By Corey Dirrig
There is no denying that The Order: 1886 is a visual masterpiece. The production value is unlike anything I’ve ever visually experienced in a video game. This steampunk-inspired version of Victorian-era London is set in 1886, and King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table’s legacy still exists. Now called The Order, where the Knights uphold the law as well as protect the secrets of history, Sir Galahad, leads The Order up against two threats: The rebellion fighting against the British crown and the East India Company (the economic superpower that employ’s a private military to protect their interests), and the Half-Breeds, the string of humans that evolved into werewolves hundreds of years before the game takes place. Though it’s story is compelling and well-written, The Order: 1886 feels like a collection of ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out mixed with a pretty straight-to-the-point third-person shooter littered with too many Quick Time Events and unbalanced pacing, all wrapped inside an undeniably beautiful world.
| The Order: 1886 – Conspiracy Trailer |
It is instantly apparent that Ready at Dawn wanted to create an uncompromising cinematic experience, going so far as to present the entire game in a letterboxed format. As much as I appreciated their vision, the removal of necessary screen real-estate required in a third-person shooter made the action a little hard to follow at times. I found it frustrating estimating my vertical shooting so much that I started to avoid shooting from cover, which is not what I want in a cover-based shooter. If the player is avoiding the very premise that coined the name of the genre it fits in, there’s a problem.
The Order, if nothing else, is one of the most beautiful games ever created. The richly detailed environments and top-notch animation make this take on London immersive and atmospheric. The voice acting and motion-capture of the characters are also some of the best I’ve ever experienced, short of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. From the broken bricks of the city, to the flowing of the Knights’ coats and hair, to the items the game gives you (and sometimes forces you) to examine, the world Ready at Dawn has created is ridiculously real. Whether listening to stories about the new serial killer, Jack the Ripper, or roping down from a Zeplin, I always felt immersed. One of the most impressive things, however, was the fact that load times rarely occur. Transitioning between action and cut-scene is visually indistinguishable and completely seamless, so much so, in fact, that I found myself standing around before I realized I was playing.
There is quite an impressive arsenal the Knights have at their disposal, ranging from an array of pistols and rifles to the advanced lightning-arc gun and the thermite rifle, which dusts enemies and then ignites said dust to burn enemies where they stand. Taking down enemies with a Victorian-era rocket launcher was such a blast (yes, pun intended, I couldn’t help myself). The seemingly more advanced weapons were invented by real-life inventor Nikola Tesla, who was reimagined in this version of history and is part of The Order. Though Tesla’s science-inspired arsenal was fun to use, they weren’t as readily available as the “normal” weapons, making them feel that much more generic. I felt nearly unstoppable in most battles, not because of the weapons, but because of the substance called “Blackwater,” a liquid used to heal and prolong the lives of humans to almost immortal lengths. The only times I really felt I might die were during some of the quick time events (some of which were poorly prompted) and in the ridiculously unforgiving stealth sequence towards the end.
The final build didn’t feature the Half-Breeds as much as I anticipated. When I did actually fight them, it was the most fun I had with the game. Their movements and attack patterns were way less predictable and the hit-then-retreat style was scary at times. Their melee attacks had me running away more often than chasing them as I did with traditional human enemies. Events in which I was actually shooting the Half-Breeds didn’t happen often enough, as a lot of the encounters involve a mix of action and quick time events.
The bad pacing throughout the game was particularly noticeable, as I found myself walking throughout long stretches of the game with no action, thrown into a cutscene, followed by rooms where, to unlock the next area, I had to inspect a certain amount of items that I feel shouldn’t have been mandatory to progress. There were nice little trinkets and easter eggs, such as the Sackboy doll or the impressively detailed Titanic prototype model, but to inspect these items to progress to the next area through was asinine. These little problems on their own wouldn’t have hindered my experience, but as you add more and more on, it starts to become noticeable.
My overall experience with The Order: 1886 was different than I expected in good ways and in bad. I really enjoyed the story and characters for their more cinematic approach. The world was incredibly atmospheric and stunningly built. There is no better looking game right now on any console, in my opinion. It is a game that deserves to be played, even if the gameplay itself is subpar. The unique perspective of the narrative and the quality of the visuals alone warrant a playthrough. My playthrough of the campaign took me roughly eight hours, which was definitely long enough if the gameplay elements had lined up. The game also noticeably is missing a multiplayer component in both co-op and competitive respects, which really hurts chances of players going back for seconds. I feel Ready at Dawn has a solid foundation in place for a future franchise. If they can just flesh out the pacing and parts of the gameplay, the sequel could be a special game.