The Order: 1886 – PlayStation 4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date (NA): February 20th, 2015
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Reviewed by: theWatchman
Ever since the proliferation of CD-ROM technology in the early nineties, video game developers have been striving to reinvent how they tell interactive stories.
First came the wave of full motion video disasters; poorly scripted and acted, barely interactive messes that could hardly qualify as games, but yet served as a way to say, “gee whiz, look at how we have real video that we can display. See how far we have come?”
By the mid-nineties, developers were learning how to create entire worlds and characters in 3D space, thanks to breakthroughs in the abilities of hardware to display 3D polygons. Now developers were able to get back to the business of creating worlds and experiences instead of playing cheap film director.
Today, modern hardware allows developers to display breathtakingly life-like models and worlds that would have been inconceivable twenty years ago. However, the original struggle remains: how does one best balance the desire to tell a compelling narrative, while retaining the interactive qualities that we have come to expect from a video game.
This philosophical conundrum is exemplified in Ready at Dawn’s The Order: 1886. It’s a title that tries to offer the best of all worlds. It tries to serve as an interactive tale of conspiracy and betrayal, while maintaining the interactivity needed to keep the player engaged in the tale.
The Order: 1886 take place in an alternate version of Victorian era London. It’s a world where old-world charm is mixed with ahead-of-their-time weaponry. Rifles mix with Tesla developed electrical ray guns, Zeppelin air-support is called in over radio, and order of gallant Knights strives to keep the peace in a city under siege by human and other-worldly adversaries.
At the center of it all is the Order itself. A re-imagining of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. The group has been embroiled in a centuries-long conflict against an ancient race of powerful Lycans, hell-bent on destroying humanity. These blood-thirsty creatures had had the upper hand in the war for many years, however advancing technology has allowed the knights of the Order to gain the advantage. If those conditions were not challenging enough, a rebellion against the government has also popped up, along with a number of mysterious and brutal killings by a person the public calls, Jack the Ripper. These elements all converge on London simultaneously, creating a powder-keg situation that the Order must diffuse.
The Order: 1886 follows Sir Galahad and his fellow knights in the midst of trying to quell rebel attacks. As the events of the Order: 1886 unfold, Galahad becomes aware of the connections between the rebellion and the rise of Lycan attacks throughout the city, and begins to suspect a large-ranging conspiracy between the Order and one of its benefactors. Galahad’s quest to uncover the truth behind these matters, leads to shifting alliances and accusations of treason against his brethren. The Order: 1886′s narrative opens with Galahad imprisoned, awaiting his execution. After an opportunistic, yet daring escape, the story backtracks to show us how Galahad arrived in his predicament.
If there are two elements of the Order: 1886 that could be considered triumphs, it would have to be the amazing and imaginative world that the team at Ready at Dawn created for the game, as well as the absolutely stunning visuals they achieved.
Those visuals are really the crowning achievement of the Order: 1886. Simply put, this is the most detailed and gorgeous game on the PlayStation 4 to date. You can tell just how much time and care went into the graphics by the astounding level of detail seen in the character modles, especially during the real-time cut scenes. Nothing looks out of place or “gamey” about these models. You can see natural imperfections in their skin, their hair looks natural and doesn’t have that matted down look that the hair of game characters can sometimes have, and the lighting and atmosphere are just breathtaking. It’s really a visual masterpiece that serves as a shining beacon to what is possible on the PlayStation 4 system.
The second triumph of the Order: 1886 would be the idea of the historically alternative version of London itself. The ideas behind this setting are so luscious, that they beg to be explored by the player. It’s a place you want to spend time in and learn more about, however, and this is where triumph begins to become tragedy, so much time was spent on the graphics of the Order: 1886, that the world itself seems lifeless. There are no citizens to interact with, barely any exploration to be had, and hardly any secrets or discoveries to be made. The beautiful promise of this version of London serves only as a gorgeous set-piece that begs you to look, but don’t touch.
Unfortunately, the brilliant but lifeless setting is only the beginning of The Order: 1886’s decent.
The concept behind the story of the Order: 1886 is certainly ambitious, however with all the different ingredients that are thrown into the story’s recipe become too much to effectively handle. This is also a shame because much like the setting of the game itself, the characters within the setting are also very interesting. The voice-acting is superb and helps pull the player into this world of knights and werewolves. One also can’t help but want to continue to learn more about each of the Knights, as well as the Order itself. I’d love to see how the Order began, who were the first members, how they discovered the Blackwater (which is the story element given to explain how the player can quickly recover after taking an extraordinary amount of discharged ammunition into their body) as well as the impact of the Order throughout this alternate history.
And this all leads us to the largest downfall of The Order: 1886, which is the actual gameplay itself.
The combat is constructed as a cover-based shooter, akin to what we saw pioneered by the Gears of War franchise. The shooting action all plays fine, however the problem lies in just how bare-bones and linear the whole experience is. I can forgive linearity in the narrative – this is the story that the developers want to tell and not every game has to be a massive open-world experience. I get it and actually appreciate it. However, audiences have come to expect a little more evolution when it comes to the actual interactivity of the game. There really isn’t any growth from the very first battle to the final shots being fired at the end of the game. Get to this location, shoot some enemies, see some story, do it again. There’s nothing to here to learn. Nothing tom make you feel that you achieved anything as a player. Just congratulations, you made it to the end.
There are tiny bits of platforming sprinkled throughout the environment, but nothing that actually presents itself as interesting or challenging. Most “puzzles” involve pushing object over here, or kill the guard with the key. One other annoying aspect of The Order: 1886’s gameplay is the painfully slow speed at which Galahad naturally moves. Yes, you can kind of make him run, however that makes the movement feel a bit clunky.
Quick-time segments are interspersed to try and add some variety to the action, but like all quick-time events, these don’t require much beyond reflexes to advance. Nothing serves as a better way to exemplify the lack of growth or sense of accomplishment for the player throughout the course of the game, other than this little tidbit: the final “boss” encounter of The Order: 1886, is nothing more than a huge quick-time event.
In the end, The Order: 1886 is a perfect example of the continuing efforts to define and refine the art of interactive story telling. Like the FMV titles of old, exudes style over substance. The graphics and its setting are glorious, and make the title worth a few hours of your time for eye-candy purposes alone. I hope that there is a way that the team at Ready at Dawn can continue to expand and improve upon the universe that they have created. The tragedy though is that the gameplay is so lacking, they may never get the chance.
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