“How can we perfect a Metroidvania?” That is the question that Moon Studios designer Thomas Mahler told me he posed to the rest of the team after taking stock of their beautiful and challenging 2015 platformer/adventure, Ori and the Blind Forest. The answer, as he and the decentralized 50-person development team see it (it’s true; they don’t work in a single office but are all scattered in 40 different countries around the world), is to offer multiple play styles through combat and skill choices that can lead to unique playthroughs for the sequel, 2019’s Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Ori 2 looks absolutely glorious in 4K.
After getting a demo of a slice of Ori 2 that’s about 4-5 hours into the game (an adventure which, he says, will be longer than Blind Forest), I played it for myself. Not only are Mahler and the Moon team well on their way towards providing a fantastic answer to their own question, but I also can confidently say that Ori and the Will of the Wisps shows no hint that it will disappoint the many, many Xbox fans who enjoyed the original. Ori 2 looks absolutely glorious in 4K, as the painterly art style from Blind Forest Returns, but with, as Mahler notes, a new element of physicality added to the environment, meaning that branches sag under your weight when you jump on them and leaves blow in the wind. You might not even notice it if it weren’t pointed out to you, but it does indeed make Will of the Wisps feel more alive.
But what of the multiple play styles? For starters, the Spirit Light is more of a currency now and can be used to upgrade new skills. For instance, Splinter Shard splits your attack projectile into three pieces, but it can be upgraded to shoot five. The Reckless Shard allows you to do more damage but also take more damage. And new weapons provide new combat strategies, like the quick-striking sword, the bow-and-arrow-like Spirit Arc, or the hammer-esque Spirit Smash.
For those of you who want that challenge, Mahler said, “We have sequences in there that are bananas.”
Other quality-of-life improvements are planned, too. NPCs are now there to speak with and do quests for, or in Lupo’s case, buy a map from using Spirit Light to pay for it and show you more of the map. I also asked Mahler if he felt that difficulty spikes in Blind Forest — namely, the Water Tower — were good or bad things. He gave me an unexpectedly interesting response. Instead of simply saying yes or no, he explained that “we don’t want to take challenge out” but noted that rather than omit tough sections altogether, Ori 2 will give you more ways to tackle them. For instance, it won’t lock you into one once you’ve started it via autosave. Instead, you’ll have the option to leave, go do a side quest (yes, they exist now), power up, and come back later. Or just switch to another of your weapon or skill loadouts. You can come back to the challenge when you’re ready. And for those of you who want that challenge, Mahler said, “We have sequences in there that are bananas.”
Meanwhile, the Metroidvania side of Ori is alive and well. The big new mechanic I picked up during my hands-on demo was Burrow, which lets you turbo-tunnel through sand once you’ve unlocked it, allowing you to reach new areas and attack enemies in new ways (read: from underneath). It feels very good to control, especially when you do an RB dash coming out of the sand to give yourself some extra momentum towards that next jump or grapple point you want to chain to. We’re already seeing an embarrassment of gaming riches for 2019, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps belongs on that short list of most anticipated titles for next year.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews and Xbox Guru-in-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.