The Order: 1886 is an action, third-person shooter developed by Ready at Dawn and SCE Santa Monica Studios. It was released on February 2015 for the Playstation 4. Set in an alternate London timeline the game follows an order of knights, who have waged war against monstrous half-breeds for centuries.
It’s a hard knock life for new IPs and The Order: 1886 isn’t an exception.
The reviews are in and they haven’t been too kind to the newest game developed by Ready at Dawn and SCE Santa Monica Studios. Before its release, a huge controversy broke out when YouTuber, PlayMeThrough, revealed that The Order: 1886 was only 5 hours long. The Order continued to suffer the Internet’s wrath when a slew of negative reviews followed shortly after its release. All the hype surrounding the game turned into an angry debate over whether game length determines success or failure. Angry Internet people aside, The Order‘s game length controversy brings up a lot of interesting questions about the characteristics that determine a good game, and what is owed a player when they purchase it. Leaving such questions for another time, this review is based on my own experiences while playing and highlights what I enjoyed and disliked about the game, without outside influences. On a side note, I wasn’t given an advanced copy.
Back in 2013, I had the privilege to attend E3 and saw the announcement trailer for The Order: 1886 and since then I’ve been pretty excited about the game. The trailers have been stunning and despite recent game length controversies I still wanted to buy the game. New IPs are always a gamble, but it’s nice to take a chance on a new game and new concept. While there are some obvious flaws, to be discussed later, The Order is a welcomed fresh concept. Yes, it was short and leaned more towards style than substance, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game and hope Ready At Dawn gets a chance to expand and refine their world in future installments.
If I could rate The Order based on the story alone it would easily get a 8/10, but I want this review to be an honest depiction of the highs and lows of the game. So while I can get by on story alone The Order is a game with lots of potential, but little execution. It is for that very reason The Order has the score that it does.
Set in an alternate timeline, The Order follows an organization of Arthurian knights who have protected the world for centuries from the dangerous half-breeds. You play as Galahad, one of the most seasoned knights in the organization, as he tries to stop a rebellion from tearing London apart. However, Galahad soon discovers a threat bigger than the rebellion that will shake the very foundations of the Order and he must fight to stop this threat before it is too late.
It’s hard not to get lost in the history of The Order‘s plot. The main conflict of knights versus half-breeds is set in the backdrop of a changing British Empire near the turn of the century. Every detail about the game, from design to story, reflects the historical reality of Britain during the Victorian-era. Even the political conflict between colonial India and Britain plays part later on in the story. The Order is a game where myth meets history all wrapped in a nice Arthurian blanket, but the real appeal of this story ultimately rest with its characters. Every single character in this game is both likable and diverse, and most of the trailers don’t even show some of the most important characters players meet in the game. Emphasis placed on character design and voice work helps sell the game’s cinematic appeal, making it easy to get swept away in the story of The Order. If anything, Ready at Dawn deserves a pat on the back for getting great voice-actors to help build this Victorian alternate universe filled with compelling characters.
Story and characters aside, The Order is visual feat, flexing its cinematic muscles by transitioning from cutscene to gameplay in a seamless fashion. The game excels in design even in the smallest details. The city of London makes the perfect setting for gunfights and chase sequences, and players visit various locations from the slums of Whitechapel to London Yard. Players can even pick up readable newspapers and documents that mention key historical events that were happening in London at the time. The science of the Victorian-era plays an especially big role in the design of the game. Nikola Tesla’s electrical experiments become reality as players utilize electricity-based guns in combat. Airships and the marvels that were lost at the turn of the century become important settings throughout the game. Every gun and piece of equipment can be inspected in detail, and it’s hard not to sit there for extended periods of time in awe of how beautiful the game is. However, in all it’s beauty and splendor The Order feels very empty at times. While most of the game takes place at night or in tight corridors it feels as if there should be other NPCs besides enemy AI and your fellow knights. This is, of course, is partly the fault of the game’s length and partly the fault of the game’s linear play style.
While The Order exceeds visually, it fumbles in its execution of gameplay. It doesn’t help that the game is incredibly short, highlighting how little time was spent on gameplay and control mechanics. My first playthrough on the easiest difficulty only took 7 hours with few instances of death. Combining both quick-time events with third-person shooting, fight sequences were often linear and repetitive. It was also almost too dark at times and I found myself annoyed by the parts of the game where a lantern was required to see. There are very few instances of divergence in gameplay and such divergences only occurred when a new weapon was introduced. Even then, most of the new weapons were underpowered compared to the standard ones used by enemies. Shotguns were overpowered with unrealistic range and an enemy using one could sometimes take Galahad out from a great distance. Cover mechanics worked well enough, but it was difficult to move from cover to cover in some locations. Enemy AI consisted of half-breeds and humans with predictable combat styles. The half-breeds were especially boring because they all charged Galahad in the same fashion. Human enemies rarely moved into cover and often grouped to one side making them easy targets. Aside from the half-breeds there was little variation in the enemies, each fight felt similar with slight variations in the setting where combat was initiated.
Occasionally, quick-time events are used during key story moments. Quick-time events involved the player using the analog sticks to move Galahad’s line of sight, which is then followed by the players pressing the corresponding button causing a certain action to take place. There is never any punishment for choosing a certain button over another and the responding action from a quick-time event does little to change what happens during the fight. There were even a few instances of unresponsive action in quick-time, despite pressing the correct button, leading to immediate death. This glitch, however, only happened three times throughout the whole game. It is clear that quick-time events were meant to help the seamless transition between cutscene and gameplay, but such actions in The Order fail to achieve that goal. Most action-orientated games use quick-time to simulate an in-the-moment feeling without changing how the story progresses, making players feel more involved in cutscenes. The slow execution of quick-time in The Order failed to create any organic feeling of action, and the mechanic contributed little to the cinematic experience in the game.
It’s a shame that the gameplay is almost focused entirely on gun and melee combat, because some of the most exciting parts of the game were the chapters that required stealth. In the two instances that required stealth, sound and movement design played a critical role. If players moved Galahad too much the AI would sense it, and even in the dark Galahad could easily be spotted by AI carrying lanterns. Stealth also combined quick-time mechanics, which made players carefully time their actions. Players could even listen to conversations to determine enemy numbers, and footsteps from the player would spook AI causing automatic death. The stealth missions were just a small taste of what the gameplay should have been like, and it’s too bad there weren’t more missions that utilized stealth mechanics.
It’s easy to fall into a love-hate relationship with The Order. Seeing the rain on Galahad’s face or hearing how his footsteps sound on stone versus wood floors is a testament to the effort placed in the game’s sound and visual design, but such efforts seem nonexistent where gameplay is concerned. It’s maddening because there should have been so much more to do in game, but the reality is there isn’t. Luckily, for me, the story and all the characters were enough, but I understand why a lot of players are angry. This game really needs a sequel because gameplay can easily be refined for a better experience. Regardless of whether the game gets a sequel or DLC, The Order: 1886 is still a very fun game. If you refuse to buy the game at full price just wait a few weeks for a price drop because it’s still worth trying out.
+ Great supporting characters
+ Superb sound design
+ Excellent voice-acting
+ Compelling story
+ Visually breathtaking
+ Cliches done right
- Slow quick-time events
- Occasional unresponsive controls
- Repetitive fight sequences
- Extremely short game
- Unintelligent AI
- Slow start
- Too linear