The Order: 1886 is Sony’s first big new IP introduced for 2015. It’s also Sony’s first serious disappointment of 2015. Oh dear.
The Order: 1886 is an incredible showcase of the PS4 technology. It’s a gorgeous and supremely well-produced exclusive that does a wonderful job of flexing the console’s technical muscle, even outclassing a good chunk of top-tier PC games in terms of how it looks and performs! It also however feels like a long-delayed PS4 launch title, with a heavily compromised gameplay vision, being aptly compared by many to the Xbox One’s own all-graphics/limited gameplay launch title, Ryse: Son of Rome.
It seems like The Order: 1886 was initially planned by Sony to be a competing PlayStation IP for Microsoft’s Gears of War games on Xbox platforms, between the highly cinematic presentation, dark, grungy world, four spotlighted protagonists, and weighty, third-person cover-based shooting against monstrous foes. It truly is an amazing concept, and its steampunk style makes for a wonderful new twist on the formula pioneered by Gears of War, or so it could have.
Instead, after a painstaking five years in development, The Order: 1886 merely ends up being a 6-8 hour long, single-player-only third person cover-based shooter that unfolds purely in a linear fashion, and almost exclusively has you fighting ordinary human foes. It’s like main developer, Ready at Dawn poured all of their funding into the game’s graphics and audio technology, inevitably ran out of funding quickly afterward, and then had to make gameplay that was as functional and bland as possible in a rather short game with no extra features or replay value, to avoid stretching the budget any further.
The Order: 1886 is truly awe-inspiring to marvel at, and can be solid for shooter fans who don’t expect too much, but it’s definitely not a game to be bought for full retail price. Wait for a hefty price drop before you even consider this beautiful, but blatantly compromised PS4 experience.
I can’t stress enough how unbelievably breathtaking The Order: 1886 looks. It’s far and away the PS4’s most gorgeous game to date. Everything from the environmental details to the character models to the weapon effects, has all been perfectly realized, and really creates the feeling that you are playing an interactive steampunk gothic action movie! This game is easily the most visually ambitious PS4 exclusive since launch title, Knack.
The seamless transition between cutscenes and gameplay, with barely any load times to speak of, is an incredible testament to the PS4’s performance! All of the cutscenes are rendered in-engine, and they just look incredible! Character animations are eerily lifelike, as are their facial features and expressions. Likewise, environments don’t have a single fuzzy or unpolished texture, filled with all sorts of neat environmental touches that really make them come alive. The lighting and shading is especially impressive, being perfectly true to real life! Some of the little touches with the physics are also unprecedented for console games, like real-time reactions to stone, fabric and puddles as your character walks along them, or rain streaming with pitch-perfect precision down windows and lamps. It needs to be seen to be believed!
The Order: 1886’s framerate is locked at 30fps, which may disappoint some, but it does keep performance consistent. There’s no slowdown or animation hiccups to speak of, and it keeps the action unfolding at a steady pace during heated firefights. The outstanding graphics help to compensate to keep everything feeling lifelike as well, even without a full 60fps clip. It’s an acceptable sacrifice to make a game look this excellent, and yet also run this stably.
The only knock against the otherwise stellar visuals is two annoying black bars that Ready at Dawn consistently sticks at the top and bottom of the screen, trying too hard to replicate the cinematic feel. They become distracting, and at worst, they give even some of the game’s best scenes a bit of a compressed look, as if the full awesome splendour of the graphics can’t be adequately contained to your television.
That’s certainly not a dealbreaker though, especially since the rest of the extraordinary visual efforts will nonetheless delight players. It’s just too bad that the gameplay couldn’t keep pace with the graphics.
Similar to the graphics, the audio work in The Order: 1886 is once again, outstanding!
The game boasts an incredible Hollywood-quality orchestral soundtrack, full of haunting, atmospheric melancholy and foreboding string numbers. It makes the game’s atmosphere appear to fill the room, bringing you into the world’s sense of lonely, uncertain duty on the part of the titular Order. Not only that, but the more action-packed moments are also complemented by faster tempo, yet not to the point where it overrides said atmosphere. It’s excellent musical composition that couldn’t possibly have been better realized!
Likewise, the sound effects in the game are fantastic. Weapons are very powerful and weighty, blasting with ear-popping might upon every shot, just as the destruction and chaos that unfold from every firefight creates a heart-pounding level of intensity. Likewise, any environmental feature, from creaking doors to cold stone floors, responds with pitch-perfect authenticity, making the game’s world feel real and alive as you explore it, despite its linear confines of progression. Lastly, the brutal slicing of Lycan flesh is sickeningly satisfying, making the takedowns of these vicious beasts feel both violent and gripping.
This isn’t even factoring in the game’s voice acting as well, which is absolutely sublime. The characters’ limited personalities are the one thing holding back the voice actors, who nonetheless do an amazing job of bringing their characters to life. Emotional conviction is perfectly on point, even with the game’s thin script, and the supporting cast especially is great fun to interact with, showing shades of well-done character arcs that just aren’t adequately expanded upon in such an unfortunately constrained game.
It’s awesome to see that the audio is just as polished and ambitious as the visuals in The Order: 1886. There’s no denying that this is a very, very well-produced game for the PS4! Again though, it’s really heartbreaking that the gameplay couldn’t keep pace with the superb production values.
Here is where we run into problems with The Order: 1886. The gameplay is very limited and unsatisfying. It’s not bad gameplay, mind you. It’s perfectly functional as a cover-based third-person shooter, but there is no flair or novelty to the gameplay whatsoever.
Players take control of Galahad, a member of the titular Order, who moves from one pre-determined set piece to the next in a battle against werewolf half-breeds called Lycans… Or rebels… Or, something. The game doesn’t really do a perfect job of explaining the exact purpose that the Order serves, especially when they appear to be in service to the Queen of England, only to later claim that they don’t serve the Queen of England. Huh? Well, whatever. Primarily, they’re supposed to deal with threats that they don’t want getting out to the public of good old Victorian-era London.
This basically amounts to shooting a lot of bad guys, then moving somewhere else, then doing it again. The progression is no different than most other linear set piece-focused shooters that have spawned from the likes of Gears of War or Call of Duty. Occasionally, the game will throw something else into the mix, such as a simple hacking minigame where you try to hold the analog sticks at the right time, or a forced stealth section that has annoying instant failure states if you’re spotted, but mostly, you’re either moving between set pieces to shoot more enemies, or watching cutscenes. In fact, about two hours of this short game are purely spent watching cutscenes. Some entire chapters of the storyline, in fact, are just cutscenes!
Now, cutscenes are well and good in games, especially games with a heavy focus on story, like The Order: 1886 attempts. But, there’s too much emphasis placed on being cinematic and pretty in this game, as opposed to actually playing it.
Like I said, that’s not to say that the basic shooting elements are broken. They’re not. Taking cover works. Aiming and firing works. It all handles nicely on the PS4’s controller too. The weapons, as I said, are weighty and satisfying to shoot. There’s even some particularly cool ‘science weapons’ that allow you to do things like zap through an enemy by charging and releasing a bolt of arc lightning, or shooting thermite and igniting it with a flare to incinerate enemies. It’s just too bad that the game didn’t have more of them (in fact, those are the only two), since most of the time, you’re stuck with the same pistols, rifles, shotguns and machine guns, even in the steampunk setting.
This leads to firefights against the same old human foes, that quickly begin to repeat themselves. Making matters worse is the fact that the A.I. isn’t very good on either side. Your teammates are useless when it comes to taking down foes and defending you, forcing you to do most of the work yourself. Thankfully, they can’t die though, and you do have a chance to self-revive with Blackwater if you are incapacitated, by pressing Triangle, and then mashing X to get up as fast as possible, but if you go down again, you’re kicked back to the previous checkpoint.
With that said, enemies are no more satisfying to work with than your allies. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, enemies don’t always make good use of cover, and they tend to get stuck in programming loops that either have them hiding indefinitely, or simply standing around, waiting for you to pick them off, constantly shooting in the same direction, even after you’ve moved. Even then, your A.I. teammates don’t take care of them for you when they probably should easily be able to. It leads to too many firefights feeling stilted and unremarkable, with the worst threats being armoured shotgunners who just run right up to you and try to blow you away. As long as you stun them by pressing R1 with your standard issue rifle, or have a shotgun yourself though, even these guys aren’t much of a bother.
The closest thing that the game offers to more noteworthy combat is during the handful of battles against Lycans. This was a huge part of the marketing for The Order: 1886, deceptively trying to hide the fact that you’d spend most of the game fighting normal human enemies. Unfortunately, even these rare encounters are duds. You only encounter Lycans at a few set points in the game, and their A.I. is even worse than the normal human foes! Lycans will just charge headlong at you, which you can easily avoid by just tapping X at the right time to roll out of the way, then shoot at them until they go down, after they stupidly run back in the other direction, and just repeat this easily exploitable pattern. After you shoot them enough for them to go down, you approach them and press Triangle to stab them to death. Done. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, these things are a joke!
On this note, the game also sports a grand total of two boss fights against so-called ‘Elder Lycans’, which basically amounts to occasionally flicking the right analog stick to dodge an attack, then pressing L2 or R2 to do either a quick or powerful knife stab, respectively. Neither tactic makes a difference though, since you just have to keep dodging and attacking with whatever, until a quick-time event takes over. It’s pretty unsatisfying.
Oh, and as with almost any heavily cinematic game, quick-time events are very commonplace in The Order: 1886. Since gameplay seamlessly transitions between cutscenes and interactive action, you constantly have to pay attention to random button prompts that may pop up, potentially forcing you to annoyingly repeat the scene if you don’t respond to them fast enough. Players with a distaste for these kinds of random QTE segments are going to get very annoyed with The Order: 1886, very quickly.
Frankly, even the game’s trophies feel pretty lazy, with barely any of them to earn, and the game’s Platinum Trophy standing as one of the easiest Platinum Trophies to earn in the entire PS4 library, especially among the retail offerings! Trophy hunters may be drawn to the game on that basis, but even then, they should wait for a price drop, since there’s very little sense of reward to amassing the trophies in The Order: 1886, even with no Bronze Trophies in the game at all, and the roster only consisting of Silver Trophies and Gold Trophies, beyond the Platinum Trophy.
Of course, getting the Platinum Trophy is also contingent on tracking down several varieties of collectibles, which aren’t tracked in the game at all, beyond Phonographic Cylinders that give you audio clips that you can listen to from the Pause Menu. Players must also find newspapers, documents, photographs, and objects that Galahad can inspect, which all serve as collectibles in the game. While some do help to flesh out the story a little bit, most of them are useless, and don’t present anything of note to look at. Even most of the Phonographic Cylinders don’t contain useful information, with tracking everything down amounting to pointless busy work, only useful for completionists who are dead set on earning all of the trophies in the game. For anyone else, the collectibles in The Order: 1886 are a complete waste of time!
The gameplay in The Order: 1886 essentially feels like it’s going down a checklist of modern triple-A shooter game cliches, at least outside of co-op and multiplayer that the game doesn’t offer at all, and just stitching them all in to string together a paltry and disappointing 6-8 hour length. You could extend that by an hour or two by amassing collectibles, but again, there’s no reason to do so, unless you really want all of the (easy) trophies. There is just not nearly enough content here to justify full retail price, especially considering the non-existent replay value, and the fact that the game is packed with cutscenes, none of which can be skipped, even on subsequent playthroughs! The gameplay here may not be bad, but it is bland and shallow, and it does stink of feeling like a PS4 launch title, despite the fact that it’s launching in 2015, over a year after the PS4 came to market.
The Order: 1886 has a superb narrative foundation for a new PlayStation game series. The game is about The Order, a secret organization that found the Holy Grail, and uses its life-extending properties, the Blackwater, to thrive and live across the centuries, since the time of King Arthur. The Order is dedicated to fighting evil (even if that evil is a bit poorly-defined by the game), including a rise of Lycan threats that they try to keep quiet from the public of Victorian-era London, England. That sounds like an amazing backdrop for a video game, especially for fans of steampunk media!
Unfortunately, The Order: 1886 drops the ball here too. Despite the excellent voice acting, the characters aren’t given enough of a personality or backstory to adequately care about. Even lead character, Galahad feels like a brick, and one that’s simply being led around by the thin script. Moreover, the motivations of The Order are not well-explained. Yes, they are an organization that fights occult creatures that they don’t want going public, and that idea is awesome, but then, why do they bother fighting rebels? Isn’t that the cops’ job? How do the rebels and Lycans tie together? Without spoiling anything, they don’t, really. It feels like the game’s original story idea had to be compromised, and turned into a grey, sludgy mess, since the game clearly can’t realize the incredible narrative vision that it has in its head.
Most frustrating of all however is that the bland, cliched and thoroughly unsatisfying storyline of The Order: 1886 ends abruptly, with no resolution whatsoever, and worse still, it drops an infuriating degree of sequel bait in place of a real ending. That’s probably the worst part of what’s already a testament to a great video game story idea, suffering from poor, compromised execution.
The idea behind The Order: 1886 is still amazing, and it still deserves to go on in a sequel, hopefully a far better-realized sequel. For now though, the game feels like a prologue to a truly great series. It doesn’t stand on its own, and it completely fails to capitalize on its great narrative ideas. In the end, the game’s story is all promise, and no delivery.
The Order: 1886 is an enormous disappointment. It’s not truly a bad game, but it is a disappointment. Its visuals and audio are excellent, but everything else is bland to sub-par. Frankly, it feels like half a game, and unfolds like a PS4 tech demo. The technical half may be sublime, but the rest of it is clearly half-baked and poorly-realized, especially at the rate that it rapidly runs out of content. As I’ve stressed already, wait for a price drop to at least $25-$30, before you even consider adding The Order: 1886 to your PS4 library. Naturally, this is not a game that merits a purchase of the console for either.
This game, like Ryse: Son of Rome on the Xbox One’s end, is a perfect cautionary tale when it comes to putting graphics over gameplay, a very bad habit that gamers and publishers alike have developed in recent years. Ultimately, games are not movies, and you can’t purely rely on visuals alone to create a compelling experience. Without a strong gameplay foundation, the other polish just amounts to short-sighted window dressing that will ultimately fail to satisfy players.
But, like I said, as an idea for a PlayStation franchise, The Order: 1886 remains very sound. Its first effort may have been a let-down, but it could become something truly special, if it’s allowed to effectively realize a sequel. If and when that time comes, I hope that this promising IP finds a better balance between technology and gameplay.
- Mind-blowing graphics
- Soundtrack and voice acting are excellent
- Brilliant concept for a game franchise
- Bland, repetitive shooter gameplay
- Dopey, ineffectual A.I.
- Dull storyline that ends in frustrating sequel bait