The Order: 1886 – A Gorgeous But Shallow Gaming Experience

Publishers don’t take chances like they used to.  Developing a game has become so costly that if a game fails to sell millions within the first few weeks of release, it could easily mean bankruptcy for the studio.  It’s the reason so many publishers are sticking with the certainty of sequels and familiar franchises – Even if they do poorly, they’ll still likely sell better than an unknown quantity. There’s far less risk. But as a result of this policy fans take notice when a brand new IP is announced. Repetition has become such a common thing that a lot of hope goes into the debut of a new franchise. It could be the thing that shakes up an entire genre (think Arkham Asylum‘s free-flow combat, or Assassin’s Creed‘s free running mechanic). We’re over a year into the new generation of consoles now, and with new hardware comes an eagerness for new experiences.  As one of the most talked about new IPs of the PS4/Xbox One era, The Order: 1886 is expected by many to be just that.

The Order surprised many people when it was revealed at E3 in 2013.  No one had heard anything about the title before the trailer reveal, and the footage shown was impressive.  As the months went on, developer Ready At Dawn gave us more glimpses into this strange, new steampunk, Victorian London world.  Was what we were seeing merely footage of cutscenes?  Was it gameplay?  What was the game about?

I was extremely excited about The Order.  Everything Ready At Dawn released had me changing my pants.  Steampunk?  Yes, please!  Werewolves (or, in this instance, lycans)? Sure, I’ll have some.  Nikola Tesla?  Oh, hell yes! Sign me up!  And those graphics?  :::pants heavily:::

It’s been a long wait to finally get ahold of the game since its original Summer 2014 launch date was pushed back, and all the while the important question was whether or not I’d feel the same way after playing the game. And so, many months later, now that I’ve had the chance to finish The Order: 1886, does that excitement still hold?

It does… sort of.

Let’s talk about the graphics first.  Here is a game that makes a compelling argument as to why a person needs to upgrade to the current gen.  Presented in a cinematic letterbox format, the game is just gorgeous.  I’m not just talking about the cutscenes.  I’m talking about the gameplay, too.  The cinematic camera angles and lighting add an unimaginable atmosphere to the environments you explore. Whether you’re walking the dirty streets of White Chapel or scaling the side of a zeppelin, there is so much subtle attention to detail you’ll marvel at the technology behind it. You can shoot hats off enemies or pots off their hangers. A zeppelin’s form will shift and deflate as you rappel down its side. The graphical fidelity is so great that the transition from cutscene to gameplay is practically seamless.  There will be moments when you are watching a cutscene and nothing is happening and you realize it’s time for you to take control of your character again.

But graphics alone does not a great game make.  And it’s here that the game starts to falter.

As beautiful as the world is, there’s just not much you’re actually doing in it.  The visuals are great to look at but the game doesn’t do enough to try and bring you inside its world.  Walking off the obvious route doesn’t yield many rewards.  You might find an occasional newspaper or phonograph tube, but beyond that there’s little incentive to turn your eyes off the beaten path.  It seems like they want you to explore the environments, but when you do you’ll oftentimes encounter a dead-end with nothing to interact with.  The few times you do find something, the flavor text doesn’t do much in the way of world-building.  It’s horribly frustrating because I wanted so badly to learn more about The Order and the Lycans, but barely anything I found added felt like a worthwhile addition to the central storyline.

The gameplay functions well enough. It’s serviceable.  Sometimes you’ll have to sneak, in which case you automatically go into a crouch to “quick-time” death your victim.  It works, for the most part, although sometimes you can find yourself sticking to the wall unintentionally or dropping out of a wall-hug at inopportune moments.  These moments can be irritating but they’re manageable.

The action works fine, too.  It’s a typical third-person cover-based shooter, and it controls responsively.  A quick push of the circle button puts you under cover.  Melee is a timed pressing of the triangle button and gunplay is handled with R2.  Much like the graphics, however, the action will leave you wanting more.  For all the talk of interesting and creative weapons, a lot of the firearms you use can feel underpowered.  Sometimes it feels like the the enemies are taking far too much punishment before they’ll go down.  The biggest travesty is how infrequent Nikola Tesla’s weapons are used, especially for the way his tech has been advertised by Ready At Dawn.  My favorite weapon is the thermite gun, but it is tragically under-used throughout the campaign.

Finally, we come to the story.  Again, as with the rest of The Order, the story works. For the most part.  You play as Galahad, a Knight of The Order, tasked with unraveling a massive conspiracy that could change the face of the known world.  Who can he trust?  Who are his friends?  Who are his foes?  The story is told through sixteen chapters and by the end you can’t help but feel like they told the wrong part of the story.  You want to learn more about the lycans and hopefully encounter them more.  You want to know more about The Order and your teammates.  Hell, you want to learn more about this weird, anachronistic steampunk London.  But by the end of the game, you’re left with nothing more than a set up for The Order‘s next chapter.  Like the trade negotiations in Star Wars Episode I, the part that they focused on the most – the conspiracy – was probably the least interesting part of the game.

And since we’re talking about the story, now would be a good time to talk about the game’s length.  Much has been said about the running time of the game.  Some sites have reported the game can be finished in four – five hours.  The game’s length is in line with other single player action titles.  That is to say, while it isn’t a short game, don’t expect to find 50 hours of game in here either.  On a thorough playthrough, expect to sink about seven to ten hours into the story.  Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer of any kind nor is there a New Game + mode, so there is little reason to replay the game unless you’re hoping to achieve a platinum trophy.

Ultimately, The Order is a fun romp but it left me wanting more.  The game’s gorgeous graphics almost brought me into Ready At Dawn’s gorgeous world but, once I took the time to inspect my surroundings, I found there’s really not much beneath the beautiful textures and lighting. It constantly feels like something big and exciting is just around the corner but never gets introduced.  And with no real replay value, it’s hard to imagine a reason to revisit the game once it’s finished.  The Order: 1886 is a solid first effort by Ready of Dawn but it falls just short of great.


Images: Ready at Dawn

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