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Ori and the Will of the Wisps release date, trailer and story

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the sequel to the 2015 adventure game Ori and the Blind Forest. The first game in the series was a blend of action-platforming in the vein of the Rayman franchise and the kind of exploratory elements that fans of Metroid and Hollow Knight can really get into. Even better, Ori and the Blind Forest was an absolute joy to look at, thanks to its unique art style and elegant storyline, both of which were inspired by the works of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki.

First announced in 2017 at E3, this highly anticipated sequel has never been too far from the minds of the folks who played and loved Ori and the Blind Forest. The game's developers at Moon Studios have been rolling out little tidbits of information as the game gets closer to its release date, so let's take a look at everything we know about the upcoming Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

What is the release date for Ori and the Will of the Wisps?

We now know that Ori and the Will of the Wisps will be released for PC and Xbox One on Feb. 11, 2020. Even better news for Microsoft devotees: because of the game's first-party status, it will be made available through Xbox Game Pass on the very day of release. That's great news for anyone with Game Pass who wants to roll out of bed on Feb. 11 and dive right into Ori's latest adventure. (Or just stay in bed and play, since the game already looks like a lovely dream.)

Ori and the Will of the Wisps was originally announced at E3 2017 without a set release window. At the following year's E3, a new trailer was premiered and Microsoft announced their intentions to release the game in 2019. Even though it's taken a little bit longer than expected, it certainly looks like the new game will be well worth the wait.

The story before Ori and the Will of the Wisps

In Ori and the Blind Forestwe meet a small guardian spirit named Ori, who fell from from their original home in the giant Spirit Tree. Later, Ori is left orphaned when Naru, the creature raising Ori, starves to death following some unknown change that causes the forest they call home, Nibel, to wither and die. Following the guide of a being called Sein, Ori embarks on a quest to restore the the three most important elements in Nibel, which are Winds, Water, and Warmth.

Ori and Sein run afoul of Kuro, the giant owl who caused the cataclysm in Nibel in an act of revenge after the Spirit Tree inadvertently killed her children. They also meet Gumo, an ancient spider creature whose intervention restores Naru to life. Though Kuro attempts to kill Sein and Ori in the midst of a massive fire, the sight of Naru's love and devotion for their adopted child causes a change of heart. Kuro helps to restore the Spirit Tree, which puts out the flames at the cost of Kuro's life. The game ends on a hopeful note, as the forest is revived and Kuro's last remaining egg begins to hatch.

Why should you be excited for Ori and the Will of the Wisps?

Ori and the Will of the Wisps has quite a standard to live up to. Its predecessor was a critical darling, with reviews lauding its incredible art style and intricate gameplay, which incorporated elements of RPGs and classic Metroidvania exploration, not to mention a dash of button-mashing combat.

The Guardian called the first game "a challenging and scenically beautiful journey," while Polygon's Arthur Gies lamented in his review that he wished he could have explored every last section of the game before writing his review. Praising Ori and the Blind Forest's attention to detail and treasure trove of secrets, Gies wrote, "Ori feels in many ways like the apotheosis of decades of action-adventure game design, wrapped in some of the most beautiful, cohesive presentations I've ever seen in a game." 

With that kind of love being shown to Ori and the Blind Forest, it's no wonder why a sequel is finally on the way. Hopefully this will be one of those instances where the sequel not only lives up to the original, but also surpasses it in some ways.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps - E3 2019 trailer

The most recent trailer for Ori and the Will of the Wisps premiered at E3 in June, and it gives us a great look at what to expect when we can finally play the sequel for ourselves. We see Ori doing combat with several giant enemies that take up most of the screen, chucking projectile weapons and dodging webs, fangs, and all manner of other hazards. 

The trailer also shows us that sometimes, all Ori can do is run from these gargantuan enemies with some wild platforming action and tense chase sequences, all set to a gorgeous soundtrack from composer Gareth Coker. The trailer ends with a gorgeously serene shot of Ori riding on the back of a young owl, presumably the offspring of Kuro from the first game. In less than two minutes, this new trailer shows us that the sequel will contain just as much wonder (and horror) as the original. 

Who's developing Ori and the Will of the Wisps?

Ori and the Blind Forest was the passion project of Moon Studios, "an international collaboration of former AAA developers." Moon Studios was formed by Thomas Mahler, a former Blizzard Entertainment artist, and Gennadiy Korol, who is now Moon's lead engineer. Ori and the Blind Forest was distributed through a partnership with Microsoft, who allowed the development team full autonomy to create the game they envisioned. As explained by Mahler, he wanted to produce a game that inspired the same level of wonder and exploration as Super Metroid, which can certainly be seen in the design.

The development of Ori and the Blind Forest lasted four years, and all of the hard work paid off. It's a testament to the studio's less traditional development process; as Mahler explained to Game Informer, "At traditional studios you have this problem of, 'Hey we found this person with a portfolio who has exactly what we need, but they're not able to relocate.'" However, Moon's team members were allowed to work remotely, opening up many more possibilities for collaboration.

From AM2R to Ori

Though his fan-made remake of Metroid 2: The Return of Samus — called AM2R, or Another Metroid 2 Remake — was one of the many casualties of Nintendo's fan game takedowns in 2016, developer Milton Guasti's efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2017, Guasti was contacted by Moon Studios CEO Mahler and offered a job as a level designer for Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

Guasti has been a vocal fan of Ori and the Blind Forest and was reportedly "speechless" when offered the job. In many ways, AM2R proved that Guasti has an understanding of what makes Metroidvania games work (maybe even, as some have argued, more than Nintendo's official Metroid 2 remake did), while also thinking outside the box when it comes to making these types of games stand out from the pack. AM2R found ways of remaining faithful to its source material while also building off of the original's mechanics. Of his new gig, Guasti said, "It's an honor to be a part of such a talented group of professionals, and I'm looking forward to help make the sequel to Ori [and the Blind Forest] as unforgettable as the first one."

How Ori and the Will of the Wisps is designed

In an effort to expand on the incredible visuals from the first game, Moon Studios is utilizing a design program that allows them to make changes to the new game's animations on the fly. As explained by GameRant, "The design program is utilized in a manner that allows the animators to make changes as necessary, while in progress or in motion. This makes for a more efficient and streamlined process, as the animators are able to make alterations more quickly." This process can be seen in a video from Moon Studios that goes through the process of creating Ori and the Will of the Wisps' initial teaser trailer.

Basically, whether they have to fix something substantial or alter something relatively insignificant, the animators can make these adjustments while the gameplay or cinematics are in motion. This allows them to anticipate how these changes will effect the next few moments of the game, changing the depth of field or lighting in different scenes. This attention to detail is one of the many things people loved about the first game, so it's wonderful to see that level of care in the sequel, ensuring another beautiful cinematic experience.

Music by Gareth Coker

Another memorable aspect of Ori and the Blind Forest was its beautiful soundtrack. The music for Ori is characterized by its lush and oftentimes whimsical sound, which brings to mind something from a Hayao Miyazaki film (which makes a lot of sense, considering Moon Studios were very much inspired by Miyazaki's work during production of Ori and the Blind Forest). 

This memorable score was written by British composer Gareth Coker. In addition to providing the music for Ori, Coker has also composed music for such games as Minecraft and ARK: Survival Evolved and films like Dark Power and Resistance is Life. Many of his scores, including selections from his Ori soundtrack, can be found through his Bandcamp page.

The announcement of Ori and the Will of the Wisps was accompanied by Coker appearing onstage at E3 on the piano, giving the talented composer even more of a sense of ownership of the series' musical direction. Coker's music has clearly become an integral part of Moon Studios' vision for the Ori series, which is exciting. It's great to see that kind of consistency between installments of a budding franchise.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps has revamped combat and progression

One of the ways in which Ori and the Will of the Wisps looks to improve upon its predecessor is by introducing a much deeper combat system, much of which was covered in an article from Wired UK. These changes are being made in an effort to make the progression of the game feel more organic and to enhance replay value. As explained by Moon Studios CEO Thomas Mahler, "We want to have different play styles, so you can play through the game one way, and then you play it through again and it will have felt nothing alike in terms of gameplay."

In addition to Ori's usual physical attacks, the Guardian Spirit will be able to employ various weapons found throughout the game as well. The game will also feature different power-ups which effect Ori's weapon proficiencies and stats in different ways, each with a trade-off. For instance, one may make a certain attack more powerful while lowering the effectiveness of another. The new shard system allows Ori to collect special shards that can upgrade Ori's abilities in new ways, similar to the Charms in fellow Metroidvania phenomenon Hollow Knight.

Ori won't be alone in Will of the Wisps

In the first game in the series, Ori's journey through the withered forest was a solo affair, without much in the way of NPCs. In stark contrast, Ori will have plenty of folks to interact with in Will of the Wisps who aren't trying to kill the poor spirit. As mentioned by Geek.com after their first look at the game, "Various NPCs litter the map. These characters offer Ori side quests to complete or sell him useful items like maps and upgrades … While NPCs aren't necessarily crucial to the game, they do make the world feel more alive."

This is an interesting addition that should give the designers more of a canvas to play with. The supporting characters and enemies in the first game have such interesting designs that the idea of having even more unique creations to interact with is very exciting. Not only do these NPCs offer more opportunities for Ori to progress, but they prove Moon Studios' intent to make Nibel an even more realized world than it already was.

Introducing Spirit Trials

Another fun addition Will of the Wisps brings to the series is the new Spirit Trials mode. Spirit Trials will allow players to compare their playthrough to a "ghost" of their friends, which will run alongside Ori while you play. This will allow you to not only see how other players went about solving different problems and defeating different enemies, but will also give you the opportunity to "race" them to see if you can complete a section in a better time.

Perhaps VentureBeat's Mike Minotti summed the new mode up best when he said, "Using flashy abilities to run around the world is still a key part of the [Ori] experience. Spirit Trials will give you a way to see just how fast you can go (without having to devote the time and energy required to become a full-on speedrunner)." While not a multiplayer mode, it's still fun to see the sequel encouraging a bit more competition between players. It's a clever addition to a game that already looks expansive and brilliant.

The early buzz is magical

As if these tidbits weren't enough to get you excited for Ori and the Will of the Wisps' February release, then you may be happy to know that the game has already gotten quite a bit of love from the folks who have been lucky enough to see more of it firsthand. Shacknews complimented the variations to Ori's many new skills and weapons: "The E3 demo shows … more to explore, more ways to do battle, and more ways to traverse the world. That should make the game more intriguing for both deliberate players and those who like to speedrun games." In other words, Will of the Wisps is a satisfying experience, no matter what your playing style is.

Meanwhile, Xbox Achievements said that the new game is exactly what fans of the original would hope for. They noted that "combat has been enhanced tremendously" and praised the smooth animation and controls. All in all, Ori and the Will of the Wisps looks to be a polished and even more visually stunning game than the original, which is perhaps the best reason of all to look forward to it.