The Order: 1886 was developed by Sony owned studio, Ready at Dawn, and this is their first attempt at making a triple A title. The Order was unveiled last year and became one of Sony’s most talked about flagship titles, by and large because of the high-end graphics on display. And visually, the finished product is just as good. Unlike some scandalous developers who have attempted to showcase a superior PC version of their title and attempt to pass it off as either the PS4 or Xbox One version, Sony have stuck to their guns and The Order: 1886 is perhaps the most realistic looking game yet to have hit consoles. Whilst next-gen (or I suppose current gen now) graphics are superior to their predecessors, very few games have pushed the boundaries of what the new consoles can do – that is until The Order: 1886. The game’s atmosphere, cinematics, choice lighting, costumes, character and set design can often trick you into forgetting that this is actually a game.
However, it is The Order that plays that trick on itself and somewhere along the line forgets that it is a game too.
With a rudimentary plot that has a lot in common with the Assassin’s Creed series, a holy order, originally formed by the fabled King Arthur, faces the greatest threat to humanity – known as the half-breeds (werewolves to you and me). This war between the order and the half breeds has dragged on for centuries. Fans of the Underworld movies eat your heart out……please.
The game is set during the peak of the industrial revolution, and this is where the writers have decided to get a little creative and suggest that the boom in human technology was largely due to the necessity of winning the war against the half breeds. With this, the writers have decided to skew the real events of history and create one of their own. Technology is much further along than history suggests in The Order: 1886 with flying blimps, primitive radio walkie-talkies and harnessed electrical weaponry. Take this game with a pinch of salt and you can really immerse yourself in a unique victorian re-imagining from developer Ready at Dawn.
Players assume the role of Sir Galahad and with the aid of three other brave knights, must combat half breeds and human rebels alike on the streets of Whitechapel, London, in the hopes of unearthing a deadly conspiracy.
Although our main heroes are fleshed out by some stunning visual cinematics and superb voice acting, they all fall prey to some clichéd character archetypes and mundane script writing. We have Sir Percival who is the old wise mentor of the group. We have Lafayette, a french womaniser with a cavalier attitude. Ingraine is a tough woman who doesn’t need help from any man, and finally we have Sir Galahad, who is a well-rounded but slightly dark brooding type. Whilst there is nothing wrong with some generically styled characters that the audience can easily identify with (Gears of War follows a similar formula) it just feels like a missed opportunity in comparison to some of Sony’s other well written exclusives like the Last of Us, or InFamous Second Son, which have some incredibly three-dimensional characters.
But this ‘reliance on the generic’ is prevalent throughout The Order, and the characters that are slightly more than two-dimensional aren’t ever really fully explored. Then we have the wonderful looking, almost palpable, city of London that you are situated in – but aren’t really a part of. Mainly due to the fact that you only get to experience a small portion of it as the story rigidly shepherds you along. And, to top it all off, the gameplay is as box standard as it comes.
The Order: 1886 is essentially a 3rd person cover shooter, littered with quick time events. I myself am a fan of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls so I am no stranger to quick time events, and whilst The Order uses quick time events well, it certainly over indulges in its use of them. Even simple tasks like climbing a ladder are often triggered by a quick time event that then seamlessly bleeds into an unnecessary cinematic. Yes, with a heavy dose of cut scenes much of The Order can be spent being watched rather than played, making you feel part of an interactive movie as fellow writer James Dixon explains in his recent article. It’s a good job these cut scenes look so damn good.
However, when you are in control of your character, as mentioned earlier, the game becomes a box standard 3rd person cover shooter. Cover mechanics are fine but your field of view can be somewhat limited by some up close camera angles. The enemy A.I isn’t that impressive either, as they consistently run out from cover making them incredibly easy to dispatch, and it isn’t until you come across an overwhelming force that the game becomes challenging. Throw in some collectibles, basic stealth kills, puzzle based lock picking and some bullet time shooting that comes courtesy of The Order’s ‘blacksight’ ability, magically granted to them from drinking from the Holy Grail itself,and you have everything The Order 1886 has to offer.
But let’s forget fighting humans. Surely fighting some badass Werewolves is what the game is really about?
Well, you might think that, but the game rarely features werewolves. Yes, you read that right: a game about werewolves rarely has a single werewolf in it. Should you stumble upon a lycan, you’ll either deal with them with your knife in a series of quick time events, or a pack of them will charge you, and you’ll proceed to jump out-of-the-way, gun them down, then finally execute them by pressing triangle. These werewolves present no challenge whatsoever. In fact, the relatively few skirmishes with actual werewolves could be forgiven if each encounter was challenging and differed from the last, giving the player a sense of dread every time they came face to face with one of these hairy beasts, but this just isn’t the case, and the sense of dread is more of a milky disappointment.
Finally we come to the weaponry. With this being a 3rd person shooter set in Victorian England, we have the usual assortment of pistols, shotguns and rifles. However, it is the more experimental weapons, designed and created by the Orders’ very own boffin, Nikola Tesla, that are the most interesting and fun. We have the ‘Arc Gun,’ which is ludicrously overpowered, but incredibly fun to use. Scorching enemies (without even having to aim) courtesy of a bolt of lightning has Tesla’s name written all over it. There is also the ‘M2 rifle,‘ which initially appears to be a standard machine gun rifle, but it’s secondary fire mode allows you to fire a burst of steam, stunning enemies and giving you a tactical advantage. But the most interesting weapon, by far, is the ‘Thermite Rifle’. Firstly you fire a cloud of gas and metal at your assailants, before switching to your secondary fire, which then ignites the cloud, incinerating your enemies. All of these weapons are genuinely awesome and relatively inventive, playing on the fact that this type of weaponry wasn’t available during the Victorian period, but the possibility that they could have existed is what makes the game alluring and almost great.
And I say ‘almost’ as sadly The Order: 1886’s visual prowess, stunning cinematics and interesting premise are not matched by its run of the mill gameplay, predictable storytelling and overall feel. The Order is a well made, and perhaps likeable game, and it is certainly better than some 3rd person shooters I’ve had the displeasure of playing. However, if it wasn’t for the game’s shortcomings, The Order could have excelled with a stronger, better and bolder vision. I personally have a soft spot for third person shooters and the potential for this series could be immense. Unfortunately we may have to wait for the sequel before seeing that potential fulfilled.