The Order: 1886 is a visual triumph in graphical and environmental engrossment, that is usurped by its clandestine wont to fit into the mold of a game.
The tone of The Order is set early on; bleak. As a Knight of the Order in the lineage of King Arthur’s Court, you are Sir Galahad; a gruff and rugged gentleman, who along with the others at the round table defy death by imbibing ‘Blackwater’, an elixir granting long life and unburdening you of wounds. For centuries, you learn, The Order has kept peace at a balance by keeping Lycans and ‘half-breeds’ away from the population. Now, in a fictional London tethered to real world history, a rebellion against the Crown with suspicious werewolf activity has Galahad and his cohorts asking questions.
The ‘bump and set’ for the story and setting of The Order is exciting.
In a Victorian London fit with dirigibles, bronze analog gadgets, and top hats on mustachioed chaps, you are part of a timeless organization that specializes in hunting werewolves, all in the name of protecting righteousness and delivering us from evil. That’s the ‘bump’. The ‘set’, is just how gorgeous Ready at Dawn manages to deliver this setting visually. When it’s night, the trademark London fog spreads dim street light over gritty cobblestone. Turn day on the rooftops or in the shipyards, the towers and cargo hooks seem to draw further and further into the horizon as sailboats pass through the Thames. In interior settings, the desaturation and subtle blur to simulate depth made sullen environments like the London Hospital feel realistic, and places like the round table feel regal. There were moments throughout where I could have easily mistaken parts of the environment as a photograph, and had to pause briefly to marvel at the careful detail in The Order’s beautiful backdrop.
We have the bump, then the set, and what’s next should be the spike. Unfortunately, Ready at Dawn loses its footing and ends up just keeping it in bounds. With that being said, ‘boundaries’ seems like the perfect word to describe how the game welcomes the player into it’s design. Split into clearly defined sections as you move from chapter to chapter, you can actually break the game down into its individual sequences.
Just Push Play
As we learned of The Order almost two years ago, we were floored to know that what we saw was going to be gameplay. With our guards up we remained cautiously optimistic . While graphically what the game delivers is breathtaking, major awe inspiring moments like repelling down a zeppelin, or scaling castle walls have been dulled down into holding a direction or pressing X to proceed to the inevitable forthcoming animation. It’s as if holding the control inputs were bound to the “play” function and releasing them, the “pause” function.
Games have faced scrutiny for over-employing quick time events for some time now, and The Order does little, albeit some, to deviate. The typical move, tap, hold and press frantically are appropriately placed at moments when you’re dodging, hitting, pushing and struggling respectively. Fail during combat based QTE’s and the flow of battle will change, or different options will open up. For instance, while grappling with an enemy on the ground, you can choose to reach for the knife or deliver a blow, each of which will grant you the same end result only with a different animation. Both of the game’s nearly identical boss encounters are disappointing even with these small additions.
There is less than a handful of stealth sections in the game and one would figure it would find its way into the combat discussion, but I feel it’s better suited here. Approaching an enemy silently, which doesn’t happen often other than at the end of the game, prompts you with timed triangle button presses — Miss that and you will be caught and killed. Get your timing right and you’re treated to a violent kill animation from a few cinematic angles. It may have done a service to the game if it included stealth more often. Avoiding guards and noting enemy patterns was a nice strategic break from the confused pace of the other sequences.
Kill them with Science
The combat sections are generic, but satisfying enough. The controls function well to manage your actions, which aren’t all that complex if you’re familiar with cover-shooters. Cover, vault, and blindfire are all here, and a bullet-time meter charges and expels to the tune of ‘Blackwatch’. If you haven’t gathered already, the highlight of this game is its visual prowess. Blurring from enemy to enemy and expelling pistol rounds like a superhuman is extremely gratifying with such attuned fidelity. This holds up outside of ‘Blackwatch’ time as well, and each weapon offers its own nuance to paint a snap, crackle and fiery picture through your scope. Dubbed “Science” weapons, the more powerful weapons in the game are crafted by Nikola Tesla, a dedicated engineer of The Order’s gadgetry.
The standard Knight rifle comes equipped with a burst function that clears enemies from cover, or prevents them from advancing with steam. The thermite rifle spits at groups of foes and its alternate fire sends a glowing ball to ignite enemies. The Arc gun is electrically powered and when charged, it can pop off an enemy’s limb (or head) off in a single shot. There are others to pick up, each with their own fanfare of particle and smoke effects. Weapons are accurate and I rarely had difficulty fighting off foes. The only major threat in the game comes in the spotty occasion when specific enemy types show up; the armored rebels with a shotgun/launcher, or the Lycans themselves. Yes, I did indeed say that in a game that pitched the idea of a werewolf hunting society, you rarely fight werewolves.
Take Your Time, Hurry Up
While you may find yourself admiring the technical achievement of the level aesthetic, there is much to be desired when your curiosities take hold and want to indulge in the level design. This was my biggest frustration with The Order; whenever there was a moment to explore off the beaten path, more than likely you were deterred in more than one way. Forced walking sections become tiresome and often when you bothered to walk to the end of a long hallway, you found yourself walking back empty handed. Trudging through the invisible mud, you will hear the sound of your companion ahead awaiting you at a door, repeating the same “what are you waiting for?” every few seconds. There actually are interactive collectibles to find in the form of newspaper headlines, photos, audio logs and objects, which add a small musing by allowing you to move or turn the object; however, the most useful thing you’ll find is the occasional ammo box. Other interactions include lockpicking, mashing X to pry something open or using one of Tesla’s devices to cut the power.
Final Thought: It’s that time
My play through of The Order was roughly 7.5 hours and I consider myself a bit of a collectible hunter, so it was thorough. The cutscenes are no doubt hiding the loading of your next section and therefore cannot be skipped. The forced walking sections could easily tack on a few minutes to the overall game, but game’s length isn’t as bothersome as its lack of replayability. Despite its shortcomings, I had a fun romp with the game, and if I wanted to dive back in, there’s no additional modes or new game plus at all.
That being said, by no means skip The Order: 1886 entirely, and wait until it’s a comfortable price for you. The game is base, and by some folks’ sixty dollar standard, short, but it is still a visually stunning cinematic experience that bodes well for the beauty of future games.
Review copy of this game was provided by the the publisher for the purpose of this review.