There has been a lot of talk across the Internet about The Order 1886, concerning its length and value for money. Is Ready at Dawn’s Victorian shooter as slight as many critics say it is, or is a worthwhile adventure through the murky streets of London?
Going into this review, I wanted to give The Order 1886 the benefit of the doubt. I had heard all the commotion about its length, its lack of replayability and its obsession with providing a ‘cinematic’ experience, rather than making an interesting game but I wanted to stay optimistic. Other short but sweet games like The Wonderful 101 had been fantastic fun to play and worth replaying a couple of hundred times, while Ground Zeroes for all its debate about game length, was an absolute blast to play and memorable, despite its brief run time. Unfortunately, the only lasting takeaway from playing The Order 1886 is how much it is not value for money for people who bought it full retail price.
For all the talk of providing a cinematic experience, let’s discuss The Order’s narrative first. You play as Sir Galahad, one of the Knights of the long surviving Knights of the Round Table, who after the discovery of the Holy Grail, have used its life lengthening powers to continue Arthur’s quest of defending humanity from the Half Breed menace. The world itself is quite interesting, with a healthy dose of steampunk and supernatural elements put into the usual mix of Victorian London to create a world that could be full of intrigue and new ideas. The Order fails to do this, giving you a story which is so full of clichés that if you have seen any police drama in the last 20 years or seen the Underworld movie franchise, you know exactly how the plot is going to unfold within the first 30 minutes. Every single character in this game is a crockpot of tired tropes, with one character’s name being such a blatant clue to him being evil, he might as well be wearing a glowing badge which says ‘Look at me! I’m going to betray you!’
The shooting works. That’s about all I can say past that.
Galahad himself is your standard good guy who will do anything to get the job done, Lafayette is a complete caricature of a Frenchman while Igraine’s only two emotional settings are snarky and passive aggressive. Besides the Lord Chancellor and one other Knight, the other Knights of the Round Table might as well be acting in Spamalot for the amount of impact they have on the plot. The leader of the rebel movement does do something to stir up the story half way through but again, Ready at Dawn falls back on tired clichés to tell the tale of The Order. Moreover, the story itself feels like nothing more than a giant prologue. Nothing of note happens until the very end of the game and even then, the finale is so anti-climactic and comes out of absolutely nowhere, just to basically say “Wait until the Order 1887 to finish this story arc which we should have totally finished!” Plot threads are introduced just for the purpose of enticing you into the sequel and besides Galahad, no-one gets any worthwhile character development. The Order just comes off as being cynically designed to make you buy the next game in the series, rather than providing a worthwhile tale which works as a single unit which could be expanded upon in a sequel. My reaction after suddenly completing the game was not that was fun, but that was it?!
Before we get onto the elephant in the room, let’s talk about how The Order 1886 looks. There is no denying that it looks absolutely phenomenal. It is without a doubt the best game I have ever seen. Character models are beautifully animated and presented, with there being so much detail on every piece of clothing or weapon you see. The environments and lighting are astonishing, really selling you on this grimy depiction of 19th century London, complete with giant zeppelins and guns that shoot lightning. It would have been nice to see some colour in the game besides grey, brown or black. While the human models look great, the same cannot be said of the werewolf models that you find in game. I understand that their animations should be beast like but instead, they just look really robotic and rip you straight from the experience when you see on getting stuck in a wall during a roll animation. The game’s sound design must also be lauded, with the weaponry in this game sounding punchy and satisfying when shot. The Dragoon revolver and the Arc Rifle are two stand out examples, being an absolute joy to use in battle. The voice acting in the game is just okay, with there being some weird castings like Yuri Lowenthal doing an incredibly American Nikola Tesla. It is nice to hear other accents besides Cockney and Received Pronunciation from the game’s enemies, with you hearing the odd Geordie and Irishman among the waves of would be London gangsters and gentry.
Unfortunately, The Order 1886 seems dead set on taking what is good about its design and world, and chucking it straight in the bin. Weapons like the Thermite Rifle and the previous mentioned lightning gun are incredibly inventive and just darn fun to shoot, but The Order is determined to rip them out of your hands and make you use conventional weaponry instead. One heinous example is near the end of the game, where Galahad receives a gnarly looking lightning weapon, just for it to be swiped out of your hands and never seen ever again. It’s probably being reserved for the sequel. Otherwise, The Order is the epitome of mediocre. The cover shooting is nothing more than serviceable, with most shooting galleries being a chore to fight through and when you do finally get a cool weapon to use, you are booted into an unskippable cutscene or back to using a boring old rifle. You get a Red Dead Redemption-esque slow mo move called Blacksight but the camera is so fiddly when you activate this mode that in the time spent in slow mo, you could have shot the enemies you spend ages trying to aim at. The actual cover mechanics are as stiff as anything, with Galahad moving like a truck whenever he tries to turn a corner, lacking none of the smoothness of a game like Gears of War. Moreover, the camera is a constant battle when you are in battle, being zoomed way too close into your shoulder so you can hardly see anything, even when you pop your head out and are riddled with bullets.
The rare times you find Lycans are either in a QTE or in an awkward arena encounter.
The enemies are as boring as they come, ranging from man with a tophat, to man with a backpack, to man wearing armour and wielding a shotgun which stunlocks you so you better just wait for death if one gets too close. The previously mention Lycan encounters are a joke as well, with every one of these situations happening in the same room layout, as you wait for these poorly animated beasts to lunge, run away and then lunge again until you pump enough bullets into them and trigger a quick time event. For a game about almost immortal Knights fighting supernatural horrors, you’d expect to fight more supernatural horrors but no, you spend most of your time shooting regular old humans. Your companions are no better, with there being many cases in my playthrough where they would stand in point blank range of an enemy and miss every single shot they took. Ready at Dawn also forget to copy a mechanic that Gears of War did so well, which is to give friendly characters the ability to revive you if you are downed. Instead, you have to simply wait and hobble about a bit, until the game determines you have waited for long enough before you can get yourself back up again.
Trust me, you’ll spend a lot of your time with The Order just waiting. You have to wait for NPCs to get to an object you obviously know they are going to use before the story can progress, you have to wait through long, laborious cutscenes before you can get back into the action and you are often left waiting when you realise that you are no longer in a cutscene, thanks to the game’s ‘cinematic’ black bars, and you can actually move again. Like the rest of the game, the QTEs in The Order are as boilerplate as they come, with there being no real attempt to innovate past move camera and click button within a time limit. The overwhelming feeling with The Order 1886 is that there is absolute no intention to make an innovative game, but make a slightly more interactive experience than something like Heavy Rain. If you’ve played any mediocre third person shooter, just expect more of the same here. It honestly feels like Ready at Dawn are just ticking off a checklist.
Now, let’s tackle length. The game is about 6 and a half hours long when played on medium difficulty. This is with taking some time to look around for collectables, dying due to stupid stunlocking shotgunners and pausing to go make a cup of tea once in a while. If played solidly with no distractions, you can easily complete the main story in 5 hours. This would be fine, if you then had a reason to complete the game on a higher difficulty, or to level up your Knights or to play through on New Game Plus but The Order lacks any reason to replay it. Yes, there are some collectables in the form of recordings but they are nowhere near as well written as Bioshock’s audio logs (which you could play while you were still playing, in The Order, you have to stick on the pause menu to play them) or have any worthwhile reward for collecting them all.