I won’t waste time; The Order: 1886 by Ready at Dawn Studios is my definition of a mediocre game. Visually, it’s stunning, but tells an all-too familiar premise with some minor interesting tweaks. Each character falls spell to overly used archetype tropes and appear lifeless, but do just enough to keep players interested in the mystery of the story. Unfortunately, all of this is tied together by a high reliance of Quick Time Events (QTEs) and lazy level, gameplay and boss battle design. That’s why, while I can say it’s not worth the current price tag, I might recommend it as something to rent or borrow.
Ready at Dawn studios likened this game to a mix of the best elements of film and video games. Which, to me, can be summarized like this. The concept creates the biggest problem for the game; The Order: 1886 is the epitome of an identity crisis.
What do Morality and London have in common? Too foggy to see
For centuries, mankind has been at war with devolved human forms lovingly referred to as “Half-Breeds” (aka Lycans). In order to protect both humanity and the dark secret of the Lycans’ origin, an elite group of knights known as “The Order” (originally King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table) have taken on this responsibility. With a mysterious substance known as “blackwater” (sorry, there’s no green fire involved) that prolongs a person’s life as well as remarkable healing abilities, they’re able to fight on for centuries. So far, the war is favoring the Lycans, but the Order have held on to survive.
Now, the year is 1886 and the world has undergone the massive shift thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to Nikola Tesla’s ingenious mind, the Order has gotten significantly upgraded weapons to turn the tide of the war in their favor. Players take on the role of Sir Galahad, a seasoned knight tasked with a simple mission; uncover the reason for a prison outbreak believed to have been triggered by “The Rebels”. However, burrowing deeper and deeper into the reasons leads to uncover a massive conspiracy that could shake the foundation of the world.
Storytelling is The Order: 1886’s biggest strength, and highlights the game’s inability to break out of mediocrity. Everything in the game stays within the realm of their archetypes and cliches; Sir Galahad being the prototypical paragon, the overuse of black, brown and grey to symbolize the mystery and chaos the story unfurls, and the duality/doppelganger the Lycans represent. Oh, and my personal favorite; “We’re not really the enemy, we’re actually here to help you. Let me show you why!” This isn’t complete without the villain and the buildup to the end being utterly predictable. There’s a moment when I was talking to the yet-to-be-revealed antagonist where I found myself going, “Calling it now, he’s the villain.” Sure enough, he was. Not to mention everything else set in motion afterwards.
Which is a damn shame, because the Order shows a lot of potential with the plot. Having already discerned itself as being an “alternative 19th century” story gave it plenty of creative room to build something unique and interesting. Some of the ideas presented in the game were very interesting and refreshing; Nikola Tesla building weapons for the Order that could actually even the scales in the battle between lycans and humans? Awesome. A world where Lycans were devolutions of humans, and humanity’s decision to overlook that to cast Lycans as an evil scourge? Even more interesting. A type of mysterious liquid that doesn’t grant immortality, but prolongs life without a proper explanation? I want to know more.
However, the one aspect most people criticize is the length of the game. The Order: 1886, without going for collectibles, will last 5-7 hours. With collectibles, around 9 hours. I personally find this to be a strength of the game, and that’s because the pacing, build up and climax flow naturally and tell a full story. Based on the tone, structure, and the story Ready and Dawn wanted to tell, any longer and the story would have been dulled. I’m completely okay and happy with Ready and Dawn knowing how they wanted to tell the story, and not trying to go for quantity over quality.
Unfortunately, no matter how much anyone tries to spin it, the game fails to capitalize on the story’s stronger points. Instead, it plays it safe with the typical duality storyline that attempts to be morally philosophical in the end. The same, unfortunately, can be said of the gameplay.
Gears of War: Victorian London Edition…minus the fun
The biggest weakness of The Order: 1886 is the gameplay. With it’s heavy reliance on QTE’s, boring cover-based shooting and stealth-based levels, bland weapon selection, and incompetent enemies, it’s a slog to get through. The Order: 1886 has gameplay that reminds you of games that did it far better, and makes you want to play them instead to be reminded of how the mechanics can be good.
Most of the shooting sequences you’ll play in The Order: 1886 is Gears of War minus the fun: run towards an open landscape with various points of cover, enemy A.I. charge out from every orifice, crouch behind cover, then stand up and shoot, rinse and repeat. There’s no ingenuity to it, no enjoyment, no strategy facing varying degrees of difficult enemies, just a boring experience of upping the body count. Enemies stand up behind cover for long periods of time, giving plenty of time to aim for headshots.
Stealth missions in the game feel like they have the biggest potential to be fun, but never capitalize on it. Most of them involve tiny spaces to work with and limited approaches towards taking out the enemy. Then, when you think you have the perfect moment to strike, you have to time pressing a button just right to get the kill. Fail it, and you have to start the checkpoint again.
Much as I praise the storytelling and pacing of the game, admittedly it’s a detriment to the gameplay. The extremely linear level design forces you to have to go a certain way and allows little to no room for exploration. The areas where there is a chance for exploration are either easily missed or look the same as the other three corridors you just went through.
Finally, and probably the biggest problem with this game, is the excessive usage of QTEs. There are a lot of sequences that feel like they’re natural cutscenes, only to surprise you with having to aim at a specific area on screen or press a certain button. The lack of anticipation leads to several deaths from failing to either get to the right area in time or press the right button. It’s tedious, cumbersome, and feels like a lack of effort in designing the game.
The biggest example of this? The first and last boss you face have the EXACT. SAME. QTE sequences.
To me personally, this is the mark of how much effort was put into the design for the game…which feels like very little.
Essentially, The Order: 1886’s gameplay is very run of the mill without any sort of enjoyment; players have done all of this before with games that execute it far better. While boasting hi-resolution, the same can be said about graphics
Victorian London = Schroedinger’s Cat?
Graphically speaking, The Order: 1886 is the strongest showing of the Playstation 4’s graphical capability. At the same time, the game epitomizes a trend sweeping modern console gaming off its feet; shiny graphics = the true next-gen experience. From the thread count of the uniforms worn, to the forehead wrinkles that all of us inevitably get, everything is visually stunning. However, the settings and look of the characters feel lifeless and almost puppet like. It’s a weird juxtaposition that oftentimes leaves a player unsure of whether or not the people players are fighting with are just mindless puppets to further serve the conspiracy within the game.
As for the art style, it’s very standard run-of-the-mill grey tone color scheme for games thematically dealing with war. If gray doesn’t suit your fancy, it offers the rather nice addition of brown tone to the game as well. Otherwise, the environments appear rather dull and lifeless. They’re basically just the game screaming, “This is London! Look at how gritty and serious we are! See!”
While the characters themselves appear to have an incredible amount of detail applied to their look, they also appear superfluous and transparent. There’s no sense of life to them, instead looking like high-res motion caricatures of the actors portraying them. Obediently, they’re running through the lines, but there’s a lack of life and brevity to them. You’ll find yourself hard-pressed to either sympathize, empathize, or relate to characters beyond the shallow depth given.
However, if graphical capability and output is your thing, The Order has enough of that to go around. It can’t be stressed enough just how much detail has been placed into the game…even if it’s nowhere near the detail presented at all the game conference presentations. From the cracks in the bricks, to the weathered lines on peoples’ faces, Ready at Dawn shows they know how to push the Playstation 4.
In the end, The Order: 1886 is both alive and dead, uncertain itself of what exactly it is.
Explore London with Caution
The Order: 1886 is a game showing flashes of potential, but one that fails to rise above the mediocrity. Gameplay is both bland and boring, having been successfully done in other games that are far more enjoyable. The laziness of relying on QTEs to fuel most of the gameplay is an enormous drawback. With lazy level design that forces the player down set paths, it leaves little to explore a world that provides a lot of questions with little answers.
However, aside from the cliches and archetypes running abundant in this game, the story of The Order: 1886 is told at a solid pace that allows tension, stakes and tone to build towards a climax. The 5-7 hours of overall gameplay is pretty short in terms of the average games we’re used to, but feels right based on the story Ready at Dawn wants to tell. The lore, ideas and concepts at play are just interesting enough to keep you semi-invested in the game.
Is it worth buying? Certainly not, especially at the $60 price range. However, if you have a chance to borrow it or rent it, it might be worth a try depending on your type of game. It’s a game that is the exact game that players are only going to love or hate. Otherwise, this is a game worth skipping.