The Order: 1886 carries with it the promise of supernatural thrills, historical fantasy and an array of spectacular, steampunk settings and scenarios, yet the reality of the this tale of knights versus mythical creatures is rushed and unfinished. It is a carrot on a string, dangling in front of the player an assortment of possibilities that ultimately will never be reached. It’s a mess of placeholder mechanics and narrative mishaps that culminate into one underwhelming experience that favors glitz and glamour over substance.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Enter Sir Galahad/Grayson, an all-around chivalrous knight and the main protagonist of The Order: 1886. Along with his fellow compatriots Isabeau, the Marquis Lafayatte and Sir Perceval, he’ll uncover a horrifying secret that shakes London to its very core and threatens to destroy everything Galahad has fought for. It’s an intriguing premise and its potential is made all the more enticing as it is set against a steampunk, Victorian London. But, unfortunately, that potential is squandered as The Order: 1886 consistently fails with every aspect of its storytelling. Throughout the short 6-7 hour game, I was never fully engaged by the story; I wasn’t excited to discover who committed this atrocity or who would possibly suffer the consequences of this dramatic turn because everything falls flat. The characters are bland — especially Marquis Lafayette who is the most stereotypical French character I’ve seen in a while, continually womanizing and spouting lines about liberté — and as the game throws out chapter after chapter, they become increasingly unsympathetic. The dramatic turns are predictable, rushed and one-dimensional in their execution, favoring to focus on London parliamentary politics rather than the supernatural mystery presented. The dialogue is mediocre, but it’s at least elevated by some great voice acting. Overall, The Order:1886‘s narrative elements all neatly fit under a single word: boring.
When the credits rolled after sixteen brief chapters, I was instilled with a sense of being cheated rather than the usual satisfaction of completing a game. The narrative sets up this tale of occult mystery and personal redemption, yet by the time the epilogue is played, the mystery isn’t solved and no one is redeemed. It just stops at what feels like the midway point of the story after one of the supporting villains is defeated; I half expected the words “To be continued…” to smash onto screen after the final fade out. This is just one example of the game’s pacing issues where three-fourths of the game should have taken up maybe the first hour and the rest of the game should have focused on building and resolving narrative arcs. Multiple subplots — and even the main plot — are left unresolved and it feels like the game just resigns itself to completion rather than having a substantial climax or a denouement. It feels unfinished. I was so flabbergasted by the abrupt, downtrodden stop that I exclaimed “that can’t be the end” once the title card appeared; it’s an extremely disappointing end to an already dull, depressing experience.
This sense of deceit is amplified by the fact that though the story presents lycans and other supernatural horrors to be the primary antagonists, most of the game is spent fighting other humans. The few times I was able to face off against these “half-breeds” were completely repetitive, down to the structure of the levels and the tactics involved. The lack of variety in regards to enemy types is most apparent in the controversial fourth and last chapter bosses. They are exactly the same, right down to the QTE’s and the painful illusion of actual combat. All the tools and set pieces are laid out to make The Order: 1886 a compelling title, but Ready At Dawn utilizes barely any of them.
But I will give credit where credit is due and that is in regards to the game’s graphical fidelity. The Order: 1886 is a gorgeous game that capitalizes on dynamic lighting, detailed textures, pristine particle systems and fluid models to create a wondrous sense of atmosphere. I was impressed with how they visually brought an alternative London to life, especially in how amazing the motion capture is on the characters’ interactions. The art direction is a bit on the lacking side as most of the game is grounded in dark tones and dreary landscapes, but it does lend itself to portraying the fogginess of London and the sinister intent that plagues the city. The game bills itself on being eye candy and to that extent it succeeds.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Following the narrative’s example, The Order: 1886’s gameplay leaves much to be desired. QTE’s and object inspection make up most of the game’s interactions with a sprinkling of cover based third-person shooting that attempts to break up the monotony. In Ready At Dawn’s quest to deliver a wholly unique cinematic gaming experience, it seems they forgot a crucial part of game design: video games are interactive. Every intermittent button input reads like a desperate attempt to engage the player in a game that’s mostly composed of cutscenes. Video games can be cinematic and many of them accomplish this will still touting an excellent, enjoyable gameplay with inspired mechanics and clever level design. The Order: 1886 achieves none of the latter and instead employs the use of QTE’s as a crutch to make the game “exciting”.
So let’s break down where The Order: 1886 goes wrong. One of the biggest setbacks to the game’s success is the amount of linearity that encumbers each chapter. Linearity, when executed properly, can be just as rewarding as an open-ended experience; it’s like a rollercoaster — it may be set on a predetermined track but it still takes us through the spectrum of emotions on an exponentially enjoyable ride. However, The Order: 1886’s approach to linearity is so restrictive that there’s virtually no room for player participation. The game tells you when and what to shoot, which doors to unlock, when to be lethal and non-lethal, and even when to pick up certain objects. I had my hand held through every single moment, even into the more somber sections of the game that required very little direction.
Part of this linear structure — and arguably the most significant contributor — includes an inordinate amount of moments where Sir Galahad examines a certain object in the environment by picking it up and rotating it around. Ready At Dawn drops any degree of subtlety it had left and, with each object, practically screams, “look at how pretty our game is!” These segments do little for the plot or the gameplay overall and halfway through the game I started to wonder if vanity was really the sole purpose of these sequences. Tedious, however, instead of beauty is the thought that came most frequently to my mind as these also felt like excuses to transform the cinematic elements into interactive ones.
The actual cover based, third-person shooter sequences, in comparison, felt like a godsend but even these brief firefights felt sluggish in the end. There’s little to no attempt to make the shooting set pieces of the game blend in with the environment; a lot of the action is predictable, pushing me out into an uncommonly open area with random sheets of metal cover and red barrels marked with a “fire” symbol scattered around in unnatural positions. Weapons in The Order: 1886 control pretty well and have a nice haptic feedback, but the actual enemies, their AI, the mechanics of battle and the situations themselves are uninspired. While not as boring as the rest of the gameplay, the third-person shooter elements of The Order: 1886 are by no means a remedy.
The Order: 1886 is, in a nutshell, the PS4 equivalent to Ryse: Son of Rome. Although the Ready At Dawn title accomplishes its goal of delivering a visually stunning game, the monotonous, incomplete narrative and the repetitive, uninspired gameplay mark The Order: 1886 as a disastrous disappointment. A majority of the time is spent inputting QTE’s, admiring Ready At Dawn’s handiwork, and listening to cardboard characters discuss matters that hold little weight; it all ends up forming this bizarre concoction of tedium. I would definitely not recommend The Order 1886 at its current price tag of $60. To be frank, I don’t know whether I would even recommend the game if it dropped down into the $30-20 range.
Final Score: 5.5 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood