The Order: 1886 (PS4) Review

The Order: 1886 is a third person action adventure in the vein of The Last of Us, with a heavier emphasis on Story telling. While Ready at Dawn (the developer) is known for graphically stunning PSP games, what they achieved (visually speaking) on the PS4 in 2015 remains five years later a wonderful tech showcase for the system.

Critics weren’t for the most part kind to the game upon its release. TO1886 earned an embarrassing 63 Metacritic score. The low score is what kept me from buying the game until I bought a defective N64 cartridge from a game store. Upon my return to the shop I was given my 30 dollar return in store credit. I spent 20 on Tales of Zestiria, and had no other choice (considering the limited amount of games available at the store) but to grab a copy of The Order: 1886 with the remaining 10 dollars.

Can a Majority Be Wrong?

At first glance it is difficult to grasp the reasoning used by the majority of critics in order to hand pedestrian scores to the game. Even in 2020, and after countless of hours playing the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, and God of War; I still found The Order an incredibly gorgeous (at times jaw dropping) piece of software.

The Order 1886 places a heavy emphasis on its Audio/Visual presentation, Storytelling, Quicktime events, and third person shooting. It is deeply entrenched in the same style of play that was pioneered by Resident Evil 4, and later perfected by The Last of Us. On a surface level, The Order 1886 competes with the former two, but upon deeper inspection the ’63 Metacritic score’ begins to rear its ugly head.

When the phrase “The Only Bad Thing About the Game is that it Ends” is actually a BAD THING

The Order 1886 does a great job introducing the player into Sir Galahad’s (the protagonist) story. From the get go I was hooked. The game feels like a good, dark, and engrossing TV series from the moment you are introduced to the character. Voice Actor Steve West delivers one of the most convincing performances I have seen in the medium, and that’s saying a lot because the entire cast is voiced by Hollywood caliber talent.

Jason Graves, the composer, did an equally outstanding job in crafting of the game’s soundtrack. Everything about The Order screams high budget, and quality. The Visual package is equally impressive, featuring some of the most realistic looking characters to have ever graced a piece of interactive software.

The quality of the materials in everything from leather, to wood is damn near impeccable. There is a quality to the look of the world (a steam punk version of late 1800’s London) that is hard to describe as it has to be seen in order to be properly appreciated. The game certainly merits a play through for its audio visual package alone.

I certainly found the game highly entertaining, and its story growingly engrossing by the passing minute (even with the tried and true “Werewolves/Vampires” cliches). The plot, cinematography, and the acting are of such quality that I consistently overlooked the game’s smaller flaws. After a year of playing open world, and JRPG titles I found myself in love with The Order 1886’s pace and heavy emphasis on storytelling.

It is not an overstatement on my part to say that 5-6 hours in, I found myself on the cusp of video gaming ‘Nirvana’; a place reserved for rare, once ( or twice )in a generation titles. The plot, the acting, and even the shooting segments had found a semblance of perfect sync, and balance that had me questioning the judgement of the Metacritic world. Then, just as I was having the unique (if exhilarating) experience that game’s presentation hinted at from the very beginning… ended.

To be led on an upward trajectory towards the ultimate definition of Sony’s “Greatness Awaits” motto, only to be sent back crashing down just as I began to touch it; That’s The Order 1886 in a nutshell. A six hour ride that left me wanting more of its world and characters; like a good, dark and engrossing TV series…except that it is a video game…and we expect more of our games.

I was disappointed to the point of frustration even though it is 2020, and I only paid 9.99 for the game. I can’t imagine the sense of impotence, and total despair that those who spent 59.99 at release felt.

How Ambition and Greed Ruins a Potential Great

Where do I start? There was clearly a plan on the part of the developers. The story ends in a sure high note that screams “STAY TUNED FOR SEASON 2!!” Except that there might never be a season two because The Order 1886 isn’t the good, dark and engrossing TV series that it tries to be…it is a video game and again; we expect more of our video games.

Even episodic games like the upcoming FFVIIR offer 30-50 hours of content (at least according to the developers) in order to soften the blow of handing down an incomplete work to the masses. I assume the team wanted ( and envisioned) The Order : 1887 a few years after the massive success of their first game. In an Alternate reality much like their 1886 London, perhaps these events would have taken place, but in our current world the game received price cuts shortly after release ( a sign of poor sales). This was Mainly driven by the poor reception (critically and commercially) that it received.

Some times if you gamble you lose. Ready at Dawn gambled on a game cut short by what seemed to be an episodic vision, and we are all the worse for it. The developers who might never get a chance to ‘cash in’ on the strength of a title that clearly had the potential to not just become a franchise, but a premier Sony game series, and ‘Us’ the gamers who spent 5-6 hours of our time enjoying the story only to be left in cold without a proper conclusion to Galahad’s adventure.

The Order 1886 could have certainly benefited from another year in development, as it would have allowed to Development team to finalize the tale, or at least deliver a competent finish to some of the game’s lose ends.

A linear adventure

What boggles the mind is that 1886 is a story driven game, Ready at Dawn had to suspect that the short length of the quest would raise some eyebrows and light a fire in gamers (and critics) all over the world. The game’s camera follows our protagonist closely behind, and over his shoulder. This camera style has worked for the Last of Us, Resident Evil and Gears of War, it also works wonders here.

The shooting is tight, and while things get heated towards the end of the adventure I had fun in the game’s few firefights. At least two of the fire fights were tough enough that I died a few times. There nice variety of old, modern, and futuristic weapons of the hand gun and rifle variety at your disposal. The selection of these weapons always proved to be a tough one, and at times crucial during certain situations. The only problem I found with the gun play is that simply there isn’t enough of it.

For about half of the game, fire fights are sporadic events in between long sessions of dialog and just plain walking from one place to the next. Granted the story and voice acting are fantastic, so I wouldn’t have minded much (the lack of fire fights) if only the game’s last third wouldn’t have been so brilliant. As with the story, the fact that the game abruptly ends when it seems to be finding its stride is incredibly disappointing.

While firefights are mostly scarce, Quick time events are not. The Order:1886 however, is more creative that most in this area, and as such death is always to be expected when a facing a new QTE situation even when you think you have gotten the hang of this system in the game. Sometimes you have to move the right stick at a certain spot in the screen and it can get confusing causing some unexpected and truth be told unnecessary deaths. Some times the system is brilliant, and sometimes it does feel overly complicated.

An example of this is present in fights against werewolves. The Werewolves usually attack one at a time, giving you the space to down them separately even when faced with multiple enemies inside a single room. Their AI is dumb, so they always come at you from the same direction, the trick is that if they get too close, you have to hit ‘the ‘X’ button at the proper time in order to avoid their bites, thus adding a QTE component to fights that should have been left to simple gun slinging.

Boss battles are all about QTEs and dying can mean restarting the boss fight from the very beginning, but thankfully the boss fights are short enough. Which brings us to some extracurricular stuff that our Sir Galahad has to perform while traversing the environments.

Objectively speaking, I had a great time popping locks open, and blowing out fuses with simple, yet fun an easy to master mini games. I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prevalence of QTEs, but I also didn’t have much of a problem with it.

While the game is linear, there are plenty of newspapers and recordings that you can spot during environment traversal. Reading and listening to these, greatly enhances the experience by enriching the game’s lore. These extras are easy to find, and thus the game has no replay value (Apart from the 5 hour story) worth talking of.

My only glaring problem with the game’s gameplay is in how restrictive everything is. You can’t draw weapons, Jump, and sometimes even run at will. Everything is scripted and carefully controlled by the game itself. After a while some of the game’s tension and spooky feeling diminished as I knew that as long as I couldn’t draw my weapon it meant that my character was safe because the game wasn’t going to lead me into an ambush (unless it was the occasional QTE). When you do have control of most of your character’s functions it usually means that a firefight is around the next corner, and thus the game loses the element of surprise in those instances.

Mechanically speaking The Order 1886 is a polished experience that doesn’t really every reach its potential thanks to the fact that it ends within 5-6 hours. If you were going to make a game this short, perhaps some replay value or new game plus mode was warranted, but sadly; there is none.

It’s all about the story and because of it: When it ends, it really ends…

The problem with The Order 1886 isn’t necessarily its length ( or lack of it) but the fact that not every lose end is tied. Some characters begin to develop in interesting ways just as the credits are about to roll. It is a story that ends as it approaches a Climax with no resolution in sight. Once the credits roll and I was treated to a final scene with Galahad…an empty feeling took over me, as simply there isn’t anything else to do in this game world (Unless you want to play with the Photo Mode). A 6 hour game with no incentive for a second run. Imagine Final Fantasy VII ending right as you leave Midgar…tragic I know.

Suddenly, the flaws became more apparent. The Werewolf fights were repetitive, there just isn’t enough action even if the few firefights that are in the game are fun, and sharp. The many clever mechanics that the game introduced for lock opening, electric power jamming and even stealth in retrospective (and perhaps unfairly so) began to feel like gimmicks. After all, these exercises never progressed much further from their initial trainee difficulty quite simply because the game ended at 6 hours…I shouldn’t feel bad about calling them “gimmicks”as they were over too quick to be anything more than that.

It was a tremendous ride for 10 dollars….

The Order: 1986 Gameplay Screenshot
The Order 1886 never got the chance to reach its potential, like a prodigious athlete child that dies at a young age.

The game is dirt cheap now, especially used. While you can also buy the superior The Last of Us for that price, I suspect most of you have already played Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. So, save for the disappointment of experiencing a colossal waste of potential, it is a solid buy at this point. My ‘7’ score isn’t an indictment on the quality of the six hour material that is there. For six hours, The Order 1886 was a terrific adventure, one that could stand proudly along side Uncharted 4, TloU, RE4, GoW and other titles of a similar style of play.

However all of these former titles didn’t stop as they were about to reach their climatic greatness ( and subsequent resolutions), their credits rolled after they had cemented their place in the pantheon of gaming greats with satisfying ( and complete) play throughs. The Order 1886 never got the chance to reach its potential, like a prodigious athlete child that dies at a young age. The future was bright for the Dark 1800s tale, too bad it didn’t live past its sixth hour of life.

Gameplay: 7.0- There is nothing mechanically wrong with the game. An overuse of QTEs, and a lack of quantity in firefights hurts the score. The restrictive nature of controlling Galahad during certain segments, and lack of even a semblance of freedom to explore off the main path ensures The Order 1886’s permanent shelving after 5-7 hours of play.

Graphics: 10.0- By the far the best looking game in 2015, remains a top ten-five player in that department today.

Music/Sound- 10.0- Some of the best voice acting you will hear in a game. A musical spectacle of Hollywood caliber.

Story: 8.0- For the first time ever, I can’t hand out a proper score to a category in a game. As I played I felt the game was a true 9-10 masterpiece. As it ended with out ever reaching a true climax, I felt I had been robbed of something…I can’t fault the excellent writing, nor the interesting setting and take on the established Werewolf/Vampire cliches. There are deeper themes at play here, and the entire (alternate reality London, Steam Punk technology, Knights of the Round etc.) concept of the game’s world is absolutely brilliant There is something to be said about a game that delivers characters that feel alive and real; The Order 1886 does just that which makes its disappointing conclusion and even more frustrating one.

Replayability: 1.0- 6 hours, and it ends…with no sequel insight.

Overall: 7.0- Quite frankly some of the best six hours I have ever had with a piece of virtual entertainment, also quite frankly perhaps the most disappointing finale I have ever had with a game. The Order: 1886 could have been so much more had Ready at Dawn delivered a complete experience instead of a mere first part of an episodic ploy. Shame.