The Order: 1886 | Review
I played the Order: 1886 for two reasons, to determine why it had been received negatively by many outlets and because the cornerstones of the game that Ready at Dawn had created had enraptured me since its announcement trailer two E3s ago. Those two things being said, I will do my utmost to provide you with as objective a review as possible of this much-anticipated PS4 exclusive.
One of the best things about the game is the care that that RAD developed for the game. The studio best known for the PSPs iterations of the God of War series, is no stranger to having to riff on historical fact. This is not a mythical land however, so they had to be more grounded and had to justify the insertion of the fantastical into the Order’s setting, London at the end of the 19th Century. It is every bit the smoky pit that was still wrestling with rapid industrialization, but running alongside, and in many ways motivating civilizational progress is the war that has been raging through the ages between man and the half-breeds, more commonly known as Lycans.
The humans have long been on the losing side of that conflict, but they have been given new hope by the men of the order, who follow in the footsteps and as rumor has it, perhaps are still lead by one of the original knights of the round table. We know little of the conflict, either historically or with a minor exception, outside of England’s borders. There is also little mentioned as to how it developed or where the rebel force that is apparently in league with the Lycans emerged from.
Eschewing their armor for period appropriate garb and trading in their swords and shields for short curved blades the Order is able to stave off the Lycan threat by employing advanced technology like zeppelins, wireless communications and electrically imbued weaponry along with a magical substance, also grounded in Arthurian legend, known as ‘Blackwater’ which gives the knights superhuman resilience and unnaturally long lives.
Galahad, the character we inhabit and one of those Knights, is a stereotypically stoic protagonist, and he is accompanied by a merry band of well voiced and superbly written 21st century clichés. The fierce woman warrior Igraine, the world weary squad leader Perceval, and womanizing defender of liberty, the Marquis de Lafayette. Surrounding the central cast is Nikola Tesla, electrical pioneer and the Order’s iteration of Q, Lucan, the organization’s executive officer and son of the Chancellor of the Order. The characterization of the central characters as well as between them and the supporting players is done extremely well and I felt that there was a deep, and pre-existing bond between them.
The narrative beats are not ones that we haven’t seen before but they are well paced even though much of the story towards the end felt truncated by the obvious decision to tease out a sequel. I hope that it is successful enough to allow Ready at Dawn to do just that.
You could simply sum up the game’s central mechanics by calling it a stop and pop, cover-based, third- person shooter. From that point on images of Gears of War, Uncharted or Vanquish might be dancing around in your head, and those images would provide you with a good sense for what you might expect. Those mechanics are well implemented and like Gears of War there is a good sense of weightiness given to movement, shooting and melee combat.
Weapon variety is generic and unsurprising with three and a half exceptions, the TS-29 Cannon, the Thermite Rifle and the Arc Induction Lance. I give a half point to the three barreled shotgun that is outrageously overpowered and capable of rending limb from limb in a heartbeart. Unfortunately, despite the game’s marketing focusing on those weapons almost entirely to sell the steampunk nature of the world, you are not given a great number of opportunities to see them flaunt their stuff and are left to rely on the pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles to deal with your adversaries. Some of these weapons are indeed ahead of their times, but I felt like liberties were taken with history to excuse their presence rather than them standing out as interesting tools to deal with your enemy.
Another missed opportunity in the gameplay department is the many ways you might have been able to fight the aesthetically terrifying half-breeds. Instead you are relegated to just pumping them full of lead as they attack from predictable points, pressing the x button at an appropriate moment to dodge their pounce and finishing them off with a knife (silver I assume) to the sternum. The boss battles against the elder form of their breed are even less entertaining.
I’m convinced that all Lycans love shotguns. Why? While you spend much more time fighting human enemies they are content with hiding behind chest high cover or explosives. But there are a few in every counter that have strapped on a metal helmet carry a devastating shotgun and make it their mission to rush your position as quickly as possible.
While you are working alongside someone in almost every mission, stealth sections or Lycan encounters being the exception, their presence, like most of the world, is ornamental, they may occasionally shoot back, but I can’t tell if they are firing in anger at the people out for our hides, or they disagree with the placement of the brass pots in the kitchen of the Zeppelin we are trying to take over.
Combat takes place in constrained shooting galleries that give the illusion of choice in terms of how to move through them or to select either a role as long range support or close combat.
Quick time events are sprinkled liberally throughout the game, but I didn’t find them to be that distracting and they are given a spin through the addition of ‘turning points’ which are contextually determined button prompts that make those QTEs feel less canned.
There are also a few sparingly used mechanics thrown into the gameplay mix that include lock picking, rappelling and the overloading of magnetic locks and power supplies. I would even classify the stealth sections of the game as one such mechanic, and I actually found its unforgiving nature to be a refreshing change of pace that was only limited by linear railroading. Overall, with the balance of the game weighted towards non-interactive storytelling the repetitious nature of the mechanics doesn’t have a chance to become monotonous.
It takes the title of best looking console game, handily. The characters have tens of thousands of polygons lavished upon them, their clothing is elegantly layered with immaculately textures and subtle cloth physics.
Just as much attention to detail has been lavished upon the world, and the objects you are allowed to pick up do nothing if not ram home the majesty on display. Ready at Dawn spared no expense spared in making you feel as if you are being slowly covered with soot as you navigate the grubby streets of London. The letterboxing of the game is done to both provide a more cines cope like feel to the proceedings but it is also entirely obvious that it may have been the guarantor of the consistent thirty frame per second refresh rate the game is able to maintain with nary a hitch.
While the uncanny valley is getting closer and closer to being bridged, there are other areas that games need to work on and animation blending, especially or NPCs is one of them. Also, the range of Galahad’s movements is noticeably awkward looking. In combat Galahad has no trouble barreling forward almost instaneously, while in narrative oriented sections his movements are more deliberate, even though he can get up to a slow trot, there needs to be a wider range. Funnily enough I think a first person shooter has come the closest to actually pulling off an accurate range, your soldier in Battlefield 4, after pressing the run button doesn’t immediately go into a sprint, but gradually accelerates to a full bore run and back. Ironically, graphical excellence is not just skin deep.