The Order 1886 (REVIEW)

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

Highly anticipated, Ready at Dawn’s Playstation exclusive The Order 1886 takes players into a fantastical alternate-universe version of 19th century Victorian London. Here, the Knights of the Round Table are still ever present… taking the fabled names of Arthurian court and assigning them as code-names for members of the Order. You control Grayson, operating under the code name Galahad, a decorated member of the Order smack dab in the middle of a rebellion set to shake up the status quo of the world as they know it.

The story opens in media res with Galahad escaping prison, jumping to what seemed like his death. When we return, Galahad is still a knight, tackling a violent rebellion while investigating Jack the Ripper’s killing spree and dealing with increased activity from this world’s Lycan (Werewolves for the uninitiated) populace.

Neo-Victorian London... beautifully realized

Neo-Victorian London... beautifully realized

The Order 1886 leaves me conflicted at best, I feel like Ready at Dawn was primed to craft an engaging tale while staying true to their visual aesthetic. On one hand, the game looks gorgeous! I found myself soaking in the world around me more often than I have in other games. Cutscenes and live gameplay were practically indistinguishable from each other. The whole experience felt like a movie. The developers opted for a forced letterbox format, instead of occupying the entire screen. This was initially jarring, but after getting used to it I didn’t mind it as much as I did during early chapters. What left me wanting was how light interactivity felt, as a gamer I’m used to far more interactivity with my environment than what was present. Some parts of the game force the player into a slow moving “investigation” mode while other parts task the player with gunning down a seemingly endless onslaught of enemies. This uneven pacing of gameplay felt like a drag and made it seem like I was playing two very different games.

Borrowing elements from other games, it never seemed to execute these mechanics well, like a jack-of-all but master-of-none sort of situation. Stealth sequences interrupted the pacing of the game in between firefights, and the forced “fail-state” of these stealth engagements made for many a frustrating respawn. Gunplay is mediocre, other popular game series like Uncharted and Gears of War wonderfully execute combat, making gunning down baddies an absolute delight. The absence of a traditional melee attack make combat feel uneven and at times downright unforgiving. The few and far between Lycan encounters ended up feeling like the most memorable combat moments, it’s a shame there wasn’t more of it.

things that go bump in the night

things that go bump in the night

Despite the mediocre gunplay, the highlight of combat was the game’s innovative armaments. Nicola Tesla (yes THAT Nicola Tesla) acts as the Order’s Q, developing creative weaponry that feels years ahead of the generation’s time. Rifles that spit lightning or paint the battlefield with a combustable substance you can ignite on will make up the more creative weaponry, of course you’ll find your standard auto rifles and smaller side-arms but when it comes to death dealing arms, your armory is rife with impressive boomsticks.

Keeping with the cinematic aesthetic, the core game utilizes a minimalistic HUD. Information about which weapon is currently equipped sits at the lower right side while quick time button prompts and weapon/ammo pickups are clear yet don’t obstruct the action. My one complaint was the lack of a map, while level design was extremely linear and I never really found myself lost through much of the campaign, a small battlefield map would have been helpful.

intrigue... monsters... guns that shoot lightning

intrigue... monsters... guns that shoot lightning

Quick time events felt overused throughout much of this game, even some of the most high profile boss battles ended up just a series of dodge/attack QTE sequences. Controlling Galahad wasn’t the most intuitive, from running to jumping across rooftops, I had a hard time just positioning my character. While you can hang from ledges and climb various objects in the world, unless you press X while tilting the left analog stick forward, you couldn’t vault yourself up, a design choice that still puzzles me, I feel that if you are already hanging from a ledge you should just have to tilt your analog stick forward to get up… but maybe that’s just me.

QTE boss battles more exciting than gunplay

QTE boss battles more exciting than gunplay

Storywise, I’d have to say that though brief and formulaic at times, I did enjoy the core narrative. Though pacing was a bit wonk, Ready at Dawn did succeed at crafting a truly cinematic experience. Voice acting was spot on and the inclusion of fictionalized versions of historical figures along side creatures of myth made for an engaging romp though this Neo-Victorian setting. I feel as a reviewer I can’t ignore the game’s brevity, some outlets have reported that the core game clocks in at just around four to five hours, and while I preferred to see for myself, I can say that even with dying multiple times, I still clocked in at between five and six hours of gameplay. The ending left much to be desired, the formulaic “twist” left me unimpressed and I found myself straddled with more questions than answers. This is one of those stories where you “figure out” the big twist way before it was even presented, I won’t spoil it here but if you played it I’m sure you felt the same.

VERDICT:

Ready at Dawn was unflinching with their vision, something I can respect. Though I appreciate what they did with the video game medium, mediocre gameplay and disjointed pacing marred what could have otherwise been a masterpiece. I feel that Ready at Dawn is primed to build a franchise out of The Order 1886, and while I wasn’t impressed with this first outing I feel confident in the franchise’s outlook as a whole. Though the narrative was brief, I was let down more by the gameplay/pacing issues than by how short the campaign was. The lack of any extras or incentive to play the game again make for weak replayability. If you’ve got an extra $60 sitting around, feel free to pick it up… but my recommendation is to make it a weekend rental or wait for a price drop.

PROS:

+ Gorgeous visuals
+ All the guns!

CONS:

- Short campaign
- Uneven gameplay and pacing
- Not enough Lycan battles

SCORE BREAKDOWN:

Story 3/5: Though brief, I did enjoy the five-some-odd hours I spent with the game. Narrative was a bit uneven at times, but at least I was never bored.

Graphics 5/5: Hands down one of the prettiest looking games this generation. Ready at Dawn pushes the PS4 to its absolute limit. Character models and environments are wonderfully realized.

Audio 4/5: Atmospheric soundtrack with spot on voice acting make for an aural treat.

Level design 2.5/5: Incredibly linear, couple that with frustrating placement of things you can hide behind make for a mediocre level design.

Polish 3.5/5: No game breaking bugs, but perhaps they should have QA’d some of the game’s frustrating gameplay elements more.

Controls 2.5/5: The lack of a traditional melee attack and questionable traversal elements make for frustrating gameplay. The mediocre combat doesn’t add much to the equation either.

Gameplay 3/5: Uneven pacing and those mind numbingly frustrating stealth sequences detract from some of the more positive gameplay elements.

Extras 1/5: A weak replayability with zero reason to jump back in again make for a brief romp, and that’s not just the story.

TL;DR: Worth a weekend rental… but I wouldn’t suggest paying full price.