Game Review: “The Order: 1886”

There has been a lot of controversy in the week leading up to the PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886’s release about the length of its campaign following a YouTuber uploading a full play through of the game that clocked in at around five hours. News of the campaign’s length sparked a lot of discussion around the idea of entertainment value (cost of game vs hours of content) and the minimum expected playtime for AAA blockbuster games like this one. For the sake of complete transparency I want to get this out of the way: I completed the game in five and a half hours, and I didn’t rush.

“The Order: 1886” takes place in a dark, alternate history Victorian-era steampunk-esque London forty years after the Industrial Revolution (with a twist that the technological advances made stemmed from mankind’s desire to triumph in warfare). During this time of discovery and sweeping social and economic uncertainty, the social conventions imposed on people caused civil unrest and instability. In this unique version of 19th century London players take on the role of Sir Galahad, a member of an elite order of Arthurian Knights – who have been at war with Half-Breeds (lycans) for centuries – known simply as The Order.

Right from the very beginning there is no denying that The Order is staggeringly beautiful. After the brutal opening, players get to see the London cityscape for the first time – and boy is it a pretty sight. Using the custom RAD Engine 4.0, developers Ready at Dawn crafted an engine that allowed them to truly push the limits and utilise the power of the PS4, and from a visual perspective the game is flawless. Chimneys smoke in the distance, airships scatter the skyline and you can hear the commotion from the cobbled streets below. The level of detail is absolutely astounding.

It’s not only the cityscapes that get the Ready at Dawn detail injection either, as the same attention to detail has been generously applied to every inch of every environment you find yourself in. Whether it’s the dark and dingy London Hospital, the terrifyingly eerie London Underground stations or the hustle and bustle of the overcrowded and destitute Whitechapel streets – detail is poured into every nook and cranny to create some of the most realistic, superbly crafted and fully realised locations I’ve ever seen in a game.

While the environments are undoubtedly spectacular, the level design in The Order is exceptionally linear with a gameplay formula that is essentially set piece, cutscene, QTE, short action sequence, cutscene. Straying from the beaten path and exploring your surroundings is seldom rewarded, save for the odd newspaper or ledger you get to read.

Sure, there are also some instances where you can ‘examine’ a weapon or prop by rolling the right thumbstick around (similar to studying the artifacts in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor), but as there is no collectibles tracker this rarely serves any purpose other than demonstrating the high level of graphical fidelity Ready at Dawn’s engine can provide. Occasionally you will examine a weapon and will be prompted to flick a switch or cock a rifle, but for the most part it is completely irrelevant and feels detached from the actual gameplay.

The writers at Ready at Dawn – including the Emmy award-winning co-writer Kirk Ellis, famous for writing and producing the HBO mini series John Adams – did a good job of making all of the characters in The Order both interesting and dynamic and did a fantastic job of crafting the gritty universe that the player finds themselves in.

That being said, The Order’s storyline often left me wanting. This was especially true towards the end of the game and the narrative often felt inconsistent and stretched. The marketing for this game repeatedly talked about “discovering history’s darkest secret,” but when the disappointing big reveal at the end of the game comes, it’s so cliche and predictable that it makes you wonder why they bothered at all.

Combat in The Order is very slick. Every action sequence is smooth and feels like a cross between the combat from Uncharted and Gears of War. With the help of the genius inventor (and in this universe weapons expert) Nikola Tesla, The Order has a decent variety of unique weapons to play with too.

Weapons such as the high-voltage Arc Rifle that fires concentrated electrical bolts causing appendages to explode upon impact or the Thermite Rifle that fires a cloud of aluminium iron oxide into the air which can then be set alight with a flare both deal devastating damage to enemies. Intelligent enemy AI meant that each fight felt slightly different, with elite enemies becoming increasingly more powerful (and annoyingly tough).

Sir Galahad also has access to an ability called Blacksight which lets him enter a heightened state of focus, allowing him execute a number of precise attacks in quick succession (similar to the Dead Eye ability in Red Dead Redemption). Despite the ability sounding good on paper, I managed to get through the entire game using it only twice (one of these being the initial tutorial section). The fights aren’t that tough, so I really never required it and for the most part it was completely redundant. Even in the harder fights towards the end of the game I was never threatened enough to the point that I felt compelled to activate it.

There are two types of lycans and accompanying encounters in The Order: the first are the ‘regular’ animalistic lycans whose fights involve the player being in an enclosed space with limited movement and being assaulted from every angle by snarling hit and run assailants who are quite frankly a bloody pain in the arse.

The only good thing about these fights were the brilliant death animations that saw them transforming back into their human shape. Secondly there are the ‘elder’ lycans – less animalistic, much stronger and with the ability to talk – whose fights play out like a glorified QTE punch up with the player using the thumbstick to dodge incoming attacks (via prompts) and using light and heavy attacks to bring down their life bar until a cutscene takes over that leads to (you guessed it) more QTE’s.

Both kinds of encounters were not only infrequent, but also savagely disappointing. This was even more frustrating as Ready at Dawn did a fantastic job of building tension prior to these fights through incredible dynamic lighting and stellar sound design. By limiting the scope of the lycan encounters, the tension that the developers went to painstaking levels to create moments before soon fizzle out as there is no real threat to the player. Though certainly visually stunning, these fights were mostly boring, predictable and felt like a waste of what could have potentially been the best moments of the game.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I completed the campaign in just over five and a half hours. At no point during this time did I ever feel like I was rushing levels and often had to redo combat sequences due to being killed or hitting the wrong button during a QTE, so it was far from a perfect run through. After the credits rolled and I found myself back at the start menu: there was no multiplayer, no Game+, no discernible extras (other than the credits themselves), no collectibles tracker and no reason whatsoever to replay the game. For AAA full-retail titles like “The Order: 1886” that ask players to fork out $60+ for a game that features so little content, this is not just unreasonable, but frankly unacceptable.

There is absolutely no doubt that “The Order: 1886” is a beautiful game – stunning visuals, ultra-realistic environments, solid combat and cinematically gorgeous. Ready at Dawn meticulously crafted one of the most visually spectacular games the PS4 has ever seen, but a complete lack of replayability and terrible value for money causes this game to fall very short of the mark. When the chips are down, The Order is good, but unfortunately it’s not sixty-dollars-for-five-hours-of-content-good.

Review reprinted courtesy of NinjaSpag.com