The Order: 1886 is a game that has been continuously praised for its beauty, even winning our Best Graphics award for E3 2014. While it is truly a stunning visual achievement in gaming, The Order: 1886 has done little else to distinguish itself to gamers and critics prior to its appearance at this year’s show. There, select gamers and press got to see the literal face of what terrifies the streets of The Order’s London, nearly 130 years in the past.
I had the privilege of witnessing a live, closed demo of the encounter seen in the PlayStation press conference trailer, and a good bit afterward, between our hero, Sir Galahad, and a beastly figure. Officially coined "Lycans" by creative director Ru Weerasuriya, these creatures are, in fact, humans with a distinct ability to change into something inhuman. While these monsters are called Lycans, Weerasuriya made it clear during the demo that, in the mythos of The Order: 1886, the people refer to the monsters as such only because they resemble the werewolfs of mythology. These, and other as-yet-unrevealed Half-breeds, are men who transform into something else entirely, not the traditional model of European history’s werewolves and legendary beasts.
Whatever the case may be, we likely won’t know who they truly are until we play the full game for ourselves, or until the folks at Ready at Dawn enlighten the situation further. What is known about these Lycans is that they see members of the Order, or perhaps the general population at large, as "swine,” as the Lycan in the demo snarls at Galahad.
In addition to discovering that the mysterious monsters of The Order: 1886 possess intelligence and the ability to speak, the specific use of the word "swine" as a means to show dominance implies that the Lycans of this world have a some form of a highly structured society among themselves. It can also be inferred that the interactions between members of the Order and the Lycans will likely far exceed isolated encounters like what was seen in this year’s E3 trailer. In fact, reference to a class system within the Lycans was made by Weerasuriya in his debrief of Sir Galahad’s encounter in the London hospital. The Lycan seen in the trailer was an Elder, and it was said there are several various classes of Lycan that can be expected to be seen by The Order throughout the game.
Beyond the initially confusing clarification of the Lycans while maintaining the mystery of the fictional world of The Order: 1886, Weerasuriya went into detail on the studio’s drive for creating a seamless, blurred identity of storytelling and gameplay, between storytelling and gameplay. From what I saw, I’m excited to say that Ready at Dawn is well on its way to accomplishing that goal. There’s not a single hitch or pause between cutscene and gameplay–much of the time, the camera doesn’t even cut. This demands constant attention from the player, for even during what appears to be a cutscene, some interaction could mean the difference between life and death. It’s not terribly difficult to tell when input is required, but get lost in The Order’s cinematic beauty, and you just might miss the moment.
Additionally, the world of The Order: 1886 feels very much alive. Its story is not only present in fantastic cinematics, but also everywhere you look, there to be accessed at your discretion. From phonographs playing autopsy reports in bloodied and abandoned surgical rooms, to the random mutterings of forgotten psychiatric patients locked behind steel doors, unraveling the secrets and lore of this mysterious world is left up to you. For those instances where certain story elements are necessary to be conveyed, its cinematic sequences are natural and do nothing but add to the experience. What I saw was easily on par with any scene taken from an Uncharted game or The Last of Us. Each scene, however brief, was deliberate in its expression of character relationships and important information. From my perspective, they accomplished their storytelling goals extremely well and with graphical flourish.
During my short time with The Order: 1886, Ready at Dawn proved to me that not only is its debut console effort one of the most beautiful games yet produced, but also is capable of powerful storytelling. The Order’s alternate-history London is a world that I can’t wait to explore and sink my teeth into, and the partial reveal of the Lycans only makes me want to learn more about the game’s lore and their role in it. As a game that previously occupied only a blip on my radar, The Order: 1886 now has my full attention and is one of my most-anticipated titles for 2015.