When I saw the reveal trailer for The Order: 1886 back in 2013, the E3 before the release of the next generation of consoles, I was instantly impressed. From the visuals, which during the trailer was touted to be in engine, which obviously blew my mind, to the Victorian-England setting with a steampunk twist; I was hooked, and began aggressively saving my pennies to buy a PS4.
I’d been a long-time fan of studio Ready at Dawn, from their handheld spin-off of the Jak and Daxter series, Daxter for the PSP, to their beautifully artistic and wonderfully Japanese game Okami. So it was no surprise that I was looking forward to this new direction that this studio was going on. So after a couple delays, the game finally released on February 20th, 2015.
And…well…to say it didn’t do so well is kind of an understatement. From big name outlets like IGN, Gamesradar, and Gamespot, to small YouTube personalities, to gamers in general, the consensus was pretty clear: The Order: 1886, though a technical and visual achievement, failed with a forgettable narrative, and dull gameplay that was riddled with mindless QTE’s that completely took away any sense of control from the player. And of course, the fact that the game’s run-time was around 6-7 hours, with little to no replay value, didn’t help.
And so after hearing about all of this, I passed on purchasing it. Now more than 2 years of its release, I’ve finally gotten the chance to play the game, and I’m now here to tell you how The Order: 1886, quite literally put me to sleep, but then to my surprise woke me right back up.
I bought The Order: 1886 sometime earlier this year during a PSN flash sale. I purchased this game for $5, but never got around to it until only a couple weeks ago. I want to talk about value and price a little bit, but will do so more towards the end of this video. For right now, let’s get into how this game put me to sleep.
Rock A Bye Baby
When the game opens up you’re greeted by these two wonderful soldiers that are giving you a very unpleasant bath. You see these opening sequences in a first person perspective, through the eyes of the protagonist of the game, Galahad. You’re taken through the same torture procedure day after day, until one day you break free.
The first thing you ever do in this game is a Quick Time Event. A series of button prompts basically fighting off the soldiers. You then must drag your wounded and tired body across this prison, eventually coming across a gun, which you take and use to kill a couple more guards.
A couple more QTE’s later, and you’re now outside on a bridge, surrounded by guards, and the Chancellor. A couple dialogue exchanges later, your character jumps off the bridge.
All in all, this was a fairly interesting opening to the game. After everything that I had heard, I was expecting a long, drawn out intro with old white British dudes simply talking and giving expository bullsh#t for 15 minutes, so it was a pleasant surprise. But from the start of this game, two things popped out to me. One, the horrendous letter-boxing.
I had heard that this game forces you to play the entire thing in a ridiculous letter-boxed aspect ratio; and I didn’t like it when I heard about it, and hated it while playing it. Why is letter-boxing a thing? Like, even in movies, why is this a thing? I went to film school, and my teacher gave some bullsh#t reasoning about camera angles, and immersion. But no, letter-boxing should not be a thing. Ever. 16:9 people. 16:9. Anyway, the second thing I noticed ties in with the first, which is that this game seriously wants to be taken as a cinematic experience. From how the opening is done, to the QTE’s, to the way things are shot and transitioned; this is an interactive cinematic experience.
So next we transition into what feels like the events before your time in prison, and we see our protagonist overlooking London. And good god, is it beautiful. As soon as I was given control again of Galahad I literally took 5 minutes to explore the rooftop that I was on and simply gawk at how beautiful the visuals were. And mind you this is not me playing this game back in 2015, when the console was still fairly new.
No, this is after I had played visually stunning games like The Witcher 3, Uncharted 4, and Horizon Zero Dawn. So after that, I continue onwards with the game, and here folks, is where I literally fell asleep.
For this entire next portion of the game, which lasts a solid 20-25 minutes, you are doing nothing but puttering around a house, looking at trinkets that mean nothing, reading newspaper headlines and stories that also mean nothing, looking at the wonderfully rendered flames on wonderfully rendered candles that have wonderfully rendered wax dripping down, which of course, mean nothing.
You exit the building to only continue walking – ever so slowly I might add – around this little courtyard that has NPC’s that mean nothing, picking up and examining more trinkets that mean nothing, and hearing dialogue be told to you by other members of the cast, which also are vague enough to mean nothing.
This entire section was simply the developers banging on your head and telling you, “look how pretty our game is! Look at it! Look how wonderful this broken compass that means nothing to anyone looks!”
And it put me to sleep. Literally. I was examining this newspaper, and trying to read the story to see if it would give me an idea of the place that I was in, possibly giving hints at upcoming events that will take place, but I felt my eyes droop, and I dozed off. I woke up a couple minutes later, only because I had almost fell out of my chair.
Never has a game done that before. I’ve been bored of games before, but it’s a video game, an INTERACTIVE medium. Falling asleep during a movie is one thing, but falling asleep during a game is something completely different, and simply shouldn’t happen.
At this point, I began to understand what everybody was saying. How this game is simply a technical showpiece that has no depth, and was simply the developers wanting to make the prettiest looking cinematic experience; but forgetting that for something to be cinematic, you need action, you need depth, you need character, and good writing, ON TOP of it being shot well and look nice. But I wanted to give the game a chance. I had only been playing for about a half hour or so, and wanted to see where it went. And…thank God I gave this game that chance, otherwise I’d be missing out on a solid experience. And this, is where The Order: 1886, woke me up
Don’t Hit That Snooze Button
Right now I want to talk about video game length versus value for a little bit. For me personally, I don’t think a value of a game should be judged based on its length. The best example of this is No Man’s Sky. Hey, the game is infinite, so it has the most value and is the most worth it at $60, right? Of course not. Some of the best games I’ve played are short experiences. I paid $40 for inFAMOUS: Second Son a couple years back, and that game only lasted me about 9 ½ to 10 hours. I know I can go back to play it a second time, and also work to get the platinum, but that’s not the type of gamer I am.
I usually want to do as much as possible, and experience the game as much as possible in my first playthrough until I reach the end-credits. And that’s what I did with Second Son, and it took me 10 hours. So was it worth it for me at $40? Hell yeah. Would it be worth it at $60, absolutely. Heck I bought Firewatch, Journey, and Gone Home all for $20 each. And each of those games are 2-4 hour experiences.
Was it worth it? Hell. Yes. Journey is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, and is actually a game that is quite therapeutic for me. And if I needed to, I’d even pay double that price for it. Now of course, all of that is subjective, but for me, it’s always going to be about quality over quantity.
Now, if a game is not good, and it’s also short, then that’s a problem. Do I think The Order: 1886 suffers from it being both of those things? Not at all. I paid $5 for this game, and I genuinely feel bad that I did. I bought Assassins Creed: Black Flag for the same price, and didn’t feel the same. Not saying that Black Flag is a bad game, it’s not, but I got what I was expecting. A run of the mill Ubisoft game that was a satisfactory experience. Now am I saying that The Order is a better game than Black Flag? Sure, but I’m not sure if you can compare the two. They are different experiences.
But what I am saying is that The Order for me was a much more memorable experience. An experience that was a third of the length, but one that was much more riveting, and interesting. One that I wanted to continue experiencing, and one that even as I type this, want to go back for more.
So now let’s dive into the criticisms that most people had with this game, and the first one I’m going to tackle is the one that I feel the most surprised by hearing. Which is:
The Order is set in an alternate history where King Arthur’s Knights of The Round Table still exist after so many centuries through the discovery of the Holy Grail, which consists of the life extending, and curing, elixir called Blackwater. Additionally, engineers like Nicola Tesla, whom we encounter multiple times throughout this game, have seen remarkable advancements in technology, allowing the inventions of automated weapons, Zeppelins, and other machinery. You play as a member of the Order, Grayson or Sir Galahad. You are accompanied by other members like Isi and Lafayette. After that horrendous 20 minutes of trudging around doing nothing you are sent into battle against the rebellion, and the half-breed monsters.
Now, I was expecting this story to have characters that have no charm that would be voiced by actors that are either phoning it in, or simply doing pretentious, and snooty British accents, that would bore even the likes of Shakespeare. But boy is that not the case at all. Each character has personality, motive, and relationships with one another. And the voice actors, specifically Steve West, who voices our protagonist, do a fantastic job in making these characters come alive.
I was invested from start to finish, and understood the decisions made by each character. I felt for them. And they surprised me. I was in no way expecting the narrative to get its hooks in me as deeply as it did, but man do I love this setting, and the characters that live in it, and the story that encompasses it. Not only that, I was expecting this to be a very British, very snobby storyline, with unrelatable characters; but I was even surprised by that through the quality of voice acting, the writing, and the introduction of a couple of characters down the line, that changed the focus and tone of the narrative.
When a game can leave me in chills by the time the ending credits role, that’s when I know that it’s done its job. Does that mean this game’s story and characters are perfect? No. Can its characters and writing be compared to that of games like The Last of Us and The Witcher 3? Definitely not.
But it surprised me by how consistent it was, and the different ways it went. I was surprised to see this much colour in its writing, voice acting, and narrative arcs, where I was expecting it to be a much more vanilla and black and white experience. Many clichés and narrative tropes still do exist, but the way they’re handled, and the realistic way the characters act, make it a much more enjoyable and believable experience. This is the one area where I was truly surprised that critics said all that they did against the game.
Now the next topic, however, I understand where the criticism comes from, though my take on it is a little different. Which is:
Gameplay, and Quick Time Events
Let’s talk about the game. The Order: 1886 is your average, linear, cover-based third person shooter. As a shooter it does nothing new, but also doesn’t offensively hurt the genre. The gunplay is fine, though not great. In no way can this be compared to your Uncharted’s or Gears of Wars, but it does the job. The sound and feel of each gun is pleasant.
No two guns feel completely the same, which is good. And although the game introduces some really awesome guns to use like the one that shoots out electricity, the times you can actually use them are only in a couple areas. Which is unfortunate, though understandable as guns like those are basically overkill. But your regular guns do the job.
You have your semi-automatics, your sniper rifles, your shotguns, you hand canons, and so on. And they’re fine. There were moments that I wished I had a mouse to aim, but all in all, it’s fine. The enemies are as generic as they get. You’re going to fight off waves of generic soldiers, then fight off a couple shotgunners that come running towards you; then eventually have to deal with the heavy armoured-clad ones that keep chucking grenades. It’s all the usual stuff. And it’s fine.
There were a couple moments where I did feel that the battles were quite challenging, and I simply couldn’t be behind the same chest high wall and fire away, and so needed to adjust my strategy. But never was a truly “excited” while in a firefight.
When you’re not shooting, you’re walking. Taking in the environments, picking up some trinkets. Lock picking doors open. Button prompting your way to boost up an ally, or to move something heavy out of the way. Sometimes you’ll be using some of the cool gadgets Tesla has given you to bust open an electrical circuit. And of course, you gotta have some stealth sections simply to cover all your bases. All of this is very much in the essence of games like The Last of Us. Does it really hinder the experience? Not really. Is it fun? Eh, not particularly. But at least this game varies it up enough from one thing to another, to where it’s not a complete bore. And because the story had me invested, and characters would give expository dialogue during these segments, it kept it interesting.
So now, finally, let’s talk about the QTE’s. Are there a lot? Yes. Does it sometimes feel like, “man I wish I was actually doing some of these moves, instead of pressing a single button at a prompt?” Yes. But honestly, from the very beginning, the game kinda shows you exactly what it is. It is a cinematic experience.
That’s a horrible excuse, sure. But these QTE’s didn’t bother me. And I’m not entirely sure why. Listen I love The Last of Us, it’s actually a very important game to me for various reasons, but every time I had to smash triangle for Joel to lift up a garage door, or smash square when a clicker was about to eat me, I got frustrated. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t engaging. But with The Order, I felt that it was so perfectly weaved into the game, that I still felt I was playing the game without breaking that immersion. And a lot of that has to do with the story.
It has to do with the smooth transitions, the voice acting, and the moment to moment gameplay and story, that didn’t break away the experience for me. There were even times where I felt that a scene could have been simply a full on cut scene, yet small button prompts for little actions brought me in. Were these moments unnecessary? Sure, but it added something to the cut scene.
And I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but The Order: 1886 absolutely takes away player agency, and yet, I’m okay that it does. Which is crazy that I’m saying this, because I hate games that hold your hand.
I hate games that don’t let me play the damn game. Which is exactly why I love games like Bloodborne, and Metal Gear Solid 5. But conversely, I love games that have a good story, and tell it in a unique and different way. As much I love The Last of Us, many of its “video game” elements, weren’t that great for me. Which is actually why I love the DLC, “Left Behind” so much more.
In the same way, The Order perfectly weaves from scene to scene, moment to moment, bringing you the player in at the right moments, making you feel you’re in it, even though it’s a scripted moment. And when it does leave you alone, what you’re left with is decent gunplay, and moments of down time to walk around, tinker with your gadgets, and take in the environments that are a joy to look at, all while taking in an interesting story.
Now aside from fighting off generic dudes with guns, you also get to fight the werewolf monsters. Unfortunately your encounters with the beast are few and far between. And when you do fight them, it’s…very unsatisfying. Basically you’ll be in a dark room, you’ll stand in a corner, and you’ll see the werewolf come charging at you.
If it comes too close, you’ll be prompted to press X, to dodge. And when you’re not dodging, you just have to fire away at the damn thing. Once it falls, you run up to it and hit triangle. Very mundane, no strategy required, and honestly, quite boring. Easily the worst moments of the game. Now, this is only for the smaller, less scary monsters. You do encounter a larger, much more menacing version of these werewolves; but unfortunately these fights only happen twice.
And it really in unfortunate, because they are at least a bit more fun. The entire encounter has you standing toe to toe with the beast, and having to use your machete to duel with it. You have a strong attack and a quick attack, and must dodge the beasts strikes via a button prompt. Challenging? Not at all. Would it have been much more exciting if I actually had more agency with my machete, movements, and dodging? Absolutely. But it is better than the encounters with the smaller beasts. And the first one you have does have more dynamic moments.
The Order: 1886 is a good game. A game that was crushed by expectations of what a $60 game should look like. Even if it may not be “worth it” at $60, it’s a game that is a solid deal at $40, a bargain at $20, and a steal for anything less. With decent gunplay, a good number of fairly creative guns, alongside an impeccable visual design, this game from an eagle eyed view, is a simple and inoffensive addition to the third-person shooter genre.
But it’s when you go into it, and look closer, and play it for what it is – a cinematic experience – is when you truly appreciate what this game offers. Although it may be riddled with QTE’s, but the way in which the game utilizes those QTE’s in specific moments to provide the sense of immersion in a brilliantly told, and brilliantly weaved narrative, voiced by capable actors that bring these characters to life, results in a game that I am happy to let play itself, simply to enjoy the story that’s being told.