The Order: 1886 on PS4
Allow me to preface this review by saying that I love Victorian London. I love bowler hats, the beautiful English architecture, Jack the Ripper, and the overall gloomy, Gothic feel of the sooty streets. So when The Order: 1886 was announced as a game about Arthurian knights wielding these insane science weapons designed to take down werewolves in London, naturally I was excited.
The Order: 1886 is set in an alternate version of Victorian London where we have a group of knights banding together to protect the city from lycanthropes, or half-breeds as they’re referred to in-game. In this universe, the knights discover the Holy Grail and basically use it to produce magic juice to extend their lives, and to regain their strength when hurt in battle. At the same time, the Order also faces a growing threat posed by “godless rebels” whose agenda are yet unknown to them. There is talk of conspiracy, underhand dealings, and a heavy air of mystery as a wave of murders sweeps through gloomy London. This all sounds great on paper, but I’m afraid the reality isn’t quite as compelling as it’s made to sound.
Before we go on, it has to be said that The Order: 1886 is one of the best-looking games on the current generation of consoles. The character models have been sculpted with impeccable detail and they look almost photorealistic when the light hits them at just the right angle. The environments are so polished I found myself stopping every few minutes just to marvel at how handsome the game was. Ready At Dawn wanted to blend the gameplay portions and cutscenes to give it a more cinematic feel, and they’ve succeeded in that regard. The transitions were seamless and there were countless times where I left Galahad standing still because I thought we were still in a cutscene.
Ready At Dawn also opted to present the game in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio instead of the standard 16:9 in an effort to enhance its cinematic experience. While I don’t take issue with the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen (after a while, you just kind of stop noticing them), the two things that I do take issue with are the pronounced depth-of-field and motion blur effects. Many times when I was engaged in a gun fight with my enemies, I’d aim my carbine at them and look down the sights only to find myself staring at a grey, blobby mess. You’d have to wait a second or two for the camera to figure out that yes, I’m in a gun fight, and yes I’d like to be able to see my enemies now, thank you very much.
I didn’t mind the depth-of-field and motion blur effects outside of combat; in fact, they only made the game more aesthetically pleasing to the eye as I rappelled down a zeppelin while in midair. I do, however, mind when such cinematic effects add strain to my eyes when I’m in the middle of a big shootout. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a game-breaker, it’s just an annoyance that begs the question: was this really necessary?
When we get down to the core gameplay of The Order: 1886, there isn’t anything that stands out. The game is a third-person cover shooter where you crouch behind waist-high objects and shoot your enemies when the opportunity arises. When you’re almost out of ammo, you duck back down and reload, then peek out and repeat the cycle. As a shooter, it works. But there are other games out there that have already revolutionized the cover shooter genre long before this one came along – Uncharted and Gears of War come to mind.
To make matters worse, there’s hardly any variation in the types of enemies you’ll face in the game. You’ve got your regular dudes, shotgun specialists who will attempt to rush you, and bombers. Occasionally, you’ll encounter an enemy with a Thermite Rifle, but he’s nothing you can’t handle with a few extra bullets. Even on higher difficulties, The Order: 1886 isn’t a particularly challenging shooter.
Oh and don’t even get me started on the werewolves. Well now that I’ve mentioned the werewolves, I guess I have to talk about them, don’t I?
You will fight maybe 12 or 13 werewolves during the course of the campaign, and that’s including the two bosses you face in two of the chapters. And how do these fights go down? I’m glad you asked. They go down the exact same way you encounter them each time: the werewolves will run straight towards you, you push the X button to get out of the way, you pump bullets into them till they’re down, and then you run up and hit the triangle button to finish them off with your knife. That’s it. That’s how all the werewolf fights go.
The werewolf bosses don’t fare much better, either. They’re QTE segments that require you to dodge attacks when prompted, and slash at them until an interactive cutscene comes up where you press more buttons at the right timing till they drop dead. It’s all about as riveting as it sounds.
For a game whose premise revolves around a group of knights banding together to stave off the big bad wolves, this was a massively wasted opportunity. The werewolves failed to instill a sense of fear within me; in its place was irritation at how unnecessarily long the fights were taking, and bewilderment at how Ready At Dawn managed to make werewolves boring.
So the werewolves, meant to be one of the main appeals of The Order: 1886, turned out to be a bust. But what about the science weapons? That’s the other aspect of the game that’s supposed to make it stand out from your large pool of third-person cover shooters, right? They too are a major disappointment.
The Order gets their weapons and high-tech gadgets from a young Nikola Tesla. When I entered his laboratory for the first time, I was floored by how fascinating it all looked. There were weird mechanical gizmos scattered around, scientists going around, fiddling with steam machines, and so on and so forth. You can imagine my disappointment when I soon realized that the only science weapons we got to carry were the Thermite Rifle and the Arc Induction Lance.
The Thermite Rifle fires off a blanket of incendiary mist, and has a secondary shot that ignites the mist, thus lighting enemies in the area on fire. The Arc Induction Lance is basically a gun that shoots lightning to zap enemy soldiers. The science weapons are great; they’re unique, they’re fun to use, and I have a blast – literally – whenever I get to wield one of these. The catch? They rarely appear in the game, and you don’t even get to use them against the werewolves. It really is a damn shame.
But we mustn’t forget that The Order: 1886 is meant to be a narrative-focused video game. So let’s switch gears for a bit here and talk about its story.