First things first, Ready at Dawn’s The Order: 1886 is hands down one of the prettiest games I have ever played. The graphics are downright breathtaking at some points. Every little detail, from the wind moving Sir Galahad’s hair ever so slightly, to the way the fabrics of each character’s uniform shifts as they walk or even just change their weight, is meticulous and stunning to see, adding a level of visual fidelity most games don’t even dream to strive for. Other than the graphics however, my feelings about The Order can only be described as incredibly mixed.
I played The Order over two nights, on hard difficulty, my play-through lasting about ten to eleven hours. In that time, I did explore but still didn’t find all of any single type of collectible, and I managed to pop 62% of the trophies.
I say my feelings are mixed because, in truth, there is no other way to describe it. I loved my first night with The Order. Set in an alternate history Victorian London, the narrative centers on the Knights of the Roundtable (yes, those Knights of the Roundtable) who have found a way to prolong their lives, carrying their order into the 19th century. And what have they been doing for hundreds of years?
Killing half-breed monsters of course. Teaming up with the greatest minds of history, notably Nikola Tesla, the knights have made a concerted effort to fight the half-breed menace, pushing technology along further and in more interesting directions than actual history ever saw. Could the scientists of the 1800’s have made lighting cannons? Maybe, if they had werewolves to shoot with them.
The premise is intriguing, certainly more intriguing than a lot of games out there, and it is wholly devoted to, every element of the game world steeped in the fiction the creative team at Ready at Dawn has brought to life. Where the first problem arises however, is how the premise is introduced to the player: it’s not.
The player is thrown into the world, nothing explained, and the story is off and running. As brutal as it might seem to say, had I not known the premise (Knights of the Roundtable, werewolves, etc.) going in, I am not sure how long it would have taken me to figure all of it out had I just been working with the thin alluding The Order gives to each of these rather important elements through the first hours of the game.
During my first night of playing though, as much as I wanted to know more about the world I was blasting my way though, I wanted to know more. I was hooked, excited to keep diving deeper and pealing back the layers of the century old war and alternative-historical time I was dropped in. Each cut scene became a chance to learn another detail, and every newspaper I found (all of which have real full-page news articles printed on them, not just headlines), I read gladly.
During my second night of playing however, in roughly the last third of the game, this excitement disappeared as it finally dawned on me, even more questions being raised with each cut scene instead of answered, I wasn’t going to be told the things I wanted to know. And by the end, still having questions about the basic premise of the game left unanswered, few narratives have managed to leave as poor a taste in my mouth as The Order did.
As just a small example, you never learn how old Sir Galahad, the protagonist, is. You know he is not the original Sir Galahad, the name of each knight passing on like a title to a new recruit when the first dies, but at no point is it actually said how old he, or any of your squad members, actually are, a relatively important piece of characterization that just feels odd to not have.
A similar downturn of excitement and intrigue, from the beginning of the game to the end, followed with the gameplay as well. As a cover based shooter, The Order 1886 works, O to take cover, X to get out, aim to pop out to shoot bad guys in the face, period, done, in the bag. The guns sound phenomenal (the first moment I got my hands on and fired the standard issue Order rifle still sticks with me), and are interesting enough to play around with to boot.
It is the other combat mechanics that get old. Some are small things, like the fact you can only ever roll away from grenades, instead of ever being able to throw them back. But then others are rather large and ungainly missteps, specifically the werewolf fights and stealth segments.
Now, it’s important to say, the first werewolf fights are awesome. I can’t stress that enough. Your first introduction to the half-breeds is being trapped in cluttered maze-like room with three of them, engaging in a tight dance of dodge rolls and frantic shooting. Your next test is then in a one-on-one match up, no guns, just you, your knife, and a massive werewolf trying to rip out your jugular. In a blend of quick-time events and stabs, reminiscent of the combat in some of the more recent Telltale games, the fight is brutal and bloody.
These fights lose some of their flair however, as soon as you get stuck in a different maze-like room, with three more werewolves, a second and third time. Likewise, when you fight yet another half-breed, one-on-one, you, knife, etc., with the same combat mechanics, it’s just not all that special.
And that brings us to stealth. While used very rarely (only one or two scenes), the stealth mechanics just don’t really work. Not making you use stealth is almost a recurring joke in the game. I lost count of the some time the characters would say, “We have to be stealthy,” or “Don’t let them see us,” only for the enemy to see us, in the cut scene. The couple of times you are forced to use stealth though, specifically a grueling, monotonous sequence in the last chapters of the game, it is death-on-detection, and the sight and takedown mechanics just never quite click the way I assume they were supposed to.
And lastly, to the topic of the three little letters that some seem to think damn a game right out the gate: QTE’s. The Order’s use of quick-time events was definitely not a secret in the run up to launch, a point I watched it get railed over, for no real reason. Nothing is wrong with QTE’s. Amazing games, from Heavy Rain to all the best Telltale games, have been built on them. The only problem is when QTE’s are done poorly.
Now, The Order certainly isn’t a poster child for the best use of quick-time events, but it’s certainly not the worst (looking at you, Resident Evil 5). If anything, I was actually disappointed Ready at Dawn didn’t push it further. That’s right, the problem with the quick-time events in The Order is that there weren’t enough of them.
As part of the developer’s proclaimed want to immerse the player in every cut scene, it seemed odd every time Sir Galahad threw a punch and I wasn’t the one doing it. Ultimately however, I had no real problem with the system as a whole.
It’s rare to find a game where the experience can change so dramatically from beginning to end. I said it before, but I will say it again, I loved the first 6-7 hours of my time with The Order. Blown away by the visuals, intrigued by the premise, and more than satisfied with the combat, I couldn’t have been happier.
All the pieces of an extraordinary game are there, but by the end, it felt as if I had played only part of the game, entire scenes (with all the answers to my questions) removed from the final product, unbelievable subsequent werewolf fights scrapped and replaced by reskinned versions of the ones I had already done.
The Order: 1886 doesn’t deserve even a fraction of the hate it has got. In an era of video games coming out utterly broken, The Order isn’t. It’s both glossy and mind-boggling beautiful, the combat is fun, and the world is mesmerizing. Unfortunately however, its beauty just makes the flaws it does have seem that much worse.
- Absolutely Gorgeous
- Interesting world
- But leaves too many unanswered questions
- Some aspects over stay their welcome