I've played a lot of games in the last couple of weeks. With the season grind having wound down dramatically on Destiny 2, and the purchase of a decent joypad for my PS4, I seem to have changed gears. I'm into a kind of "mop-up mode" where I'm just looking at my pile of shame and grabbing stuff from it... and occasionally playing something entirely new. Generally against my better judgment. I've thrashed through The Order: 1886 and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on my PS4, and I'm now chewing through Horizon Zero Dawn. I've still been playing Hades on my Switch, and on Xbox I've been dividing my time between Star Wars: Squadrons and a totally different game... Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I finished it yesterday, and it's one of those games that is so good that the idea of NOT writing something about it here just feels obscene.
The first game in the series, in my own words, "blew my socks off" - my expectations for the sequel were therefore high. I'm pleased to report that it didn't disappoint - in fact, it offered an experience that actually reaches new heights well above the lofty summit of the original. Simply, this game is sublime. The beautiful art style that helped to define the first game remains intact here - with backgrounds and foregrounds all equally alive. It feels as though every element of the level design interacts with either Ori or with envionmental elements. Grasses and plants sway, shadows and moving light sources illuminate the world with effervescent glows and shadows. Ori himself glows with an ethereal light, and leaves subtle vapour trails behind him as he runs, jumps, swings and lunges through a flawless rendering of a stylised natural world. The quality of the animations is absolutely phenomenal, with every single moving element of the screen giving the impression of having been lavished with artistic attention to detail. Think The Dark Crystal with some heavy involvement from Don Bluth, and you'll be picturing something close. I've been fortunate enough to play it on Xbox One X on a 4K HDR display... and it's eye-meltingly pretty at pretty much every moment.
That attention to detail permeates every single element of the gameplay as well. The platforming and combat is a smooth as butter and as fast a bullet, rocketing along at a steady 60fps. The Metroidvania elements of the first game remain intact. Right from the start you'll be exposed to areas that you can't reach, meaning back-tracking with new abilities is an essential part of your progress through the course of the game. Those abilities dramatically change Ori's navigation of the landscape, making him increasingly able to spend more and more time airborne. Eventually, reaching areas that you couldn't reach previously become easy with the right combination of perks and abilities equipped. The exploration is rewarded by powerups, shortcuts, and side quest items.
The approach to improved movement carries over to the combat as well - with a much more varied set of options available here than were present in the first game. This time around, Ori has access to a much more varied set of weapons and moves, with light weapons, heavy weapons and ranged weapons at his disposal from near the beginning of the game. Later on, flinging firebombs or replenishing health with attack power become essential parts of the arsenal. Indeed, the boss fights in this game require some varied uses of these abilities to overcome - and offer some of the most memorable moments in the game. The final encounter against Shriek is one that I'll remember for a long time - it was brutally difficult even on Normal mode.
That difficulty was probably the thing I was most relieved to see retained by this sequel. Ori and the Blind Forest was a game that was cute in appearance but notoriously difficult in places - and Ori and the Will of the Wisps protects and even enhances that reputation. Where the first game offered up its difficulty mainly by challenging platforming puzzles that had to be completed against the clock (escaping the water tree... remember that?), this game serves up a greater variety of difficulty. Those challenging platforming sections still exist, but in this game they're interspersed with boss battles that offer a level of challenge that the first game simply didn't have. The fight with Mora - a giant spider - was another highlight, and took the form of a series of fight phases mixed with platforming escapes.
The game's at its strongest when it's stringing all of these different elements together - and it somehow manages to do this constantly. Your skills develop at just the right pace, and by the end of the game you're mixing the platforming traversal into the boss battles; the combat and movement blending together seamlessly into what's probably best described as a ballet.
Yeah, it's fair to say I loved Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I'd discuss some of the narrative beats or the reveal of a meta-narrative that ties the series of games together, but to do so would be almost impossible without spoiling something - so I'll say no more other than that it's telling a tale of environmental devastation, loss, redemption, and sacrifice. It's far heavier subject matter than the whimsical art style would suggest itself of being capable of carrying - and I don't mind admitting that the ending brought me close to tears as the realisation of what was really happening here began to dawn on me. Simply speaking, it's sublime. If you haven't experienced it yet, you really owe it to yourself to play this one.