The Order: 1886 Review
“Centuries have past, but our Order has remained steadfast in its sacred mission”
Ambition is a good trait to have when properly harnessed, providing the fire to reach higher goals and bring more success. Sometimes however, that same ambition can be detrimental, a fervent belief that significant alterations are needed to an already successful formula, or that efforts to realize grander promises in other areas have left the bulk of the project hopelessly mundane. The latter is sadly applicable to the final state of The Order: 1886, it’s dedicated to enveloping players in its fantastical steampunk version of Victorian London; but this stubborn commitment has merely resulted in a bland, cover shooter with atrocious pacing. It’s clear the developers at Ready at Dawn wished to mirror a truly cinematic experience, however they’ve crucially forgotten that in a shooting game, the fun comes in moment-to-moment gameplay, shooting people basically. There’s no real sense of player agency here, it’s as you’re interrupting the game playing itself.
The backdrop is certainly intriguing though, blending Victorian steampunk with Arthurian legends. In this alternate history, it is the year 1886 and you take the role as Sir Galahad, one of the Knights of the Round Table assembled by King Arthur in order to combat supernatural threats such as half-breeds, lycans and vampires. The Order has fought this war for centuries, with members being gifted vastly extended life-spans thanks to the mysterious substance known as ‘Black Water’. It is heavily suggested that this elixir is in fact the Holy Grail, in addition to prolonging natural life, it also miraculously heals grievous injuries, useful when fighting enemies such as werewolves you’d think.
This conflict has also accelerated the Industrial Revolution, albeit a much more advanced version than we’re used to seeing. Zeppelins hover in the skies and the armoury stocks ingenious science weapons crafted by a young Nikola Tesla. It is such a cool world to be immersed in, and the set-up itself seems brilliant, it should be considering how much time Ready At Dawn have invested into the story.
So it’s utterly remarkable that it’s in fact crushingly boring, it’s almost unfathomable how this rich setting, bursting with intrigue can be so predictable and lifeless. A large problem is how the narrative largely forgoes the supernatural element, to instead focus on a rebellion against the monarchy and upper classes which is as dull as you’d expect in comparison. What’s more it’s so full of tired clichés and twists, Galahad slowly uncovers a conspiracy that has infiltrated the higher echelons of power, with traitors to be found, an enemy that’s not really the enemy and the final foe proclaiming along the lines of “we’re not all that different you and I”. Such themes have been done to death, and The Order doesn’t even nail these down successfully due to it taking itself so darn seriously. If it had some fun with these predictable story tenets, it could’ve been a lot more enjoyable.
What an immersive world though, the visuals in The Order are a spectacular step-up from almost everything available on console. The graphical fidelity is so high that the shift between cutscene and gameplay is practically imperceptible. The tech on show is absolutely astonishing; from the fabric detail that adorn the costumes of the characters, to the exquisite details on intricate objects such as glass vases. This is an incredible-looking game, certainly the best I’ve ever experienced playing.
All this visual splendour doesn’t count for anything if you don’t have the gameplay to back it up, and that’s where The Order falls down. As much as it may pretend to be otherwise, this is a cover-based third person shooter, as uninspiring as they come I should add. The actual gunplay as serviceable enough, you get a range of weapons such as a machine gun, rifle, shotgun, pistol and so on. They all feel fine to use and there’s good feedback when you start shooting them at enemies, but there’s no real excitement it’s a mere shooting gallery with nothing else to it. The human foes have little intelligence, they’ll never attempt to flank you for example; neither are there any interesting enemy types, there’s just the usual goon and a shotgunner, that’s your lot.
This basic approach has also seeped into how The Order deals with the half-breed encounters; this should have been the game’s biggest highlight, yet it’s unforgivably formulaic. They all play out the same way, the werewolves will charge at you, you push the X button to dodge and then you shoot them until they’re downed, where you finish them off with another button-prompt. They all charge from pretty much the same direction, you’re never ever overwhelmed by them, and they’re certainly not a threat by how you can easily roll away from their attacks. You only fight about 12 or so werewolves in the course of the game, which is absolutely baffling considering the premise of the game.
This isn’t the worst of it however, no that falls to how it handles its big boss battles. There are two of them, and they play out exactly the same, QTE segments where you slash and dodge attacks until it eventually blends into multiple interactive cutscenes. This isn’t cinematic, this is painfully boring design that completely disregards player input. I don’t wish to call Ready At Dawn lazy as I’m sure they put in an incredible amount of work and effort into this project, but the way both of these battles are completely identical, and I truly mean identical, is very troubling.
Beyond one massively wasted opportunity, comes another hot on its tail, as the advanced technology aspect of The Order something else that hasn’t been executed well at all. It should have been a cool feature to make the game stand out from the crowded space of third-person shooters, yet like werewolves they’re rarely used for reasons unknown. As earlier mentioned, a young Nikola Tesla supplies The Order with weapons and gadgets, one of the most brilliant minds of the age, there should have been all sorts of awesome gizmos for the player to use, but there’s not. Okay that’s a lie, there’s like two cool weapons that you use for a few short scenes and never used again. There’s the Thermite Rifle which lets you fire magnesium mist around an enemy before igniting with a secondary rush of air. It’s an absolute blast to use, and a really unique weapon in its own right, hence the fact it is grossly misused is unfathomable. The same is true with the Arc Induction Lance which basically shoots lightning at enemies; again it’s taken away from you far too soon and replaced with conventional pistols and rifles.
The shooting in The Order is actually serviceable when you get the chance to do it, but the pacing is probably the biggest detriment to the game overall. To call it slow is putting it mildly, more like glacial. Player control is constantly curtailed by extended cutscenes, QTEs and more cutscenes; some whole chapters are dedicated to mere cinematics with no playable scenes. Some sections sprinkled throughout the game have the player wander around the surroundings looking for ‘clues’, all you do it pick up immaculately rendered objects, turn them over a few times, before setting them down. It’s so monotonous and honestly even off-putting at times. It’s like the game is in love with itself, forcing the players to admire the details on an ornament or another pointless item.
There’s been much talk about the game’s length, and it is indeed on the short side, lasting between 5 and 7 hours with 16 chapters in total, it’ll probably last longer if you bump the difficulty up. It’s not about how short the experience is however, it’s rather about how there isn’t much gameplay in an already slender package.
The Order: 1886 is a game with lofty ambitions, but it can’t realise any of them. It has an incredibly intriguing world with astonishing tech behind it, yet it neglects the fundamental features of a good shooter. Moreover, The Order completely squanders its potential at every turn, supernatural creatures aren’t really fought, and cool science weapons aren’t really used.
Despite all this, I would love to see a sequel at some point, there’s so much promise in this property, but it’s sadly difficult to see it will ever get that opportunity.
+ Incredible visuals and tech
+ The few science weapons are cool
+ Gunplay is serviceable
-Little player agency
-Identikit boss design
-Tedious enemy encounters