Few games today look as good as The Order: 1886. Ready at Dawn’s first foray outside of portable gaming is easily the most graphically intensive games out so far for the PlayStation 4. And while it’s certainly astonishingly detailed, a wonder for the eyes and ears, it’s a deeply flawed bare bones shooter. It’s a game you won’t want to play a second time.
Set in a gorgeous alternate history Victorian London where the Knights of the Round Table still exist and serve the crown, The Order has an incredibly interesting setting with a premise that unfortunately goes nowhere over the course of the game. Characters are rarely developed past their introduction and in their majority, lack any depth or attachment. The main protagonist, Sir Galahad, who we’re supposed to feel compassion for after his dramatic entrance at the beginning of the game, ends up a convoluted mess.
There are some fairly clever and entertaining jabs at historical figures in this bizarrely futuristic version of the XIX century, something that’s not particularly new to anyone who’s played Assassin’s Creed. The Order‘s most notable historical liberty is the use of the now nerd-famed Nikola Tesla as a weapons and trinket inventor for the Arthurian order, who feeds a comical friendly rivalry with Thomas Edison.
Tesla’s guns are probably the best part of The Order: 1886‘s playable sections. Of course, having Tesla in the game gave the devs an excuse to add an electrical gun to your arsenal, which packs quite a punch during fire fights. There’s also a weapon that fires thermite charges that’s tragically underused, as well as the gadgets you get to unlock doors, “hack” security terminals or zoom in on points of interest with. The only low tech thing you do in the game — outside of using a knife to stab enemies with, mind — is send out a string of Morse code through the clever use of the Dual Shock 4’s pad. Sadly, that’s the one good bit outside of shooting that takes place in the game, and only once.
The problem with The Order is that its game play never really catches up with the visual goodness that’s thrown our way. For as much impeccable design used to explain how everything works in the world that’s the backdrop for the game, there won’t be many moments during it where you’ll actually do much in the way of interacting with it. And while the shooting feels on par with any cover-based third person shooter out in the past eight or so years, there’s never a moment where skills seems to make much of a difference.
That’s especially evident during the ridiculously forced stealth sequences. Sure, there’s just a few of them during the game, but they were enough to make me want to give up. One in particular, which takes place in a hedge maze – because all games that awkwardly attempt to implement stealth have to have a level set in one – was so infuriatingly blunt that I had to spend over an hour to clear it. It’s all due to how instant fail states are dropped during the game at these points. At the slightest glimpse that a guard manages to catch of your heavily armed grunt, it’s all over. Black screen. Try again. Have fun listening to the same dialog over and over.
Sure, the answer to this problem would be to simply pull out Galahad’s crossbow and just shoot all these fools in the head, instead of trying to fool with The Order‘s on screen button prompts, but hell, I wanted to play through it as I would any stealth game. I eventually succeeded, but only after hitting the wall of annoyance well beyond my tolerance would endure if I were playing this game at my leisure.It’s baffling to see how game designers still feel forced to include segments that fall apart and don’t really belong for the sake of boasting variety. The same can be said for the button prompt heavy action scenes that pop up from time to time, which also result in a black screen repeat if failed. Unlike its smart use that’s dependent on skill in a game like Shadow of Mordor, The Order: 1886‘s button prompts rely on your twitch reflexes. Fortunately, most if not all of the instances when you’re required to do these give you a fairly generous window of time to do so, and longer fights feature checkpoints that prevent much of the aforementioned blunders and curses of stealth.
I managed to get through this review without mentioning what’s supposed to be the main antagonists in the game because they’re so uninspired. In between shooting contests with an army of the usual crop of armed thugs, you fight against werewolves. Instead of being incredibly menacing and strong as they ought to be, they’re very toothless — pun intended. There are two types of fights you engage with these guys. When the game’s okay with you shooting them, they’re totally content with just charging at you straight ahead, soaking a dozen shots before going down for the count. At some points, though, you get into a big knife-to-claws fight that’s mostly reliant on limited slashing controls and the aforementioned button prompts. Thanks to checkpoints and a special move meter that once filled, allows you to end the fight, none of these manage to be anything close to a challenge, at any difficulty setting.
Once you’re through the six or so hours it takes to get through and complete The Order: 1886, there’s little reason to go back a second time. None of the action scenes play out any differently in repeated play, and there are no features to unlock in the post game. There aren’t even any trophies to go after once you’re done with the game, since most of them are tied to things you are most likely to achieve during game play. Outside of a handful collectible items placed in dead ends or in your way as you go through levels, there’s very, very little to dig before hitting the bottom of what The Order has to offer, past its run.
As a weekend game, The Order: 1886 does its job as well as any blockbuster movie would do to distract you, only in a couple more sittings and with many more dollars in its price tag. In fact, The Order‘s length is ironically the second biggest thing going for it, aside from its impeccable presentation. You wouldn’t want it to go any longer with all the issues it suffers from. It’s a problematic game that does little to step outside the constraints of being an absolutely standard third person shooter. What’s worse, the times it tries to force something different on you, it fails badly. The Order: 1886 is a pretty spectacle you will quickly set aside and forget about, in order to wait for whatever’s next.