I wasn’t sure what to feel leading up to the release of The Order: 1886. When Ready At Dawn first revealed they were working on a new IP exclusively for the PS4, I was super hyped. After all, this is the studio responsible for Daxter and the God of War PSP titles; excellent games. As excited as I was to see what they could do with their own IP though, the more I saw, the less interested I was. It never looked that interesting or inspired, and reports starting coming in that the game was ridiculously short and riddled with quick time events. After finishing it, I’m glad to be able to say that I don’t think any of these things are true.
This is the story of The Order; the hypothetical evolution of King Arthur’s Knights of The Round Table. Under the matriarch, the Knights serve to keep the balance between humans and half-breeds; werewolves. As each Knight dies, another takes his name and role in The Order, and is gifted with black water; a substance able to keep people alive for centuries, and quickly heal any injuries they might incur. When The Order becomes involved with the United India Company; a global trading corporation, a rebellion rises. As Sir Galahad, you’ll defend the UIC from rebels and take care of any half-breeds you stumble upon on the way.
The alternate history and political themes throughout the narrative are an excellent backbone to the story; but the characters and setting are the true heart of the world RAD have built. Galahad works alongside Sir Percival, Lady Igraine, and the (relatively) young recruit, Lafayette. Galahad and Igraine clearly have a long history together, and have developed something of a rivalry. Their relationship is subtly built in a way I really liked; telling of their feelings but still fairly ambiguous. Lafayette was the stand-out character to me; less serious than the rest of the cast, interestingly unsure at times, and very likeable. Sir Percival is something of a father-figure to Galahad, and though their relationship is of great importance to the narrative, I do wish it was fleshed out a tad more earlier on.
These aren’t the only characters you’ll be spending time with though, and there are plenty of other faces you’ll get to know for better and for worse. Marketing might lead you to believe this is the story of Galahad’s team – it isn’t. Though these are some of Galahad’s most pertinent acquaintances, the story turns and evolves much more than I was lead to believe, and if you’re expecting to be doing normal ‘Order stuff’ with the team for the whole game, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I was.
1886 London is a perfect setting for a video game. The industrial revolution, the Jack The Ripper killings, Nikola Tesla’s inventions, and the beautiful architecture and scenery lend themselves especially well to The Order, and to the alternate history present. From the crazier stuff; werewolves and knights, to the more subtle, like the inclusion of zeppelins before their time, nothing feels incongruous. Everything fits and feels just right. I was a bit confused about certain factions and characters, so I did feel like the game could have explained itself better, but everything that matters becomes clear by the end of the experience.
The Order: 1886 is a story-focused game. If that’s not what you’re after, this mightn’t be the game for you. Having said that, a lot of what I’ve heard and read about the gameplay of The Order is extremely hyperbolic and reductive. It’s a third person shooter, totally comparable to Uncharted, in particular. Quick time events are present, but not nearly as relied upon as I was lead to believe. The opening prologue and two or three other points in the game are heavy on QTE’s, but beyond that, you’ll just get a button prompt pretty occasionally. You’d have to really hate QTEs to think it’s too much. I think they’re done better than most games too; sometimes you’ll have to aim at one of multiple areas as well as input a button. Inconsequential, but immersive.
The actual shooting is good, too. Not amazing, but fun. I’m totally burned out on this kind of gameplay, but The Order does a couple of things to set itself apart. First of all, it has some really cool weapons, designed for Galahad by Tesla himself. One gun shoots out clouds of thermite, with a secondary shot to ignite the cloud, burning anything within the mist. There’s also a cool lightning gun. It charges up and blows enemies apart, and is so much fun to use. It’s a shame there aren’t more weapons in this vein, but that’s not to say the combat suffers when you’re using a more standard firearm. Shooting enemies is really satisfying, and I never got tired of it. The stealth system is satisfying too, letting you stealth kill enemies with a timed strike. One stealth section later in the game necessitates the use of this mechanic in a twisting environment in which it doesn’t really work though, and was one of the least enjoyable parts of the game as a result.
The Order is displayed entirely in a super wide aspect ratio, so you’ll have black bars at the top and bottom of your screen all the time. The point is to keep the whole experience “filmic”, and it works. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how this effects gameplay, though. When in cover, you’re hardly able to see over it without peeking out. I really liked this. If I wanted to shoot a guy, I had to look over my cover, find him, and knock him down. If I wanted to stay safe behind a ledge or a wall, I had to accept that my field of view suffered as a result. I didn’t see this as a design flaw whatsoever, but as an interesting spin on a gameplay genre that’s been done to death. I certainly wouldn’t want it to become a standard for other games, but it acts to set The Order apart and suits the style of the game really well. I thought so, at least.
One misstep I do think the game took is how much it throttles the player. I was interested in how someone who doesn’t play many games would feel about the game, and so I had my girlfriend play an hour or so. Not long after finishing the prelude, she asked “why can’t I move any faster?”. Ready At Dawn are clearly, and rightfully, very proud of the way their game looks, but they don’t trust the player to enjoy it for themselves. You’re forced to walk at a stupidly slow pace through a lot of the game’s environments and take it all in. Sure, loads of games do this at certain points, sometimes letting a player run around like an idiot goes against the nature of the game, but this is too much.
The world is disappointingly hands-off, as well. There’s no interacting with anything besides set collectibles. Because these collectibles have no real point or reward to them, there’s no reason to explore, either. You’re not rewarded for searching the environments with anything beyond some optional back-story. At one point I walked passed a man being beaten by two others. I wanted to help him, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t fight the guys, I couldn’t talk to them, all I could do was walk by. So why was that even there? To make me feel disempowered?
There’s also these weird inspection mechanics, much like those of LA Noire. Sometimes you’ll have to look at an item, whether it be a weapon or a piece of paper, or whatever. During these segments you just rotate the item around in your hands until it ends. Why? I think it’s a cool little mechanic to include, but why interrupt everything to show off some object model? If dialogue continued and the story progressed while you did this for a few seconds that’d be great, but everything stops, you spin some thing like an idiot, and then people talk again. The absolutely stunning visuals don’t need to be shoved in your face in these ways, and the game definitely suffers for it.
The visuals of the game shouldn’t be understated, though. The Order: 1886 is the best looking video game I have ever seen. When a game impresses me with its visuals, I’ll look for the little things it does wrong. In a beautiful game like The Last of Us I’d be blown away, but then look up close at a bush or some moss and see that it really wasn’t perfect. I didn’t have that with The Order. I searched, I just didn’t find. The only visual flaw I noticed through the whole game was a character’s hair clipping though their clothes once. I zoomed right in on leaves to see that each single one was different and completely believable. I looked at puddles and how the wet ground shaped around them. I looked at the light piercing through a window bounce off the glass a framed picture on the wall. It is an absolutely amazing technical achievement.
The acting, voice performances and animation are all at this astoundingly high level, too. Very early in the game a man’s legs are shown struggling as he dies. The way they give in and fall really blew me away. I’ve never seen anything nearly that real. Though that scene still stands out as some of the best animation I’ve ever seen, everything is consistently awesome throughout. The fabric on Galahad’s armor softly sways in the wind, explosions realistically blow enemies off the ground, and thermite rounds ignite with a sudden, beautiful flare.
The Order is a shorter game. I would say it’s only slightly shorter than something like an Uncharted game, but considering how much of the game is slowly walking through an environment, you could call it short. I do wish there was more to certain parts of the game, not because there isn’t enough here, but because it could have been a better game as a result. Certain pieces of the story pass strangely quickly, when they could have been a couple of hours worth of game. I don’t think it’s terrible pacing, I just think it’s super weird. I feel like RAD were concious of getting too ‘gamey’ and throwing combat sections wherever they’d fit for the sake of it, and I apprecaite that they respect the player’s time. If I’d played through 2-3 hours more of shooting with some dialogue and character building going on at the same time though, I’d be reeeeeeeally stoked. Honestly, I think the slower sections would feel fine if there was just a little bit more outside of them.
The Order: 1886 is a great cinematic experience with the best video game visuals I’ve ever seen. Awesome characters and an interesting world kept me invested, and fun, satisfying third person shooting kept me having fun. I wish there was more of The Order, and I wish Ready At Dawn didn’t feel the need to force players to look at their world so much, but I had a fantastic time playing. If you’re concerned with buying a short, full price game lacking any replay value you might not want to buy The Order, but it’s a game well worth playing. At least split it with some friends and all play it, or rent it for a day (can you still do that?). The Order is a limited but great start to what I hope to see become a fantastic franchise.
EDITOR NOTE: this game was supplied to us by the publisher, and reviewed on PS4 across 10 hours of gameplay.