It’s been nearly two years since The Order: 1886 was first unveiled at E3. Unfortunately for developer, Ready at Dawn, it’s been anything but a smooth road to release for their new IP. Despite all the anticipation surrounding the game, early demos were met with mixed feedback and prompted the studio to delay its release. Even when it looked like things were finally on track for Ready at Dawn, the game leaked early and video playthroughs were posted online claiming the campaign took a mere five hours to complete.
Now that the game has officially been released it seems that the studio’s woes may just be beginning. The Order: 1886 is a complicated game to evaluate. From a graphical and technical standpoint there’s nothing else like it. The graphics are without a doubt the most impressive seen on any console to date. The effort that went into painstakingly recreating 19th century London, right down to the last thread, is a remarkable accomplishment. The environments, characters, and atmospheric effects are awe inspiring. But for The Order: 1886 the emphasis on detail and realism comes at a steep price.
The narrative is a promising one with the plot taking place in an alternate version of London in the late 1800’s. It’s during the industrial revolution but with advancements in machinery and technology far surpassing that of history. Players take on the role of Sir Galahad, a knight belonging to The Order. The Order is a secret society stemming from King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table and sworn to protect the city from a race of lycans known as halfbreeds. In addition to the ongoing lycan threat the White Chapel district has also been plagued with rebel attacks and the infamous murders of Jack the Ripper.
Although the story is compelling it’s hard to ever completely embrace due to the game’s glacial pacing. The campaign is short and takes anywhere from six to seven hours to complete depending on how diligently you scour the environments for collectibles. And of that time, players can expect to spend about half of it watching cutscenes. The overall experience is more akin to a movie rather than a game. It’s popular these days for games to be highly cinematic in nature but it requires a delicate balance. A balance The Order: 1886 never achieves. There are only a handful of action sequences interspersed throughout the hours of cutscenes. The action sequences are engaging but do grow increasingly repetitive as the story crawls along. There is also an abundance of frustrating quicktime events where a missed button press results in Galahad taking a bullet to the face or being mauled to death by a lycan elder. It’s a good thing the game is so beautiful to watch because players will find themselves spending almost half of the campaign doing just that.
The actual gameplay, while scarce, is fairly addictive due to the innovative weapons in Galahad’s arsenal. Thanks to Nikola Tesla the knights are equipped with some impressive hardware including the Thermite Rifle and Arc Gun. Both weapons showcase some amazing effects while dealing devastating damage to enemies. The shooting mechanics are solid making each firefight a satisfying experience and by far the best sequences in the game. The cover system however isn’t quite as refined. Galahad will often get stuck on adjacent walls when attempting to find cover. This tends to be a trend among the cover-based shooter genre and although it’s not the worst offender, it can certainly become an annoyance in combat.
On paper The Order: 1886 should be a great game. It has everything going for it including uncanny visuals, great sound design, unique weapons and an interesting premise. But too much of a focus on the technical aspects rather than gameplay makes for frustrating overall experience. There is still a lot of potential for the franchise moving forward and clearly Sony is committed to supporting the developers. The game also ends with a strong setup for a new story arc and leaves the door wide open for a sequel. And with the amount of effort Ready at Dawn has put into developing their engine it would be a surprise if we don’t see a follow up. There are so many great elements already in place and the remarkable leaps the studio has made with the current gen technologies bodes well for the franchise’s future. Hopefully the developers can expand on game’s successes, and more importantly, learn from it’s missteps.