The Order: 1886 is a game that I genuinely want to love, but I just can’t.
Ready At Dawn’s debut has so many things that are fantastic – Steampunk! Victoriana! – but as a game, it simply doesn’t measure up. The result is a game that just about hits average, hampered by a lack of innovation, excessive linearity, and a campaign so short that you’re left wondering if the developer left half of it off the disc by mistake.
The Order sees you playing as Sir Galahad, a knight of King Arthur’s Order, whose duty is to protect the people of an alternate Victorian London from supernatural evils using Steampunk weapons and gadgets. Galahad has been protecting humanity from such beasties as werewolves, vampires and snot-nosed rebels for several centuries by the start of the game, thanks to an elixir which keeps knights of the Order eternally young.
The presentation of the game is compelling: the setting is thick with detail and atmosphere, and the blend of Arthurian legend with gritty Steampunk is refreshingly original. It should be one of the finest games of the year. However, the actual game mechanics spoil the experience, ultimately leaving The Order as one of the greatest disappointments of the current generation so far.
The first few hours are dominated by very slow walking sequences. And when I say slow, I mean slow. It’s as though Ready At Dawn is forcing your head against the screen saying “Look! Can you see how good it all looks?!”, demanding that you admire the scenery instead of getting on with things.
To be fair, it does look better than real life. Ready At Dawn has delivered a game which looks absolutely phenomenal, and the studio deserves to be applauded for it – even if all that visual splendor is delivered within massive black boxes which dominate most of the screen. But when it comes to pacing, The Order is one of the dullest gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. Cutscene, corridor, QTE: that’s the order of the day, and it’s a routine that The Order doesn’t see fit to break throughout its meagre runtime.
Despite Ready At Dawn claiming that pre-release online playthroughs are not representative of the actual game, my first run through The Order confirmed that the game is indeed rather short – very short, in fact. The Order is actually so short that it only took me 5-6 hours to complete on Hard difficulty, and even then I was taking my time and exploring each nook and cranny. That’s fine if your game is Call of Duty and you have an extensive range of multiplayer modes to fall back on, but The Order is a purely single-player affair, and its campaign offers little reason to dip back in for a second playthrough once you’ve reached the end credits for the first time.
Perhaps the brevity of the story is why Ready At Dawn forces you to walk everywhere. Strip out the cutscenes – which unbelievably account for about half of the game’s length – and the unnecessary padding, and the length of the campaign would probably only stretch to about 20 minutes. The momentum only starts to pick up in the last third of the game, and by the time I was genuinely starting to enjoy myself, it ended – leaving me staring at a credits sequence and feeling wholly unfulfilled. The ending isn’t really an ending at all. In any other game it would probably just have been a slightly dramatic moment that pushed the story forward. Instead, Sir Galahad leaves us with a cliffhanger. Well, not really a cliffhanger. It’s more like we’re left sitting in a small ditch, with not a lot going on. I wasn’t exactly left on the edge of my seat.
Throughout the game you come across various collectibles that serve absolutely no purpose. The only mode of interaction is swivelling them around a little so you can look at all of that beautiful mundanity. Some objects do have to be interacted with for a particular reason, but this just involves swivelling it for what feels like an eternity until Galahad – our gallant-yet-dull protagonist – finally spots what he needs to.
With such an amazing setting you’d think that Ready At Dawn would be able to throw a few interesting items your way that actually had more relevance to the story. The studio clearly went to a lot of trouble to craft the world – and it certainly is a setting which captures the imagination; but when it comes to game design, it often feels as though the studio just gave up. You trudge through linear corridors, watch cutscenes, and shoot down enemies in scenes which do nothing to progress the third-person shooter genre beyond what we experienced in Gears of War – a game which was released in 2006. That’s nearly a decade ago, and as impressive as the visuals are, nothing can hide how rote and old-fashioned The Order‘s gameplay is.
I was honestly intrigued by the story for the most part, but after completing the game, and witnessing the disappointing ending, I looked back over everything that had happened and realised something. Not much actually happens. I mean, certain events do occur during the course of the game, but very little actually changes in the game world. It makes everything that you fought to achieve seem entirely frivolous. There are also many loose ends, none of which are tied up by the end of the story.
Ready At Dawn clearly had a lot of faith that they would be making a sequel, but I’m not so sure. However, if they do, then The Order: 1886 may end up being more of a prologue for the second game that will hopefully address the issues in this one (The Order: 1887?); But that’s cold comfort to those of us who paid full price for a game that doesn’t feel complete.
This wouldn’t matter too much if the gunplay was satisfying and varied, but it’s not. For the most part it’s ok. It does the job. But when there are games like Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us and GTA V out there, The Order just doesn’t measure up. Enemies don’t behave convincingly and barely react when you shoot them. This could just be because the developers wanted to show off the Victorian English and their stoically stiff upper lips.
Perhaps back then people took getting shot in the chest on the chin, with a certain gruff manliness that could grow hairs on a baby’s chest or make a moustache cry. But somehow I doubt it.
Nor are the enemies varied; despite the game’s premise centering on a group of Werewolf hunters, for most of the game you instead find yourself shooting at regular human beings, who all shout the same lines over and over again in ridiculous mockney English accents.
All of this means that the most important pillar of any shooter – the actual business of shooting – feels dull and repetitive, satisfying only when the game gives you some of the amazing gadgets.
While the gunplay isn’t much fun due to bad design, the same can’t be said about the weapons in your arsenal. These are provided, of course, by Nikola Tesla himself – sadly not voiced by David Bowie – as there’s a rule in game development that says any gun in a steampunk setting should involve a wacky invention from Tesla. The best of these are the Induction Lance and Thermite Rifle, both of which are incredibly fun to use. Sadly you’re only given access to these for brief moments throughout the game – though that just makes you appreciate their appearance all the more when they crop up.
Despite my negative grumblings so far, there are some things to love about this game. The voice acting and the character development are amazingly well done. There wasn’t a single character that failed to intrigue me; they all have their own unique personalities and motivations. There’s also a certain moral ambiguity to them that I find refreshing. For this the voice actors must be highly praised. This can be applied to the sound design across the board, from the satisfying crack of the pistols and rifles to the electrical crunch of the Induction Lance and even to the ambience of Steampunk London.
As touched upon before, the graphics on show are absolutely incredible. Seriously, just look at them. I’ve never seen such well-rendered moustaches in a game. At times The Order almost manages to convince you that you’re watching a film (and with half the game being comprised of cutscenes, in a way I was). At many points I was left in awe at the visuals, especially when I thought back to the humble beginnings of my gaming past on the Sega Genesis. In just over 25 years graphics have improved almost inconceivably, and The Order shows just how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time. The developer’s attention to detail really brings their Steampunk creation to life: you can practically smell the sharp stench of thermite and the reek of the alleyways. For all that The Order lacks in fun gameplay, you can’t fault the production values.
I have to confess that I found myself in love with the setting a little bit. We don’t often see the Victorian era depicted in games, and certainly not in so much detail. In fact, Ready At Dawn’s setting is actually my favorite part of the whole thing. Admittedly, I find anything involving Steampunk incredibly interesting. Almost-believable technology alongside an amazing Victorian style is just too cool when done well – and The Order does steampunk very well. From the crisp black uniforms of the knights; the advanced, yet still grounded in history, technology; the industrial foggy climate of London – as a setting, The Order is great. However, I was just left disappointed in the end, as I was so convinced that a game in this setting would have to be magnificent (so convinced I pre-ordered it, which I almost never do), yet I was left wanting.
I want to like The Order, I really do, but I just can’t. As I was playing through it I kept trying to force myself to love it as I’d been excited for so long. In the end it’s a mediocre game wrapped up in beautiful aesthetics.
Sadly, unless you’re a fanatical Steampunk/moustache fan (like me) then The Order is difficult to recommend. The presentation is lovely, but it’s wrapped up in dull gameplay, and the story feels more like an extended introduction for a sequel rather than being complete in itself. Any enjoyment I did get came from the amazing setting, the better-than-real-life graphics and some incredibly good voice acting/sound design. And with it being so short, and with no reason to return for a second playthrough, despite the spectacle on offer it doesn’t manage to justify the pricetag.
Ready At Dawn clearly put a lot of effort into their debut title: as a technical showcase it’s highly impressive, and it’s obvious that a lot of time was spent on developing the lore. But the overall feeling you’re left with after finishing The Order: 1886 is one of unfulfilled potential.