Ready At Dawn, the talented developers who made a name for themselves delivering some of the most memorable portable gaming experiences (God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Daxter, God of War: Chains of Olympus, just to name a few) have come from behind proven franchises to offer their first original high production IP exclusively for the PS4.
Enter The Order 1886, an immersive industrialized steampunk reality with clever fiction and rich historical authenticity running in parallel. Within this London based narrative are the protectors or knights of Arthurian legend, driven to keep all of the world safe from the powerful lycans or half breed monsters.
This near photo-realistic tale places players in the role of Sir Galahad, a distinguished knight of the order alongside his valiant comrades. As this intriguing tale begins to take shape, knights are tasked with the responsibility of investigating a grave threat which bares ties to the ever-increasing turmoil caused by rebels. Noble in their duties knights fearlessly jump into battle expressing no fear, oftentimes outnumbered in their pursuit of justice. Assumed as highly trained soldiers, these knights while very much human carry with them the legendary Blackwater, the mystical liquid that significantly extends their aging process, giving them remarkable healing abilities.
Knights certainly look the part with their styled garb, adorned neckplates and tailored overcoats, with decorated greaves. Each knight is equipped with their signature blade strapped to their back and fortunate enough to have famed scientist Nikola Tesla as their weapons and gadget specialist.
What you’ll notice from the start is that The Order is truly an interactive marvel, raising the bar to a completely new standard of graphical fidelity on a console. Utilizing their RAD Engine, Ready At Dawn has broken new ground. The cinematic presentation is simply brilliant. From gameplay sequence to seamless cut-scene, I was captivated by the visual attention to detail. All that your eye touches has been scrutinized for your pleasure. In addition, The Order packs an impressive musical score punch that always extracts the right mood (when utilized), building upon the narrative tension. From the vividly detailed weapons, highly detailed character models and lighting, to the plush level designs, versed voice acting atop this finely told narrative, The Order 1886 delivers arguably one of gaming’s greatest technical values.
However, while The Order 1886 is a smorgasbord of sensory overload,walking away from my 10 hour ride, the pressing question remained, did I have fun?
Not so much.
Here is where The Order makes its biggest statement. The pacing of the game borders on boredom as you’re in a constant anticipation of waiting for the fun ball to drop, only to be left with more of the same. As Galahad, players are more than often forced to patiently walk through levels with no real urgency, crippling the previous sequence of action as less than memorable. Though there is some dialogue between you and your fellow knights when you are controlling Galahad during these yawning strolls, this felt more like a missed opportunity to build upon more character development as well as add a layer to the time periods practical influences through dialogue.
As mentioned before, the games level designs are gorgeous, yet you could feel detached from it as though the world had nothing to offer aside from the occasional papered item (newspaper, ledger, receipt, list, etc) or picture laying on a desk offering a hint of some kind on the back. You will often enter a room and see a circular prompt appear near a drawer or desk begging for your attention. I recall entering a warehouse with a light bulb I picked up off a desk which referenced Thomas Edison 1879. Though I could make out many of the games historical references, this unfortunately did not add to the fun, though it was interesting. Other than the audio files laying about which did add value to the fiction, there was really no need for exploration unless you just needed to find extra ammo. Ready At Dawn it seems intended on allowing players to only take in all the sights for obvious reasons.
Nevertheless, The Order 1886 is a 3rd person shooter, so the idea of taking on powerful beasts with a cover system sounds promising. Though Nikola Tesla equips you with some finely detailed weaponry which feels great to wield, what feels like tacked on shootouts from two console generations ago insults this massive production. For much of the affair generic shootouts bridge the narrative. The Order 1886 offers a competent cover system amidst a retro shooting gallery of respawning enemies who are nothing more than bullet sponges. In fact, it seemed almost unfair fighting many of the enemy types taking them out with pot shot accuracy as highly trained knights of the order. Every time a standoff concluded, though the games soundtrack amazes, it was never utilized to assist with mood for those dull and lingering walking points.
My first lycan encounter felt stripped from a sequence of Dead Space 2 where I found myself placing my back to the door dropping bullets into attacking lycans, only to see them reset back to their attack position and try again, displaying no real combative intelligence. Upon finishing them off a short but sweet chase commenced which I did enjoyed. While Galahad quickly becomes a liked character who you begin to cheer for, as the player I never felt empowered. Maybe this had much to do with the games lack of an upgrade system or the abundance of quick time events throughout, which I’ll speak more on shortly.
Call it lazy development or just a bad choice in gameplay design, The Order 1886 in all of its technical brilliance has been done a huge disservice. There is so much greatness under this hood. The story which is masterfully supported by amazing character actors progressively shines more as the plot begins to thicken. However after chapters 8 or 9 of this 16 chapter fiction, I found myself solely hanging on to the enticing narrative and cool characters to bring it home for me. Surprisingly, the gameplay became nothing more than an afterthought, a chore which unfortunately had to be experienced to get to the next story reveal. I thoroughly enjoyed those lengthy cut-scenes which gave enough breathing room to survive another dull encounter with the bad guys. Brutalizing the gameplay, players are marinated into poorly executed quick time events.
Now for the record, quick time events can offer amazing action sequences, even today win integrated with an established combat system which gives the player total control of the characters (God of War, Batman Arkham, Shadow of Mordor). QTE’s can also be leveraged quite well when the primary movement and foundation of the game heavily relies on it and is established with much foresight, for example Heavy Rain which I’m still amazed with. In The Order 1886, quick time events become a boring task, heavily relied upon in what is a cover based 3rd person shooter. Instead of giving the player an alternative control of cat and mouse or chance of dispatching enemies differently from the desired and initial QTE approach, Galahad quickly finds his end when the player missteps the quick time event, forcing players to relive the scenario from the beginning.
Lycan encounters could have also been much more thrilling, yet they are reduced to relying completely on the players timed action and nothing more. Many of The Orders gameplay mechanics some 10 years ago could have warranted a great experience, however by today’s standards it is only glaring tarnish of what not to do.
The full length of The Order felt perfect. My first playthrough was experienced on the hard difficulty, again lasting a little over 10 hours. Much has gone into the production of The Order 1886, from the great writing to the believable world, I truly wanted to stay there and learn more about it. However, Ready At Dawn neglected to make The Order entertaining and fun. I longed for those wow gameplay moments which never happened.
Though The Order 1886 was mostly void of any gameplay significance, I was still enthralled by the production value and vast amounts of gameplay potential bolstering through the screen. The Order 1886 is clearly a bold and beautiful show piece for your PS4, offering a rich fiction of intrigue, capsulized by its superficial functionality.
Yet, as a video game the fundamental responsibility of meeting players halfway in the fun department is almost completely missed.