Developer: Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: February 20th, 2015
Available On: PlayStation 4
The Order: 1886 has a lot riding on it. As Sony’s first big triple-A exclusive for the PlayStation 4 in 2015, and the first in a while, it’s under some pressure to leave a lasting impression on players. Well The Order: 1886 did indeed leave a lasting impression, just not the one I think the developers were aiming for.
The Order: 1886 puts you in the middle of a three-way war between the titular Order, a group of rebel “freedom fighters”, and “half-breeds” that consist of werewolves and vampires. You play as Sir Galahad, a knight for the Order who is tasked with taking care of these rebels. Along the way he begins to realize that London’s biggest trading company, the East India Company, isn’t quite all that they seem. Internal political arguments rip apart the Order, the rebels are getting more and more daring, and the half-breeds are closer and closer to London than they have ever been before. Everything is starting to hit its breaking point, though it seems The Order: 1886 is more interested in just setting that breaking point up for the sequel rather than show it here. Story elements are left dangling by the end of the game and the central plot doesn’t really seem to go anywhere you wouldn’t have expected.
It’s a shame that the story falters so badly because The Order: 1886 has one of the most interesting settings I’ve seen in a while. The combination of the steampunk high-tech and the mythological elements are great. Historical figures like Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin, and Jack the Ripper help make everything feel like it still has connections to our world, but when I got to use the crazy lighting gun that Nikola Tesla built I was extremely pleased. The game’s beautiful graphics go a long way towards helping flesh the setting out, though I was somewhat bothered by the choice of letterboxing the game. The consistent black bars on the top and bottom were supposed to make the game feel more cinematic I suppose, but during the few gameplay segments I wish they vanished.
And by “few gameplay segments” I really do mean few. The Order: 1886, if you could skip its cutscenes (which you can’t even if you’ve seen them already), would only clock in at about maybe 3 hours. Of that time I spent most of it doing extremely generic third person shooting. The Order doesn’t bring much of anything new or exciting to the table, instead choosing to mostly play it safe. I took cover behind various objects and popped out every now and again to take potshots at generic rebels. Once I heard one of my buddies say they were all dead I’d move on to the next firefight. The Order tries to mix things up with two systems: Blackwater and Blacksight. Blackwater is a one use vial that, if Galahad is downed, can be drank to revive him. Blacksight is a bar that fills up on the bottom of the screen and, when full, allows Galahad to enter slow motion and shoot at enemies. Neither are particularly unique, or even useful, elements. Blacksight in particular is kind of off, requiring me to manually switch between targets (even if they’re dead) and constantly hitting walls and cover rather than what I want to shoot.
They try to make up for the lack of unique gameplay by having some weird weapons, but a few weird weapons don’t really save the game. Don’t get me wrong though, I thought some of the more crazy weapons were kind of fun. A lighting gun is totally overpowered, it basically hits anyone in the general direction of “in front of Galahad”, but watching it blow limbs and heads off of enemies is fantastic. Another gun fires a cloud of thermite and let me launch a flare to blow it up, lighting large groups of enemies on fire. Other fun weapons included an incendiary shotgun, a revolver that shoots two bullets at once, and a rifle that can fire bursts of air to stun enemies. Yet for every unique weapon in the game, there’s also your regular third person shooter guns. Worse, the game didn’t give me the fun weapons often enough. An oddly similar problem happens with the enemies in the game: the majority are your average minion, but a couple of times you get to face off against werewolves. The werewolves have completely different tactics, rushing you before fleeing behind cover, and they won’t stay down until you actually go over to them and execute them with your knife. Nearly every fight with the werewolves managed to be the exciting highlight of The Order, but you probably only see about 10 the whole game.
Outside of shooting, The Order: 1886’s favorite thing is quick time events. There’s a lot of them in the game, and many of them will probably result in your death. Thankfully they all work as intended, which is more than I can say for some games. Yet there were many times where I’d put down the controller to watch what I guessed was one of The Order’s lengthy cutscenes only to be surprised when Galahad suddenly takes a bullet to the head. I don’t really mind quick time events that much, but The Order was full of them and they became a nuisance to me rather quickly.
There’s a couple other gameplay segments too. A few stealth missions should feel right at home to fans of the Uncharted series, but they’re simple and short at best. Sometimes you’ll enter one-on-one melee fights with werewolves, requiring you to use light and strong attacks while using the right stick to dodge their attacks. Yet again: they’re very simple and very rare (plus when you only get one attack before the werewolf attacks again, I don’t get the point of ever using a light attack.) There’s occasional lock picking or electric lock overloading minigame, but they’re just that: minigames. There’s a lot of “walk slowly while people talk” scenes where you can look around for collectables, but otherwise there’s little else to do. The Order also lacks any kind of replay value: once you finish the game there’s no reason to ever go back to it besides maybe to grab collectables or a few trophies you missed, and there’s no multiplayer or extra modes of any kind to extend the length of the game. For a $60 game, only lasting about 6 hours feels pretty unacceptable at this point.
I can understand what The Order: 1886 is trying to do, and I honestly loved its world and setting enough that I want to see The Order: 1887 or whatever the sequel is called. But when that day comes they need to really fix the game up. Generic shooting, not using the fun elements enough, quick time event overload, and a short, full priced game with a lack of any replay value really brings The Order down. Maybe next time we’ll see something better.