Developer: Ready at Dawn
With The Order: 1886 and Bloodborne launching within a short time of one another on the PS4, it appears that re-imagined Victorian-Era London is the cool place to be — if you don’t mind being mauled by a half-breed, stalked by creatures of the night, or want to contract the plague. Within The Order: 1886’s universe, it’s also a place where Knights of the Round Table still exist (hence The Order), except here they wield inventive weapons and gadgets designed by a young Nikola Tesla instead of swords and shields. So far, so good.
On paper, this mixture of mythology and history sounds amazing, especially with Ready at Dawn’s skilled designers and developers at the helm. In reality, The Order: 1886 is a stunning, rather typical-playing 3rd person, cover-based shooter — which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has been following the game over the past year. For as long as it lasts, The Order is a sometimes fun and cinematic romp with interesting characters and solid, if somewhat uninspired, shooting action. It introduces just a small handful of new concepts and weapons to the genre, but certainly doesn’t veer away from the standard cover-based, stop and pop gameplay.
The story crafted for The Order: 1886, which features a number of Arthurian Knights of The Round Table figures such as Sir Galahad, Sir Perceval, Lady Igraine and others, is fantastic. Essentially, The Order of knights, who are a semi-autonomous band of high ranking military officers, are tasked with researching and eliminating the sudden surge of werewolf half-breeds that have begun repopulating London. There are some twists and a fair bit of drama as you would predict from a “filmic” game experience, though the plot isn’t particularly deep and the resolution is not terribly unexpected. The voice talent and motion capture work is definitely high quality, and as one would expect from a Ready at Dawn title, the production values are through the roof.
From a visual standpoint, The Order: 1886 is, as described earlier, stunning. The super widescreen 2.40:1 ratio was apparently chosen to provide for a more cinematic look, and to be honest, I soon forgot about the large black bars on the top and bottom of the game screen. The smooth, consistent framerate, high quality lighting, shadows, textures and particle effects are a sight to behold, and there’s nary a jagged edge present in the game. There’s a certain overall softness to the game’s visuals (to simulate a camera lens supposedly) and a subtle amount of motion blur and grain which almost places the characters and environments into the uncanny valley. I can see some gamers preferring crisp visuals over soft usually, but the look works well here in my opinion. The Order: 1886 does feature one of my personal pet peeves: lack of character reflections in mirrors (no doubt due to the game’s forward or deferred rendering solution). For a game with a decent amount of mirrors, it’s always odd to stand directly in front of one with no reflection at all. Shrug.
One of the other complaints I have with the gorgeously rendered environments is the lack of interactivity, at least in the first half of the game. There are doors and hallways seemingly everywhere, and a small selection of obvious collectibles such as audio photograph containers and documents, but not much in the way of real exploration or destruction. At times, the environmental designs resemble The Last of Us, except on a smaller scale with much less freedom and interactivity, which is a shame. The realtime cut-scenes seamlessly blend into the slower paced exploration scenes, QTE sequences and faster paced action/shooting segments quite nicely. And speaking of QTEs, I’m generally pretty agnostic regarding “interactive cut-scene” moments in the games I play, and those in The Order: 1886 range from occasionally annoying to sometimes pretty cool. I actually enjoyed the scenes which require you to “focus” somewhere to figure out which action to perform. Sudden, non-branching, instant death QTEs pop up from time to time, which I’m sure no one is a fan of.
As mentioned earlier, the cover-based gameplay is definitely not all that unique, and it takes a little too long to really get interesting. The super cool and unpredictable arc gun, explosive Thermite rifle and useful combo gun are the bright spots in the game’s arsenal, so it’s a shame you get to use them relatively sparingly throughout the campaign. For the most part, you’ll be taking cover behind waist-high walls and fighting your way through the game’s waves of half-breeds and rebels with carbines, shotguns, handguns, bolt-action sniper rifles and frag/smoke grenades. That wouldn’t be terrible if the enemy AI put up a good fight for most of the time, but unfortunately, enemies (human and creature alike), are usually predictable and/or braindead. Compared to enemy encounters in games like The Last of Us or Uncharted, it’s like night and day.
The Order: 1886 does introduce a “Blacksight Meter” feature which refills as you take out enemies. Pressing L1 will slowdown the game action and allow you to quickly target and eliminate threats for a limited time. The meter also automatically activates (if full enough) if you are taken down by an enemy as a way to give you a moment to revive/recover in the heat of battle. You can definitely play through the game without even using the feature, but it’s nice to have.
Before the game even launched, fans and critics alike were already pretty sure that The Order: 1886 would be a more style over substance affair, and they certainly weren’t wrong. The game, from both a visual and gameplay perspective, starts off simple, grey and drab. Slowly but surely however, the gameplay, level design, weapon variety and general look and feel of the game brightens up and becomes more compelling. Then it gets really damn good and sorta unfortunately ends.
The Order: 1886 is pretty average in length and difficulty, which I’m okay with, but there’s really not much of a reason to replay it. I never advocate shoehorning a multiplayer mode into a what is clearly designed as a single player experience (even if it somehow worked for Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted), I just wish there was a bit more justification, beyond picking up the last few collectables, to start over or load up a chapter. The story is unique the first time through at least and it’s obviously a visual showpiece.
Even with the development delay and push into 2015, The Order: 1886 isn’t exactly the action-packed, cinematic masterpiece we were hoping for. On the bright side, it’s a mostly enjoyable ride while it lasts and is most certainly one of the best looking console games released thus far, so it?s worth a playthrough during the winter game release lull. The IP has great potential, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more of The Order in the future.