Platform: PS4 | Developer: Ready at Dawn | Publisher: Sony | ESRB: M
Hey, here’s a lengthy paragraph of disclaimers due the fervor and vitriol related to this game. This a review, from an individual – me – and as-such the opinions here are my own. They are not catered to any specific group or to garner a specific reaction. These are my thoughts on the game and my experience playing it. Also, let it be noted that I am primarily a PC gamer, therefore any accusation of fanboy-ism is silly and unwarranted. I am a writer and a once-upon-a-time game artist, so perhaps it should be no surprise that I value story-telling and quality visuals. I also enjoy historical pieces, film, musical scores and soundtracks, and yes indeed, long walks on the beach. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this?
As much as the above may pre-dispose me to liking or disliking certain things, I am very open. More than half of my Steam library is devoted to indies, and the entirety of my collection includes games of every style and genre, dating back to the original NES. I do not “follow the crowd” for good or ill. I’ll tell you all, right off that bat, that the concept of The Order instantly had me intrigued. Ready at Dawn showed off a title with great potential, and I had already been impressed with their port of the fantastic Okami to the Wii. The developers promised a cinematic vision for the game, which would showcase some of the PS4’s power, and honest accounts will tell you that they fulfilled their promise. A perfect game is rare and The Order does not fit that category, but it does deliver an excellent, story-driven experience. So let’s take a close look at how it does just that.
The Order 1886 is an amazing visual feast for your next-gen hungry eyes. This is easily one of the best-looking games of all time, and there is no PC caveat here – it measures up with the best of any game PC or otherwise. To my eyes, it bests Ryse, Killzone: Shadowfall, Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed: Unity (when it works), Battlefield, Arma III — whatever your pick. This is not from a pure pixel-pushing standpoint – The Order is not pushing 4k – it’s the combination of all the ingredients that are put into the pot when making an art-stew that makes it most delicious.
The characters are wonderfully detailed, and this is one of the rare games that gets hair right — it reacts to the wind naturally. The cloth simulations are also spot-on, they flow with the animations. With hair and cloth, even the best games usually have some fairly obvious clipping —not the case here, you’d have to be really looking to see even minor amounts. This is particularly impressive given the natural motion and range of the animation work. Both facial and body movements capture the essence of the big moves, but the little secondary animations and transitions are what showcase the attention to detail.
The lighting is top-notch. The differences between the amount and type of light are accurately determined by their sources. The glow of a lamp is quite different from the distant, low sun amongst the clouds. The light effect details are also shared with the particle systems of the game. Rain, flames, blood, electrical sparks, they all look good. My only complaint in the visual department was the lack of character reflection in glass sources — somewhat understandable given the fidelity of the surrounding world, but this is a big no-no for some players.
As was promised, this is all delivered in a cinematic style. The aspect ratio and light film-grain effects are set-dressings that frame this alternate history story, but the heart of the picture lies with Victorian-era London — and what a rich period from which to draw on. Despite any futuristic or fantastical leanings when it comes to weaponry and other-worldy enemies, The Order 1886 is firmly rooted in a realistic, period-specific London. Look for Tower Bridge or Big Ben in the far distance. Look down from the sloping, thatched roofs of the city onto the cobblestone streets — homes stacked side-by-side, while the bigger manses are fronted by rows of sculpted columns, and sturdy iron fences separate estate grounds from streets. You feel the age of the materials, the effect of the climate through intricately placed detail.
The city is governed above by the grey expanse — a mingling of the cloudy climate of London and the many plumes of black and grey smoke raising from business and dwelling alike. Below the city is a flow of narrow-streets and alleys — never-ending-tributaries weaving in and out, only stopping to meet the countryside or the harbor. Perhaps frustrating for many will be that we don’t get to explore as much of the fantastic setting as we would like. For The Order, the city is simply a character, it needs no development, even a cursory understanding of history, or the briefest amount of time spent in the game simply looking around, will inform you about this character. Yes, it’s a character and it’s here to inform the story — to give us a guideline — another layer of framing for our journey.
The story is most effective with some knowledge beyond the world of gaming, however it’s not required. A large portion of the title takes place in Whitechapel, which is the real-life location of the mysterious Jack the Ripper murders. This historical horror is interwoven into the storyline seamlessly, choosing one of the popular theories of the Ripper’s origin and running with it. The East India Trading Company, another important piece of history is even more so at the forefront of our tale. Their interest in establishing outposts throughout the world, and their enforcement of policies and security carried out by their own private military forces is a key cog in this story’s wheels.
Ready at Dawn attempts to throw some curveballs at us, but as an audience that has seen almost every scenario played out, a fair amount of players will have, at least generally, figured out where the plot will go prior to the end. The Order’s chief mandate is to fight the half-breeds – which they have been doing for centuries. This has been their goal ever since King Arthur founded their group. Thus the tradition has carried forward – each individual earning a full knighthood takes a seat at the council and a name of Arthurian lineage. Our leads are Lady Igraine, Sir Percival, knight-in-training Marquis Lafayette, and the player-controlled character Sir Galahad né Grayson.
Galahad follows the lead of long-time mentor Sir Percival, and their latest investigation sees the group investigating half-breeds and disappearances in Whitechapel. This task also has them crossing paths with the rebels who have recently taken up arms against the East India Company and thus, are enemies of the Knights because their order supports the crown’s endeavors in all ways. However, as it is with any war in reality, motives tend to lean towards the clandestine, and the line between good and evil, right and wrong is a blurred one as best. There are the moments of betrayal, the enemy who would become a friend, capture and escape and a number of familiar happenings throughout. The story would feel cliche in spots if it weren’t for the excellent presentation.
Perhaps its biggest sin in this regard are the questions left unanswered. Without giving too much away, there are several relationships left in a precarious position to say the least as the story closes. The queen is mentioned in passing, but is never seen or heard from — the fact that this is mentioned in the game point to it having some significance possibly further down the line. While the backstory of the main characters is mostly there, I found that I never learned enough about Nikola Tesla (who provides all the gadgets and weapons), or his motivations within the larger narrative structure. There will also be some people that take issue with what is a non-traditional ending in the scope of the gaming world. It provides finality, but only in the short-term, there is still much to be uncovered and explained in the larger sense. In many ways it’s akin to a seasonal cliff-hanger ending in a television drama.
Once presented with an amazing world and a quality story, all I need from gameplay is a few things. First, the gameplay must be functional and relatively bug-free. My experience was devoid of glitches – the closest I came were two instance of frame chugging: one in a single brief firefight – the other strangely throughout the end credits, and a singular instance of a poor rag doll falling position – more amusing than anything. Second, it can’t detract from presentation. Ready at Dawn’s aspect ratio and cover-system lead to some very difficult viewing angles. I fully accept these as design choices – they make the narrow-space battles feel claustrophobic, but seem to open up in larger areas. The reality also is that it’s more realistic — leaning behind and peaking out from cover will rarely provide such a wide field of view as seen in many games. Still the cover isn’t for everyone and I had issues with it from time-to-time, particularly when I wanted to transfer from any two cover areas that were not strictly parallel with each other. The Third and final thing I want is enough time and reason to use the gameplay elements I’m given — this is where The Order has the most trouble.
There are several interesting weapons, and the game has it’s own version of bullet-time known as Blackwater Sight. The problem with the former is that each time you receive a new weapon of minor or mass destruction from the mind of Tesla, your time with it feels very limited. Though there are ammo pickups at beneficial locations, it’s ingrained in many a gamer to simply grab a new weapon the moment ammo has run out. The shortness of some of the chapters also automatically forces weapon transitions, which doesn’t help. The issue with Blackwater Sight, is that although the game reminds you how to play itself – and this is its most annoying aspect by far — with on-screen prompts, I only remember it telling me how to use the Sight power one time — the 1st time it’s used in-game. Consequently, I went through nearly the entirety of the game never using — or in all honesty needing — it again.
This is the moment where the length-argument naysayers earn some credibility. My full playthrough, as an experienced player on normal difficulty was seven hours, not the five that has been bandied about since pre-release. Do I feel that the game wasn’t long enough? Only in the context of not getting enough time to play with the wonderful toys given to me. This is probably also the reason that we are not given a huge variety of enemy types, though it feels like an acceptable amount in this context. I am fine with the narrative pacing and the way the game ends. It provides an immediate closure for a specific moment and then immediately has me wanting more. I loved my time in Neo-Victorian London and with its interesting characters and weaponry. I wish I had more of it – but I think that’s the point, we are meant to want more, and I hope we get it.
I would be remiss not to mention the sounds of The Order. Sound effects are as detailed as the visuals — appropriately weighty where needed, with subtle touches throughout. The voice acting is of high quality here – actors give real life and personality to their digital counter-parts. For me, with film and with narrative-driven games, the final touch that ties everything together is the music. Jason Graves’ musical compositions cover the full range – the chords jab at our ears, quick, deliberate and driven as combat reaches its apex, and then float through our heads, a sort of lament matching the gloom of our surroundings during slower moments, key tones pique our interest as we struggle to understand the expanding enigma encompassing London. All of these traits can be experienced in the singular co-composed track which was done with Austin Wintory, The Knights’ Theme.
My experience with The Order 1886 was quite enjoyable, I see myself going back to the game to finish off a few trophies and give the harder difficulty a go. Beyond that, this is a game that I will treat much as I do an enjoyable film or novel, or any number of the many games I have played over the years which focused on adventure and story — one that I will return to occasionally to experience again. The Order, much like many firsts in a series has flaws, but for this player, the positives far out-weigh the negatives. Now that the world, its characters and the core mechanics have been established, I am excited to see where things could go from here.
The Order 1886 is a PS4 exclusive title. This review was played from a personal copy of the game. No review copy was provided.