Review: The Order: 1886 (PS4)

Short and Sweet, But Only Once

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Developer: Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)

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Opening

With only a handful of exclusive titles, Sony has been trying to rebound and give consumers a reason to justify their PlayStation 4 purchases. Plagued by technical issues, Driveclub failed to deliver on customer expectations. Now, Sony and Ready at Dawn are trying to get a win with “filmic” third-person shooter The Order: 1886, but reports of its brevity have caused real concern in the community. The questions remains, however: is The Order: 1886 worth your time and money? Let’s see.

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Story

Set in an alternate-history London, conflict thrives in the streets. The district of Whitechapel has become an epicenter for skirmishes between rebel forces, werewolf half-breeds, and the titular Order.

After a particularly intense encounter, Sir Perceval takes Sir Galahad, Lady Igraine, and Marquis de Lafayette on a scout mission against the orders of his superiors. The events which transpire from that mission uncover things that could rock the very Order, the Knights of the Round Table founded by King Arthur himself, to its core.

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The team at Ready at Dawn has clearly gone out of its way to tell the best story it could. Immense work is put into establishing a believable alternate history steampunk world. The narrative is well-told and its pacing is well thought-out, ensuring the story is delivered in a rhythm that keeps things interesting. The plot pales in comparison, however, to the characters. Appropriate attention is given to each, helping to flesh out their stories and personalities, taking care to help you empathize with each.

While The Order‘s narrative does so many things right, it’s not without its problems. This title leaves half a dozen story threads unanswered and the ending feels anti-climactic and, quite frankly, a bit flat. That said, I’m still quite happy with the narrative, and I hope Ready at Dawn gets the chance to tie up some loose ends and give me more down the line.

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Content Warning

As someone who typically concerns himself with the content in a game, I should have taken greater care when considering The Order. I ended up encountering quite a bit of content that was either over the top or downright unnecessary with how crass and lewd it could be.

First, I want to talk about the most shocking, egregious offender. While games have had lewd or inappropriate content before, few of them have gone out of their way to showcase sexual content like The Order has. The vast bulk of it takes place in only one chapter of the game, but those scenes occur in a brothel. The game shows female characters completely topless. At one point, your characters burst into a room and disrupt a couple in the middle of sexual activity. Disturbed, the man in that room gets up and reaches for a gun, showing full frontal male nudity in the process as well. There’s one other scene in the game where a character transforms from werewolf back into human, exposing male genitalia too.

Second, the language can get pretty crass. I realize they’re trying to portray a realistic, grungy London setting full of conflict, but hearing some of the most vulgar offenders in our modern language tossed into Victorian England feels jarring and unnecessary. Expect to hear anything you would in an R-rated movie here.

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As far as the blood and gore go, it’s probably the lightest offender. There are some hard hitting melee attacks you can perform and there are some scenes where you’re fighting with a large blade you keep on your back, but the gore is really quite minimal. When fighting werewolves, you can have your throat ripped out and the blade you fight with can become blood-soaked, but none of the guns really cause any gore or viscera.

On top of those standard concerns (violence, gore, sexual content, language), there is an element of the arcane within the game. Knights of The Order drink a substance known as “blackwater” that gives them extended life and heals their wounds. There are also werewolves and “half-breeds,” suggesting something far sinister and arcane to come for the franchise.

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Gameplay

From everything I’d seen leading up to the release of The Order, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was shooting to be Sony’s competitor to the Gears of War franchise, and frankly, I didn’t want to. It appeared to have all of the same trimmings: 3rd person perspective, grungy sci-fi setting, cover-based mechanics, and crazy new weaponry.

The product we got didn’t fail to deliver on the Gears of War feel. While you aren’t hulking, lumbering space soldiers and you can’t roadie run, you’ll still notice that your time in London feels quite familiar if you’ve visited Jacinto.

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First, let’s talk about the combat mechanics. The Order will have you maneuvering through the streets, diving behind boxes, carts, and other waist-high constructs. You can also take cover behind walls. You can risk exposing yourself for an accurate shot or, if enemy fire is too heavy, fire blindly around cover. It’s nothing other franchises haven’t done before, but the actual gunplay feels really well honed. It controls well  and provides an almost tangible sense of feedback. Unfortunately, the gun play feels so satisfying, I finished the game wanting more.

One unique mechanic The Order employs is a thing called “Blacksight.” As you fight, you’ll build up a gauge. You can activate that gauge to slow time and unleash a wave of pistol shots that automatically target enemies. With the tap of a direction and a couple shots fired, you can take down every visible enemy in a room. It’s a fun, gratifying reward that will make you feel like a beast.

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Speaking of pistols, let’s discuss the weapon variety in The Order. With a crew like the Knights of the Round Table, recruiting a genius like Nikola Tesla should probably be expected. The things Tesla comes up with can pack a lot of punch and they’re fun to use. On top of your standard weapons, you’ll also get access to an electric arc lance, explosive thermite rifle, and more. Your standard auto rifle even has an alternate fire that can stun enemies with a blast of air! There are some really cool, fun weapons here for you to try your hands at.

For all the gameplay does right, there are several problems with it. First, the game employs the use of quick time events. Scenes that use this timed button press mechanic look cinematic, but from a gameplay perspective it drives me up a wall. Yes, thematically it fits the game, but why couldn’t I use those well-designed combat mechanics to conquer this battle instead? What happens if I fail to press the right button or press it quickly enough? I’ll have to watch as I (or a member of my team) is slaughtered, then do it all over again.

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The game also features several types of collectibles. They can be something neat that help build this Victorian world, but more often than not they feel tertiary to the story at best. Unless you’re just aiming for the platinum trophy, there’s no reason to bother with them.

More than either the quick time events or collectibles, the game fails to deliver any sort of replay value. The Order would have been ripe for some sort of competitive multiplayer or cooperative modes, and I hope it goes there in future installments. What this results in is probably the game’s single largest fault. Once you finish the campaign, there is no reason to go back and play the game again. There is no benefit for taking Galahad on a second trip and, honestly, no reason to ever fire the game up again. It’s heartbreaking to think there’s so much they’ve done right here and no way to enjoy it after the fact.

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Presentation

The Order: 1886 is, hands down, one of the most beautiful, detailed games I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean in recent weeks or months. I mean ever. Character and world design is second to none, with staggering lighting that bring London to life. The audio design is excellent. The voice over and music do a wonderful job drawing you into the game.

Throughout development, the developers kept saying they were going for a “filmic” experience. To that effect, they’ve delivered wonderfully. The Order feels like a high quality, marquis movie, right down to its letter boxed presentation. The end result is one of the best looking films I’ve ever played, hands down.

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Conclusion

At the end of the day, I’m ecstatic with the time I spent playing through The Order: 1886. The story, characters, presentation, and gunplay were all first-in-class. It did an excellent job taking me back to that alternate London…which is why it breaks my heart that I have no reason to go back to it.

I sincerely hope this game gets a sequel. Sony’s onto something very cool here, but its severely limited replay value could require an alternate history to save the franchise if changes aren’t made. Right now, I simply can’t recommend someone pay full price for the game, but everyone should experience The Order: 1886 in the future.

The Bottom Line

The Order: 1886 delivers a beautifully realized and delivered science fiction story that everyone should experience. Sadly, it provides no reason to ever go back after the credits roll.

 

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Joe Morgan

Gamer, software developer, dog lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace or CrossConsoleGamers, you can find him streaming at Twitch.tv/JoeKnowethGames

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