In the great hype machine, The Order: 1886 fell somewhere in between Destiny and Shadow of Mordor. This game has been on the radar of Playstation faithful for some time. While awaiting its release, fans heard early feedback that was as mixed as the results are. Many gamers were hoping that this would be it: Playstation 4 in all its spectacular glory.
Though it’s been better than most of the next-gen console-only releases, it still manages to fall just short of expectations. Yet, The Order: 1886 is not wholly underwhelming. There are many fantastic aspects to this game and it’s enough to give Playstation fans hope that they’ll soon be able to enjoy their console with games akin to landmark PS3 games like The Last of Us or the Uncharted series.
Conceptually, The Order is steampunk done right with an original twist. Players take the reins as Gallahad, a veteran Knight of a Royal Order sworn to protect the Crown. The Order to which your character belongs is comprised of the original Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, survived through the centuries by utilizing a mysterious and life-prolonging exlixir known as Blackwater. Thanks to the anachronistic technology of the steampunk genre, your mission to battle “half-breed” lycans is made significantly easier through the use of a variety of guns, electrical gadgets (Nikola Tesla makes a cameo), awkwardly-shaped Victorian grenades, and flamethrowers. Of course it wouldn’t be “steampunk” without zeppelin-like airships and, yes, there are airships. The characters, their gear, and the city itself all look very cool because, at its core, this is a beautiful game. Victorian London looks just the right amount of filthy and the game stages are articulately designed. Low-lighting adds an element of survival horror in certain scenes and stages such as The London Hospital in White Chapel look as though they’ve come right from the set of Penny Dreadful.
The game’s strongest points, aside from it’s conceptual design, are the brilliant cinematic sequences (there are a lot). Though some have criticized the game for being too cinematic at the expense of gameplay, one of the more exciting sequences of the game involves a push-button sequence during which you engage in a knife-fight (that’s right, a knife-fight) with an elder lycan. The voice-acting is stellar and the detail in the characters’ faces are good enough to want an “autoplay” feature.
In terms of gameplay, “bad” may be too strong a word but it’s certainly the most hotly debated aspect of The Order. Gamers have grown accustomed to seamless controls in highly interactive environments. The controls are smooth and the action sequences are fine but all they are is “fine.” The character movement is not as clunky as The Evil Within, but it’s far from seamless and the environment is minimally interactive as your character, who can defeat an elder lycan in a knife-fight (that’s right, a knife-fight), cannot kick a fallen wooden chair out of the way or push through a half-open door. Lara Croft can most certainly do that. There are a lot of cut-scenes and though there is certainly more gameplay than there are cut-scenes, it feels at times that much of the gameplay is spent walking down long, dark, and beautifully rendered hallways. The cover system is good but basic and feels similar to the second Uncharted game at times, which is by no means “bad,” but fans should expect a bit more from a next-gen console. Combat can get tedious because, despite fun and cool weapons, it simply feels hackneyed after the second battle scene.
A more positive aspect of the gameplay is its creativity. The objects that can be interacted with (there are few, sadly) can be examined in a way that feels real and aspects such as lock-picking, sending Morse-code signals, and short-circuiting electronics make full and inventive use of the controller. If this sort of dynamism could have been extended to the in-world environment we might be talking about a very different game because the environment is so limiting it makes the storyline itself feel too linear.
The Order: 1886 plays very much like an underwhelming game, one that did not live up to its hype but, considering the lack of hype (relatively speaking), it’s simply okay. Were this game to exist in a vacuum, players wouldn’t be disappointed because the story is very rich and original, but great games no longer exist in their own universe. Gamers demand greatness for two reasons: they have experienced many “great” games and the cost of gaming has risen steeply. Next-gen consoles like PS4 retail for $400 and The Order: 1886 is almost $60. At those prices, gamers are justified in demanding games that are exceptional during the first playthrough and still fun enough for a second or even third playthrough. That The Order is scarcely worth a second playthrough is the largest problem such a linear storyline presents. Open-world gameplay has almost become a requisite for gamers – however unfair this might be to developers – but there are ways to augment mission-based, linear gameplay. Tomb Raider and Uncharted, for example, do indeed have linear storylines insofar as players need to complete main quests in order to progress, but treasure hunting and a semi-open world add hours of gameplay. Other games, like Mass Effect, do offer sidequests but a player’s choices affecting the ultimate outcome of a game are what make it worth replaying. The upper tier of this, of course, is a game such as Skyrim where countless hours can be spent without touching the main storyline.
The Order has picked the low-hanging fruit in many respects with regard to gameplay. It will certainly win awards for its gorgeous design. However, by next year, it’s lack of replay value and stunted play will render it forgettable.
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