Moon Studios has returned to the Xbox One with a sequel to their award-winning action platformer Ori and the Blind Forest. Scheduled for release on March 11, 2020, via the Xbox One store, Game Pass and Steam, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a true labour of love that encompasses everything we adored about the Blind Forest and exceeds all expectations with huge graphical improvements, a delightful soundtrack and engaging new mechanics.
We visited Xbox in San Francisco to learn more about Ori and the Will of the Wisps from the team at Moon Studios as well as to play the latest build of the game to discover what the sequel has to offer fans of the franchise and a glimpse of what to expect from the game’s compelling narrative.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps makes no effort to spare your feelings as it launches you into an emotionally driven prologue that is as heart-warming as it is poignant. This is where we meet Ori’s brand new baby sister Ku for the first time. Fans of the Blind Forest will remember Karu’s egg being left in the care of Naru and Gumo in the game’s final act, just as it was starting to hatch. Now, continuing from where we left the Blind Forest and as our journey in the Will of the Wisps commences, we meet the hatchling, an adorable baby owl. Different from the other member’s of her family and born with a physical disability, Ku is immediately embraced by familiar characters from the Blind Forest before we discover the first major conflict in the game’s narrative. The opener is beautifully designed with stunning visuals and accompanied by an emotive score that lures the player into an emotionally captive state, unable to resist falling in love with the game’s protagonists and compelled to see their journey through to its (hopefully triumphant) conclusion.
It’s worth noting that Ori and the Will of the Wisps does not provide much back story to accommodate new players. If you haven’t played through the Blind Forest, I would highly recommend it before picking up this title, as large portions of the narrative may be confusing, if not entirely meaningless without at least some understanding of previous events and character relationships.
Practice does indeed make perfect in Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Much like its predecessor, Will of the Wisps rewards player’s persistence when faced with challenging puzzles and physical obstacles. This time around, however, the game offers a myriad of options for players to fully customise their experience, ensuring that there is always a way to overcome even the most difficult puzzles and problems Will of the Wisps has to offer.
The first of these is the newly implemented weapons loadout. Ori has three spots available for weapons and abilities that can be bound to whichever face buttons feel most comfortable to you when using a controller. During the preview, I found myself swapping the keybinds whenever I equipped a new skill or weapon, depending on which felt most natural to me. For example, it felt most natural to have my self-healing ability bound to the B-button but as soon as I acquired a projectile weapon, it felt better to have that bound to B and my self-heal bound to Y, though my melee weapon remained bound to X throughout the demo. The ability to easily adjust my loadout and keybindings on the fly ensured that regardless of whether a traversal challenge or a boss encounter had me pinned, I was able to adapt and figure out a way to progress. Sometimes it was falling off of the same platform several times in a row, taking a leap of faith across an impassable gap or getting devoured by an unforgiving boss but by paying close attention when things went wrong, I discovered more about Ori’s range of movement and enemy weaknesses inch by inch and used that to find my groove in the game.
Having played Ori and the Blind Forest to completion for a second time just recently, I fancied myself pretty well equipped to face Will of the Wisps without too much trouble at all. This was a foolish approach, I soon discovered. There is indeed a sense of familiarity while playing Will of the Wisps and the gameplay mechanics certainly do pay homage to Blind Forest. That said, the sequel is a very fresh take on the action-platformer that has striking fluid energy to it, rewarding dexterity and timing as Ori nimbly bounces through each zone.
Ori’s weapon loadout is not the only way to customise your gameplay experience in Will of the Wisps. In addition to this, Ori can equip any combination of power-ups, known as shards. To start off with, Ori has three shard slots but this can be increased throughout the game via collectibles. These shards provide defensive buffs, such as armor or increased health, offensive buffs such as increased damage dealing or increased projectiles, utility skills like extra map visibility or movement skills including my personal favourite shard, ‘ sticky’ which allows Ori to stick naturally to vertical surfaces and wall climb. These shards can be found throughout the world but can also be purchased by spending Spirit Light which is functions as a currency rather than XP, as it did in the Blind Forest.
While Ori and the Blind Forest was undeniably stunning, Will of the Wisps utilizes a gorgeous full 3D pipeline to breathe new life into familiar characters and dynamic environments. I found myself moving Ori back and forth beneath a waterfall unnecessarily for a few moments, totally entranced by the amazing physics of the water as our protagonist got repeatedly drenched under my control. It’s easy enough to take for granted the sheer amount of detail in this game while focused on Ori’s adventure but I encourage players to take a moment to observe the shifting grass as Ori moves through it, the movement of each individual petal on a flower or the way a gust of wind or drop of rain adds to each uniquely organic setting.
Adding to the vitality of the in-game world, Will of the Wisps also introduces a brand new cast of colourful NPCs that Ori can interact with throughout the game, a polar difference from Blind Forest which felt very much like Ori was alone, even with Sein in tow. By interacting with these NPCs, Ori can learn new things about the map, take on new side-quests for various rewards. My favourite recurring characters are the Moki, an adorable genet-like species that follow your journey from the side-lines, acting as Ori’s own personal cheerleading squad, sharing words of encouragement along the way.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a phenomenal reprise for Moon Studios that left me desperate to play more as soon as I put my controller down.As a fan of the series, I didn’t have any doubt that the developers would impress but I was totally blown away by just how much they managed to improve upon an already finely polished formula. From the moment I put my headphones on, the soundtrack had me completely immersed in the familiar but fresh world in which Ori’s family lives and I’m sincerely looking forward to getting back into it on launch day. With the game available on day one via Game Pass, there is really isn’t an excuse for subscribers to skip out on this one and if you’re still having doubts about whether Ori is for you, I’d argue that you have nothing to lose by giving this gorgeous, action-packed precision platformer a go.
THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE FLEW TO SAN FRANCISCO AS A GUEST OF MICROSOFT.