Developer Ready at Dawn is perhaps mostly known for their God of War games on PSP, but now, here they are, responsible for one of the most highly anticipated exclusives on the PS4 in The Order: 1886. It’s a drop dead gorgeous third-person shooter with a heavy focus on narrative, interactive cut-scenes, and cover-based firefights, but it’s a disappointing case of style over substance that fails to deliver a moment of fun with its questionable gameplay choices.
You play as Galahad in an alternate history London, serving The Order in an attempt to rid the world of half-breeds. Through the use of a mysterious liquid known as Blackwater, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are able to significantly increase their lifespan and quickly recover from near fatal wounds amidst their never-ending battles. This, along with the Industrial Revolution and the help of Nikola Tesla’s creative weaponry, has finally given The Order hope to fight back.
From a story standpoint, I enjoyed the game’s take on the Knights of the Round Table, and found the use of Blackwater extremely intriguing. I also really dug the steampunk aspect, using technology that was far ahead of its time–wireless communications, zepplins, and thermal imaging, to name a few. I’m also a sucker for the supernatural, so I was instantly drawn to the idea of duking it out with things that go bump in the night.
“The A.I. is questionable at best, as the same enemy types file out of doorways like some sort of shooting gallery, waiting to be shot in the head…”
For being advertised as an organization fighting against these half-breeds though, they were rarely present throughout the entire campaign. Actually, in seven hours, I can count the amount of werewolf encounters on one hand. A large majority of the game’s action takes place against humanoid opponents, be it rebels or company men, so the lack of supernatural encounters was extremely disappointing.
Although it’s an overdone mechanic, cover shooting could have actually worked well here. Instead, it’s hindered in a number of ways that not only take away from its decent narrative, but make it feel even more dated. The A.I. is questionable at best, as the same enemy types file out of doorways like some sort of shooting gallery, waiting to be shot in the head, while every firefight is the same song and dance; run down a hallway, notice curiously placed cover, and pick enemies off one by one. There’s never really a chance to strategically use the environment for flanking enemies, and unless a grenade was ever tossed my way I never once had to move from my original location.
The Order’s cinematic camera also hinders the gunplay quite a bit, as the camera attempts to focus on your target while aiming down sights. With the camera shifting focus between Galahad and his many targets, more often than not I was looking down my scope at a shapeless blob instead of an incredibly rendered character model.
One of the main selling points for me was the use of Nikola Tesla’s unique weaponry, like the Arc Cannon and Thermite Rifle, and his handy gadgets for picking locks or overloading power units. Although the Arc Cannon was a bit drab, using the Thermite Rifle to ignite groups of rebels and destroy objects in the environment was awesome. Had I been able to use it for an extended amount of time, I probably would have found the cut-and-dry shooter elements more enjoyable, but sadly the only interesting weapons in the game are saved for specific encounters that last all of 30 seconds; leaving you at the mercy of a dated variety of pistols, shotguns, and rifles for the remainder of your stay.
Graphically, The Order is the most stunning game on either current-gen console. Character models, clothing textures, particle effects, and environments are nothing short of jaw dropping, and there were plenty of moments where I felt the need to stop and soak it all in, or maybe take a screenshot before moving along. Ready at Dawn seemed so confident in their graphical marvel that they included various objects in the environment for you to pick up and rotate around in your hand, for what appeared to be no reason at all. They rarely provided useful information or advanced the story in any way, so I’m not really sure why they even exist.
Another feature which may prove to be an annoyance is the game’s aspect ratio. To further force a cinematic experience, the entire game is in widesceen; so prepare to lose real estate on your TV with two giant black bars on the top and bottom. This was pretty annoying at first, but after a few hours I stopped noticing. If you have a smaller TV though, I’m sure it’ll be a bit more noticeable.
“It doesn’t matter how pretty it is to look At, or how much potential the narrative has, because it’s just not fun to play. At all.”
It’s a shame that a game with this much potential was such a hassle to play. Between the terrible A.I., shooting gallery gunplay, and dated cover mechanics, Ready at Dawn made it even worse by adding the one thing nobody likes in their games: quick-time events. I would have figured by 2015 developers would have realized that this isn’t a fun gameplay mechanic. The choice to make The Order heavy on narrative is all well and good, but just let me pay attention to your cut-scene, enjoy the well voiced dialogue, and absord the story instead of trying to match surprising button prompts. I really don’t mind watching lengthy cut-scenes. What I do mind is not being able to rest the controller or scratch my nose for fear of having to repeat the entire thing, should I press the wrong button in a panic. Quick-time events are commonplace in The Order, as they’re used during every cut-scene, larger boss fights, and stealth kills, and never once did I say to myself “that was awesome!”
For everything The Order does right, it does something far more wrong, especially as a video game. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is to look at, or how much potential the narrative has, because it’s just not fun to play. At all. There’s also not a single ounce of replay value, so once the 7 or so hour campaign is over, it’s over. There’s no choices to make, no different branches of the story to explore, and no reason to dive back in once the credits roll. Sure, it sets the bar high in terms of what we can expect current-gen games to look like, but if this is what AAA developers think people enjoy playing, this generation is in for a bumpy ride.
Recommended for fans of: Pretty graphics, supernatural stories, third-person shooters, frequent quick-time events.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist that one day hopes to make this writing thing a living, and will always miss living in his hometown of Baltimore. If he’s not writing, he’s usually glued to a game or watching low budget horror films with his three cats. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.