At Gamescom 2018 we were lucky enough to go hands on with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the next title from Moon Studios.
Wisps' predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest, was a bit of a sleeper hit. The game featured a heavy emphasis on platforming and Metroidvania-style map layouts, with stunning hand-painted art work and truly enchanting music. The game was warmly received for its precise platforming gameplay, gorgeous visuals, and emotional narrative. Will of the Wisps looks as though it'll continue the tradition.
New game, new feel
Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes place some time after the events of the first game, with corruption remaining an issue in the verdant forests surrounding Ori's home. Ori has a few new tools in order to combat this threat, thankfully, and the way players upgrade and augment these abilities will give you greater control over how Ori handles.
The way players upgrade and augment these abilities will give you greater control over how Ori handles.
Ori, being a guardian, can use spirit energy to summon various powers. One of his new weapons is an ephemeral spirit blade, which allows the player to slash at enemies in melee combat, rather than utilize the relatively awkward spark sprays from the first game. Ori can also summon a bow, firing off arrows of spirit power. One example we were shown for bow upgrades is to include multiple projectiles, upgrading from a single arrow.
I inquired about difficulty, since some had complained the original Ori was a little too tough. Moon Studios noted that players will be able to leverage the ability customization system to offset aspects of the game they find difficult, whether it's combat or platforming, which, by the way, has received a bunch of great updates too.
Traversing the world
Ori and the Blind Forest had some tremendous platforming action, but it was quite slow and methodical for the most part. Ori could double jump, and also use mid-air objects to get extra height with a vaulting attack. Some of these abilities formed the basis of the game's puzzles, where you could vault objects to redirect them, while jumping up at the same time. Many of these features return, but Will of the Wisps grants Ori a range of new abilities that play into the wider "Metroidvania" style gameplay, while promoting more rapid speed, and a new "Spirit Trials" mini game.
Our demonstration took place in a sand-blasted desert landscape, filled with hungry carnivorous plants and large sand traps. Will of the Wisps has new technology that integrates 3D models more seamlessly into the layered 2D world Moon Studios is building. The use of 3D gives the game some additional "modern" depth, and to that end, Moon Studios has also developed a new physics-based lighting engine which allows its artists to designate areas on 2D objects to receive lighting information. As a result, when Ori uses one of his flashy new powers, it creates a gorgeous cascade of spectral highlights that really make the game world pop.
Ori eventually unlocked the ability to drill through the ground, escaping through to areas that were previously inaccessible. This served to add some important explorative progression, but the ability to corkscrew through the earth like a worm gave Ori the ability to achieve some increased momentum.
When Ori uses one of his flashy new powers, it creates a gorgeous cascade of spectral highlights that really make the game world pop.
Will of the Wisps puts a greater emphasis on movement than its predecessor, giving advanced players the ability to pull off some impressive aerial acrobatics as you drill, jump, and now, dash across Will of the Wisps' stunning environments. A tap of one of the bumpers allows Ori to dash forwards, and if you dash just before you emerge from drilling in the ground, you'll burst out of the sand, gaining extra height. You can also dash through sand that are suspended in the air by tree branches, allowing you to gain even more height and speed for moving rapidly through an area.
While more methodical platforming puzzles remain, some areas in Will of the Wisps have been developed with rapid traversal in mind. As such, these areas designed for rapid movement can be used in new Spirit Trials, an addictive mini game that elevates the entire Ori experience.
Spirit Trials' addictive fun
Scattered throughout Will of the Wisps' world, there are Spirit Trials players can select to engage in. They're leaderboard-based races where players are tested on their abilities to speed between two obstacle courses, similarly to Ubisoft's side-scrolling Trials biking games.
I found myself disappointed to finish my session, having become quickly addicted to Spirit Trials.
Just like games like Trials Fusion, Will of the Wisps' Spirit Trials upload player's runs up to the Microsoft Cloud, so you can view the "ghosts" of players who have completed the trials. You'll be able to see and compete against your friends, even when they're offline. You'll even be able to view the races of other players, if you're completely stumped on how the leaderboard champions managed to get their race times down so low.
Moon Studios noted that Spirit Trials were inspired by Twitch streamers and YouTubers who make a hobby of attempting to speedrun through Ori and the Blind Forest. The best Spirit Trials racers will know to the pixel when to activate a jump to ensure the quickest traversal time, and they'll be able to showcase their efforts on Xbox Live. They just feel great to play too, I found myself disappointed to finish my session, having become quickly addicted to competing against my own high score.
Gorgeous, enthralling, and full of promise
Fans of Ori and the Blind Forest should rest assured with Will of the Wisps. It certainly seems that Moon Studios is doing everything it can to elevate the formula of the original game, without completely revamping and removing everything people loved. The studio is paying careful attention to every pixel, every audio cue, and every controller flick to refine Will of the Wisps into a worthy sequel of 2015's Blind Forest, which in many ways felt underrated.
Will of the Wisps is listed as launching in 2019, and we can't wait. If you haven't played the original, go do it right now.
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