Ori and the Will of the Wisps is going to take everything you loved about the original - the emotional story, the devious environmental puzzles and the gigantic set pieces - and take them to a whole new level in what could be, one of the greatest Metroidvania games since Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
What is Metroidvania?
Metroidvania (a mash-up of Metroid and Castlevania) is a genre of 2D side-scrolling games that revolves around exploring new areas, gaining new skills, beating bosses and repeating until the credits roll.
That being said, that's an especially tough comparison to make considering how good the last few years have been if you’re a Metroidvania fan: since Ori and the Blind Forest came out in 2015 on Xbox One, the genre has seen a renaissance that has inspired games like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells and, most recently, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
And yet, while some credit the original Ori for reinvigorating the genre - an opinion its creators at Moon Studios both enjoy and shy away from saying outright - and Ori and the Will of the Wisps wants to take the series to new heights with even bigger boss fights, more space to explore and a much larger emphasis on combat.
Here’s what you need to know about Ori and the Will of the Wisps before it arrives on March 11, 2020 on PC and Xbox One.
1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps follows Ori and Ku
Despite its ultra-colorful aesthetic, Ori and the Blind Forest was a game filled with characters who were “shades of gray”. That last bit comes from Daniel Smith, Senior Producer at Xbox Game Studios for Ori and the Will of the Wisps, who doesn’t want players to remember Kuro, the antagonist of the original game, as some all-bad avian overlord, but as a character that wanted to preserve the life of her offspring, Ku, only to realize the error of her ways towards the end of the third act.
While the game doesn’t do the best of jobs jogging your memory of the events of the first game (at least the early section that we played didn't), you’ll see the bond between Ku, Ori and the rest of the gang develop in the opening act of Will of the Wisps, before the crew get separated in a new labyrinthian locale.
2. The world is three times the size of Ori and the Blind Forest
As hard as it is to believe, the original Ori was only set in one HUGE woodland called The Forest of Nibel. The sequel brings us out of that forest and into the wider world, which, as you’d expect from any high-budget sequel, will be far bigger than before.
According to Smith, it’s about three times the size - but he says the exact estimate is tough because it’s not exactly comparing apples-to-apples since this game not only has a large overworld, but also a number of challenges called Spirit Trials and Spirit Shrines that are essentially battle arenas with wave after wave of enemies.
The good news, at least, is that you’ll have a map to reference in case you get lost and one which you're encouraged to use to revisit areas previously explored areas once you acquire new skills to unlock new Spirit Shards.
3. Spirit Shards help you play the way you want
Of all the new features, Spirit Shards are the most interesting. These equippable abilities modify Ori’s stats and attacks and can be found or purchased throughout the world. Some of the shards we found during our gameplay session included one called Reckless that increases the damage Ori deals by 15%, but also increases the damage taken by the same amount.
Another, called Resilience, shielded Ori for 10% less damage without any penalties - which might make it better for beginners who are still having a hard time wrapping their head around combat, a big emphasis for Will of the Wisps.
4. Expect to spend more time in big boss battles
The original game had plenty of smaller enemies inhabiting every tree, root and stump of The Forest of Nibel, but there weren't many gargantuan creatures. In fact, probably the only one that springs to mind when you think of the original game is Kuro, the oversized owl that kills the guardian spirits, and gives you a run for your money in a chase through the fiery forest at the end of the game.
The Will of the Wisps has far more of these oversized enemies that you'll need to escape from and, in some cases, square off against in one-on-one battles.
What Smith wants from the sequel is to give players more memorable moments like the final chase scene at the end of Ori and the Blind Forest - a fight that some could find frustrating due to its difficulty. Smith says the team is acutely aware of the difficulties these fights could present to players, and have been listening intently to feedback around difficulty from people who have tried Will of the Wisps.
5. It's available at launch on Xbox Game Pass
The last, and maybe most important, distinction that's worth pointing out about Ori and the Will of the Wisps is that it will be available to download on Xbox Game Pass on launch day, March 11, 2020. That's important to both Moon Studios and Smith, who are excited to see their hard work enjoyed by a significant amount more gamers than would've enjoyed it had it only been released on, say, Steam, and it's good for gamers who might not have paid to give it a shot.
"We just want more people to experience what we've created," Smith says. "And so Game Pass is just a beautiful way to open the flood gates and just let everyone experience the story line we've crafted, the visuals and the music."
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