Ori’s graceful animations. Seeing Ori spin around a bamboo branch to gain momentum brought me back to the era of PS2 mascot platformers.
And while there are plenty of new things to enjoy in Will of the Wisps, some of the best parts are elements returning from Blind Forest – specifically Bash, which allows you to propel yourself in any direction and send whatever you’re propelling off of in the opposite direction (including enemy projectiles!).
While I have a few minor gripes with Ori’s new direction in Wills of the Wisps, the overall platforming looks as good as it feels and I can’t wait to see what else is waiting in this new forest when Ori and the Will of the Wisps leaps onto Xbox One and PC on March 11, 2020.
Janet Garcia is IGN’s Associate Guides Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @Gameonysus as she tries to make her way through the Game Pass library.
Source: IGN.com Ori and the Will of the Wisps: The Final Preview