March 5, 2015 by Paul Curtin
The second of this year’s most anticipated triple-A titles to be released is sadly now the second game not capable of living up to its “next-gen” hype. That’s not to say that Sony’s new exclusive The Order: 1886 is necessarily bad… but it’s also not the epic system-seller many had hoped it would be. Developer Ready at Dawn’s new IP is more of a beautiful, safe, and short prologue that proves what the PlayStation 4 is capable of and sets up the possibility of much better things to come.
Visually, The Order is simply stunning with a combination of phenomenal cinematics, character models, animations, and voice-acting. Worthy of setting new industry standards on current-generation consoles and PC, it’s hard to believe this is from the same developer who just a few years ago only had a few handheld games and ports on their resume.
Seamlessly transitioning between stunning cutscenes and gameplay without the need to ever use loading screens, it’s easy to get lured in by The Order: 1886’s hype. “How could a game that looks this amazing not actually be amazing?” you might ask. Ready at Dawn has obviously put quality above quantity, taking five years to create a gorgeous 6-7 hour movie game that wants you to look, but not touch.
As Grayson, also known as Sir Galahad, you’ll play as one of the iconic Knights of the Roundtable who hunt ferocious monsters in the mean misty streets of an alternate take on 1886 Victorian London. Drinking from the Holy Grail to make them near-immortal and equipped with steampunk gadgets and weaponry crafted by Nikola Tesla, the story of this secret Order is unique and the perfect setup for a new entity looking to become an even bigger franchise with many intriguing tales to tell.
The potential for a rich story is why it’s such a shame that the developers have chosen to focus primarily on a dull conflict with rebels and the famed East India Company rather than its more intriguing supernatural concepts and mysteries like Jack the Ripper. Just as fast as things ramp up time and time again throughout the campaign, they’re constantly bogged back down by pacing issues. The Order can be exciting, but there are far too many breaks in the action, long stretches of walking with no meaningful interaction, simple quick-time events, unforgiving stealth segments, and generic cover-based shootouts with waves of mindless human foes.
At times The Order can even be downright shameless in the way it slowly directs you down linear paths only to force you to pick up meaningless objects so you can take your time to admire just how detailed the game can be. Rarely do the photographs and letters you pick up to examine help immerse you more into the story or push the narrative forward in a meaningful way. There are also mind-numbingly dull audio logs that are the game’s only form of collectables and require the game to be paused if you choose to listen to them in full from the menu.
Drawing comparisons to the Gears of War series is unavoidable with how Ready at Dawn has been able to successfully reproduce Epic Games’ cover-shooting formula. The majority of the game is spent fighting generic rebel forces that occasionally send out a reckless shotgunner who will charge in and draw you out from cover. Sidekick AI can be hit-or-miss and for the most part, the basic weapons and shooting mechanics work well enough to result in an enjoyable but formulaic experience.
There are even a couple standout weapons like Tesla’s lightning Arc Gun that helps diversify combat scenarios with shocking results and a thermite rifle that allows clouds of magnesium to be dispensed on groups of enemies and then ignited with fire. These weapons are a blast to use and would have made for a great multiplayer experience — especially if werewolves could have been somehow thrown into the mix. Another missed opportunity that we’ll hopefully see another day in the inevitable sequel.
Despite what the original trailers and first looks at gameplay would have you believe, there are only 3-4 battles with werewolves (or lycans as they’re referred to by the Knights) throughout the entire game. With how repetitive shootouts against humans can be, these few and far between encounters with lycans become something to continually look forward, but ultimately result in disappointing anti-climatic battles. The ferocious werewolf encounters are ruined by dumbed down AI and over-simplified dodging mechanics, the most offensive of which being the two half-breed QTE boss fights that are almost identical and hardly challenging at all.
The Order has also jumped in on the controversial growing trend of games using black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to create a more cinematic feel during gameplay – a cheap trick to cut down the resolution that’s already running at 30fps. Not only is it cheap and not able to be disabled, but the black bars are also a poor design decision that actually makes it more difficult to see when kneeling behind cover and trying to peak over. Black bars, 30 or 60fps, and film grain effects should all be options the player can turn on/off, not something forced upon us.
It’s troubling that triple-A publishers are now considering $60 acceptable for six-hour singleplayer games with no branching paths, no multiplayer, and no replay value. It’s also concerning that it took Ready at Dawn five years to develop a game that can be beaten in almost five hours. Still, the team at Ready At Dawn has delivered the goods when it comes to producing one of the best-looking movie games ever in their first step up to the big leagues. The Order: 1886 is far from perfect, but it’s also a well-designed shooter, an experience that cannot be missed, and a solid setup for a much more interesting sequel. The Order: 1886 gets 3 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Phenomenal visuals
- Flawless voice-acting and animation
- Interesting characters
- Solid shooter mechanics
- Lightning gun and thermite rifle
- Story sets up an interesting sequel
- Far too linear and restricting
- Short story seems more like a prologue
- Disappointing lycan QTE battles
- Shamelessly obsesses over its own beauty
- No replay value