Once A Knight
Video games have come a long way in a short amount of time. From the classics of yesteryear to the masterpieces of today, the way we connect with games has changed in a considerable way. Story has always been an important aspect of gaming, and the idea of crafting a cinematic, almost film-like narrative is naturally becoming favourable amongst developers due to the nature of new technology and the progression of what experiences video games can lend to gamers. Crossing these paths has lead to interesting results, with a handful of games handling it well while others have struggled. Games like Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Telltale’s The Walking Dead are prime examples of how blending film and gaming can work hand in hand. Ready at Dawn’s first home console title unfortunately staggers quite a bit, and for everything The Order: 1886 manages to get right, it seems to have a countermeasure that pulls it back. Ready at Dawn’s latest does so well to set up an incredibly deep and intriguing universe, but it can’t quite comprehend whether or not it’s a film or a video game – and it suffers because of it.
Set in an alternate history London in 1886, The Order focuses on a group of age-old knights and the slowly growing struggles encapsulating the city. Half-Breeds, bestial creatures that are a combination of both humans and animals, are terrorizing the land and a rebellion is slowly growing in force to try and overthrow the government, with the responsibilities lying upon King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table to take care of the situation. You’re thrown into the world as Sir Galahad, a seasoned veteran of sorts, and join up with three other major characters on the journey – Perceval, Sir Galahad’s teacher whom he follows unconditionally, Lady Igraine – the stern voice of reason and an invaluable asset to Galahad’s life, and Marquis de Lafayette – the immediate comic relief, mischievous Frenchmen who seems to adore the simple things. These four Knights complete one group of the Round Table, and the story is set from there.
“The plot is fairly simple and can often become a predictable and cliche affair throughout, which is disheartening due to the complexity of the workings surrounding such a fascinating and absorbing setting.”
While Ready at Dawn has done an excellent job in crafting an intriguing and visually audacious world in The Order: 1886, it’s actually the story and the writing that tends to let the game down. The plot is fairly simple and can often become a predictable and cliche affair throughout, which is disheartening due to the complexity of the workings surrounding such a fascinating and absorbing setting. I found that my connection with Galahad was a futile one, as more often than not I couldn’t connect with his feelings about other characters, his hatred for the rebels, or his fear of the Half-Breed threat. I couldn’t make sense of some of his decision making and his altercations with some of the bigger bosses in the game did not lend themselves well to his character development, instead showing that he could swing a blade quite well and dodge attacks fairly decently. Moreover, the three other main characters did not help develop Galahad as a character either, especially Perceval, who felt like the annoying father figure to Galahad – not allowing him to work through his own desires and solve his own problems. It was only when the group split up and Perceval trudged off with Igraine that Galahad’s character had the chance to flesh out and become a bit more expressive.
Unfortunately, the narrative itself is a disappointing affair, clocking in at only eight hours and being one of the most poorly paced stories in recent memory. While other titles like it have a gradual slope leading to the final crux or the most important point of the story, The Order chugs along with one chapter being comprised of intense gunplay or a Half-Breed battle and the next confining you to walking down a bunch of corridors inspecting items. I do appreciate the way the game’s trying to tease you into wanting more, but it actually ends up leaving you frustrated and befuddled – almost jarred by the progression. If anything, I wish Ready at Dawn had taken more time to flesh out the story because the setting is incredible and I wanted to become engaged with all it had to offer, but poor pacing and an untimely end to the journey completely detracted from the experience and immersion.
If there’s one thing that’s perceivable from the offset, it’s that The Order: 1886 is visually astounding. Developed with Ready at Dawn’s in-house RAD Engine, the fidelity in detail is truly something to completely marvel at. London is brought to life during the day and becomes an entirely different affair during the night, with moody lighting and a sense of the unknown. The fights aboard a Zepplin are beautiful yet convey a feeling of danger, and the fights underground perfectly set up a real sense of darkness and the unknown. This is a level of visual mastery that I don’t think I’ve ever seen, and it certainly bodes well for the future.
When it comes down to it, The Order: 1886 is still a game, but it doesn’t really strike up anything new within the realm of what it is – that being a cover-based third-person shooter. There’ll be sections of The Order where you’ll just walk for minutes on end, inspecting objects and listening to conversations. In the realm of exposition and character development, it can work to an extent, but as far as gameplay is concerned it’s quite a dull adventure. When things do get a little hectic, taking cover and aiming for the head does the trick and that’s really about it. The Order: 1886 places its cards in hiding behind cover and picking your moments to take out enemies, and while it’s nothing new it generally works. The game feels incredibly smooth and I can’t recall an FPS drop whatsoever, allowing me to really just pick my moments, snag a few headshots and move on.
While you’re going to be competing with dozens of rebels shooting at you throughout, it’s the sections with the Half-Breed’s that seem to be the most interesting and genuinely tense. Instead of relying on cover and shooting from afar, these confrontations are very close and personal with the Lycans constantly stalking Galahad and jumping for his throat – giving you a short amount of time to dodge and pepper them with your weapons. After they take a bit of damage you can swiftly dispose of them with the press of a button, but things do get a little hairy when you have three stalking you at the same time in an enclosed room – and that’s when the game really shines.
When it comes down to it, The Order: 1886 is a mixed bag when it comes to gameplay. As I mentioned right at the beginning of this review, it’s clear as day to see that Ready at Dawn wanted to go for a cinematic, linear experience, but it just doesn’t work with the way the execution has been handled. Black bars, while they work in some instances, detract from the experience as they cut off your viewing angles when attempting to take out enemies and quicktime events, as much as I don’t mind them, are absolutely riddled throughout the game even for the most minute of things. Cutscenes also follow this same path and I often found myself questioning why a lot of them were added in the first place, especially for small things like jumping across a gap or opening a gate – why can’t this just be a part of the gameplay? I know the game is going for a cinematic, film-like approach, but it becomes a jarring affair to have control over Galahad for a few seconds only to lose control moments later to allow a small cutscene to play out. This all contributes to a disjointed gameplay experience that really broke the immersion.
“Graves manages to encompass everything Ready at Dawn has done with the world and confine it into a handful of sublime tracks that add to the tone and the mood the game has set.”
The Order: 1886 manages to get a lot of things right, especially on the surface, and one of the most prominent and important aspects of video games in today’s industry is both the sound design and score and the game handles these aspects very well. Jason Graves, the game’s composer, has been well documented in crafting moody, gripping scores and he does no wrong in The Order: 1886 with a well crafted, almost horror-esque score that compliments the game well. From The Knights’ Theme to Agamemnon Rising and Airborne Pursuit, Graves manages to encompass everything Ready at Dawn has done with the world and confine it into a handful of sublime tracks that add to the tone and the mood the game has set, and on occasions it actually becomes the most focal point in communicating what the developers want you to feel instead of the writing itself, which is both a good and a bad thing. The sound design is also exceptional, from minute things like turning over pages and equipping a weapon, to footsteps amongst puddles of rain on the ground – the team has done an incredible job in establishing a world that feels real and lived in.
Perhaps the biggest injustice that The Order: 1886 has done is leave a realm of possibility and potential behind for something that we just didn’t really want. It’s ok to take on the cinematic, film-esque approach to video games as we’re on a natural progression towards that, but when you substitute gameplay for cinematics and linear storytelling, the experience can not only become rudimentary, but it can also become really boring and frustrating to endure. Slapped with a $100 price tag and just eight hours of game time, it’s unfortunately very hard for me to recommend The Order: 1886 to others. I’m a firm believer in linear, story-driven games but when the experience just isn’t that good and the story doesn’t sit well, I can’t justify spending that much money on the game or even thinking about heading back into the universe, as good as it is. I love the setting Ready at Dawn has established, and I’m interested in the characters and the creatures lurking in the shadows, but I need gameplay to keep me invested, not cutscenes. If there’s a sequel to The Order: 1886, as Ready at Dawn has spoken about, I hope they learn their lessons and understand that gaming is still just that – gaming. We need to be involved in our experiences, not play second-fiddle to cutscenes and choices we have no participation in. That’s what gaming is about, and it’s why many of us love it so much. Hopefully next time around we’ll see a different and more interactive side of an alternate history London.
For everything The Order: 1886 does right, it has something that seems to weigh it back. The premise is interesting and the Half-Breed’s are great, but when the core elements of a single player game are lacking, everything else comes tumbling down.
Developer: Ready at Dawn/Santa Monica Studio
A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.