The Order: 1886 - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2015/02/the-order-1886-review.html

Ever since The Order: 1886 got revealed at E3 2013, anticipation for this new IP exclusive to the PS4 was arguably high. Set in Victorian London and focusing on Knights fighting off monsters with steampunky yet scientifically grounded weapons, it all sounded very fun right from the get-go. The fact that The Order: 1886 also looked stunning only further raised our hopes.
Being presented as a third person shooter though, gameplay footage didn’t seem to show off that many gameplay innovations thus far. Did that change now that the full game is released? Or is The Order: 1886 nothing but a beautiful dud?



Story

The plot:
The Order is set in alternate history where humans around the 8th century begin to take on animal like traits. These humans are known as "half-breeds". A war soon breaks out between the humans and half-breeds. Humanity was losing this war until King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table discover a substance called Black Water, which gives its users healing abilities and greatly increases life expectancy. This with the combination of the Industrial Revolution (which have granted the Order access to futuristic weapons) are helping humanity turn the tide of the war.
(source: GiantBomb)




For a game that is supposedly planned as the first of an entirely new franchise, The Order: 1886's story shows that the game already has much backstory and lore in store, which it confidently presents throughout the experience. Yet during the course of the game, The Order: 1886 doesn’t lay out the backstory altogether right in front of you, instead giving you important details and nuances about the game’s lore throughout its many cutscenes and dialogue. Thus, The Order: 1886 does a respectably good job of hinting at a deeply rich world and in letting you as the player piece together the facts into a whole. The Order’s lore therefore extends from the general structure of the knights’ order, over the backstory of the half breeds, all the way to the relationships between each of the knights.

Just look at all this potential.

Playing the game itself puts you into the shoes of Sir Galahad, a member of a four man squad battling against rebels and half breeds. During the story, the squad’s leader Sir Perceval senses that there might be a conspiracy going on related to the big export company United India. Therefore, the four many squad follows trails of evidence throughout the storyline, while simultaneously having to go back and forth balancing between defending the United India company from rebel assaults while simultaneously trying to get to the shady bottom of things behind the very same company they are defending and working for.
Each of the main protagonist knights in The Order are given distinct personalities mostly succeeding in making them feel fleshed out. Though deeper relationships and their backstories are only hinted at and never given the full scope of detail we would have liked to see in order to relate to the characters more intensely throughout the story. With that said, while playing as Galahad, it gets quite hard to really feel like you are a true and important part of a bonded squad in The Order. Galahad’s journey throughout the game more and more leads him away from the knights’ order itself, thus making it additionally harder for supposedly emotional moments to hit the right notes with the player.
Aside from collective frustration about the failed attempts to fight off the rebels or to get behind the conspiracy, there’s rarely any insightful and private enough downtime between the characters to get to know them on a far more personal level. More moments in which the members would’ve had conversations on a happier or more lighthearted note for once would’ve probably made Galahad feel less like a Lone Wolf during most of the story and additionally would’ve given tragic moments in the game more impact.


There are other knights but, well, these are the ones we are focussing on.

Despite the overall storyline being paced respectably well, the ending of the game however falls incredibly flat. Very obviously betting on a sequel, The Order: 1886’s story seems to come to a sudden and abrupt stop just when the plot starts to become really interesting. The point the game ends on would’ve otherwise easily served as the ending of the middle act of any other video game. Resultingly, The Order: 1886’s ending feels very unsatisfying with so many loose threads just left hanging (one of which is a majorly big twists that leads to pretty much nothing), which is only made considerably worse by the fact that the game itself is not very long.
Primarily focused on its story, a playthrough of The Order: 1886 will last the average player about 6-8 hours. Surely enough playtime can be stretched out if you decide to explore the environment, yet there is barely anything worth exploring. Being the extremely narratively driven experience that it is, there’s little opportunity or even reason to venture off the beaten path. Aside from a few siderooms with additional ammo, weapons or bits of backstory scattered around, The Order: 1886 is without any doubt one of the most linear games to come out in recent memory.

"Such a fairly short game and not even a satisfying ending? U mad, bro?"

Speaking of “being extremely driven by its narrative”, players should be prepared for the fact that The Order: 1886 is guilty of excessively using cutscenes to tell its story. It’s not an over exaggeration to say that most of your time with the game you will mostly have to sit back and enjoy cutscenes with occasionally one or two Quick-Time-Events instead of actually “playing” the game. There are also many instances in which you just walk for 5 seconds between one cutscene and the next, or about six entire chapters that literally only consist out of cutscenes.
The overreliance on cutscenes and QTEs very often makes The Order: 1886 feel like it’s a game that could’ve been developed by Quantic Dreams rather than Ready at Dawn. And while there surely is a place for cutscene and QTE driven games like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, The Order: 1886 is destined to anger many fans due to the fact that it was primarily marketed as a full-on Third-Person-Shooter whereas shooting segments of the game are cut to fairly short affairs in comparison to the time you will spend sitting back watching lengthy cutscenes.
Summed up, The Order: 1886 is a game that most of the time poses you into the role of the passenger instead of letting you steer the vehicle. The blending of movie and game aspects are strong in The Order, yet in the end the game would’ve told its story far better and probably in a more enjoyable and less confusing way (marketingwise) as a full-on movie rather than a game.


Be prepared. The entire experience is just as linear as this corridor.


Gameplay
 

Core Gameplay - "Third Person Shooter 101"

Aside from watching unskippable cutscenes (which you undoubtedly WILL do most of the time “playing” The Order) the game also features a share of different gameplay segments throughout its story.


Though gameplay sadly somewhat feels like it plays second fiddle to the game’s narrative, the game has you either involved in lengthy shootouts, stalk guards in stealth sections, do mini-games with Nikola Tesla’s gadgets, or has you climbing across rooftops to make your way to a specific location. Other times, the game emphasizes its atmosphere, and it does so to a respectably great effect. At its best moments, the game evokes feels of old-school Resident Evil games with Galahad hunting half breeds through the dark hallways of underground tunnels only with the light of his lantern at hand. And while it’s all greatly cinematic and atmospheric at all times, the game nevertheless too often feels like you are on rails never having the freedom to completely explore the world all by yourself.

Of course you also get your inevitable "hacking" mini-games.

In regards to actual gameplay, The Order: 1886 is mainly a coverbased Third Person Shooter. And despite extremely rarely doing anything new, the overall gunplay mechanics in the game function fairly well on a basic level.
Shootouts mostly amount to holding your ground or moving forward after having cleared the area of enemies, although the fact that enemy A.I. is mostly pretty dumb pulls the teeth out of some sections, making them feel like push-overs or just another obstacle in your way. A tad worse is the fact that the game occasionally tries to masque its lackluster enemy A.I. by for example having three shotgunners rush-in to artificially enforce difficulty on a specific game section. Thus, many shootouts in such a manner can get very frustrating and at times feel just unfair and too videogamey for the game’s own sake. Yet it has to be said that the enemy A.I. nevertheless doesn’t stick out too badly in the sum of things.


Battlefields are also laid out in standard fashion. Though therefore battlefields are easily always foreshadowed simply by all the cover granting crates and destructible wooden walls scattered around the location, the game still gives you a nice variety of angles to stay flexible during combat.
Yet cover mechanics and especially cover swapping is pretty hit and miss in The Order. While you can easily switch between cover points that are beside each other, for some reason Galahad isn't able to directly switch to a cover point in front of him resulting in many annoying situations during gunfights.

Another notable aspect about the combat is that Black Water, a potion each knight carries in a necklace, can be used to revive Galahad when downed. Yet it also gives you the ability to fill up a specific meter depending on your kills to activate the so called Black Sight. Black Sight is pretty much The Order's version of Red Dead Redemption's Dead Eye mechanic and functions basically the same way, with the exception that the game basically also auto-aims for you when using it.


Unearth conspiracies old-school style by shooting everything in sight!


Weapons - "The Usual Suspects and True Fun in Short Bursts"

Looking at your arsenal, Galahad is generally equipped with one primary weapon, a sidearm, smoke grenades and frag grenades. Each of the specific weapons are always assigned to you right at the start of a mission or can be picked up along the way. Therefore, the game offers you no persistent inventory and mostly directs your arsenal just as it does with the rest of the game.
Guns and grenades are very basic overall and offer barely more than light variations of the usual suspects like shotguns, machine guns, pistols, a revolver, etc.
The really interesting tools in your arsenal though are the weapons designed by Nikola Tesla specifically for the knights of the order. Therefore: while one rifle is able to shoot blasts of air to stun your enemies before killing them (which you won’t use all too often though), the Thermite Rifle and Arc Gun are the real stars in combat.
While the Thermite Rifle shoots bullets spraying ignitable gas around the enemy so that you can then shoot a blast of fire to set them ablaze, the Arc Gun is another special weapon, that can fire very efficient bullets of electricity at enemies. Yet still, the Thermite Gun takes the cake as the most fun weapon of the entire arsenal. Unfortunately, the game only rarely gives you the opportunity to get your hands on one of those two special guns, since their use is heavily dictated by the game’s narrative and influence on your loadout related to your specific mission.


The Thermite Rifle - So fun yet so underused.
 

Half Breeds / Lycans - "Scary but Toothless"

The standout enemies of the game though are undoubtedly the Lycans or Werewolves, which you encounter briefly and only twice or thrice in the entire game. Their presentation and design is very impressively executed and they first come off as pretty threatening but it doesn’t take long until you find out that they are relatively light push-over enemies. Battling Lycans requires dodging their leap attacks through timed presses of the jump-button, since they tend to jump in and out of your view during battles, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that just keeping on spamming the jump-button to always successfully avoid their attacks makes those sections redundantly easy and sadly quickly uninteresting.
Bigger boss type Lycans fare differently though. Battling those larger specimens has you face them off in a QTE duel with a knife very similar to the fight against Kruger in Resident Evil 4.
Again, while exquisitely presented and very cinematic, those boss battles are nothing more than trial and error affairs that fairly quickly lose your excitement they initially evoked.


Due to lackluster A.I., the scary Lycans quickly devolve into push-overs.


Graphics

As you might’ve guessed, The Order: 1886 is incredibly strong when looking purely at its presentation and visuals.
Visually, The Order: 1886 is a marvel to experience. Textures, lighting, facial animations, particles, cloth, and more are so jaw-droppingly well executed and set on stage, that it’s easy to be lured into playing the game for its graphics alone. Not only does the game present itself as a movie, it also features the technical fidelity to qualify as an animated feature film. With so many moments throughout the game that simply have you stay in place and look in awe at the realistic and beautifully designed scenery, it’s no exaggeration to say that The Order: 1886 is easily the best looking console game to date. On top of that, the game is extremely polished with pretty much zero bugs, aside from the weird flaw that Galahad doesn’t reflect in mirrors for some reason.


Sound
 

Great sound design further supports The Order’s strength in its presentation. Voice acting is predictably superb and matches the characters’ personalities and the emotional moments in the game very well. Gun sounds are also very impressive with some of the greatest shotgun blast sounds of recent memory with that certain “oomph” to it.
Lastly, a fittingly melancholic violin score sets the dark mood of the game perfectly.


Galahad's magnificent mustache - Now THAT is next-gen right there!



The Verdict

Overall, The Order: 1886 is both a remarkable game and at the same time a huge disappointment and waste of potential.
Seeing that it is so heavily devoted to its story and narrative with such an excessive use of cutscenes and cinematic elements, one cannot shake off the feel that the developers at Ready at Dawn probably were so focussed on creating the most intriguing world and realistic next-gen graphics for the game that they actually forgot to develop a fun "game" instead of a movie or tech-demo.
And though it's true that much like Microsoft's hollow shell of a game, which was Ryse, The Order: 1886 also often tends to feel more like a technical showcase to just show you the power of the PS4 instead of being a fun game in itself, The Order still manages to avoid being a similar disaster through the sheer amount of good ideas that were just not utilized enough.
Furthermore, The Order: 1886 is not necessarily a bad game but rather a short and disappointing one considering how often the game just completely takes away the control from players. There's nothing wrong with very linear or incredibly cinematic games like Heavy Rain, yet The Order clearly wanted to strike a balance between movies and games, yet just failed due to the developers' overly big focus on presentation instead of actual content. With that said, while you will undoubtedly spend most of your experience watching cutscenes rather than actually "play", all of The Order's gameplay aspects from gunplay over stealth to climbing are nevertheless all very basic and clearly not given nearly as much love for detail as the game's graphics and presentation. Gameplay overall in The Order is surely not bad and servicable enough but very underwhelming considering its very generic design and the high hopes gamers had for the game.

In the end, The Order: 1886 is very hard to recommend as a full-on purchase but absolutely recommendable as a rental to easily beat over the weekend.
Mainly the Order's generic but functional gameplay mechanics, characters and lore are what avoid it from becoming Sony's equivalent to Microsoft's Ryse. Even though not perfectly pulled off, the way in which The Order at least attempts to blend cinematic storytelling together with gameplay underlined by strong visuals alone make The Order at least worth one playthrough. It's just so very sad that the game's relatively short length, unsatisfying ending, lack of challenge, unskippable cutscenes and generic overall gameplay give it absolutely zero replay value whatsoever.
If Ready at Dawn wants to keep this franchise alive, they better don't forget that a flawless presentation alone does not make a game fun.



          
 Final Verdict: 5 out of 10 

Status: Average / Good Rental





Big thanks goes out to Sony Computer Entertainment and Harvard PR
for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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