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July 2019

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Moon Studios
Release Date: Feb. 11, 2020


XOne/PC Preview - 'Ori and the Will of the Wisps'

by Redmond Carolipio on June 25, 2018 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Embark on an all-new adventure to discover the mysteries beyond the forest of Nibel, uncover the hidden truths of those lost, and unravel Ori's true destiny.

Pre-order Ori and the Will of the Wisps

All Ori and the Will of the Wisps has to do when it arrives in 2019 is somehow be better than its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest — which is merely one of the finest side-scrolling Metroidvania experiences to grace the gaming population in ages. Blind Forest was a baby-faced assassin of a game, spellbinding players with its bright, imaginative and dreamlike aesthetic while testing their resolve with hand-warping skills challenges and puzzle work. Will of the Wisps looks to continue that tradition, but a quick demonstration from designer Moon Studios showed us that they have dug in and found ways to improve upon Ori's first adventure.

The initial trailers and demos at E3 2018 showed a taste of what we already know about Ori's world: hypnotically artistic, rife with puzzles, action and some large-scale creatures and landscapes. Under the hood, Moon Studios has crafted Will of the Wisps with several design pillars in mind, among them variety in the combat system; even more freedom of movement; and smarter, more complex enemies.

Ori is going to have a few more attack methods to his arsenal this time around. As he was traveling in a place called the Windswept Wastes in the demo, we saw him utilize the Spirit Edge, a sword-like weapon much different from the Spirit Flame that's been used in the past. Ori also whipped out a newer-looking "smash" attack.

Instead of an ability tree, per se, players will have a look at a customized radial map. It's here where you'll find "spirit shards," which are boostable modifiers and abilities that can be placed in a limited number of slots. This leaves it up to you as the player to figure out which of your acquired abilities you want to take with you, depending on your play style. You'll be able to get more slots as you wander through the Wisps worlds.

A grappling hook-type tool adds to Ori's steady diet of platforming elements that fans remember from the first game. Ori can use the hook to zoom to other points on the screen, but he can also use it to close the distance to enemies. Of course, the grappler also comes in handy for more than a few puzzles. We also saw something called the "burrow dash," which allowed Ori to spin underground through sand, sort of like a torpedo in the water.

Will of the Wisps is also going to feature more enemies and NPCs, who come with some of their own storylines and side-quests. One of the characters we run into in the demo is Lupo, a cartographer. If you've played a Metroidvania-style game before, then you know how important maps can be — or at least someone who makes them. Helping Lupo with whatever he needs seems important. We're told that the enemies in particular will have specific "tells" and patterns, making them a little more complex to defeat.

Moon Studios is also focusing on giving every level its own theme or signature. The Windswept Wastes are a Dune-like desert area, while other places will be frozen, or a lush jungle area, or whatever else your imagination can conjure up. Gennadiy Korol, one of Moon Studios' co-founders, sat in on the demo and shared how their philosophy of putting together Wisps is like building it with two engines: one driven by art, especially in how light dynamically illuminates everything in the game, whether it's from outside sources or from Ori himself; and the other is how tactile the game feels, meaning making sure the controls are as airtight as possible.

One of the more special — and extremely complex — aspects to consider about Ori, or any title like it, is how abilities gained work in concert with how the difficulty escalates across your journey. Abilities that open new pathways can make some things easier while also leading to newer, more harrowing challenges. As you play the game, you're expected to get used to utilizing more and more abilities. In theory, by the time you get to certain challenging spots in the game, you'll be "trained" enough to handle it. The more tools you have, the better off you'll be. Blind Forest handled this masterfully for the most part, but it could also sometimes be unintentionally cruel. Players would sometimes find themselves "locked" in a level, where the only way to progress was to defeat the immense reflex/puzzle conundrum before them, sometimes regardless of what they could actually do or how strong Ori would be at that moment.

In Wisps, seemingly insurmountable challenges still have to be dealt with, but players now have room to roam around and explore, find other trouble to get into, or possibly get stronger to the point where they'll find a tool or ability that could make things a tad easier. Korol told us that Moon Studios wanted to challenge players instead of frustrating them. This is where putting more exploration options and freedom in Wisps — like the aforementioned burrow dash — would help.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps was one of the prettiest games of the show and one of the faster, more addicting demos to play if you managed to find a station at the Microsoft Theater during E3. If the final package delivers close to what we saw early on, then Ori's next adventure could be one of the release events of 2019.

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