The Order: 1886 - A Short Pause Review
*Note: This is a multi-person review. Each reviewer will contribute an individual written review and score, expressing their unique viewpoint and thoughts regarding the game. A final score, representing an average of the individual review scores, can be found at the end of the article.*
Ever since the very first hands-on impression pieces for The Order: 1886 started popping up on gaming websites around the internet, it seemed that Sony’s alternate universe third-person shooter was destined for mediocrity. Now that the game is out in the wild — and gamers can finally form their own opinions of it — we here at Short Pause are tackling our review of The Order: 1886 by way of reviewer-by-committee. I have the honor of leading off the festivities, so without further ado, let’s get on with the review!
PRESENTATION THAT IS SECOND TO NONE
The first area I’m going to address is also the most controversial aspect of The Order: 1886, and that’s the length of the campaign. Considering there isn’t any form of co-op or competitive multiplayer, it’s natural that the length of the campaign will be a greater focus when it comes to gamers deciding whether or not it’s worth shelling out $60 for The Order: 1886. Here is how I see it: it’s going to come down to what type of gamer you are. I’m the type of gamer who enjoys a meaty story featuring likeable heroes, heinous villains, and a gripping narrative. If a developer is able to successfully check the box next to each of these categories, then the length of the campaign isn’t nearly as important as the content of the campaign itself. I beat the campaign on hard difficulty in about 6.5 hours (NO, I wasn’t speed-running), and spent another hour cleaning up trophies to get the platinum. If you’re the type of gamer that isn’t interested in narratives, or doesn’t particularly care about searching for collectibles, then I can’t recommend picking up The Order: 1886, not at full price anyways.
Wait! Before the PlayStation extremists start kicking and screaming, let me just say this: The Order: 1886 features a great story with limitless potential, one that I would confidently compare to the likes of Uncharted or God of War. Everything about the game’s presentation is aces; the graphics, the art design, the sound, and the voice acting are all top-notch, and had my complete attention from start to finish. The story focuses on an ancient Order, known as the Knights, who are the “last line of defense” against the evils lurking about. Think of them as the MI6 of this particular era; a group of super spies who have access to all of the latest and greatest gadgets and weaponry. It’s a unique take on an alternate history setting, but one with some real-life historical figures to help bridge the gap between our world and the one developer Ready At Dawn has created.
The story takes place in Victorian-era London during a time of panic and fear, not only because Jack The Ripper is at large, but also because of the growing number of creatures that are terrorizing the city. Playing as Sir Galahad, you and your Order of Knights begin investigating these events, not only to meet and corral resistance from the terrifying half-breeds, but to quell the rebel forces as well. The deeper Sir Galahad investigates, however, the more he begins to question the very Order by which he’s sworn to uphold. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way, as well as some pretty powerful and well-acted scenes. The voice acting is impeccable, and the motion capture and facial animations help drive home the cinematic presentation that Ready At Dawn is striving for. Technically speaking, The Order: 1886 is a visual and audio splendor. The level of detail in the character models, the weapons, and the world itself is stunning, and I personally did not find one frame rate issue to speak of. The sound design is equally as impressive, as everything from the snarls of the werewolves to the firing of the Tesla Rifle sound incredible. Jason Graves’ soundtrack is incredibly moody when the action slows down, but pulse-pounding when things heat up.
YEAH, IT LOOKS GREAT, BUT HOW DOES IT PLAY?
With so much focus and talk about how great the game looks and sounds, it’s easy to forget that we are playing a video game and not watching a movie. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself is a little underwhelming. With the exception of a few unique weapons such as the Thermite Rifle or the Tesla Rifle, you’re pretty much relegated to the usual assortment of handguns, bolt action rifles, auto rifles, and shotguns; all of which handle fine and look great. The problem I have is every time I was introduced to one of the exotic weapons the game has to offer, you don’t get to keep it for the rest of the playthrough. Whether or not that’s because it would’ve made the game unbalanced is unknown, but because all of the other weapons at your disposal are so run-of-the-mill, it’s a bummer when you’re teased with such an awesome gun, only to have to spend the next couple of chapters using the garden variety armaments third-person shooting fans have grown accustomed to over the years. The shooting mechanics themselves work fine, but they don’t do anything you haven’t done before in a third-person cover based shooter. The cover system itself works well enough for the most part, but there were a few sections along the way where I’d be in a close-quarter situation with lots of enemies, and my character would snap to the wrong wall or post, leaving me exposed to enemy fire. This is a common issue with most third-person games that have some sort of cover mechanic, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
The main gameplay issue I have is with some of the pacing itself. I didn’t have a problem with all of the cut-scenes — again, I’m all for a well told story — and it’s quite impressive how you transition from gameplay to cut-scene and not know it. The pacing issues I speak of are the dozens of moments where you’re walking around houses and alleyways and there isn’t any dialogue between characters, or nothing interesting happens. If you want me to walk from one area to another, at least give me some character development to help keep me engaged. This is a cinematic experience after all. There are collectibles to look for during these lulls, but even then, once you do find them, there’s still just way too much downtime before your next encounter. Downtime is never good in movies, and most certainly not in video games either. There’s been discussion about the amount of quick time events (QTEs) in The Order: 1886 — and there are a lot of them — but most of the time they are during scenes that are pretty intense. Some QTEs even have multiple options, allowing players an extra degree of control over the filmic proceedings. They fit in nicely within the target cinematic experience.
That being said, the biggest disappointment in terms of enemy encounters has to be the battles with the werewolf-like Lycans themselves. Here you have these terrifying creatures that look incredible, yet you’re treated to two uninspired types of combat when you do finally engage them. The first being when Lycans come at you from afar. You simply hit X to dodge and then shoot them until they are vulnerable to a finishing melee kill. The other battles resort to one of the aforementioned QTEs, requiring you to hit the corresponding button prompts to dodge the Lycan’s attacks, before attempting to counter and melee him to sleep. This just seems like a major missed opportunity, simply because these creatures are so damn awesome looking. It would’ve been nice for them to be a worthy adversary. I don’t know how Ready At Dawn could improve on these encounters in future iterations, but settling for an easy quick time event was a disappointment. Enemy AI isn’t much of a challenge either, save for a few moments when the charging shotgun soldiers come barreling down on you. For the most part, enemies will pop in and out of cover for easy kills, and picking up on their patterns and behaviors was pretty simple, even on the hardest setting.
THE POTENTIAL FOR AN UNCHARTED-LIKE SERIES IS HERE
Whether or not you should pick up The Order: 1886 depends entirely on your preference as a gamer. If you care more about story and presentation, as opposed to multiplayer or co-op, then it’s 100% recommended based on the quality of the story, graphics, and audio. However, if you’re the type that needs multiplayer functionality or replayability, then you may want to wait until it goes on sale to partake in Sir Gallahad’s adventure. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Ready At Dawn’s desire to create a cinematic experience that just so happens to be a video game. They’ve crafted a universe that’s so rich and mysterious, that I can’t help but be excited for the more than likely sequel. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better looking console game on the market today, and there’s no doubting that everyone involved with the voice acting and the soundtrack are at the top of their game here. However, because there is a controller in our hands for the entirety of the experience, gameplay is still very much important, and that’s where The Order: 1886 needs some work. With improvements to the cover mechanics, enemy AI, and overall pacing, as well as — for god’s sake — access to more challenging half-breed battles, I truly believe The Order: 1886 can be the next great PlayStation franchise.
• Audio and visual mastery
• Brilliant soundtrack
• Stellar voice acting and memorable characters
• Engaging story
• Lycan battles are a missed opportunity
• Quite a few dull moments
• Limited use of unique weaponry
• Not much replay value
The Order: 1886 seemed like it’d be the “perfect storm” game for me. When I saw that God of War: Ghost of Sparta developer Ready at Dawn Studios was taking a stab at AAA console development in the form of a third-person shooter built around a promising tale set in an alternate history, Victorian-era London, I was giddy with excitement. Ready at Dawn’s proven their knack for pushing hardware boundaries with their software in the past, and I hopped right on the hype train after The Order: 1886’s announcement. I was awaiting February 20th, 2015 with baited breath. Now, The Order: 1886 is finally here. A mere nine or so hours after starting the game, “The Grail” (the name of the game’s Platinum Trophy) popped up in the left corner of my screen, I deleted the game from my hard drive, and set it in its place on my shelf. Ready at Dawn’s console debut was a bittersweet experience for me, but one that undoubtedly left me wanting more.
The game’s story takes a little while to pick up, but focuses on the tale of Sir Galahad as Brent discussed earlier. While Galahad’s trials and tribulations are riveting as the main narrative attraction, the story’s supporting characters are just as enjoyable. Galahad is joined by his mentor and the leader of their group, Sir Percival, a senior member of The Order whom is respected by most. Lady Igraine, who is mentored by Galahad, brings her strong will and dedication to the team. Lastly, Marquis de Lafayette is a knight-in-training who is a seasoned veteran of both the French and American Revolutions with a thirst for finding the truth. Aiding the knights in their quest is famed scientist, Nikola Tesla, who provides them with state-of-the-art gadgets like a device to overload lock circuits and the fun weapons — including the Thermite Rifle and the Arc Gun — that the game occasionally lets you play with. The cast is fantastic at bringing these engaging characters to life. Ready at Dawn took no shortcuts in realizing their vision of a steampunk London, either.
While we’ve already been spoiled by the incredible graphics on display in games such as inFAMOUS: Second Son, Ryse: Son of Rome and Assassin’s Creed: Unity, The Order manages to nudge its way into the conversation as a talking piece for how spectacular games can — and will — look on this newest generation of gaming consoles. The amount of painstaking detail dedicated to minor things, such as pots and pans violently swaying during a kitchen shootout, is impressive, and I love how the enemies react when players shoot different areas of their body. The new areas the game is constantly introducing only further the immersion, as I do not recall exploring the same place twice. While the story, characters and world would make this an easy recommendation, the game definitely has its share of shortcomings that prevent a flat-out, “Hell yeah, go drop $60 on this immediately!”
Those who chose to follow this game prior to release are no doubt familiar with the length of the game coming under fire. Having decided to take several breaks during my playthrough, I would guestimate it took a good 7 hours of actual playtime, on normal difficulty, for me to complete the game. I’m not someone who minds a game on the shorter side, though, especially given the quality of the story. That said, I can definitely see the challenge some face in recommending this game at its $60 price tag. With no real reason to play through the game on hard, other than the thrill of the challenge, I can safely say this is a game that’ll remain on my shelf, only being removed to lend to friends. For those on a gaming budget, The Order is an extremely hard sell with its limited replay value. It’s true that this is definitely the game’s largest hurdle to overcome for prospective buyers, but there are a few design choices that also rubbed me the wrong way.
For as linear as the game is, it does not want to let go of your hand. The Order: 1886 keeps you in line at all times. At almost every jumpable or climbable spot, prompts arise reminding players to “hold up on the left stick” and “press X to traverse,” which puts a damper on any sense of exploration or discovery (the bird poop-covered looking spots apparently weren’t enough of an indication that players would need to interact with these areas). Ready at Dawn seems to just want players to experience the story with little-to-no side-tracking. The game has various collectibles ranging from random items and photos, to documents and phonograph cylinders, yet almost all of them are in plain sight or on a second path that’s extremely obvious. At times, I felt like I was on an impressive new playground, but only allowed to use the old swing-set.
As if limiting the area the player is allowed to explore wasn’t frustrating enough, the extremely fun weapons, such as the Thermite Rifle, are actually only in a very small bit of the game. Brent hit the nail right on the head; you’re limited to various machine guns, shotguns, and pistols for the majority of the time you’re gunning through the game’s awesome shootout moments. On the upside, the gunplay is superb and extremely satisfying, but that only makes the omission of the game’s unique weapons as an option during these skirmishes stand out that much more.
While shootouts with your typical human enemies are a delight, fighting against The Order’s antagonists — referred to as Half-Breeds — is another glaring defect in the game’s design. Once again, Brent touched on this earlier and I totally agree with him. Encounters with these enemies tend to consist of shooting, dodging, and repeating until your gunfire knocks them down, allowing you the chance to finish them off with a button prompt. While the title’s first Half-Breed encounter evolves into an intense chase as you hunt down the straggler of the group with your Arc Rifle, sadly, the game sticks to the less enjoyable shoot-and-dodge formula for the remaining battles throughout the story.
Taking everything into account, it’s clear to me that The Order: 1886 has the undeniable potential as a franchise to become what the Uncharted trilogy was to the PlayStation 3. This being Ready at Dawn’s console debut, I have no doubt that they will learn from the criticisms levied against them regarding the game’s length as they evolve into another big studio in the PlayStation ecosystem. While maybe not possessing the legs to be the blockbuster hit I’m sure Sony and Ready at Dawn were hoping for with this debut entry, The Order: 1886 succeeds in laying a great foundation for Galahad’s future exploits, and delivering a remarkable experience that’ll leave you pondering the many potential mysteries that remain.
• Undeniably one of console gaming’s best visual masterpieces so far
• Terrific cast of characters
• Superb story
• The science weapons feel bad-ass to use…
• …when the game lets you
• Not much exploring the amazing world they built
• Fights with Half-Breeds are boring
• Very short with little reason to replay
I'm torn in regards to my time spent with The Order: 1886.
First and foremost, I agree with my colleagues above; the world of The Order: 1886 is spectacular. Developer Ready at Dawn's vision of an alternate history, Victorian-era steampunk London is fantastically well-realized. Everything from the city of London itself, to the period dress, costumes, and real-life historical figures are executed in a way that feels authentic and lovingly crafted. I love how Jack the Ripper and Nikola Tesla are cleverly woven into the fabric of the story. Even the gadgets and weapons — several of which are technologically advanced for the game's 19th century setting — feel right at home in this world. The collectibles nicely flesh out the world as well, with the fully readable newspapers scattered around the game world representing a particular highlight. It's clear Ready at Dawn took painstaking measures to both research and bring to life their vision for this tangential setting.
Frankie and Brent talked a lot about the characters of The Order: 1886, and I'm in one accord with them. I love Sir Galahad as a character and protagonist. His gruff exterior, by-any-means-necessary attitude, and overt care for the ones he holds close call to mind trace elements of The Last of Us' Joel, and he is a character around which a franchise could be developed. While Sir Galahad is undoubtedly the star, his supporting actors — and singular actress — in the Knights of The Order hold their own during their moments in the spotlight. I was particularly fond of Sir Perceval and his role as mentor and sage to the others. The actual villains leave a little to be desired in terms of their characters, but the performances remain stellar throughout.
Brent talked a lot about the game's fantastic presentation and I just have to reiterate here that the performance capture and voice acting on display are top notch. Whatever your feelings in regards to the final product, there is no doubting the fact that The Order: 1886 maintains a level of presentation fitting for a AAA title. While polarizing across the gaming landscape, I was a huge fan of the game's cinematic flair and letterbox, film-style aspect ratio. The game is unabashedly attempting to integrate film and video games in a way we've never quite seen before, and the letterbox screen is a perfect vehicle with which to emphasize this seamless transition between game and story. Graphically, this may be the best looking console game we've seen yet. Anyone who tells you otherwise is crazy. The game is beautiful in motion, the character models are excellent (check out the skin pores in the facial models), and clothing realistically reacts to movement. A concern in earlier preview builds, the frame rate has been shored up nicely and maintains a solid 30fps throughout.
While the elements surrounding the story are all first-class, the narrative itself leaves something to be desired. In a game so focused on story and delivering that cinematic feel, having a narrative that fails to deliver is damning. Though Brent and Frankie really enjoyed the story and the way it played out, I felt there were some glaring defects in both plot and narrative execution. The supernatural elements — a staple of both preview events and game reveals concerning The Order: 1886 — are poorly implemented and the game fails to reach a satisfying conclusion. The story includes a number of twists and turns along the way, but several of them are telegraphed and none of them are particularly surprising. The villains, and their ultimate end goal, were also lacking as I alluded to earlier, and I was never totally on board with their plan. That said, there were aspects of the story I enjoyed. I thought the opening — which in hindsight ultimately contributes to some of the story's later issues — was particularly gripping, and I really enjoyed the political trappings and bureaucratic dealings of The Order itself. I thought the actual writing on display was strong as well. While the narrative never came together for me, the dialogue was generally interesting and engaging, and the overall concept of The Order is one rife with potential.
As far as gameplay goes, what's here is solid, if not unspectacular. The third-person cover and shooting mechanics all perform well and as intended, and firing each of the game's armaments is generally fun. As Frankie and Brent talked about in-depth, unique weapons in the form of the Thermite Rifle and Arc Gun add a little Victorian steampunk flair to the proceedings, and the game has a great running system — that's running as in "physically moving fast" — that finds players constantly sprinting when engaged in combat situations. The problem is, there's just not enough "actual gameplay" in The Order: 1886. Shootouts are often spaced out between lengthy story segments, and as my cohorts talked about, the really innovative guns that the game introduces to the player see limited use on the battlefield. Take my advice and savor your time with the Thermite Rifle in Chapter III.
While The Order attempts to vary gameplay throughout, it does so with mixed results. Stealth sections are sparse, poorly conceived, and easy to complete — simply requiring a timed button press to eliminate foes — and exploration, as Frankie mentioned, is limited due to the title's linear, narrative-first nature. The initial Lycan encounter flashes The Order's potential for some slower paced horror elements, but the opportunity is squandered as the game never fully plays up this aspect. As Brent discussed, a plethora of quick time events permeate the entire experience, but their effectiveness is hit-and-miss. I actually enjoyed the quick time events during some of the game's tenser moments. The button prompts were often sudden and unexpected, and they always made sure I was engaged and on my toes. I like some of the more unique QTEs on display in The Order as well, such as the ones that require you to move a cursor to a pre-determined area, or the back-and-forth melee combat with the bigger Lycans (I seemed to have enjoyed these sections a tad more than my friends above). At the end of the day though, there's just too many "hit x just to hit x" moments that don't enhance the gaming experience. Being a game so heavily reliant on story and cut-scenes, I would have loved to have seen The Order: 1886 take quick time implementation to the next level during its story sequences. Imagine quick time events time events as a procedurally generated series of button presses that change every time you replay a section, or as something that meshes real-time third-person combat with randomized button prompts, to get an idea of what I'm getting at.
I really wanted to like The Order: 1886 more than I did. It's a good game and a mostly fun experience, but the potential for something so much greater is there. Like Brent, I applaud Ready at Dawn and their goal to create an unrivaled cinematic gaming experience. I love this world they've created, and their vision of an alternate history, Victorian steampunk London remains as captivating as ever. Sir Galahad and his co-stars in The Order are great characters around which to base a series, and the phenomenal graphics, pitch-perfect voice acting, and minute attention to environmental detail all contribute to a set of production values fit for a high-caliber AAA title. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, The Order: 1886 is a video game first, and the title's gameplay leaves something to be desired. Gunplay is fun, but there's just not enough of it. Stealth sections are poorly conceived, quick time events are a mixed bag, and there isn't a whole lot from a gameplay perspective that we haven't seen before. It doesn't help that, in a game so focused on story, the narrative fails to deliver a satisfying plot or conclusion. The foundation of a great idea and a potentially engaging franchise is here, and I hope Ready at Dawn can develop this concept — seamlessly melding cinema and game — further with their next iteration. I, for one, would love to see where things go from here. Open world, narrative-heavy sequel anyone?
• Well-realized Victorian-era setting
• First-class presentation values
• Voice acting and motion capture are stellar
• Gunplay is solid
• Story fails to deliver
• Stealth sections and quick time events are a mixed bag
• There’s just not enough actual gameplay