America - Front
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By Evan Norris 01st Apr 2020 | 4,347 views
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a perfect sequel. It takes the already-great template from Ori and the Blind Forest, builds upon its strengths, and addresses its most obvious weakness: fighting. By delivering fluid, death-defying platforming, a large, interconnected world populated with charming NPCs, rewarding side-quests, versatile combat, a bittersweet story, and stunning art direction, developer Moon Studios has turned in one of the best Metroidvania titles in a decade. The game could use a few more boss battles and at the moment it suffers from some performance issues, but overall it's a stellar example of the sub-genre that makes Moon Studios the team to beat moving into the next generation.
Will of the Wisps takes place after the events of Ori and the Blind Forest. The forest spirit Ori lives a happy life in Nibel with an adopted family that includes a young owl, Ku, born with a deformed wing. When the enterprising Gumo attaches a large feather (a keepsake from Ku's mother) to the owlet, she finds herself able to fly. Ori and Ku celebrate with a flight but stray too close to a violent storm and crash down far apart from each other in the unknown land of Niwen, across the sea from Nibel. During the search for Ku, Ori discovers a blighted landscape in need of a champion.
Moon Studios already demonstrated its ability to produce strong emotions and memorable personalities in Blind Forest, but in Will of the Wisps the developer goes one step further, developing Ori's character arc, introducing a large ensemble of colorful denizens, and delivering some incredibly moving, tearful scenes, including one of the most bittersweet endings you'll see all year. This is a game that will stay with you long after you've watched the credits roll.
Will of the Wisps boasts some extraordinary gameplay to go with its affecting story. Like Blind Forest, it's a 2D platformer crafted in the Metroidvania tradition. That translates to a huge interconnected map, ripe for backtracking; secret paths and chambers; scores of collectibles; and upgrades galore. What Will of the Wisps does with this formula, and how it elaborates upon its predecessor's achievements, elevate it among its contemporaries.
First and foremost, Will of the Wisps is a sublime platformer. Smooth, responsive controls pair with Ori's acrobatic moveset to create some fantastically fluid gameplay. Ori can dodge left and right—on the ground or in the air—latch on to walls and ceiling fixtures, launch off hanging lamps and enemies, double jump, and parachute, and often chain all of the above into breakneck, devil-may-care sequences that bring you within inches of annihilation. Players can deploy these moves across a series of biomes each with its own hazards and inventive level designs. Some, shrouded in darkness, demand Ori leap from light to light; others lean on portals; still others focus on living platforms that will shut their jaws around the nimble forest spirit if you linger too long.
Platforming was the best part of Blind Forest, so the sequel's successes here are to be expected. Less predictable was Niwen itself, larger in size and scope than Nibel and filled with new collectible items, many more NPCs, multiple side-quests, and even a home base of sorts. Out in the field you'll encounter explorers, map-makers, and playful Moki (fox-like animals), many of whom will sell goods or offer quests. And in Wellspring Glades—a safe haven from the decay that plagues the land—you can use ore and seeds to expand and beautify your surroundings. With all the things to do and discover, Will of the Wisps is, depending on your personal mileage, between 50 and 100 percent longer than the premier game.
None of these enhancements, however, remotely compare to the game's biggest improvement—combat. If Blind Forest had one flaw, it was the design and flow of its enemy encounters. Ori was limited in offensive firepower, fighting was shallow and mechanical, and boss battles came in the form of trial-and-error chase sequences, which leaned into the game's strength: platforming. In Will of the Wisps, fighting is as visceral and satisfying as platforming. There are new, more aggressive enemy types and brand new spirit abilities for Ori to master. Ori can stab with a sword, fire arrows and explosive spears, set nearby enemies on fire, swing a powerful hammer, and deflect enemy projectiles.
If you tire of a particular ability you can buy (and upgrade) others from Opher, a vendor who sets up shop in Wellspring Glades, and if you wish to customize Ori further you're able to purchase or discover Spirit Shards that activate a wide range of perks. These include "thorn", which deals 25% of melee damage back at enemies, and "sticky", which allows you to stick and climb on walls.
Although Will of the Wisps makes remarkable strides in combat, its collection of boss fights shows room for improvement. Neglecting a couple of smaller sub-boss skirmishes and the series' trademark scripted chase sequences, the game sports only three major battles, and only one—a breathless fight against a colossal spider—registers as great.
Art and music, conversely, are consistently great. Will of the Wisps features opulent visuals; imaginative, audacious art direction; complex, layered backgrounds; and detailed character models. It's one of the best-looking games on Xbox One. It's also one of the prettiest-sounding titles, thanks to another excellent score from Gareth Coker that introduces unique themes for each biome and several secondary characters. The plaintive string sounds of "The Windswept Wastes" contrast with the wooden, organic noises of "Kwolok's Hollow", which has a very different sonic footprint from the echoey piano notes of "Baur's Peak".
While art and sound are unimpeachable, technical performance is not without some faults. Will of the Wisps suffers some conspicuous framerate drops and stuttering, particularly ahead of narrative setpieces, and sometimes slows to a crawl when opening the map menu. Hopefully Moon Studios will continue to support the game with patches.
Back in 2017, Moon Studios' director Thomas Mahler said "The idea is that Will of the Wisps should be to Blind Forest what Super Mario Bros. 3 was to the original Super Mario Bros." Mahler and company have made good on that notion. Will of the Wisps takes everything outstanding about the franchise—fluid platforming, emotional storytelling, gorgeous visuals, and haunting music—and adds to the mix dynamic combat, a bigger and bolder world, additional customization options, and hours worth of side content. It's an extraordinary achievement, held back only by the lack of exceptional boss battles and some frustrating technical hitches.