The Order: 1886The Order: 1886 is Ready at Dawn (RaD) Studio’s first AAA title. They’re the same studio who brought the God of War games to the PSP shortly followed by a remastering of the series released for the PS3. And so this is their first attempt at building a game from the ground up for the AAA market.
The Order: 1886 is set in Victorian London and takes artistic liberties with the existing history of the period. This is fine of course, it’s something games frequently do, and the events of the gameplay’s story revolve around a few short weeks towards the end of the year 1886. The Order itself is an ancient order of knights sworn to defeat, or at least keep at bay, the supernatural threat that appears to have been plaguing mankind’s existence for hundreds of years. Here that supernatural threat takes its form as Lycans. Half-man and half beast, the Lycans are people who can transform into werewolves and will happily feast upon the blood of mankind. These Lycans are somehow loose in Whitechapel in London. Why? Who let the wolves out? We don’t know but that’s The Order’s prerogative, to find the answers and to stop them.
Part of the way through the game it became clear to me that sequels (I’m putting my money on this being the first in a trilogy) are part of the plan for this IP because as you progress you’ll realise this isn’t going to be something resolved anytime soon. Some may criticise this negatively but with the quality of the story and the potential I can see for future installments this only leaves me feeling really excited by the prospect. Although the events within this game revolve mostly around London, Whitechapel specifically, the story’s scope is revealed to be global, dragging India and the North American continent in too.
Without giving too much away the plot revolves around the familiar notion of corruption, which always makes for a bowl full of intrigue and boy is this one intriguing! By the end of the game though it’s fair to say there are many unanswered questions but this is the exact reason I’m excited for the future. It’s not often I can say that I care so much for a games plot but truthfully this is more a testament to the quality of story Ready at Dawn have produced. The writing is of a high standard and I can honestly say I spent most of my time playing this game with my heart in my mouth. I’ve rarely felt as engaged with the plot and it’s characters as I did playing The Order and that brings me to another point.
The characterisation of the leading protagonist and his cohorts is fantastic, most definitely second to none. They’re really well developed, each having their distinct personality’s delivered very well. I cared for the lives of each and everyone of them, except for the bad guys maybe, but even then I cared because they just felt so darn real, so fleshed out. Part of the success of this is the cinematic style of game but the other more significant part is the quality of the script which is quite exceptional and carries the plot and it’s characters fluidly throughout. From cliffhanger to cliffhanger you’ll find no reason to turn away from the action as the plot thickens, revelations coming thick and fast keeping you engrossed in the story.
The gameplay is a mix of cover-based 3rd person shooter and QTE mechanics. The cover and shooting mechanics are good and solid but it’s fair to say are bringing nothing new to the table. Going in and out of cover being on different buttons I found a minor source of frustration and didn’t feel it was as intuitive as it could’ve been. The shooter sequences could also have been a little more developed because at times they felt a too simple, too linear. That said the enemy AI seemed reasonably clever using cover wisely whilst some advance on your position. One criticism I have is that I felt sometimes I was punished for doing too well and just seemed to get put down by enemy’s that shouldn’t have been able to do that. Enemy’s rushing your position definitely made it more of a challenge though but the QTE takedowns soon took care of those I couldn’t drop otherwise. What does add a fun element to the gun fights is the quirky weaponry made available by the Knights in-house scientist Nikola Tesla. By his talents you’ll have weapons available like the Arc Induction Lance which fires a supercharged bolt of electricity certain to stop most foes with one blast. I really liked the Thermite rifle too, firing a magnesium projectile that sticks in walls and such that can then be ignited by the primary machine-gun fire leading to explosive results!
Blacksight was an interesting addition which I used mostly only when feeling like I had no other options available. An aspect of the extraordinary abilities of the Knights, Blacksight is activated by hitting the a shoulder button allowing you to enter into a limited slow-motion moment where you can rapidly take several enemies out, albeit feeling a little too randomly controlled at times.
Something that slightly irked me was the way the weapon select graphic would consume most of the centre of the screen when switching between weapons. This could’ve been done more subtly by moving it to the corner of the screen rather than blocking your view of the action.
Regarding the use of QTE’s (Quick Time Enviroment’s) I found them to be an effective means of allowing the continuity of the cinematic experience and not breaking the immersion. For the major Lycan fights I found it an excellent choice providing a perfectly pulse-pounding moment. Sure, there are many occasions when it would seem a rather mundane task to carry out the button press or movement but at least you became involved with the narrative rather than simply being witness to another cut-scene. For me their only flaw was when taking an enemy down in close combat. They were sometimes a little hit and miss, especially if that enemy ran slightly past you or to your side. The stealth takedowns however I found to be most satisfying and had no issue there. Overall I found the QTE’s an effective and wise choice of mechanic for their intended purpose. I didn’t see them as something worthy of being overly critical about at all but instead a merit to the overall experience.
There are a couple of QTE mini-games too which were satisfying enough and revolve around the use of more of Tesla’s unique gadgets; one for lockpicking I really liked and another for overloading special electrical boxes and gaining access to certain areas.
By far the most outstanding aspect of this game though is the cinematic style and graphical fidelity which I can honestly say I have simply never witnessed on a console before. The characters are just beautiful to look at; you can see the freckles and fair skin of Lady Igraine for example. Their facial expressions, alongside the dialogue, relayed to me an incredible degree of emotion and consequently gave me probably the most immersive gaming experience I’ve ever had. I cannot think of another that is it’s equal and I really found this aspect to be second to none. I spent a lot of the 17 hours it took me to complete the game with my jaw on the floor. I really couldn’t believe I was playing a video game and all the way through kept giggling to myself how amazing it looked. It really has no parallel in console gaming and for this alone receives much deserved praise. But that’s not all that was done well here.
The orchestral score was very good and suited the mood of the game perfectly well. Most of the time I wasn’t all that aware of it to be honest but when I was it was suitably moody. What most impressed me about the sound aspect though was the script, dialogue and voice-acting. Obviously with any game these parts exist to some degree or another but for The Order they were outstanding, which of course they had to be. RaD obviously had a vision for this IP and it would be incomplete if the script could not match the visual quality. Again the immersive quality of this adventure was helped in no small part by the standard of voice acting which gave the cast of The Order life. I felt quite overwhelmed by the drama at times as the story of this alternate history revealed itself more and more. The passion and anger and grave revelations are given so much more gravity by the actors filling the boots of these Knights, particularly so Galahad. So often I felt my heart in my mouth because it just felt so darn real, right there, infront of me. Also the chatter of the general populace you would encounter here and there made me smile. Some great british characterisation going on, even the birdsong in some early scenes made me feel right at home and shows the lengths RaD went to in bringing a sense of realism to the experience.
In conclusion I think this is a game that for those who can appreciate great writing and storytelling should not hesitate to purchase because it will deliver on those fronts, have no doubt. But for those coming from a more critical point of view and looking for groundbreaking gameplay you will be disappointed. Expectation though is the cornerstone of disappointment. It has already proven to be a divisive title in the gaming community but for the wrong reasons in my opinion. Sure, It can be finished in a comparatively short space of time and the gameplay brings nothing revolutionary but The Order:1886 is a solid and thoroughly enjoyable game. With almost oscar winning drama and characterisation, I hope to see this IP fulfill it’s potential and that subsequent episodes combine a more developed gameplay with this already outstanding cinematic gaming experience.
To sum up:
+Amazing story and characterisation
+Looks absolutely gorgeous
-Uncomplicated shooter sequences
-Lack of plot resolution
-Short gameplay time
A commendable 8/10.
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