An Instant Classic
In the games industry, as in the movie industry, there are accepted norms. For example, there are sequels to beloved titles that are simply acknowledged as superior to their predecessor in almost every fashion and elevate the IP to classic status. In movies you have Aliens, Terminator 2, The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part II. In videogames you have titles like Sonic 2, Half-Life 2, Assassin’s Creed II, Uncharted 2 and Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Ori and the Blind Forest was a flawed masterpiece. A gorgeous living work of art that magnificently paired super tight, pixel perfect platforming with visuals in a class of their own as well as a musical score for the ages. The most common complaints being a lack of depth in the combat, the oftentimes brutal difficulty and the ability to be locked out of areas in the map (a cardinal sin for metroidvanias). Fortunately the latter was addressed in the Definitive Edition.
Ori and the Will of Wisps becomes that all-time classic, widely accepted superior sequel by addressing all the concerns of the original, while also improving on all of its strengths.
Instantly familiar, yet wholly unique
Anyone who has played Blind Forest will instantly feel comfortable upon beginning Will of the Wisps. Structurally, the two games are very similar. Both in the way the story is introduced, to the way the game carefully drip feeds you abilities as required and then makes you familiar with each one as you acquire it.
Without getting into spoiler territory, Will of the Wisps has many levels and game play segments that should make any Blind Forest fan happy. Different spins, twists and versions of scenarios like the Ginso Tree or the gauntlet type run of Mount Horu.
In true Moon fashion, all levels are carefully crafted to allow for non-linear exploration of the map that truly allow you to go off the beaten track and obtain items and power ups any way you can.
How do you top some of the best 2D visuals ever? Make them 3D!
Ori and the Blind Forest had some of the best visual design and animations seen in a game. All painstakingly created in 2D. Upon starting Will and the Wisps, the game will obviously look instantly familiar, but you’ll also notice how much smoother everything looks. As Thomas Mahler – the co-founder of Moon Studios, mentioned on the XboxEra podcast, all visuals in Ori and the Will of the Wisps are 3D which has allowed for even better animations than the already stellar ones seen in Blind Forest. All animations are also in 60 frames compared to the 30 from Blind Forest on Xbox.
The world itself is more detailed as a result and is also much larger than that of Blind Forest. According to Moon, up to three times larger.
Much like its predecessor, each area of the map has it’s own visual style, and cues that let you know you’re entering a different area before the game lets you know or even without you checking the map.
Another singular aspect of the visual design was something I personally haven’t witnessed in a 2D game and that’s light shafts, or god rays. But these light shafts are coming towards the player camera. It’s a striking effect that just adds to the already breathtaking moving art on screen.
An aural treat
Somehow Gareth Coker – legendary composer, has managed to outdo his fantastic work on Blind Forest with an even better soundtrack in Will of the Wisps. Everything just fits and in all parts of the game, be it the cut scenes, during boss fights or normal exploration, the music evokes the appropriate response from the player. It can’t be stressed enough how much this assists with immersion in Ori’s world.
But it’s not just the score. The audio design is taken up a notch from Blind Forest also. Ambient noise is more prevalent, combat sounds heavy and forceful. You hear audio cues often when something of note might be nearby like sprit well or jump point. I played with headphones which really allowed me to hear every single little sound that I couldn’t quite get with my sound bar.
The lack of depth in combat was arguably the number one complaint for Blind Forest. While personally I had no issue with it given the genre of the game, Moon took that criticism on board and has completely fleshed out the combat for Will of the Wisps. It comes in such a massive variety of ways that it can completely change each play through you do. The sheer variety is staggering, so much so that you’d either need multiple runs through the game, or need to spend many extra hours in a single play through experimenting with them all to find a combination that suits either your play style, or the scenario you enter into.
But like everything in Ori games, the combat feels fantastic. Ridiculously tight, great aural, visual and haptic feedback that really makes Ori feel like a wrecking machine, particularly once fully powered up and upgraded.
The traversal combat mechanics are still in tact from Blind Forest, like everyone’s favourite – bash. But they’ve added even more traversal attacks on top of the new weapons, it would be borderline overwhelming if it weren’t all so fun to use. Only a few of the weapons are actually required to progress through the game and there were many I never ended up using because what I had equipped was perfectly adequate. You can only equip 3 weapons/abilities at once, but they can be changed on the fly with a simple press of the left trigger where a weapon wheel appears to allow you to assign your choices to a button. But as I mentioned earlier, that’s the beauty of it, you can choose the “loadout” you want that suits you and your play style.
A Dying world that’s full of life
Blind Forest was set in Nibel, but in Will of the Wisps we find ourselves in Niwen, a decaying world that Ori needs to help breathe life back into. Each area of Niwen is beautifully crafted and feels so much livelier than Nibel mostly due to the addition of the new characters in Will of the Wisps.
Merchants, a map maker, quest givers and more all populate and move throughout the world. They help Ori, they give him quests, clues and rewards. There’s even a builder who you need to help restore the main village within the game.
Now I know many people will hear the term side quests and possibly groan at the idea of the game being somewhat padded to lengthen play time. But this wasn’t an issue for me playing through Will of the Wisps because none of the quests feel like you need to go out of your way to complete them. During the natural course of the game, you will come across all major quest items with minimal extraneous exploration.
But like any great metroidvania, Will of the Wisps still has plenty for you to discover if you care to explore every nook and cranny of Niwen. With hard to reach places and invisible walls to be found, there’s no shortage of secrets.
Each area of the map is incredibly well designed, almost all with multiple entry points that are either accessible from the start or unlocked during game play. I found myself oftentimes trying to get to points I knew I couldn’t reach deep down, realising fairly quickly I’d need to be back later once I have a certain skill or upgrade. But the world teases you, it coerces you into reaching beyond your means to make you quickly understand you’re simply not ready yet.
My only minor complaint, is similar to that of Blind Forest. While not deal breaking or particularly frustrating, I do feel like the final sequence of events that leads to the finale, somewhat overstays it’s welcome. It’s hard to be clear on that without spoiling anything, but for me the final part of the game felt somewhat overwhelming and could probably have afforded to be a little bit shorter.
Boss battles like they used to be
Boss battles in games are a dying art form. The shift to 3D seemed like it proved too difficult for many developers to be able to craft satisfying boss battles that weren’t cheap or frustrating, or just flat out too easy.
But it felt like that struggle to create boss battles started to infiltrate many 2D games also and for some time, the art of the boss battle has been on life support.
Will of the Wisps really harkens back to the 16-bit glory days of boss battles that are expertly designed to exploit your weapon and move set without being cheap, but still punishingly difficult if you don’t make the most of what you have. Which is exactly how good boss battles should be.
The bosses are big, beautiful and brutal. The sheer size of them compared to our tiny hero, makes them intimidating and invokes that sense of dread that makes you think “How the hell am I going to beat that thing?”. But as long as you are sure to use most of your skills and arsenal, all boss battles a beatable with minimal frustration.
The need for speed
Thomas Mahler has spoken of his surprise at how the speed running community both exploited and embraced Ori and the Blind Forest. In designing Will of the Wisps, it’s clear speed runners were not only front of mind, but involved in the process.
Not only was the world designed with multiple unlocklable avenues for exploration and seemingly inaccessible handles on walls, but Will of the Wisps has what’s known as Spirit Trials. A type of asynchronous multiplayer mode where you race against ghosts of other players or the ghost of a pre-set minimum time to win rewards, generally in the form of spirit light, the currency of the game.
The lore of Ori
Anyone who knows me also knows that story in video games has never been a focus for me. But Ori keeps it fairly simple and has just enough charm to get some investment from someone even as jaded as myself.
While I obviously won’t go into spoilers here, rest assured the story of Will of the Wisps will satisfy those who are fully invested in the Ori lore but also keep those who aren’t as interested aware of what is going on.
One little nugget I’d like to share is that we finally get some clarity on who the narrator of the two games is!
A must for all
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is everything any Blind Forest fan would have wanted, or possibly hoped for from a sequel. Moon have created a game that has every right to be in the ‘AAA’ conversation with its 3D counterparts, with a level of care and polish normally reserved for much larger studios and far bigger budgets.
Ultimately, it can’t be said enough how incredible Ori and the Will of the Wisps is. Blind Forest was already my personal favourite metroidvania of all time and Will of the Wisps has managed to raise the bar even further.
Review code was provided by Microsoft and the game was played on a retail Xbox One X unit.