Long before its release, The Order: 1886 fell victim to the court of public opinion. Evidence submitted to the court was based on internet scraps, screenshots, leaked videos and 10 minute demos but it was enough for the court to play judge, jury and in some cases executioner to Ready at Dawn’s much anticipated PS4 debut. Perhaps it’s because of the recent run of games that have had issues upon release but gamers everywhere were skeptical of just how good The Order would be. Cries over it being too short (so what?), too linear (so what?) and too much like other games we’ve seen before (again, so what?) put Ready at Dawn on the defensive in the months before the game’s final release. After spending the past week diving into this PS4 exclusive I feel comfortable in saying that a lot of these worries can safely be put to rest.
The Order: 1886 is set in an alternate reality Victorian-Era London and puts players in the role of Sir Galahad, a respected Knight of The Order. The Order has been humanity’s last line of defense for hundreds of years against a supernatural threat in the form of Half-breed Lycans. The Industrial Revolution is in full swing and thanks to the ingenuity of one Nikola Tesla, The Order has some really cool weapons and gadgets to aid them in their cause. Unfortunately a new threat has emerged with a rebellion stirring up trouble to oppose the Knights as well so it would seem as if Galahad and his compatriots have their hands full.
“Lighting and textures work in tandem to create what might be the single best looking game I’ve ever played on a console.”
The first thing everyone is going to notice jumping into the game is how absolutely stunning it is. Initial concerns from many over the aspect ratio of 2:40:1 rather than the more traditional 16:9 were certainly an overreaction and within minutes the last thing anyone will be thinking about is the little black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. This aspect ratio actually gives players a much wider field of view and lends itself to giving The Order a truly cinematic feel. Clearly inspired by a favourite science fiction genre of mine, steampunk, everything from the environments to the weapons to the characters all come to life in jaw dropping detail. A lot of work went into the engine that powers The Order and it shows. Words honestly can’t sum up exactly how impressive the game looks. Lighting and textures work in tandem to create what might be the single best looking game I’ve ever played on a console and this version of 1886 London is alive and breathing. Character animations are some of the best I’ve seen as well and when you add it all up it makes for a visual spectacle. My only question to the Ready at Dawn team would be why they have so many mirrors in the game (seriously, they’re everywhere) if you never, ever get to see Galahad’s reflection!? I’m not nitpicking (well, yes I am I suppose) but I had to laugh that a game so high on detail would skip on that!
Of particular note is how seamless the transitions are from in-engine cut scenes to gameplay action. You’ll notice it immediately as the game opens up with an injured Galahad stumbling his way through a dank dungeon. While the player guides Galahad forward it cuts into rendered animations of the Knight falling into walls and doubling over in pain. All seamless, all pretty much unnoticeable. It’s most impressive to see once the game actually gets into the action of course. There is no targeting reticule on the screen until you actually pull your weapon so the change from cut scene to action took me by surprise on more than one occasion again adding to that cinematic feel the game was aiming to achieve.
“Seamless transitions from cut scenes to action took me by surprise on more than one occasion adding to that cinematic feel the game was aiming to achieve.”
A lot of pre-release negativity towards The Order was in regards to its gameplay. While I’ll admit wholeheartedly that we’re not seeing anything particularly innovative here I’d also argue whether or not it matters all that much. Time and time again games borrow inspiration from titles previous and this game is no exception. A combination of third person cover shooting, quick time events, climbing and stealth mechanics made for a mostly enjoyable experience. Using the Knight’s Blackwater to go into a bullet-time inspired, slow motion shoot out (Blacksight) often made things too easy but limitations on its use helped keep the difficulty in check. I might be going out on a limb here saying this but often times I viewed the gameplay as nothing more than the vehicle to get me to the next portion of the story which I enjoyed immensely. Most importantly I found that everything ran fluidly apart from some clunky ‘in and out of cover’ areas but that was a rare occurrence. The point is that even if the gameplay felt familiar to me I still had a ton of fun while I played it and that’s all that matters.
There aren’t that many weapons in the game but enough for you to find a few that will likely be your favourites. Using the Thermite Rifle to launch a cloud of flammable dust then blow everything to smithereens with a follow up flare was particularly enjoyable. A minor gripe would be that unless you’re using an entirely different weapon, say machine gun to a shotgun for example, the weapons all feel very much the same. You’ll pick up a few different pistol types along the way but overall I could hardly tell you which I preferred if tell them apart at all.
“Not every game needs to be GTA or Skyrim and linear doesn’t always have to be a four letter word when it comes to describing a video game.”
Another issue of contention for many was the fact that The Order seemed very linear in nature and for the most part this is true. There is little in the way of exploration apart from the odd hallway or nook to move into but in many ways I feel that it serves a purpose being this way. Ready at Dawn carefully guides you on a fantastically paced journey and too much to pull you away from that could ruin the cinematic ‘playing through a movie’ immersion you feel making your way through the game. Not every game needs to be GTA or Skyrim and linear doesn’t always have to be a four letter word when it comes to describing a video game.
One of the high points for The Order is its cast and the story they get to bring to life. I could not point out to you one character that did not pull their weight in terms of acting. Characters are believable and while the animations make them look near real it all could have fallen apart without the performances to back them up. The story itself I found to be a bit of a slow burn as it took a while to really gain steam but once it did I was hooked and couldn’t wait for the next portion of the tale. Ready at Dawn does a great job of interspersing small jolts of the plot during action sequences to help keep players fully involved though so even while you’re pushing for the next big cut scene you’re still getting a great story in the meantime.
Equally as important to pulling the player into this steampunk universe was the game’s soundtrack. Absolutely haunting at times to outright frenetic at others, the sound department did their job exceptionally well and provided what I thought to be a vital part of accomplishing the atmosphere that The Order was trying to set.
“If the experience is one worth having and it keeps you engaged from start to finish it shouldn’t matter if the game is five hours or fifty hours.”
Now I wasn’t keeping exact time while I played but I logged in somewhere around 12 hours of playtime. I’ll admit right away that I am a very slow and methodical player who never misses an opportunity to explore every inch of a room (usually twice, just to make sure) before moving on to the next though. Regardless, the yells of five hours seem off to me. Perhaps you could do that in a speed run but I have my doubts. A point I’d like to make though is that just because it’s a shorter game than many others it certainly doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. If the experience is one worth having and it keeps you engaged from start to finish it shouldn’t matter if the game is five hours or fifty hours. Such is the case with The Order as it kept me glued to my chair from its opening scenes to its end credits. I was more than satisfied when they rolled too so its length borders on being completely and utterly irrelevant.
The Order: 1886 is not a perfect game by any stretch but it certainly wasn’t deserving of the early criticism it received. Now that the release is finally here and you can play through the whole game yourself you’ll find that despite some very minor misses in gameplay, Ready at Dawn sets a very high bar in terms of both presentation and story offering up one of the best experiences to date on your PS4.
***Review copy supplied by the publisher***