The Order: 1886 Review: Paint by Numbers
Launch window exclusives are a very specific type of game. They tend to focus more on showing off the potential of the hardware at the expense of doing anything particularly memorable in terms of gameplay and story. As such, these are titles that you can quickly find in the bargain bin after release. They’re neat for a little bit but soon forgotten when actual good games start coming out.
Take The Order: 1886, for example. I got it as on Black Friday 2015 for $10. It released for $60 back in… February 2015? That can’t be right. The PlayStation 4 launched in November 2013. How did something that was clearly designed as a system showcase not come out until some sixteen months after the console launched?
Alright, let’s start with the positives and I feel as though you’ll be very familiar with these positives if you read the review for fellow PS4-exclusive Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
It’s an incredibly pretty game. I would hazard that it’s a better looking game than Rapture. The steampunk aesthetic doesn’t come off as photorealistic as the abandoned village of Rapture but it’s more visually appealing to a certain extent. While the art design is fantastic, everything in the game is some shade of brown or grey which makes it all seem very drab. It’s just well-designed, very detailed and well-rendered drab.
Unlike The Chinese Room who used the off-the-shelf CryEngine 3 to make their game, developers Ready At Dawn have their own proprietary engine, RAD Engine 4.0, for The Order. They also chose to go with a 2.4:1 aspect ratio to present the game in instead of the standard 16:9. The result is letterboxes at the top and bottom of the screen like when you watch movies on your 16:9 ratio HD TV.
The idea is to give the game a “cinematic” quality. I use that in quotes because cinematic as an adjective to describe games is appropriate for games that are presented in a style like a movie. A game like Until Dawn is one that I would consider to be more cinematic because it’s presented like a movie but I will discuss that in its review at a later date. While there are a lot of cinematics (noun) in The Order: 1886, most of the game is presented in an over-the-shoulder camera perspective which isn’t very cinematic (adjective).
So whether it’s because of the engine, the hardware or the lower resolution (by going 2.40:1, the game runs at 1920×800 so about 25% fewer pixels need to be rendered allowing more detail to be shown), the game is packed with detail and looks absolutely gorgeous as a result. Faces look great. Textures and fabrics are amazing. Particle and lighting effects are near movie quality. The most amazing part was that the game maintained a steady 30 FPS regardless of what was on-screen except for the credits. Literally the only thing that could defeat this game was slowly scrolling text. This is the best looking game on consoles right now.
The audio is also a highlight. Jason Graves and Austin Wintory are called on to score the game and do the high-quality job that we’ve come to expect. Have they done better individually? I would say yes but the music is as good as it needed to be for this game. The rest of the sound effects were also very well done. Every weapon has a unique sound that complements the visuals and damage from shooting it. Voice acting does let the game down slightly. The voice actors were generally average, in my opinion, though I did enjoy some of the voice actors chewing the scenery. It fit with the over-the-top visuals and world.
The rest of the game, however, is about as generic and uninspired a game as I’ve ever played. It seems almost sad that I can piece together where the developers borrowed elements of the story and gameplay mechanics from more popular games and movies.
The titular Order is the continuation of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table which is now tasked with protecting humanity from the half-breeds also known as Lycans in canon or werewolves elsewhere in pop culture. You play as Sir Galahad, also known as Grayson because all Knights of The Order have a given name and assume the name of an original Knight of the Round Table upon admission to The Order which only serves to confuse you to the identities of characters you never care about.
According to the game’s lore, the Lycans have waged a generations long war with The Order but only recently has the tide turned in favour of humanity. I find that surprising since a game about an order dedicated to fighting werewolves featured maybe eight of them, two of which were in identical boss battles. The boss battles were your typical QTE boss fights while the regular Lycan fights saw them charge you in a straight line which makes for easy shooting and subsequent dodging when the prompt comes up.
Instead of fighting the Lycans, Sir Galahad and company’s pursuit of Lycans brings them into contact with a human-led rebellion. So rather than fight werewolves, you spend almost the entire game fighting humans. While all the promotional material I saw suggested that this would be a supernatural shooter, it turns out that this is not the case. The game is mostly shooting wave after wave of human enemies.
One of the worst decisions that this game made was using a scene that was about two-thirds of the way through the story as its opening scene. By doing so, they give away the plot of game in the first five minutes. Before the introduction of the rebel forces, I thought that Galahad would be turned into a werewolf and that would cause the opening scene where The Order hunts one of their own down. Of course, that was also when I thought this would be a supernatural game rather than a dime a dozen triple-A title.
Instead, the game treats the rebellion as the focus and the story goes the way that I would estimate nine out of every ten Hollywood rebellion stories go. The second the rebellion was introduced, I was able to write most of Galahad’s story in my head quite quickly after that. Since the rebellion is the way the writers went with the story, The Order effectively jettisons all the supernatural intrigue out of the game. At one point, vampires are introduced to the game which gave me a little hope but it was for naught. There is no combat with vampires and the most interaction you have with them is finding them hibernating in boxes. The result is that their inclusion accomplishes nothing that could have otherwise been done by substituting Lycans. In fact, I think that would have been better for the story to only focus on one supernatural species and leave vampires for the inevitable sequel.
And in the end, the game didn’t resolve anything in the story. Only the final boss’s part in The Order is resolved in the end and that’s because you kill him. There were so many more appropriate options for a final boss than him in the game that the fact that he was the final boss was anti-climactic.
The ending is clearly baiting us for a sequel that will finish the story but there was nothing compelling in the story that makes me want to come back. The plot was predictable. The characters were boring. The villains were poorly defined. There was a romance subplot that the writers tried to naturally work in as a fact of life but did nothing with when it mattered in the story so it could be resolved in the sequel. At least they put effort into the visuals.
I suppose there was a game you were trying to play here too. The game mechanics are so very, very familiar to gamers. The game is a cover-based third-person shooter with some platforming mechanics and quick-time events thrown in for good measure.
The platforming and movement feels like The Last of Us. The shooting is borrowed from Uncharted, including the cover mechanics, two weapon slots, and near identical grenade warnings. The QTEs are borrowed from far too games and often catch you unaware coming out of the cutscenes. You even have the famous historical figure as an ally borrowed from Assassin’s Creed 2. There, it was Leonardo da Vinci. Here, it’s Nicola Tesla whose presence is used to explain how The Order has access to all of the hyper-advanced (for the period) weapons and gadgets.
Unfortunately for Ready at Dawn, while they’ve picked some popular or well-received mechanics to build this game around, there’s no soul to any of it. The Order feels like it was designed by a committee whose task was to build a game around what was popular with critics and customers alike. If you look at the top games of 2015, how many of them look like they were designed by a focus group? This one screams focus grouped to death and suffers for it.
That’s not to say that the devs didn’t put their own little spin on things. While most of the guns felt a dime a dozen, there are two or three unique guns including a lightning gun and one that shoots an incendiary cloud. The field-of-view is pretty tight to your character so your vision is nearly zero in cover. I absolutely hated shooting for this reason but it set the game apart from other third-person shooters so I’ll give them credit for a unique take on a mechanic in this game.
Sadly, even the cherry-picked mechanics didn’t work perfectly. Cover didn’t always seem to protect you. It was also incredibly easy to walk out of cover when cover worked the exact same way it does in most third-person shooters. You could walk out the end or behind rather than lean or move slowly just based on the camera angle being tilted the wrong way. For some reason, the only challenging enemies were shotgunners with overpowered weapons and near-impenetrable armor. The sprint button (L3) was largely unresponsive. I don’t think your allies will record a single kill during the whole game. There were a few forced stealth sections with instant fail states and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was the range and width of vision was for the guards to stealth kill. As a result, I died so many times in the two forced stealth sections that I was ready to give up the game.
In total, The Order is about eight hours long, though some have finished it in about six hours. The disappointing part of that short playtime is that so little of it is actively shooting or platforming. Most of the game is spent watching cutscenes or walking (not platforming) or picking up interactive objects in the world that are of no consequence. Even though eight hours isn’t exceptionally short for a modern triple-A shooter, this game is padded out to that length and certainly felt it. I was ready for it to end after about four hours.
There’s no replayability to The Order either. Without decisions, it’s the same experience every time. It sure looked like it was going to be a co-op shooter in early stages but that’s not the case. In fact, there’s no multiplayer at all which is amazing considering the unique weapons seem like they’d be great for multiplayer. Hell, with the Lycans, it seems like there was an opening for asymmetric multiplayer but that was passed on too. Ready at Dawn spent five years developing this game, didn’t get it out until 16 months after the PS4 launched and it still feels like it was rushed out the door.
I’m not sure what the worst part of The Order: 1886 is. The fact that it is so soulless and uninspired in its design is a massive strike against it. The utterly generic story and gameplay doesn’t help. The fact that it feels like a chore to play through at such a short length is the third strike but that implies that there weren’t dozens of strikes against it before that.
There are some people who make recommendations like buy or rent or wait for a sale or avoid altogether. I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone unless you wanted to show off the graphical potential of the PS4. And even if you do want to buy it, I’d still recommend waiting for a sale and it’s only $20 new right now. At $10, it’s just about perfectly priced. To think there were people who spend $60 on this.
The Order: 1886 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is an exclusive title as of writing. Your impressions of the game may differ.