Shrouded in controversy, The Order: 1886 has finally released. Much has been said about the length and substance of the game, but it’s only on playing something that you really know whether you’re happy with the experience you’re presented with. It is possible that this game will be like Marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it; but it’s more likely it will be panned for what it fails to deliver, and that would be entirely fair.
Let’s cut to the chase, The Order: 1886 is not long. It’ll take about 6 – 8 hours to get through the tale of Sir Galahad of the Knights of the Round Table (the titular The Order) on normal difficulty; whilst collecting everything and farming the requisite areas to get the platinum trophy. That’s longer than most Call of Duty campaigns, but they at least have the multiplayer side to back them up. The Order has nothing. No new game plus, no challenge modes, no social interaction. NOTHING. That is the worst crime this game commits – providing sweet F.A. for the gamer to do, yet expects you to be happy at paying out £50/$60 on launch. That’s not acceptable from any developer or publisher, and it will cost them in the short term.
With the big negative point out of the way, what are you getting when you play this? A damn fine looking game with a reasonable story, decent third person action, good voice acting, and the best production values we’re likely to see at this time. Ready At Dawn have always produced great visuals in their games, managing to extract the best out of the hardware they’re developing for. With The Order they’ve gone a step beyond anything we’ve seen before with a steampunk vision of Victorian London being brought to life in style. The lighting, the modelling, the environments, and the weather are all fantastic and draw you into the time and place.
When outdoors things are bright and clean in the posh areas, run down and dirty in the poorer sections. The buildings have interiors even if you can’t enter them, so you get depth and detail just running past a window. Moving indoors things get gloomy, and with the main light source being gas lamps, everything is seen through a murky haze. It’s staggering to behold most of the time. It’s such a shame that they decided that the cinematic bars have to be in place all the time. You can understand the reasoning behind it, and can’t argue that it doesn’t lend an extra level of cinematic immersion into proceedings, but it’s just not right to lose a third of your screen real estate to nothing. The vast majority of players will have standard widescreen displays, why limit their visibility?
In terms of the gameplay, it’s not bad at all. Whilst it’s not particularly inspired and has too many cutscenes in the early stages that breakup the flow; solid movement and shooting mean you have a good time when you’re let off the leash. The two things that aim to distinguish it from other cover based shooters are the Blackwater regeneration and Blacklight vision. The first is an almost pointless mechanic, supposedly giving you a chance to recover when you’re near death. It just takes too long to kick in and the enemy that has put you in this popping your clogs state is more often than not going to finish the job. The second is a slow motion auto-targeting system that takes most of the control out of your hands and you can get through the game without triggering it after the tutorial section. Both are USPs that serve no real purpose.
When you get into firefights it’s all about dealing with increasing numbers of enemies with whatever you’ve got to hand, and you’ll be given a decent selection of weapons to tackle them with. The ones specific to The Order of Knights are the most fun, and with plenty of ammo you can let rip. The AI isn’t overly clever, with the main tactic being pinning you down then swarming your position, and it’s surprisingly effective when grenadiers are set on you. It also means it can be frustrating when they’re pinpoint accurate. There are a few forced stealth sections too – nice ideas that link with the environments, but are clunky and not great examples of being sneaky. Stealth takedowns are QTE-lite button presses and missing it means instant death. There’s no option to fight your way out or recover the situation.
For the story, it also falls under the “not bad” banner. Given the number of times we’ve visited the time period in other media forms, it does feel a little familiar, and even overused tropes like King Arthur, Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes get pulled in. Werewolves in London are the main hook, but are so underused that you begin to wonder what The Order’s problem with them actually is, it seems like they’ve nearly wiped them out. You’ll see the ending coming from about the halfway point too, but at least it’s built nicely and delivered competently by the cast and motion capture team. There’s something to be said for the way Sir Galahad is played though, I like him as a character and he doesn’t get cliched or repetitive. There are a couple of things not tied up by the end that scream new IP, as does the post credits sequence, so it’s a safe bet we’ll get more if it sells well enough.
There are numerous other niggles that grate too – the only audio out option is stereo even if the PS4 does decode it to your format of choice; the pre-order DLC doesn’t seem to impact anything except the character costume; cutscenes aren’t skippable when replaying; collectibles can’t be tracked; the additional features of the DualShock 4 are not implemented beyond using the touchpad to switch the over the shoulder view. It all adds up to feeling like a half finished game, and that seems like an odd thing to say given how it looks and feels, but it really is like the last act is missing. Maybe development ran far too long and they’ve chopped loads out to ship on time? Or maybe too much of the budget was spent rendering penises? There are more in there than I’ve seen in any other mainstream game.
If you’re considering buying it now, take my advice and don’t. The Order: 1886 is not worth the money you’ll fork out – it’s all style and no substance. I’ve finished and platinum’d faster than I have with any other game I can remember, and I took it for trade in before even putting fingers to keyboard for this review. I don’t hate it, I like a lot of things in it, I just can’t recommend it to anyone until it drops to at least £25/$30. Several years ago Heavenly Sword was criticised for its length, then Ryse 18 months back, then Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes last March, so the value for money debate is nothing new. However, this latest instance pushes things too far and makes me nervous about the future of triple A game development for the first time.
The Order: 1886 is available now on PlayStation 4 at the usual outlets, and (for a change) is a lower price on PSN as it is in shops.