Very minor spoilers ahead
Oh boy, possibly one of the most divisive games in a long time and I have a lot to say on it, it’s a strange game and ultimately it did disappoint me but that doesn’t mean its a bad game.
It seems to be a tale of opposites, the things it does right it does superbly and they are some of the best in the industry and what it does wrong just seem to me like ridiculous and needlessly poor design decisions, of course no-one does these things deliberately but the poor design decisions squander the potential of a game that could have been one of the best so far this generation.
Ready at Dawn’s background is mainly in PSP games, they made Daxter, two God of Wars and ported Okami to the Wii, before The Order they hadn’t had a game on metacritic with a score below 84/100 and even then that was the “Origins Collection” for their PSP games re-release on PS3. They are I believe a talented studio who partnered with Sony and Sony Santa Monica External to enter the new world of console AAA development.
I have read what Ready at Dawn have said about what they wanted to do with The Order 1886, the experience they were going for but at the end of the day it’s a video game, wanting to be cinematic with a heavy narrative influence is perfectly fine and many games have the right balance, that isn’t really the case here though.
Their engine is astoundingly good-looking, I’d argue the case that we’ve finally hit the limit on graphics and anything after this would pretty much be diminishing returns, minus the black bars that cut the screen size, I didn’t like them and thought they were a silly addition. It looks very detailed, clean and the transition between environments, gameplay and cutscenes is good, in general the presentation is top-notch.
The reason I thought the black bars were silly was that in keeping with their cinematic style the camera is very close to Galahad which in itself isn’t a big problem but when in combat means he takes up a lot of the screen, to narrow the viewable area was to me a poor decision and doesn’t add anything to the game.
The multiple criticisms of The Order 1886 being that its short, focus on QTEs and narrative, un-skippable cutscenes, insta-fail stealth sections, lack of replay value (including and excluding multiplayer) and others that it’s just a bit boring, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with all of these but to me at its core there is a good game here despite the direction they wanted to take with it. The gameplay mechanics for the third-person Victorian Gears of War-esque action game are good, there are some nice weapons too and I enjoyed parts of the game certainly in the first half anyway.
I didn’t have many issues navigating the stealth section, it wasn’t particularly out of place but I think “insta-fail” sections are a bit of a poor idea in general, I did at one point get penalised because the enemy I was tailing was moving and the game couldn’t decide whether to lock on for the melee kill or not, something like that certainly doesn’t help their cause, anyway.
The first few chapters were very enjoyable, it was progressing nicely and I thought it was going to be really good but at some point it starts go downhill, second half is much shorter with entire chapters being unplayable cutscenes and it deflated the experience especially as the story doesn’t go anywhere particularly exciting even when the big twist happens. I also thought that the second half tried to almost artificially lengthen the gameplay sections by just throwing more enemies at you than normal, combined with more “heavy” enemies that are more dangerous and difficult to take down, it felt like early Call of Dutys with the invisible line you needed to pass to stop the waves of enemies.
The early chapters had the wow factor of the graphics, building up of key characters and you get a good feel of the atmosphere and sense of wonder as you look around. When it introduces new environments and the story moves on I found the characters introduced weren’t nearly as interesting as the other members of The Order that Galahad is teamed with, the chemistry between the characters goes from good and fun to watch, almost charming perhaps to boring and predictable.
The QTE complaints generally I didn’t find I agreed with that much except for when you fight the half-breeds and bosses, I don’t mind pressing a few buttons to turn a clank or unlock a door but the potential is there for good interesting fights with different enemy types to humans and instead they’re absolutely awfully executed and a big disappointment. You shoot half-breeds until they go down then you go up to them and press triangle, the two boss fights are QTE battles in exactly the same style and left them void of personality, perhaps one would have been fine but it seemed like a cheap way to end it.
When looking at a game that’s not very long in itself I look to what it adds for replay value and longevity, I don’t find myself wanting to play it again at all really, as much as I did enjoy parts of it, when you consider the cutscenes that can’t be skipped it feels like it would be a bit of a slog.
The problem with the gameplay is that I wasn’t very satisfied by how often I got to do it, even Ryse had Gladiator mode which allowed me continue playing it in its purest form without all the cutscenes and set-pieces, just pure combat. A horde mode with a friend (given the game generally has two characters around at least it would be in keeping with that too) would have been a great addition because as I said the gameplay mechanics at their core are very good and fun to play. That being said it would also suffer because of how you fight the bosses and half-breeds and I’m not sure that would translate well to that sort of arena and would need a rethink.
It feels like another missed opportunity and I hope that when Ready at Dawn look back at The Order they see the package they created might have been what they wanted it to be but may well have come at the cost of anyone else really wanting to experience it.
Another strange decision was the Bioshock-esque recordings you pick up have to be listened too in the archive menu and it doesn’t play them for you nor can you listen whilst you play, its supposed to give you background on the world and whats going on but I don’t think many people accessed them in the menu if I’m being completely honest.
For some reason they bring up the controls an awful lot too, it’s not necessarily a tutorial but even relatively far in it keeps remind you of what the buttons do and perhaps suggests that even they thought that all the different button combinations were a bit much.
Rounding off, I also thought the enemies were a bit brain-dead, they showed little intelligence at all and didn’t seem to understand their environment.
The Order 1886 is like a rollercoaster, as you go up the rails you see the upcoming wonder in the far distance – the height of the coaster, the loop-the-loops, barrel rolls and corkscrews but before you get there it makes a sudden drop that bypasses all the awesomeness that flashed before your eyes and plods along towards the end, as you get off the ride you look back at what could have been and then go on something else. I really felt the second half seemed rushed and that was a shame.
At the core of The Order 1886 is a very solid foundation for a franchise, the premise is interesting, the atmosphere is very good, the graphics are incredible and the gameplay is good when they get it right but a combination of poor design decisions make it disappointing and at times frustrating experience when there are a lot of them, its a real big missed opportunity. That being said I certainly think it’s certainly worth playing through just to experience what is on offer, its a game I found myself torn over because parts of it I did enjoy a lot, its probably a good thing I don’t do numbered scores, although I have one in mind if I did.
At the end of the road for The Order 1886 there is at least a promising game with a sequel clearly in the minds of Ready at Dawn when they made this, if they see what was right and was wrong with their approach and package I think the potential is there to make a great sequel and the game that The Order 1886 deserved to be.