What if the mythical Knights of the Round Table, sustained by vials of liquid from the Holy Grail itself, survived into the industrial era, continuing to protect the Crown from threats within and without? You take up arms as Galahad, and with steampunk weapons supplied by none other than Nikola Tesla, you fight rebels against Her Majesty and deadly werewolves as you follow the breadcrumbs of a conspiracy that will shake the foundations of both Imperial Britain and your own holy Order.
Okay, credit where it’s due. This sounded like an awesome concept. And the visuals matched: it promised to be a cinematic adventure with cool monster-combat.
But prior to this game’s release, Ready At Dawn studios found themselves in a position no video game creator enjoys: some intrepid Youtuber had uploaded a complete playthrough of their game which proved, empirically, that the adventure they were asking seventy dollars plus tax for (in Canadian pricing), was just around five hours long, including the cutscenes that took up around half the play-time. There’s just no way to defend against that; no spin, it’s a very short game by today’s standards, period. And unless one was to play on Hard to artificially lengthen the experience through cheap deaths, that seems to be about the norm: my experience with this PS4-exclusive title began one afternoon and ended later that night, on Medium difficulty (because I don’t fancy playing on Hard to turn enemies into bullet sponges and artificially pad the playtime) and with a reasonable number of deaths, but nothing that held me up for too long.
So it’s a short game. Alright, I can get past that depending on the quality of the experience provided. After all, quality begets multiple playthroughs just to take in the experience again and again, right?
Well, it bears mentioning that in their zeal to make this a cinematic experience, the developers loaded the game up with so many cutscenes that I would almost say you have to start thinking of The Order as a crossbreed between the modern action game, and a more experiential, less gameplay-oriented title like Beyond: Two Souls. With Beyond, there was a sense of honesty there about what you were paying for – it was less of a “game” than an “interactive narrative”, you knew it, and it knew it enough to make the acting enough of a big deal to cast Ellen Page and Willem DaFoe in the main roles. But here, it’s like The Order thinks it’s an action game whilst putting nearly half of the experience in cutscenes, oftentimes with quick-time events. The length of time you’re given to do these button-presses is average – not like Clive Barker’s Jericho, where it’s a matter of dying before your brain registers that it’s a quicktime event – but still, gamers who have an axe to grind against the overuse of QTEs will not find a great lot to like here.
As for me, I don’t mind QTEs to some extent. I found them fine in the God Of War games, but with GoW, there was still a perfectly serviceable action game in there.
The other gameplay segments are canned shooting galleries, which use the same cover-and-fire method that has been set in stone for modern action games ever since Marcus Fenix found his first waist-high outcropping in the prison level of Gears Of War. I’m not knocking it – fact is, it lends a sense of gritty realism to games that use it – just pointing out a trend. The shooting comes with some very cool weapons, although most of the time you’ll just be using the more conventional varieties like shotguns and snipers. Granted, if you’re a gore-hound, the shotgun in this game will be your new best friend: it actually has decent range for a shotgun, and is brutal in a way that I can only describe as unflinchingly realistic: you’ll kill rebels with the shotgun, then walk up to their bodies and see a leg completely blown off, all that remaining being a jaggy half-limb of bone. So that’s a thing.
Then you have the sections where you’re just walking from place to place. The action segments let you push L3 to run or jog, contextually, but there are a couple segments where you’re disallowed any action except walking at a leisurely pace. I can’t say I enjoyed these too much. Sure, they let you take in the gorgeous world, but once that wears off, you just feel a bit annoyed that they’re taking the choice away from you and making you go as slow as humanly possible.
RE: Monsters. There are six scenes with werewolves in the entire game: the two one-on-one battles are QTEs, while three are, essentially, carbon-copies of one another: you’re in a warehouse-type setting and have to do the dodge-and-fire method against a small pack of Lycans, who don’t vary up their hunting strategy at all and will leave you with no desire to do likewise.
The only werewolf scene that brought some variety to the proceedings (which happens immediately after the first warehouse-type hunt scene) involves you chasing the werewolf through the London streets with an electric arc-gun, which, yes, is very cool.
There are also vampires, and – alright, I know what we’re all thinking. It’s another werewolves-and-vampires universe. That particular dichotomy is on the fast track to becoming stale, kind of like how every other fantasy universe feels compelled to use the human/elf/dwarf/orc paradigm just because Tolkien did it. But, I digress.
Fortunately, these vampires have more in common with Max Schreck than with Robert Pattinson. Unfortunately, they have a bizarrely tiny role in the plot – they have exactly two scenes, both in cutscenes, and you don’t really fight any – and the big twist involving them opens up a plot point that feels like it should be really, really important, yet goes completely ignored and unfinished. It’s like a vestigial limb.
In fact, a good 85% of the game, you’re just fighting ordinary humans, which I find a bit disingenuous for a game sold to you as being chock-full of monster battles. Taking it for what it is, I suppose the combat is alright (just watch out for those shotgunners who will flank you and kill you to death before you even realize what’s happening, if you’re not paying attention), albeit nothing really special for the most part.
The plot and worldbuilding, for their part, are interesting. The concept itself is really fun, and you’re given plenty of opportunities to immerse yourselves in the squalid world of 1880s-era London. The character animations are fluid, and even something as simple as a “search this desk” prompt yields a detailed and realistic animation.
Without spoiling anything, Ready At Dawn offer up their own interpretation of history’s favourite public-domain serial killer, Jack the Ripper, as well. A major character dies partway through, and to be honest, I found the emotional beat after his demise quite convincing and heartfelt.
In fact, the acting on display here is fantastic – nearly Game Of Thrones-quality, if I can be so bold. While I feel like it would have been interesting if they had probed into the Arthurian angle more, I did like seeing Galahad and the rebel commander – an Indian woman who has potential but feels perhaps half-developed – team up to go behind the Order’s back. The setpieces, including a suitably dilapidated London hospital and a high-flying dirigible, are as cinematic as promised.
So it begs the question – why are the climactic fights set in a bunch of dingy, repetitive underground corridors? Rather than give you a really epic and cool setpiece to go out on, featuring lots of neat Tesla tech and monsters battling it out, like the rest of the game felt like it was leading up to, it just puts you in some bland corridors and sprays a ton of generic soldiers for you to fight. Then you go to the final boss, which is one big QTE – although I mentally checked out sometime in the corridors, just wanting it to end, so a part of me is almost glad I didn’t have to put any effort in on the final boss.
Then the game ends, and that one subplot that seems really important is forgotten about. The post-credits scene seems vaguely to be a sequel hook (which in time could have justified leaving that important twist hanging), but given all the negative press, I really don’t think this game is going to be getting a sequel, and even if it would resolve some of the loose plot threads, I can’t say I’d be too enthusiastic to play it unless Ready At Dawn were to seriously re-examine the way in which they put their games together.
Along the way, there’s a stealth section that I didn’t really enjoy, but then, me and stealth sections tend to disagree in general. I’ll tell you why – the slow, methodical way you need to move in those kinds of sections makes it feel like a slog, while the fact that being seen once (as it is here) is usually an instant-fail condition means that a single screw-up makes you go back to the beginning of the slow, plodding segment, making it an overly tense endeavor for all the wrong reasons. But, you know, that’s just me. I’m not the best one to judge stealth sections, for that reason.
This game is full of cool ideas, poorly utilized. Tesla’s arc-gun? Awesome! Hope you enjoy using it a couple times and no more. That gun that sprays flammable mist that you can then set alight? Ohhh yeah, burn baby, burn. See above, though; it’s not a common item. There’s one nice scene where you use the touchpad on the PS4 controller (you know, the one that pushes the start button off to the side and makes it feel too close to the Triangle button?) to tap out Morse code. I repeat – one time. The werewolves feel almost like an afterthought, which is just twisted, considering pretty much everyone who’s going to be buying this is doing it to see steampunk British officers blowing through werewolf hordes; and the vampires are so barely-there it almost feels like they didn’t need to have them at all. Just to rephrase that – the whole idea of fighting monsters, the main draw of the game, feels shoehorned in compared to the tons and tons of human soldiers you fight in canned duck-and-cover shooting galleries.
Aesthetically, The Order: 1886 is like Underworld mixed with some cool Arthurian lore. Gameplay-wise, imagine a muddied mix of Beyond: Two Souls and some Gears Of War-style combat, and the game isn’t quite sure which it wants to be. There’s a catch-22 here: the plot needed another act to really come together, but would you want to play this game as-is for that much longer anyway? I look at failed narratives as teachable moments; I’m sure there’s a good way to blend the experiential nature of one style with the intensity of the other, but this doesn’t come up a success on that front.
The Order: 1886 is rated M for brutal violence, profanity and nudity (a couple male dongs and female breasts), so prepare yourself accordingly.
Ultimately, gorgeous graphics and cinema-caliber voice acting aren’t enough to save this title from its slapdash, unfinished plot, the misunderutilization (it’s a word now) of its cool concept and stilted gameplay. For what cool ideas it does have, I’ve no choice but to give The Order: 1886 two Tesla-brand arc guns out of a possible four.
None of the images in this review belong to me. It’s worth mentioning, as this game is exclusive to a console with Share functionality where people can upload their own screenshots.