The Order: 1886
Released: Feb 20, 2015
Advertisements in the later part of the last year for The Order: 1886 had me extremely excited. From what I could tell it was based in England but with a steampunk-esque twist to it, which was something that I found interesting. With the technological progress that was occurring during that time in history I thought it was an intriguing concept to introduce advanced weaponry into the game’s world. Admittedly I didn’t look much else into the game apart from watching the occasional advert and a one-off gameplay video as in my experience of following a game too closely before its release date usually meant that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations that I had for it (most notably Assassin’s Creed III but I won’t go into that terrible installment of the franchise).
Set in an alternate history London, a group of knights working under what is known as the Order who are battling an ongoing war with a species known as ‘half-breeds’ or Lycans (short for lycanthrope or werewolf), humans who have inhibited bestial traits. According to the history of the game it was King Arthur and his knights of the round table who began the war with the half-breeds. Upon realising their disadvantages a stroke of luck befalls the knights and they discover a substance called Blackwater, which heals any injury and prolongs their life. This allowed them to continue the battle centuries after it began and this is where the player picks up the story.
Playing as Sir Galahad, a hardened war veteran, the player is immediately thrown into fray as the game begins in medias res, with the protagonist undergoing torture for reasons initially unknown. After dispatching a few guards in the Westminster catacombs Galahad escapes and the player finds that the protagonist has been arrested for ‘betraying the Order’ but the quick-thinking knight manages to make a getaway by jumping into the Thames. The game then exposes this as a flash-forward and the player assumes the role of Galahad a few months prior to his betrayal and the real game begins. Now, I’m fully aware of the negative criticism that has been surrounding this game, some of which are justified but in some cases I think people are being unnecessarily harsh.
The story of the game is an interesting one, uniquely so. As far as my gaming experience goes I have not come across another title that attempts to bridge two historical time periods in such a way as The Order: 1886 does. Personally I liked the way they tried to solidify the game in real life history, using characters such as Nikola Tesla and the French Marquis, Lafayette. Alongside this they used the medieval legends of Arthur and the knights of the round table to drive the story forwards, which most people are familiar with. Even the stories of Jack the Ripper have been used in a different way to instead introduce a supernatural element to the game rather than simply retelling stories of the serial killers murders. Using something that the developer’s audience may be already acquainted with is a good way to get the players immersed in the world that they have created, which I in particular enjoyed as I picked up on the Arthurian allusions very early into the game. Admittedly I felt like a bit of a smart arse about it but when you find something in a game that you’ve been studying in university it does spark the little nerd in you.
However one issue with the immersion of the game that I do have is that while the story line is intricate and appealing it is consistently interrupted throughout the game. The player cannot travel more than 10 metres until they are thrown into one of several cutscenes that puts a wedge between the player and their ability to absorb what is going on in the game. Understandably cutscenes are a necessary part of any game as it allows the player to take a breather from an intense encounter or simply to serve as a way to allow the story to progress without making the player go through a needless and long journey across an sophisticated map. However, The Order: 1886 bombards the player with cutscenes, a lot of which could be experienced through gameplay such as having dialogue between characters being said while progressing through the level with them instead of taking the player out of the game to watch and listen to them converse with one another. In this sense it seems as though it is more of an interactive film rather than a video game and is even laid out like a film and the narrow field of vision is limiting.
The game has also been criticised for being too linear as there is only one possible outcome and there isn’t much choice left to the player in terms of how they want to play the game. Now, I understand that video games have evolved throughout the years and franchises such as Mass Effect or games developed by Tell Tale are dependent on the player making decisions that ultimately determine what will happen in the story. However I’m a fan of “linear” games as I like video games that have a story to tell and I am simply the means of which the story will be told. It’s almost like reading a good book, you keep turning the pages because you want to know what happens next and in the case of a video game you continue to play it as you’re completely enthralled by the story line. The Order: 1886 may not be the best game ever but it has a story that it wants to tell and as a player you can’t help but feel somewhat immersed in it. The environments are beautifully constructed, the design of the characters are brilliant and the setting is unique.
Gameplay itself could be worked on as it felt quite standard. There was nothing particularly dynamic about the gameplay that stood out for me but it ran smoothly and the graphics of the game were almost flawless, save for a few clipping textures going wrong once or twice, but that’s a minor detail compared to how aesthetically incredible the game is. I especially like playing in the third person perspective as I feel like I can see more of the game, which was delivered in The Order: 1886 but there was little exploration to be done. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to video games and I like to collect as many if not all the collectibles possible in a game but there was no real opportunity to do this apart from in set rooms where objects and documents could be investigated or I was interrupted by a cutscene and thrown forwards into the story. The weaponry is diverse and offered a few new features such as spurting steam from a gun to stun your enemy before executing a perfectly placed headshot however overall the combat simply feels okay. There is no real sense of danger to what is happening although the AI of the game are significantly more intelligent than what I have experienced before. I found myself having to seriously consider when to take a shot at the enemy and when to bide my time as they were extremely precise and small mistakes earned me an increasingly red hued screen as Galahad took more and more injuries.
While there are things that could have been done better in the game it cannot be denied that it’s a playable one and has an interesting story line within a beautifully constructed game world. While the campaign could be longer and the number of cutscenes shortened I enjoyed this game greatly despite its flaws however I can’t say that I would pick this game up again to play through it a second time due to the lack of exploration that can be done. Usually when I replay a game it is to further explore the game world and see if I missed anything the first time around, which I have found in several games that I have played. Overall the game is entertaining and worth at least one play through, just don’t let the negativity surrounding aspects of the game turn you away from a good, but regrettably short, story line.