How often do you 100% games? As a question, this seems to be an inquiry towards the qualities of the game, rather than the individual’s preferences and playstyle, however as anyone who plays games regularly knows, that’s not actually true; lots of amazing games have optional content that most people will not experience, and certainly do not need to in order to get a complete experience. Some of my personal favorite games on which I have spent hundreds of hours on have a lot of content I have never seen and don’t intend to; companies like Ubisoft have made a name for themselves, by having games with lots of content, developers have created tools that allow for random/procedural generation of content so that you can have an infinite amount of things to do and lists to check. Some people adore that, but I don’t; I rarely if ever come close to completing a game’s completion percentage. I 100% Ori and the will of the wisps on normal difficulty. I only have less than a dozen of spirit light orbs in the map and then that beautiful looking map will be empty; since I don’t do that ever, that should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of this long-awaited sequel. How often do you 100% games? So far, maybe a handful of times, so let me tell you about the latest one…
Ori and the will of the wisps is a sequel to one of the most beloved games of the Xbox One era; the first game – called Ori and the blind forest – was a breakout success in 2015 and has been hailed as one of the best metroidvania, action-platformers of this console generation. It had a unique and striking art style, an ingenious way to handle saving, packed a satisfying difficulty curve, alongside excellent platforming, and a memorable intro; the sequel takes a slightly different approach. There’s a bigger emphasis on combat, a free-flowing shard system that allows players to pick and choose perks that fit their playstyle, there are autosaves and checkpoints instead of that more inventive saving system; I suspect this may make the game a bit disappointing to some fans of the original, as some of the decisions that made the original unique have been replaced with more traditional mechanics. If you’re okay with that though, you will find a game that’s even better than the original in a number of ways, first of which may come as a surprise to many.
Few will argue that Ori and the blind forest is still one of the best audio-visual experiences of the 8th generation of consoles, but the upgrade of the sequel needs to be seen to be believed. The art style, not only looks unbelievably good, but manages to be unobtrusive in the gameplay, which was one of my biggest problems with the first game. In that game, as enemies started cluttering the screen or chased you through that beautiful scenery, it was not always easy to keep track of Ori or the visual cues in the environment; the sequel fixes that with some stellar use of colors, design, and direction. You still feel like the world is this impossibly beautiful painting, only this time that does not intervene with having fun with the gameplay. Part of that is due to the design of the world being more “spacious” in order to accommodate both platforming and combat, part of it is checkpoints were mostly spot on, so frustration from failure and experimentation was not a huge issue, and part of it was Moon studio clearly listening to feedback from the original game; bottom line is that overly long chase sequences, frustrating setbacks, getting stuck on geometry that looks like it should be part of the background or falling to your death because what seemed like a solid object to land on was background art instead, are not part of this game for the most part.
Customization and freedom to choose a playstyle is probably the biggest part of why Will of the wisps is so much more welcoming and engaging; you now have a choice between a dozen or so moves to fill 3 slots. Some of them are slow, consume a lot of mana, but pack a hefty punch, while others allow for a faster, cost effective, but less strong move set, that allow for smarter use of mana to heal or use ranged attacks. This level of customization also allows Ori to keep its difficulty firmly set on challenging, without it feeling like impossibly so; most of the enemies and bosses can be taken down using any builds you can think of, it’s just a matter of finding the one that suits you. I would have liked if the game forced me to use some moves – like it does with specific shielded enemies who’s shields can be broken with a heavy strike – as I collected and upgraded each available move, but only used a handful of them.
Moreover, I love how Will of the wisps feels more “directed” and “paced” in comparison with the blind forest (full disclosure, I did not get very deep into the original game). Although I had many options, I never felt lost because of clear indications on where to go next, but simultaneously I never felt forced into a path; there were several ways to get to where I needed to go, several things to collect and reasons to go off the beaten path. Mechanical pacing is also very impressive; just like with any metroidvania, you start with a basic move set that will evolve, allowing you to access and explore more areas of the map and more resources and upgrades to collect. Each new upgrade opens a world of possibilities, making previous areas seem less daunting, while new areas offer new challenges. This continues with each new upgrade accumulating in the last upgrade making the entirety of the map seem trivial, but also allows access to an area where the greatest challenge in the game lies in.
Despite all of these positives, I still want to go back to where I started; presentation. Moon studio has shown that they are world class in design and gameplay, but they are top of the class when it comes to audiovisual presentation, especially in animation and music. There’s a reason why I didn’t mention the narrative until now, and that is because if it were any other studio doing the same narrative it would be a negative aspect of this review; it is, in theory, cliché and rushed through so gameplay can take center stage. In practice it left me choked up on several occasions, because of how expressive, lively, and full of charm the characters are given by their animation; a character that has a pivotal role in the narrative is given a tiny portion of screen time, but that was still enough to get me invested; as soon as the ending section begins, I predicted the ending (not that hard to do), but despite having ample time to prepare for it, I was sobbing as soon as it started. This isn’t just in the narrative moments by the way, this obsession with creating animations that are second to none is present in the combat, idle, jumping, animations – anything that needed animation is exquisite to look at. It’s simply mind-boggling that the animations are so good that they elevate a mediocre story at best with non-existing characters, to an experience that I look back on and get goosebumps. A big part of that is Gareth Coker’s music, which is so good that not only is enjoyable outside of the game and without its context, but it is also solely responsible for me caving in and installing Spotify.
Having played Ori and the blind forest and finding it more enjoyable to look at and listen to, rather than actually play, I would have never guessed that its sequel would have been such a vast improvement that it would become one of those rare games, where I just enjoy every single aspect of it so much, that I 100% it. I cannot wait for Moon studio’s next game, as with Will of the wisps they have elevated themselves to “get excited by the sheer mention of their name” status in my mind.